Dan Gurney’s Riverside-winning NASCAR is a brute

11th August 2021
Adam Wilkins

It’s 1963 and NASCAR makes its first visit to the twisty road circuit that was Riverside. More suited to ovals, the cars prove a real handful in an environment that includes gradient, corners that go both directions, and adverse cambers. The promoters were keen to bring NASCAR to Southern California, but it the circuit didn’t play into the hands of oval specialists.


And so it proved. As the race ran into the gloaming, it was the versatile Dan Gurney who claimed victory. All around him, huge American saloon cars were spinning and running wide into the dirt. To prove his win was no fluke, he’d go on to win four out of the next five Riverside 500 NASCAR races.

He was at the wheel of the very Ford Galaxie that you see here, driven up the Hill at the 2021 Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard by owner John Breslow. The car was built by Homan-Moody and sponsored by La Fayette Ford. After its win at the inaugural Riverside 500, its motorsport career continued in lower categories.


More recently, it underwent a thorough restoration by Randy Peterson to bring it back to its 1963 specification. It’s unmissable thanks to its vast dimensions, but there’s more to its appeal than brute force. The sponsors’ logos, for instance, are hand-painted rather than stickers. Look more closely and you’ll spot a Dan Gurney signature on the dashboard, and the original Holman-Moody chassis plate is in the door jam.

Riverside wasn’t so lucky when it comes to preservation. It was closed in 1989 to make way for a shopping mall and housing development. Fortunately, the cars like this Galaxie, which brought the place to life, are still around to delight motor racing fans.


John has owned the car for about seven years, and in that time has ventured on circuit for track days only. He has never subjected it to wheel-to-wheel competition. “I don’t want to race it,” he says. “I do race some pretty historic cars, but this one is so big and so hard to drive it’s not something I feel good about. It’s really a jewel and people love to see it. It’s a part of racing history.”

So what’s it like to thread it up the Hill? “It’s amazing, it’s so much fun. Although the car is very wide, so I really had to be careful.” It looks particularly huge as it passed the flint wall, the narrowest part of the Hill. While John has raced his Jaguar XKSS at the Goodwood Members’ Meeting, this is first visit to the Festival as an entrant. Watching onboard footage on YouTube provided some preparation for what to expect. “Those guys were going crazy fast and I’m just out there to survive with this car.”


It’s hard work to manhandle, too. “It took Gurney about five hours to win at Riverside,” says John. “I’ve taken it on track days and after five or ten laps my arms fall off. I don’t know how anyone can drive this thing for that long and control it.”

Photography by Phil Hay, main imagine by Nick Dungan.


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