All American Racer Dan Gurney dead at 86

Episode 195

January 14, 2018

The Eagle has flown

One of Dan Gurney’s last public appearances was the opening of the Peterson Automotive Museum’s exhibit “The Eagles Have Landed” January 17, 2017 in Los Angeles. On left is race car designer Peter Brock, Gurney (seated) and Allen Grant one of Carroll Shelby’s most talented drivers. Photo courtesy Stephen Russo

Daniel Sexton Gurney, affectionately known as “The Eagle” passed away at age 86 from complications due to pneumonia Sunday in southern California. I am saddened deeply by the passing of another of my motorsports heroes. I do not have a great many who I looked up to, however, Dan was one.

My big four in motorsports include; Richard Petty (who I got to talk with in the media room at Indy), Mark Donohue (never got to meet him other than seeing him in the Formula One garage at the Watkins Glen F1 in October 1974), Dan Gurney (never met in person), and Roger Penske (hope to meet at Daytona 24 race in a couple weeks).

To me Dan was someone who was a model for other race drivers, team owners, or human beings to follow. By all reports he was genuine, humble, sincere, and smart. He had to be a great driver to survive to the ripe age of 86 when many of that era died in races.

I am reading reports of a multitude of fans who have their unique stories about Dan Gurney encounters. Often he would take the time to stop what he was doing and pose for photos or offer a word of encouragement or thanks to fans young and old.

Dan Gurney with Bruce Boembeke at the 1967 Indy 500. Photo courtesy Bruce Boembeke

One such story is that of Bruce Boembeke who was attending the 1967 Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In Bruce’s words this is what happened, ” This is a photo of Mr.Gurney and a kid, at Indy, May-’67. The story behind the photo follows.”

“Back in the day, the area behind the front straight grandstand and the garages, is where you could catch the drivers if you were quick enough, or in this case, Dan comes walking by and I ask if I can get a picture.

“‘SURE!’ he says with a big smile and then extends his hand and asks for my camera!”

“What? (I’m thinking, man I’ve got pic’s from all day in this thing) but its DAN so I hand my Instamatic over to him.”

“Then he turns and to some random passer-by is handing the guy my camera. Dan says “Take our picture”,  he comes back to me, and again extends his hand. I’m a kid, it takes a minute to have the gesture sink in, he wants to shake hands!”

“Oh my god…I clasp his hand (his hand is Huge) and ‘snap’ the picture is taken. This guy completely orchestrated the entire moment and you can see the result above.”

Dan Gurney trivia:

  1. After winning the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans with AJ Foyt in the Ford GT, Dan sprayed the crowd with champagne, a practice carried on in many victory lane celebrations to this day.
  2. AAR did not always stand for All American Racers. While working on the F1 cars at Rye, Sussex, England in 1966 he named the group  Anglo American Racers.
  3. Because he was so tall, Ford GT master fabricator, Phil Remington, made a bubble over the cockpit called “the Gurney Bubble” thus allowing the 6 foot 4 inch driver to fit. (won that race, the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans with AJ Foyt)
  4. He was the first F1 driver to wear a full face helmet in 1968. Now everyone wears that style.
  5. Only American driver to win a F1 race in a car of his own design and construction, Eagle Westlake at 1967 Belgian Gran Prix.
  6. The little aluminum angle lip on the wings which allowed downforce yet not a great deal of drag first showed on his Eagles thus earning the name  “Gurney Flap”.

The “Gurney Flap” on a rear wing of an Eagle race car. Steve Olson photo

Restoration project going on

In an earlier episode, I mentioned that I was looking for a race car restoration project to help with or report about. Well the Northern Maine Antique Tractor Club project is not exactly a race car, however, it certainly is interesting.

Regular reader Dan Raymond, has kept me aware of the club’s 2018 project. Upon his invitation, we headed to the shop where the project was going on. Despite high winds and extreme cold, my reception was warm.

I met with several members of the tractor club who also braved the elements to work on their project. Members will make the trip every Saturday for the next couple months to ensure that the project tractor is ready for its unveiling at the Northern Maine Agri-Business Trade Show at the Forum in Presque Isle in late March.

The “before” shot of the Northern Maine Antique Tractor Club’s 2018 tractor restoration project. The 1954 Cockshutt Model 30 was donated to the club by John Bouchard, Fort Kent. In the 10 year run of the most popular Cockshutt, there were 37,328 produced. Flying Farmer photo

Members of the Northern Maine Antique Tractor Club (NMATC) working on Cockshutt 30 restoration project at Phil Kilcollins farm. L to r Tyler “Flying Farmer” Raymond, Caribou, Wayne Sweetster, Presque Isle, Norm Driscoll, Presque Isle, Paul Beaupre, Limestone, Phil Kilcollins, Fort Fairfield, and Dan Raymond, Caribou. HTF Motorsports photo

Phil Kilcollins, left discusses the throw-out bearing positioning on the Cockshutt 30 with Norm Driscoll. Members disassemble the restoration tractor, any wear items are replaced, and then assembled prior to painting. HTF Motorsports photo

A Cockshutt 20 in the Phil Kilcollins collection. NMATC members said their Model 30 will be restored to the same level as the 20 when it is given away in November 2018. The tractor will make its debut at the Northern Maine Agribusiness Trade Show in Presque Isle in March. HTF Motorsports photo

The “Flying Farmer” getting ready for pulling season

“Flying Farmer” Tyler Raymond, Caribou, has the engine back in his second tractor, a 1940 Farmall BN for use in the 2,500 pound class. Flying Farmer photo

Tis the off-season and several antique tractor pullers are preparing their machines for competition at the antique tractor pulls held by NMATC or similar organizations. Clutches are being replaced, brackets made, tires purchased as well as a myriad of other projects on to-do lists around northern Maine and western New Brunswick.

Tyler Raymond, known as “The Flying Farmer” is no exception. Late last year he and his father, Dan Raymond, purchased a 1940 Farmall BN which they plan on using this year in the smaller 2,500 pound weight class. They also have a Farmall C which they pulled with success in the 3,000 & 3,500 pound classes. Tyler was points champion in the 3,000 pound class.

The “new” tractor required a different block since the original was cracked. After finding a suitable donor block, they were able to get it cleaned up and gone over. The next few months before the season opener, father and son will be doing the many little things needed to make a tractor competitive and reliable.

This type of father/son, daughter/father, or family interaction is what makes a sport like antique tractor pulling attractive to me. The pullers seem to be friendly and helpful to one another. The cost is relatively low, considering other forms of tractor or truck pulling. I hope to be able to attend a pull or two this season. The schedule, when released, can be found on their website

Gurney Mercury Spoiler II on display by Warren Reynolds

Earlier in this week I noticed a few photos from Warren Reynolds of Lancaster, California after he posted them to the Dan Gurney and the All American Racers Fan Group site. The photos were of the Gurney labeled 1969 Mercury Spoiler II, a car I had long forgotten about.

In fact the 351 Windsor powered Spoiler II often was hidden in the background behind its cousin the more powerful 428 CJ Ford Torino Talladega which was fighting the battle in NASCAR against the winged Dodge Daytonas and later the Plymouth Superbirds.

I contacted Warren about using the cars in my blog this week for a couple of reasons; I like to feature unique cars that I find interesting and I like things related to Dan Gurney.

Little did we know that our hero would pass away the same week so it is with great honor that I present Warren’s cars to you.

A mint condition Gurney-labeled 1969 Mercury Spoiler II owned by Warren Reynolds, Lancaster, California. The Spoiler II was Mercury’s answer to the Ford Torino Talladega. The Spoiler had a 351 four barrel while the Talladega came with the 428 CJ. I had forgotten about this car. Seeing it on Gurney Group page was a welcome surprise. Warren Reynolds photo

The view that most racers had of any race car that Gurney drove, a rear view. Reynolds also owns the 1969 Ford Torino Talladega, Ford’s answer to the Dodge Daytona with its go-fast nose and wing. Warren Reynolds photo

IndyCar racer Charlie Kimball affected by California wildfires

Some of the damage at Charlie Kimball, IndyCar driver for Carlin Motorsports in 2018, dad’s farm in Santa Paula, California. Kimball’s family was safe, however, the buildings and orchard suffered fire damage.The wildfire was part of the record Thomas Fires in Ventura County. Charlie Kimball photo

Please pray for the Gurney family; his wife Evi, sons Justin, Alex, Jimmy and Dan Junior. The death of Dan Gurney has left a void in my heart.

Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria

One of Dan Gurney’s last public appearances was the opening of the Peterson Automotive Museum’s exhibit “The Eagles Have Landed” January 17, 2017. On left is race car designer Peter Brock, Gurney (seated) and Allen Grant one of Carroll Shelby’s most talented drivers. Photo courtesy Stephen Russo


Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine