Dan Gurney, 1962 Daytona Continental 3-Hour

1962 Daytona 3-Hour Continental – The Tradition Begins

For the beginning of the three-hour event the officials utilized a Le Mans style start where the drivers sprint across to their cars, climb in, start the car and try like mad to be the first away.

At Daytona the Le Mans start was done on the pit road in close proximity to turns one and two and it was decided, for safety sake, to have the drivers skip going into turns one and two and go straight onto the tri-oval lest there be a thirty car pileup with everyone trying to get into the first turn at the same time.

This gave the pack time to stretch out along the 2.5 mile tri-oval and only when they finished the first circuit would they start using the infield course. At the end of the first lap the Pontiac Tempest of A.J. Foyt was in the lead going into turn one.

The heavier Tempest was passed by Roger Penske in the more nimble Cooper-Climax on the infield course and he would eventually lose the lead to Phil Hill in the more powerful V6 Ferrari Dino. Foyt lead the first lap because he really pushed the Tempest in order to win a $10.00 bet he had with Roger Ward that he could lead the first lap. He may have done too good of a job winning that bet because he withdrew his car on the second lap with engine trouble.

In one of those “If I didn’t have bad luck I would have no luck at all” scenarios, Hill would strike a seagull with his car necessitating an unscheduled pit stop to clean what was left of the bird from the grill and radiator. Later he would have to pit again because he lost the fuel filler cap on the track and on lap 44 he would brake too late for turn one and miss the turn which cost him valuable time.

In a 24-hour race all these unfortunate incidents might not be a problem but in a three-hour race they were the kiss of death and Dan Gurney’s Lotus took over the lead. It then became a dogfight between the Hill/Rodriguez Ferrari and the Chaparral of Jim Hall to see who would come in second.

With just a couple of laps left in the race, Gurney had what he thought was a comfortable lead of almost two minutes over the rest of the field. Coming out of turn six he accelerated his Lotus onto the high banks expecting to do maybe one or two more laps before he got the checkered flag.

Somewhere between NASCAR turns three and four the 2500cc Climax engine blew and he lost power immediately. Normally when this happens to a driver at Daytona he would signal to the other cars behind him with a raised arm and then slowly drift down to the apron. Gurney was close enough to pit road where he could have coasted all the way to his pit.

Instead Gurney went higher on the banked track almost to the retaining wall and used his momentum to continue all the way to the start/finish line stopping just a few feet short of the starter and the start/finish line. He was just inches away from the retaining wall much to the delight of the hundreds of spectators in the grand stands.

Gurney exited his car and examined the engine which he saw was a hopeless mess. He talked to the starter who told him he was about to drop the checkered flag. Gurney reentered his car and looked at his watch. He noticed that the starter was also looking at his watch. Gurney’s strategy was to wait for the checkered flag to drop and then cross the finish line hopefully still in the lead. At that moment both the Ferrari Dino (Rodriguez now driving) and Jim Hall’s Chaparral were on the same lap and closing fast.

Well, the time ran out and the starter dropped the checkered flag. Gurney was in his broken-down Lotus and his car magically (?) moves across the finish line to claim the win. How he did it is still being questioned fifty years later and recent statements from Dan Gurney haven’t helped the matter.

In the book Daytona 24 Hours by J.J. O’Malley, Gurney indicated to the author that he did not cross the finish line on the car’s starter motor as many have believed for decades but, “I just turned left…(and)…coasted across.”

Several things seem to contradict Mr. Gurney’s account in the J.J. O’Malley book. First is a contemporary report in the magazine Sports Car Graphic, which at the time indicated that the post-race celebrations were interrupted when:

“…the voice from the loudspeaker announced that a protest had been lodged. There was a moment of stunned silence and then people began to wildly compare notes and remember regulations. The stewards had to meet for a decision and the car was immediately locked in the Prestolite Company’s garage. Neither Dan nor Jerry (Gurney’s mechanic Jerry Eisert) yet knew exactly what had happened to the car; later examination showed that a piston had disintegrated and the connecting rod and wristpin had beaten a fist-sized hole in the block. Unofficial word had it that starter O.W. Collins, Jr. had filed the protest on the basis that the car did not cross the line under its own power. This later proved to be false and the situation resolved itself when the stewards were shown that the car was still capable of moving itself on the starter motor.”

A series of five black-and-white period photos are included with this race profile. Some of them appeared in the publication Competition Press and Autoweek soon after the race. They clearly show Gurney stopping his Lotus on the 18-degree bank near the starter. One photo shows him out of the car. Other photos show him as the checkered flag drops and as he passes under the starter’s perch with his front tires pointed straight ahead. Only when he is beyond the starter does he turn left. Additionally all of this can also be viewed on YouTube with a period film called “Off to the Races 1962” which was produced by Delco batteries.

Dan Gurney’s Lotus blew its engine so he parked the car on the 18 degree bank near the start finish.  This photo shows him getting back into the car after talking to the starter and finding out that the checkered flag will drop momentarily.

Dan Gurney’s Lotus blew its engine so he parked the car on the 18 degree bank near the start finish. This photo shows him getting back into the car after talking to the starter and finding out that the checkered flag will drop momentarily. (photo credit: Flip Schulke/ISC Archives/Getty photo)

The checkered flag is waved and the Gurney Lotus moves toward the finish line.

The checkered flag is waved and the Gurney Lotus moves toward the finish line. (photo credit: Flip Schulke/ISC Archives/Getty photo)

This close-up shows Gurney’s right hand near the dash (starter button???) and the front wheels straight ahead as he slowly moves toward the finish line.

This close-up shows Gurney’s right hand near the dash (starter button???) and the front wheels straight ahead as he slowly moves toward the finish line. (photo credit: Flip Schulke/ISC Archives/Getty photo)

In this photo the Gurney Lotus has crossed the finish line.  Note that the steering wheels are still straight ahead and Gurney’s right hand is still near the dash.

In this photo the Gurney Lotus has crossed the finish line. Note that the steering wheels are still straight ahead and Gurney’s right hand is still near the dash. (photo credit: Flip Schulke/ISC Archives/Getty photo)

1962 Daytona 3-Hour Continental Sports Car Race checkered flag

This photo shows Gurney well beyond the finish line and beginning to turn his wheels to the left. He raises his left arm to signal to the cars still on the track what he is doing. Films show the car coasting down to the track apron and onto the grass. His crew pushed the car to the winner’s circle. (photo credit: Flip Schulke/ISC Archives/Getty photo)

Finally is a statement that appeared in the Daytona Beach Morning Journal quoting Dan Gurney as saying the following, “I got out of the car, talked to the starter, and when he told me he was going to drop the flag I got back in the car and went across on the starter. I don’t know whether the engine actually fired or not. It very well could have since there was nothing wrong with the other three cylinders and the engine wasn’t locked up. It was a Prestolite battery that got the car across. As a matter of fact, we’ve used that Prestolite battery for the last three or four races, we didn’t just put it in for this race. And it sure did the job for us. Thanks, Mr. Prestolite.”

Dan Gurney completed 82 laps in the three-hour inaugural event averaging 104.101 mph (167.523 kph) in his 2.5 liter Arciero Brothers Lotus 19 Monte Carlo. The Hill/Rodriguez Ferrari Dino finished second just 46 seconds behind the Lotus. Jim Hall’s Chaparral 1 finished third but first in class. Stirling Moss placed fourth in his Ferrari 250 GT and first in his class. Both the second place Ferrari and third place Chaparral finished on the same lap as the Gurney Lotus. The national and international publicity surrounding the dramatic and controversial finish was welcomed by Bill France, Sr. and helped to establish Gurney as a household name among many sports car aficionados and made the Daytona Continental (now the Rolex 24 At Daytona) the place to be for exciting sports car endurance racing.


For Further Reading

Daytona 24 Hours: The Definitive History of America’s Great Endurance Race,
by J.J. O’Malley, pages 19-25, David Bull Publishing

The Daytona Beach News Journal (morning, evening and Sunday) February 6-12, 1962

Godwin Kelly, The Daytona Beach News Journal Motorsports Editor, http://www.news-journalonline.com/columns/motorsports/ August 19, 2011

Countdown to the 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona, September 2, 2011, www.racer.com

Comments

  1. Nigel Medcalf says

    A really good read louis, great photo’s from the day and lots of detail as always,
    looking forward to the next one.

  2. Jim Gessner says

    The first photo with GURNEY is the JACK KNAB 1962 Corvette big brake / big tank car he owned for many years. Car is in a collection toady. We lost Jack last July 28. Great Story Louie. Love the history.

    • DavidThompson says

      Ah! You mean the lead photo with Gurney sitting (I always thought) just short of the finish line, and the Corvette a blur going by.
      Until Louis showed me the whole sequence of Gurney at the finish line, I hadn’t realized how far short of the finish line he’d stopped. I, too, had bought the malarkey that he’d turned left and coasted down the banking.
      Would “under it’s own power” NOT have included starter power, or was that just a possibility that the soap box derby story was devised to counter?

  3. DavidThompson says

    I’ve only recently seen a color photo of the Arciero Lotus 19; I’m still surprised to see it was red.
    I didn’t remember that the original Tempest raced at Daytona. In 1963, the Mickey Thompson-built new Tempests were real stormers.
    I’ve always wondered why Ferrari sent the Dino. Seems that the Testa Rossas would have been sure winners in this pre-Cobra, pre-Ford year.
    Thanks for the memories, Louis.

  4. Guido Levetto says

    Always great stuff! I remember watching the parked Lotus 19 just in front of the start/finish line at the top of the banking. We were all wondering and guessing why and as the time clicked on realized that Dan was waiting for the finish flag. As we moved toward the starter’s stand we could faintly here the sound of a starter and the Lotus rolled down the banking and through the finish line. I’m not sure which cars came by afterwards. Your photos bring back great memories. I remember spending time listening to the conversations between Phil Hill and my dad in Italian. Phil spoke Italian very well although his accent was American. A real gentleman. Of course, at the time my third attraction after the cars and drivers was Miss Universe! Tall and leggy… Guido Levetto

    • Louis Galanos says

      Thanks Guido for that story. It proves that Gurney actually used his starter to cross the finish line. Also, thanks for the use of the family videos for this story. They really made the story.

  5. Bruce Behrens says

    Once again you have recreated the great drama of that race….I wish you could compile all your great stories and pictures into a book…!

  6. Phil Currin says

    Thanks for the story Lou. 1962 was a few years before I got the sports car bug. Enjoyed seeing and reading about the cars and drivers that got the bug just before me.

  7. Mario Levetto says

    Lou: you really did a great job with those capture foto stills taken from the videos that I made from our old 16mm films. As for the article….fantastic as always. An excellent memory coupled with in depth research. Both Guido and I had access to the pits and I confirm that both Phil Hill and Oliver Gendebien were real gentlemen; taking time to discuss with perfect strangers regarding cars – drivers – Italy – etc.
    Keep it up.

  8. Dave Kutz says

    Great story Lou!

    Man, how paranoid would you be sitting there with the rest of the field blowing past trying to improve their position before the end….

  9. Tom Schultz says

    Excellent story. I especially appreciated the debunking of the repeated to this day myth about coasting down the banking to win. Speaking of myths, I do wish to point out that the ’62 3 Hour Continental was NOT the first important (as opposed to widely known!) endurance sports car race at Daytona Speedway. In April, 1959, USAC ran a 1000 Kilometer sports car race, part of its then Road Racing Division. This race, as I recall, was on the international calendar. It was flagged at six hours because of darkness. The winners were Antonio Von Dorey and Roberto Mieres in a Porsche RSK Spyder. Quite accurately, the ’62 race described is the direct progenitor of today’s 24 Hour race, but it was not the first sports car endurance race at Daytona. Further, the SCCA ran National Championship events at Daytona in 1959, 1960, 1961, and 1962 all of which predate the 3 Hr Continental.

    • Louis Galanos says

      I stand corrected Tom. Plus in addition to the USAC and SCCA races the Speedway sponsored the Paul Whiteman Trophy Races for several years. One more thing, some of those sports car races in the late ’50s and early ’60s were run clockwise around the track rather than the standard counterclockwise method today. I still feel that “Big Bill” held those events to prove to the FIA that the track was suitable for a FIA sanctioned event which he got in 1962 with the 3-Hour Continental.

      • Tom Schultz says

        Agreed. The USAC race plus all the SCCA races were “somebody else’s” races; the Continental was Big Bill’s baby.

    • Louis Galanos says

      Bob
      Peter Berry entered the Lotus Elite that Jim Clark drove at Daytona in 1962. In the three hour
      race the car finished 29th and a full 22 laps behind the winning car of Dan Gurney. Obviously
      Clark had some problems but don’t know what kind.

      • Anonymous says

        Many thanks for the reply Louis. As you say the Elite must have had problems but good to see that it did finish. Perhaps I can study my Denis Ortenburger books and find out some more about it.

  10. Harry Kennison says

    Thanks Louis for another insightful article. Eventhough I can remember watching the race on TV, I didn’t realize how far Dan Gurney was from the finish line or how far he went across the line on the starter before he cut the wheel left and coasted down the banking. In many ways it was a golden era for racing with stars from F-1, Indy Cars, NASCAR and sportcars competing against one another. Sadly this kind of cross-polination is a thing of the past. Great job Louis!

  11. art smith says

    Wow, such good stuff! and photo’s!! I was there and will treasure your pic’s much!!! art smith, brooklet, ga., (back then from Clearwater, Fl.)

  12. John Hill says

    I think I am the only person left that knows the true story of Gurney’s “win”. I was the”runner” for the Stewards of the Meet.

    After the finish, they had a meeting to discuss the finish. They said the car must finish under it’s own power and the car must be powered by an internal combustion gasoline engine and if the starter motor was used it would be DNF. I was a young engineer and spoke up. And ask them “What if the engine started, just one bang toget it started?’ They said it is broking and will not run. I said “How do you know?” “What if the engine will fire now?” They agreed if it would, they could not call it a DNF. I was told to go see if the engine would fire. I went to the car, which was in the infield and got a crew member and told him that the stewards had to know if the engine would fire. It did, but it sound very broke. I went back to the stewards, told them what had happen and they agreed they could not rule out a legal win. If you were there you would know that the trophy sat in a car during all this time. I have 8mm color movies made by my father that show much of this.

    • Louis Galanos says

      John:
      Now that is a real eye opener. If what you say can be corroborated by the 8mm movies then it would certainly answer a lot of questions. Are your films available for viewing? If so, I would like to see them. However, it still doesn’t answer the question of why Gurney, after the race in 1962, said he went across on the starter and then much later in life said he used gravity to go across the finish line. If the engine had genuinely fired enough to get him across then why the conflicting stories from the man himself?

      • John Hill says

        It is very simple, he found out that using the starter would get him a DNF.And if the starter as used to “Start” the engine a little it COULD NOT say that he did not use the car engine (Do I think he tried to start the engine, NO but as it would run after the race, they could not rule it did not start. If you watch the film of the finish, you will see that the car goes straight! Not that it matter, but I drove in the next one to a 20th Overall in my MGA twin Cam and know that gravity would not move a car like that.
        John Hill (1963 FIA drivers license #439 and competitor #237)

    • Tom Kellen says

      What a great comment by John Hill. Talk about FASCINATING…!!

      You have to love the power of the web and the reach of Sports Car Digest. Kudos to all.

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