Now in his sixties, Dan Gurney doesn't cut quite the same picture he did back when he was winning at Le Mans, or when he was taking the Lotus and Eagles around Indy and driving Porsche and Ferrari Grand Prix and sports cars.
He now looks slightly like somebody's grandfather. Still a good- looking guy, he has a bit of a paunch these days. And he wears reading glasses -- the little half glasses -- which make him look slightly vulnerable. So it's hard to imagine the man with enough hostility to drive a race car as he did, cranking his Ferrari around European circuits in anger. It's hard to imagine because he looks so ... passive. So friendly.
And that's one thing you can say about Gurney: no matter what, no matter when, and no matter with whom, he always has a moment for a smile and a chat. After all, diplomats have to be tolerant.
The three great all-around drivers of the 20th Century -- not counting specialists like Johnny Rutherford or Richard Petty -- should be listed as thus: Mario Andretti, AJ Foyt, and Dan Gurney.
Gurney's win record is slightly less than sterling than the former two drivers. He never won a World Championship, a USAC Championship, a NASCAR Championship or an Indy 500. He started 86 Grands Prix, won four times, and finished in the top six thirty-one times. He started racing Indy Cars full time in 1967, won seven times and quit by the middle of 1970. He was fast and he was always in the hunt, but he was not a Mark Donahue, not a Jackie Stewart and not a Mario or an AJ. Then again, neither were they a Dan Gurney.
What Gurney did was to integrate racing. He brought Lotus to America and Ford to France. He brought European design to Indy and American initiative to Europe. He took the first American-made car and put it in the winner's circle on the Grand Prix circuit and then went out and showed the NASCAR drivers that there were more people than just "good ol' boys" who could drive an oval.
"I happened to be interested in things that were going on over there. Too bad we don't have one formula that is the pinnacle around the world," Gurney said, still hopeful, still arbitrating, still being the intermediary. "Everybody calls themselves World Champion this and World Champion that. There's a kind of cross-pollination that is sort of counterproductive. I mean everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time. Once you get beyond prejudice, I think you get a mutual respect from each side."
Gurney has been a manufacturer for the past thirty years, becoming successful enough that by 1973 twenty-one of the thirty-three cars in the Indianapolis 500 field were Eagles, constructed and built by Dan Gurney.
Gurney started last Sunday with the latest phase of his unique diplomacy, which brought Toyota to the Indy Car championship. After having won the last of the great American sports car championships, the IMSA GTP Championship, it was a natural progression to Indy Cars. And although the Toyotas didn't win -- or even get close to winning Sunday at Miami -- they were certainly taken seriously.
Gurney speaks softly, as Teddy Roosevelt might have said, and he carries a big stick, a refreshing sort of self-effacing confidence. Unlike many of today's mavericks, Gurney doesn't call attention to himself. He is not about winning at all costs, but about competing.
Man, it's great to have him back.