It’s pretty hard to quantify a career and a life as great as those of Dan Gurney, American racing hero, but the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles has given it a try.
The Petersen has opened a new tribute called, “The Eagles Have Landed,” and it’s a splendid collection of 13 of Gurney’s greatest rides, from the famous 1967 AAR Eagle of his own design in which he won the Grand Prix of Belgium at Spa-Francorchamps to his 1999 Eagle 997 Indy car. In between are cars that show the depth and breadth of his thoroughly versatile career: several Indy cars, his 1970 Plymouth Barracuda AAR Trans-Am car, the wide, flat Toyota Eagle Mk III GTP car that dominated sports car racing in America in 1993, and there was even a Gurney Alligator motorcycle.
Gurney with designer Pete Brock and museum director Terry Karges.
In a career that spanned only 15 of his 85 years Gurney managed to win in every kind of racing he tried. And he tried almost all of them: Formula 1, sports cars, Indycars, NASCAR, Can-Am and Trans-Am, to name just the more prominent series.
“By the time Dan retired from active driving in 1970, he had raced 312 events in 20 countries with 51 different makes (more than 100 different models) of cars, winning 51 races and 47 podiums,” reads the biography on his home page, allamericanracers.com.
He was the first driver to post wins in Grand Prix, Indycar, NASCAR and sports cars (Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya are the only other drivers to do it since).
So the museum had a tall order.
Gurney signs an autograph
The Petersen’s Charles Nearburg Family Gallery hosts the cars, along with other artifacts like the bottle of champagne Gurney famously sprayed when he won Le Mans in 1967 and the full-face Bell helmet he wore in competition – both of which became regular racing features that survive to this day.
The collection opened last Friday night, January 27, with a gala party at the museum filled with family, friends, former co-workers and fans of the man. Patron Charles Nearburg, a confessed “huge fan” of Gurney, hosted a slide show that touched on just about all of the great racer’s career.
And at the end, Gurney himself spoke, reading from his own dedication at the front of John Zimmerman’s book “Dan Gurney’s Eagle Racing Cars:”
“In racing, the glory of winning usually goes to the driver and rarely to the constructor of his car. His success thrills his fans on a particular day and the echo of the moment lives on for a while in their hearts. Then, as the years go by, those great Sunday afternoons with the cheering crowds fade into memory, and what’s left of the driver’s legacy are statistics on a piece of paper. Beautifully built winning race cars, on the other hand, start to gain glory and value, they get polished and cherished and exhibited and – if they have truly been significant in the scope of things – end up in collections and museums to be admired by many not yet born. It’s a romantic notion, and a particularly nice one, for me to imagine that some future little Gurney will touch the shiny skin of an Eagle racing car somewhere sometime and be proud of his ancestry.”
That night there were plenty of Gurneys, and there will no doubt be plenty more as the years roll on, all proud of their ancestry.
The exhibit runs through January 2018.
o 1967 AAR Eagle Gurney-Weslake V-12 #36 F1 Grand Prix Car
o 1968 AAR Indy Olsonite Eagle #48
o 1968 AAR Indy Eagle Rislone Special #3
o 1968 McLeagle Olsonite AAR Can-Am Car #48
o 1970 Plymouth Barracuda AAR Trans Am Car #48
o 1971 AAR Indy Olsonite Eagle #2
o 1972 AAR Indy Olsonite Eagle #6
o 1975 AAR Indy Jorgensen Eagle #48
o 1977 AAR SCCA Eagle Formula Ford #48
o 1981 AAR Indy Eagle #48 “Pepsi Challenger”
o 1993 AAR Toyota Eagle Mk III GTP #99
o 1999 AAR Eagle 997 Indy car
o 2002 Gurney Alligator A6 motorcycle