Rolex 50th Daytona 24H Spotlight - Dan Gurney

Rolex 50th Daytona 24H Spotlight - Dan Gurney

Rolex to celebrate 50th Daytona 24H in 2011

Story Highlights

  • Won first sports car race at Daytona
  • First to win in sportscar series, F1, NASCAR, IndyCar

T-minus 10 months: Spotlight on Dan Gurney

Eagerly anticipated by drivers, auto manufacturers and race fans everywhere, the Rolex 24 At Daytona is the first major race of the international motor sport season. Every January, the Daytona International Speedway (Daytona Beach, Florida, USA) comes to life in celebration of this incredible endurance race, recognized by leading drivers as one of the most difficult in the world to win.

Building anticipation for the 50th Anniversary 2012

Dan Gurney honored: Dan Gurney
Dan Gurney honored: Dan Gurney

Photo by: Bob Heathcote

2012 will mark the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Leading up to this unique anniversary, we present a once-a-month look back through the history, people and events that have made this famous race what it is today. This month, we take a look at Dan Gurney’s historic win in the 1962 Daytona Continental, precursor to the Rolex 24 and the Speedway’s first international sports car race.

A Racing Legend Makes His Daytona Debut

The year is 1962, and Bill France Sr. knows he needs to capture national attention and publicity with his new venue and its first big race. Ready to host an international event on his newly built Speedway, and with sports car racing considered to be the elite division of American motorsports, France announces the inaugural Daytona Continental, a three-hour race to be run counter-clockwise on the 3.81-mile circuit.

Among the American drivers who participated in this predecessor race for the Rolex 24 At Daytona, was one of the fastest-rising American stars in Grand Prix racing: Dan Gurney. “I remember going to Daytona for the first time,” recalled Gurney. “You’d go through that tunnel and come out inside the speedway, and here is this gigantic dream of Bill France Sr. It was – and still is – an impressive sight. It was the granddaddy of all such tracks.”

Gurney was already well known in the motorsports world. Car and Driver magazine had named him “the patron saint of American sports car racing” in their 1964 “Dan Gurney for President” campaign. “Gurney is a natural,” Editor-in-Chief David E. Davis Jr. wrote. “He is the mold from which all of history's strong, silent, American heroes were cast. He is handsome enough to be a film star, with features rough-hewn from native American Oak [and] he's as brave as Dick Tracy.”

Perhaps it was this all-American bravery that foreshadowed Gurney’s victory on Daytona’s monster 31-degree banking in that inaugural race. When the green flag dropped, the drivers that were lined up on pit road sprinted to their cars and fired up their engines in typical “Le Mans Start” fashion, the only time a running start was used at Daytona. As the race progressed, Gurney had a seemingly insurmountable lead. But with one minute and 40 seconds remaining before the three hours elapsed, disaster struck. “With about a two-minute lead, the engine blew between turns three and four of the banking,” Gurney recalled. “It actually stuck a rod right through the side of the engine block. I coasted towards the finish line, up on the banking in front of the grandstands.”

I turned left and coasted down the banking and that was the win.

Dan Gurney

Gurney knew that to win the race he had to cross the finish line after time had expired, and regulations prohibited him from being pushed across the line. If he crossed the line before the three hours were up, there was no way he could run another full lap. Waiting on the banked tri-oval, Gurney hoped gravity would propel him to victory.

“I sat there, four or five feet short of going across the finish line, way up near the wall,” said Gurney. “The flagman was perched just up above me, I was looking at my watch, and he was looking at his watch, and I was wondering whether in fact we had the kind of lead we thought we had. In the end, he waved the flag, and I turned left and coasted down the banking and that was the win.”

Although popular legend insists that Gurney crossed the finish on his starter motor, he admits that the motor would have not turned over because of the broken rod. “No, I just turned left, but that’s the way history is made. Nobody could believe it just coasted across.” It was the fastest sports car race ever run in the United States – despite having one of the slowest finishes.

Gurney had completed 82 laps, averaging 104.101 mph (167.534 kph) in his red Lotus 19. It was a promising start for the Daytona Continental and would mark the continued evolution of Gurney’s sports car history that also included wins in Sebring, the Nuerburgring and Le Mans, where he is known for single-handedly making podium champagne-spraying a mainstay in the sport when he won the race with A.J. Foyt in 1967.

DP podium: Dan Gurney with son Alex Gurney and Jimmie Johnson
DP podium: Dan Gurney with son Alex Gurney and Jimmie Johnson

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

Gurney was the first driver to win races in all four key disciplines: Sports Cars, Formula One, NASCAR and Indy Car, an accomplishment matched today by only other two drivers, Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya. In the century-long history of Formula 1 racing, Gurney is the only American to have won a World Championship Grand Prix in a car of his own construction. His days as a driver came to a close in 1970, when he shifted his focus to his All American Racers enterprise and building Eagle race cars. When asked what he felt might be his most rewarding experience as a constructor he said, “The most remarkable period for us would be the 1992 /1993 season with our Toyota powered Eagle GTP car. We won the last 17 races that we entered, and that is some kind of achievement. In fact, today we still hold the lap record at Daytona that we set in 1993 with P.J. Jones behind the wheel.” Gurney smiled, adding, “they have changed the track since then, but they have made it faster, which makes our accomplishment that much more satisfying.”

In 2010, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion honored Dan Gurney with a tribute, “the cars he built, the cars he drove,” a fitting homage for a man who has left his mark across the spectrum of motorsports history. Of the vintage racing, Gurney said, “I don’t know what it is about human beings, we all have an affinity for the internal combustion engine and the sounds and smells of it, as well as all the history. It’s great to see decades touching each other and new generations appreciating similar things.”

- source: rolex

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About this article
Series Grand-Am , IMSA Others
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Tags daytona 24 hour, gurney, rolex