On January 14, 2018, professional racing legend Dan Gurney died at the age of 86 in Newport Beach, California due to complications from pneumonia.
Following his death, all you had to do was look at just a few of the tributes that came in to see his incredible impact on the sport of auto racing. Drivers throughout a number of different racing series, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Darrell Waltrip, and Mario Andretti, immediately took to Twitter to show their respect for Gurney’s legacy.
To the casual racing fan, the name Dan Gurney may not ring any bells. But, over the course of his illustrious and diverse career, he solidified himself as one of the most profound game changers in auto racing history.
Along with Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya, Gurney was the first of only three drivers to ever win races in Sports Cars, Formula 1, NASCAR, and IndyCar. Gurney, who was born in New York, won five IndyCar races, seven Cup Series races, and four F1 races.
Gurney also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1967, and he later was the team owner of the All American Racers from 1970 to 2011, during which time he became the first person to put a simple right-angle extension on the upper trailing edge of the rear wing. This invention later became known as the Gurney flap and became effective in increasing downforce while imposing only a small increase in aerodynamic drag.
Having raced for such teams as Ferrari, BRM, Porsche, Lotus, Brabham, Eagle, and McLaren over the course of his career, Gurney’s impact was felt both in Europe as well as America. He even popularized the custom of spraying champagne at the podium after winning a race, which he did for the first time following his 1967 Le Mans win.
Dan Gurney clearly set the stage for a number of racing greats that came after him. May he rest in peace.