Dan Gurney (1931-2018)

Dan Gurney was a hero of mine. Not because he was arguably the best all around racer of all time but because he was a great guy. When I heard the news of his passing Katrina and I were both shocked and saddened. We immediately reminisced about our encounters with him. I think all of us know about his talents as a race car driver, car and motorcycle designer/builder and much more. I want to tell you about the man we met.

Katrina and I were at the California Speedway in Fontana. It was one of the first races at the new track and they had invited a large number of famous drivers to attend and sign autographs. Since time was limited and the lines were long we split up and each chose a different table of drivers to meet and get their autographs. As it turned out, Katrina went to Dan Gurney because no one knew who he was and there was no line. She was one of the luckiest people there because he spent a great deal of time talking with her about cars. She came away so impressed it was one of the reasons we eventually wanted to acquire a Dan Gurney Spoiler II.

That leads me into a second meeting with Dan. After our search for a Dan Gurney Spoiler II we agreed that it would be way cool to obtain a vintage style racing helmet like Dan used at the time and have him autograph it. I was a little pessimistic that we could accomplish the task but went ahead and obtained the helmet. Katrina found his race shop which was only a short drive from our home at the time. She called and his secretary answered the phone. Katrina asked if it would be possible to get an autograph on a helmet. The receptionist quickly said sure, just call a day or two ahead to make sure Dan would be in.

I thought this would probably never work as planned but was excited to give it a try. A couple of weeks later I found time in my schedule and made the call to visit the next day. It was set! I assumed I would take the helmet to the receptionist and she would carry it back to Dan, he would sign it and she would return with the helmet and I would be happy.

That did not happen. She told me Dan was in the shop working on another prototype of his motorcycle design but would be out shortly. Then she said would you like to see his trophy case? WOW, YES! We then went into a hallway outside his office which looked like it must have been at least 40 feet long with a trophy case from floor to ceiling on BOTH sides the entire length of the hallway. It was unbelievable. These were all significant and impressive trophies. I was in aw, I don’t remember what a single one was for. I was blown away.

After standing there for minutes just gazing in a stupor the door at the end of the hallway opened and in walked the man. Dan Gurney walked up to me and asked if I was the fellow with the helmet for him to sign. Like a little kid who just met Santa Clause for the first time I said something brilliant like “yes”.

Dan said come into my office and have a seat. No way this was happening! I looked around his office which was huge. I would guess it to be approximately 20 feet square with shelves and pictures all around. The walls were covered with more mementos, plaques, trophies and other memorabilia. The only way I know how to describe it was that it looked like how I remembered my grandmother’s house with little nick knacks everywhere; cool stuff everywhere you could look. It would take days to study and admire every item.

Dan then started the conversation about why I wanted the helmet signed and then he told me something about the Spoiler II and the Cougar tribute cars from Mercury. We talked some more and he eventually asked where he should sign the helmet and I told him were I envisioned it; low on the side. He agreed and then asked if I wanted the other side signed the same way? “Why yes that would be nice”, was my reply. He then said, “I think I should add the car’s number under my signature, ok?” “That would be great”, I said and he added the #121.

We like momentous. This helmet bearing the signature of Dan Gurney #121 has more than one story connected to it.

We talked some more and I felt like I was intruding on a very busy and historic man so I suggested that I should leave and let him get back to his shop. He agreed and walked me out.

When I reached the front desk I stopped to talk with his secretary for a moment. There was an older lady standing there and she asked if I was a friend of Dan Gurney. My mind and ego just about blew up just to have someone think I could be a friend of Dan Gurney! When I replied “No”, she told me her husband had just retired from working for Dan for decades. She added that he treats all his employees like members of his family. Everyone of them loved him. She went on to tell some stories about how he had treated and helped her and her husband and their kids over the years.

It was a very memorable day that will be with me for a lifetime. Sure, it was fantastic to meet the man but, more importantly, it was wonderful to know that someone so accomplished and famous could also be so approachable, friendly and caring. I believe in those minutes shared with Dan Gurney I learned how a true hero acts. I learned you don’t need to save someone’s life to be a hero. A hero can be someone who makes others better people through his actions. I have tried to live up to Dan’s example ever since.

Dan Gurney was a very special man.

 

Filed Under: FeaturedMercury Spoiler IIRace Cars and Drivers

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About the Author: Some of my first and strongest memories from my childhood relate to cars. I still remember when things happened based on what car I was driving at the time. I grew up and lived in Iowa for nearly 40 years before moving to Southern California and now live in Tennessee. I was a Corvette fanatic for years but then re-discovered vintage American Muscle. My wife, Katrina, and I decided we wanted to focus on unique and rare muscle cars. After a lot of research we fell in love with the Ford Blue Oval Aero Cars. These were only built in 1969 and and aerodynamics became an important part of winning races. The only purpose of these limited production cars was to win NASCAR races using the Boss 429 and 427 power plants complimented with a special, wind cheating, aerodynamic body. The Ford Talladega and Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II are terrific and historic cars. This site is devoted to these car and their owners past and present. We provide an Online Registry for recording the long term history and ownership of every remaining Talladega, Spoiler and Spoiler II.

Comments (2)

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  1. Carl Sharp says:

    Wow!

  2. Alan Miller says:

    He was a real American hero . Truly one of the greats .

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