After writing about the new Scalextric 1967 Le Mans GT40 MKIV just yesterday, I woke up today to read news that Dan Gurney, the motorsport legend and pioneer, has died age 86.
Gurney dominated a sport when it was at its most fearsome and deadly, and did so with consummate skill and professionalism. His natural talent and burning ambition saw him take wins in Formula One, Nascar, World Sportcars, and IndyCars.
Dan Gurney at the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans
Two stories that we’ve heard a lot today about Dan are from the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans.
First, the infamous racing incident, or non-racing incident, with Mike Parkes in the Ferrari 330 P4. In the middle of the night, with a comfortable lead, Gurney was runniny easily to preserve his car. Parkes came up behind in his Ferrari and for several laps harassed Gurney by flashing his lights in the hope that the American would make a mistake and hand the race to Ferrari. But rather than pushing his Ford on and pulling away, Gurney simply pulled off the race track at Arnage corner and stopped on a grassy verge. Parkes pulled in behind and the two of them sat stationary, in the dark, in two of the fastest sports cars on the planet. After a while, realising his plan had failed, Parkes pulled back onto the track.
Gurney, kept his cool, and kept the lead, along with AJ Foyt, until the end of race. Sealing the first all American win at Le Mans.
The second magical Gurney moment at the 67 Le Mans happened after the race. Legend has it that Gurney felt he had been slighted by Ford management and when he spotted Henry Ford II & Carroll Shelby from the podium, he shook his bottle of champagne and sprayed the pair of them as payback and, in doing so, established a tradition reenacted in victory celebrations the world over ever since. Later, a more demur Gurney, claimed that he simply sprayed the champagne because the pack of waiting journalists looked like they were expecting something.
Whichever’s true, I know which version of events I prefer!