If I was asked to list the top ten American race car drivers of all time, without question or hesitation, "No. 1" on my list would be Dan Gurney. Although he doesn't have four Indy 500 victories like A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears; seven NASCAR championships like Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt; or both Indycar and Formula 1 championships like Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney was one of the most versatile (if hard lucked) American drivers ever.
Gurney started racing a Triumph TR2 in 1955, quickly becoming one of the top American road racing stars. He went on to drive Porsches and Brabhams in the Formula 1 circuit, always challenging the recognized stars, like Jim Clark and Graham Hill. He was a key driver for Carroll Shelby during the heyday years of the Cobras and GT-40s, including winning the GT class for Cobra at Le Mans in 1964 and the overall Le Mans race in 1967. He virtually owned the Riverside Raceway in California, winning five NASCAR races and two Indycar races at that track. By the time he retired in 1970, Dan Gurney had accumulated 57 victories including: seven Formula 1 races, seven Indycar races, five NASCAR races, and more than 30 U.S. and international road races. Countless other "sure" victories were snatched from him by the quirks of racing luck. As a team owner and manager, Gurney has had even greater success.
In 1964, Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby, both in the midst of developing the Cobra legend, joined forces to form All American Racers. Gurney's goal was to built and race an American car -- the Eagle -- in both the Formula 1 and Indycar circuits. AAR fielded non-Eagle entries in the 1965 Indycar series, with disappointing results at Indianapolis, but a victory for Joe Leonard in the Milwaukee 200.
The Formula Eagles
AAR's racing history began in earnest in 1966, when Gurney's own Eagles raced in both the Indycar and Formula 1 series. On the Formula 1 circuit, the Eagle was hampered because the special-built Weslake engine wasn't ready at the start of the season. Even so, Gurney's new and underpowered Eagle place 5th in both the French and Mexican Grands Prix, earning AAR's first Formula 1 points.
Gurney's success on the Formula 1 circuit was limited, primarily because of the unreliability of the new Weslake engine. However, the Eagle flew at the 1967 non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, where Gurney and Richie Ginther placed 1st and 3rd, respectively. Gurney's biggest Formula 1 success, however, was at the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix, where he drove a magnificent race to claim the first grand prix victory by an American driver and car since 1921. Gurney also placed 3rd in that year's Canadian Grand Prix, and finished 8th in the Formula 1 World Drivers Championship. Things went downhill from there, with only a 9th place finish at the 1968 German Grand Prix.
Back in the United States, All American Racers was building and selling a Chevrolet-powered Eagle for competition in SCCA's Formula A series. This Eagle was an unqualified success. In 1968, Eagles won all seven races, earning Lou Sell and George Wintersteen 1st and 2nd place honors in the drivers championship. The following year, Eagles won six races, earning their drivers 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 6th place finishes in the drivers championship.
When SCCA revamped the Formula A series to new Formula 5000 specs, All American Racers fielded Formula 500 Eagles that, unfortunately, were more stunningly attractive than they were successful. The Eagles earned two 2nd place, one 3rd place, and one 6th place finishes in the 1974 Formula 5000 series. A new Formula 500 Eagle scored only two top-5 finishes in 1975.
In 2000, out of CART Championship racing because of Toyota's pullout of its support for the AAR Eagle-Toyota program, Dan Gurney shifted gears and began fielding a Swift-Toyota in the CART Formula Atlantic series for his two sons. Justin Gurney was designated team manager and Alex Gurney as the driver. After a slow start, Alex started to make his presence felt in the Formula Atlantic series, with a 3rd and two 5th place finishes. He ended the championship in 8th place. In 2001, Alex Gurney went to Europe to compete in the Formula 3000 series. Despite being with a team whose cars didn't have the dominant Honda powerplant, he still scored eight top-10 finishes. For 2002, Alex returned to the CART Formula Atlantic series, this time driving for the veteran Doricott team. He scored seven top-5 finishes, including two 2nd and two 3rd place finishes, to end up in 3rd place in the championship.
1996-2015 Arnold E.
van Beverhoudt, Jr.