The day Dan Gurney invented one of the most iconic showpieces in motor racing
“Dan was a big part of that win and I’m just glad to have been on his team. He sprayed Henry Ford II all up and down with champagne and I said ‘man, that’s the boss you’re spraying!’”
The words of A.J. Foyt, who shared the top step of the podium with Dan Gurney at the 1967 Le Mans 24 hours.
Gurney passed away this weekend, leading his wealth of fans to pay tribute not only to his famous racing victories – like that Le Mans win with Foyt in a Ford GT40 – but some of the new ideas and technology he introduced to motorsport. Among them, the act of spraying champagne to celebrate a victory.
“We were up there celebrating, and everyone was up there, Michael Parkes from Ferrari and all the Ford people,” recalled Gurney last year, when Ford marked the 50th anniversary of his and Foyt’s win.
“We didn’t call him Henry II, we called him ‘Hank the Deuce.’ He was an imposing figure and if he looked at you the wrong way, you kind of shriveled up and tried to disappear. He was there with a new bride, I think, on their honeymoon and when I started spraying him, I’m not sure he liked it or not, but he was a good sport about it and we had a wonderful time spraying champagne, A.J. and I both.”
“Dan was as happy as I was,” added Foyt, acknowledging it as a pretty spontaneous act. “Now you see all the Formula 1 drivers doing the same thing, but we did it 50 years ago. It was just a great victory, I think, for both of us.”
The pair remain the only all-American team (drivers and car) at Le Mans. But their antics a short while after the chequered flag are arguably better known. Let’s hope that when the racing season kicks off again in spring, and the champagne hosed around the podium once more, a glass or two is raised to Dan Gurney.
STORY Stephen Dobie