The Petersen Automotive Museum awarded motorsports icon Dan Gurney with the Robert E. Petersen Lifetime Achievement Award at its 22nd Annual Gala on Saturday, October 22nd, 2016. Barry Meguiar presented the award in recognition of Gurney’s six decades of achievement in racing as a driver, team owner and manufacturer, as well as his contributions to engineering, safety and even the space program. Gurney accepted the award via a video that was shown to the capacity crowd at the event.
Recognized as one of the greatest American race car drivers of all time, Gurney drove in a variety of series — winning races in Formula One, Indy Car, NASCAR, Can-Am and Trans-Am — the first driver ever to do so. He also helped popularize safety innovations like the full-face helmet, which soon became not only standard, but required. His experiences as a race car driver led to the creation of All American Racers, whereas constructor and team owner, Gurney fielded some of most innovative and successful Formula One and Indy Car racers of all time. In his 70s, when most men would retire, Gurney’s creativity and innovation hit a new stride — designing an entirely new type of motorcycle — the Alligator — that improved both safety and performance, manufacturing the exotic Delta Wing race car and building the legs for Space-X’s game-changing Falcon9 rocket. For these accomplishments and his good-natured ambassadorship for motorsports, Gurney is a much deserved recipient of the Robert E. Petersen Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I feel lucky to have been able to enjoy such a long and fruitful career,” said Gurney, upon being presented with the Robert E. Petersen Lifetime Achievement Award. “I’ve been privileged to take part in some of racing’s greatest moments and I am humbled to receive this award from the Petersen Museum. I knew Bob Petersen and the spirit that he possessed and the work he did made a real difference in the automotive world. Thank you to the museum for this honor, and thank you to my wife, Evi, and my family for their support all these years.”
Dan Gurney was born in Port Jefferson, New York in 1931 and moved with his family to Riverside, California when he was teenager. It was in Riverside where his interest in racing bloomed, eventually leading him to a drive with Frank Arciero’s Maserati-engined ‘Special,’ a car with notoriously wicked handling. He managed to drive that car to a second place finish behind none other than Carroll Shelby at Riverside International Raceway, and from there his career took off. He drove first for Luigi Chinetti, the North American Ferrari importer and then for Scuderia Ferrari in F1. He went on to drive for BRM, Cooper, Porsche and Brabham before becoming a constructor himself.
His team, All American Racers, was famous for its Gurney Eagle F1 racers with their Weslake-designed V12 engines. Not content to stay in Formula 1, Gurney and his Eagles went on successfully build and race Indy Cars, and eventually found great success in Prototype racing. To this day, Gurney remains the only American to have won a Formula 1 race in a car of his own construction. Additionally, Gurney had a highly successful career in sports car racing, which included winning the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Ford GT40 Mk. IV with co-driver AJ Foyt. The first all-American team to win the famed endurance race in an American car. Gurney celebrated the win by spraying the crowd with champagne, the first driver to do so and starting the legendary tradition that still exists today on every podium in motor racing.
“I was at Dan Gurney’s first race at Torrey Pines in 1955, and I’ve been a fan ever since,” said Terry L. Karges, executive director of the Petersen Automotive Museum. “Given all he has done as a driver and a builder, I have always called Dan ‘il commendatore.’ He is more than a race car driver, team owner or inventor, he’s a true American icon and a hero to many. Nobody has done as much, as successfully, as Dan throughout his career and he embodies the spirit of the Robert E. Petersen Lifetime Achievement Award.”
Previous winners of the Petersen Award include Art Chrisman, Carroll Shelby, George Barris, Andy Granatelli, The Ford Family, Vic Edelbrock, Jack Roush, Ed “Isky” Iskenderian, “Speedy” Bill Smith, Alex Xydias, Wally Parks and Ed Pink.
[Source: Petersen Automotive Museum]