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Versatile racing legend Dan Gurney dies

Legendary racer Dan Gurney, a winner in NASCAR, Formula One, IndyCar and sports cars, died Sunday morning because of complications from pneumonia, a statement from his family confirmed. He was 86.

Gurney’s greatest career triumph was teaming with fellow American icon A.J. Foyt to win the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The next week, he scored the last of his four victories in Formula One, winning in his famous Eagle chassis in the Grand Prix of Belgium at Spa-Francorchamps. It was indicative of Gurney’s reputation as an innovator known for groundbreaking advancements in aerodynamics and safety as a team owner and driver. He even is credited with being the first to spray champagne on the winner’s podium.

But he also was known as one of the most prodigious and versatile drivers of the 20th century, perhaps best exemplified by his success in NASCAR’s premier series at Riverside International Raceway. Driving a Ford, he won in his first four starts (1963-66) on the road course in Southern California (where he lived most of his life). He won again from the pole position in 1968 – one of four wins he scored with Wood Brothers Racing.

In 16 Cup starts from 1962-80, Gurney notched 10 top 10s. He finished fifth in the 1963 Daytona 500.

He also made eight starts in the Indianapolis 500, finishing second in 1968 and ’69. He scored seven wins in Champ Car races from 1967-70.

Gurney raced the full F1 schedule in 1961, ’63-’64 and ’67 and finished fourth in the standings twice.

A winner in Trans-Am, Can-Am, NASCAR, Formula 1 and IndyCar, Gurney was the first to win in sports cars, Formula 1, NASCAR and Indy cars. Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya are the only drivers who matched the feat.

After retiring from full-time driving, he became a team owner and was instrumental in the formation of the CART Series. His All-American Racers team won dozens of racers in open wheel, stock cars and sports cars (including a streak of 17 straight from 1992-93 in IMSA GTP).

“The word ‘legend’ can sometimes be overused, but in describing Daniel Sexton Gurney, it’s the only word that fits,” IMSA President Scott Atherton said in a statement. “Dan Gurney was an American racing legend who accomplished nearly all there was to accomplish as a driver in our sport, from sports cars to NASCAR, Indy cars to Formula 1. Dan was an innovative car builder and a lifelong steward of motorsports beyond his on-track performance.

Gurney is survived by his wife, Evi, and four sons (Justin, Alex, Jimmy and Dan Jr.). Here is part of the statement from the family:

With one last smile on his handsome face, Dan drove off into the unknown just before noon today, January 14, 2018. In deepest sorrow, with gratitude in our hearts for the love and joy you have given us during your time on this earth, we say ‘Godspeed.’

Gurney’s family said his funeral will be private and asked that donations in his name be made to Hoag Hospital Foundation in Newport Beach, California. Fans who wish to express their sentiments about Gurney can send notes to eagleracingcarsusa@aarinc.com.