The 75 FCA Southwest Region members who attended the General Meeting February 10 were treated to a really special evening at the home of All American Racers, Inc., Dan Gurney?s CART Toyota Champ car team. One of the many buildings at AAR?s Costa Mesa headquarters was converted to bar and buffet service for the event, but there were plenty of new (and some old) race cars left in place for members to gawk at and admire.
Highlight of the evening was Dan himself, asked by President Wally Clark to say a few words of welcome. Mr. Gurney apparently warmed to the occasion by memories of his early days with Ferrari, shared a few of these with the members present. They were priceless. A new kid from California, "auditioning" for a spot on the Ferrari F-1 team, turning better lap times than the factory driver in cars he?d never seen before. And then, mixing it up with the likes of Behra, Hill, Moss and Brooks!
Two of the funniest (which clearly show why Dan?s reputation as the Will Rogers of racing is well deserved) involved a wad of 10,000 lire notes stuffed in his back pocket, causing his right foot to go dead in the middle of a driving try-out at Monza; and an experience at the Nurburgring involving the Air Force Thunderbirds passing low overhead at just the wrong moment. He paints very vivid and unforgettable pictures.
Gurney?s current passion is the building and management of his team of Toyota-powered CART Champ cars which compete in the newly-named FedEx Championship Series. (Even though these cars are far more sophisticated and faster than their IRL counterparts, they can?t be called "Indy Cars" because of legal restrictions.) AAR?s drivers are PJ Jones and, replacing the retired Juan Fangio II, Alex Barron, winner of the 1997 Toyota Atlantic series. Gurney?s first two seasons have been a development struggle, but he?s confident that this season?s ?98 Reynard chassis with new and power-improved Toyota motors will do the job right. The FCA was privileged to meet and share some memories with a truly great American race driver, car builder and team owner, who also happens to be a remarkable person. In Japan, there is a designation for outstanding people who bring credit to their craft and honor to their country; they?re called "Living National Treasures". Dan Gurney fits the designation.
Thanks to Dan and to Kathy Weida, his good right hand, for hosting the event. And to Skip Hudson (a great driver in his own right) for a tour of the facilities and an explanation of the inner workings of All American Racers.