By the time I met Dan Gurney, he had already accomplished everything as a driver, race-car constructor, and team owner anyone can locate by typing his name into an internet search engine. My great fortune was Gurney’s lifelong passion for motorcycling, which led to periodic trips to All American Racers with other members of the Cycle World edit staff for updates on his series of feet-forward “Alligator” two-wheelers.
The walls of the hallway leading to Gurney’s office in Santa Ana, California, were an ever-expanding visual patchwork of his life. He would often stop and point to a particular photograph and explain why it was important to him. When Gurney suggested lunch, we’d scramble for a place in his Toyota minivan. He kept the seatback reclined so far that you’d swear, even at 6-foot-4, he couldn’t see over the steering wheel. Yet he drilled every apex.
Gurney was a regular at the Golden Truffle in nearby Newport Beach—“You may not be sure what you’re eating,” the joke went, “but it’s always delicious.” One day, bike designer Pierre Terblanche was in town so we phoned chef/proprietor Alan Greeley—an avid rider himself—and asked if we could reserve a table. Greeley agreed, and we piled in our big Chevy van. When Greeley saw Terblanche, he phoned Gurney, who arrived shortly with son Justin.
Greeley prepared one course after another for what will go down in history as perhaps the most entertaining and certainly the longest—eight hours, no kidding—meal in CW history. Greeley was enjoying himself so much that he nearly popped the cork on one of his largest and most prized wines. Terblanche leapt to the rescue, offering to sign the bottle for the next time we were all together. Gurney smiled and laughed.
Years before I shook Gurney’s hand for the first time, my father introduced me to him through the pages of Road & Track, with which CW long shared a building. My dad spoke admiringly of the great American drivers, Gurney to him representing the high-water mark. For the 35th anniversary of Gurney’s historic Formula 1 victory at Spa-Francorchamps, R&T re-enacted the moment and produced a commemorative poster.
The posters sold out before I could get my hands on one, so I made a print of the original John Lamm photo of Gurney at the wheel of his winning Eagle-Weslake and asked Dan to sign it for my father as a Christmas gift. Gurney kindly obliged, referencing “all the good old days” before adding his signature. My dad’s face lit up when he saw the framed image for the first time. High-water mark, indeed.