Tony Brooks describes his Ferrari teammate and friend for nearly 60 years, the late Dan Gurney, as an “excellent driver and a very pleasant person.”
Brooks had two Formula 1 seasons under his belt when he signed with Ferrari for 1959, a year in which he would finish second in the World Championship. He was soon joined by F1 rookie Gurney, who had won the 12 Hours of Sebring for the Italian marque in March. Team owner Enzo Ferrari was so impressed that he then sent Gurney to Europe to compete in four championship grands prix – he scored a second, a third and a fourth place – as well as several sportscar races.
“The quality I remember most about Dan was what a lovely person he was,” Brooks told Motorsport.com on Monday. “That’s actually the most important aspect about him from my point of view – but he had all the other assets to be successful in motor racing. He was a very, very good driver, he was intelligent, he understood cars, and he was a very successful team owner and car builder. He gets full marks from me – excellent driver and a very pleasant man.”
Brooks said that as a teammate, he swiftly recognized that Gurney was a versatile driver who could be regarded in the top echelon of Formula 1 and sportscar talents, despite the cars requiring very different driving styles, even when F1 cars were still front-engined.
“A sportscar of that time was so much heavier and more cumbersome than a Formula 1 car,” Brooks recalled. “A rather crude but actually quite valid analogy would be comparing a cart horse to a race horse. The Formula 1 car was so much more responsive because it was lighter and you could be much more precise because you could see the wheels.
“There were some drivers of sportscars who weren’t quite top-rank in single-seaters, but it was definitely evident even in that first season that Dan was going to excel in both.”
Gurney scored the first championship F1 GP wins for three different marques – Porsche, Brabham and his own AAR Eagle team. But Brooks who, like Gurney, only briefly raced cars that were both reliable and fast enough to match his ability, agreed that F1 statistics don’t do justice to his American friend’s talent because he was so often with the right teams at the wrong times.
“Yes, I’m sure that’s why he won only a handful of races in F1 cars,” said Brooks. “I was never conscious of him being hard on the machinery and we all know he was quick. So that would tend to mean his choices of team, timing-wise, was not the best – and I can relate to that! You know, you work things out in theory, and then you find in practice that the theory was no more than that. There was nothing wrong with Dan’s driving, so you’ve got to conclude he was just in the wrong cars too much of the time.”
Brooks retired from racing at the end of 1961, at the age of only 29, in order to set up a car dealership in his native England, but he remained an avid follower of racing. He describes Gurney’s decision to quit Brabham after three years to set up his own team, Anglo/All-American Racers as “very brave.”
Recalls Brooks: “I felt I had taken a dive in at the deep end by going into the [road] car business, but Dan… Well, I’d say he was very, very brave to set up his own race team – something I’d never do! But he ended up making a very good job of it, considering all the problems you inevitably have to overcome when you start something from scratch. He won a Grand Prix at Spa and then AAR Eagle became one of the best teams in American racing for a long, long time.
“You’d have to look at his financial records to see how well team ownership worked for him on a personal basis – I can imagine it was often a real struggle, and you have to admire him for that, because it was such a terribly hard road to take. That’s why I regard him as so brave to make that step.”
Brooks and his wife Pina remained in contact with Dan and Evi Gurney even though their careers took very different paths, and decades after their driving days were done, Brooks said it was always a delight to meet up with his old pal, be it at Goodwood’s Festival or Revival in England, or near Gurney’s AAR shop in California.
“We have a daughter who lives in Santa Monica,” he explained, “and whenever we were visiting her, we always made a point of going to visit with Dan. The last time we met up was at Goodwood, because for medical reasons we stopped traveling to California, and instead our daughter was traveling to visit us, or we were meeting her in Spain.
“But the past couple of years we kept in touch with Dan and Evi by telephone, letters, Christmas cards, and so on. And over the almost 60 years I knew him, he didn’t change – just a very warm and pleasant man. So yes, I will remember him as an excellent driver but also a lovely person. I really liked Dan a lot.”
• The image at the top of this story is from a recent Christmas card that Tony sent to Dan