Big tall manly Dan had always had a reputation during his frontline career for being a man of very few words. But that was never the case with his friends and team-mates. He was one of the most competitive, and the most talented, of all frontline drivers around, but he had grown towards his peak performances with Jack Brabham’s Formula 1 team, and with Jack, designer Ron Tauranac and mechanics like Tim Wall nobody there said very much. The more loquacious journalists around, especially the quote hunters from the Fleet Street newspapers, detested such Trappist silence, and put it down to native stupidity on the part of those colonials, Aussies, Kiwis and a Yank. In fact any stupidity involved was always their own – and by my reckoning some of Fleet Street’s finest ‘sports writers’ of the era were intensely dumb, indeed – but too noisy, and half-pickled most of the time, to realise it.
With the Brabham team, and later with his own AAR outfits and McLaren, Dan Gurney stood tall, and taciturn and let his driving do the talking. And many of us who were hanging on the fence or looking on from the trackside really, really rated him for it.
When I got to know him I quickly realised that amongst his many other attributes he was also a keen student of military history. When he first came to Europe in 1958-59 he was fascinated to see the scene of so many actions he had heard or read about, and many of those sights would elicit the same emotional response. And when he first came to Goodwood – to drive his works Ferrari in the 1959 Tourist Trophy – he drank in the sights here too, and would become a considerable Anglophile.
But in reality – like all great racing drivers – Gurney had a core of spring steel.