How a 1957 Corvette Helped Make Dan Gurney a Legend
One weekend with America’s Sports Car knocked down the first dominoes of late racer’s big-time career.
Historians often treat Dan Gurney’s brief encounters with the Chevrolet Corvette as a footnote to the All-American Racer’s history. While Gurney’s force of will likely would have driven him to success anyway, the late Gurney’s 1957 win in a fuel-injected Corvette launched him on the trajectory toward becoming one of America’s influential racing personalities.
The East Coast transplant took to the post-War Southern California piston-head culture. By the time he was 24, Gurney had raced at Bonneville, served two years in the U.S. Army, and then started road-racing a Triumph. The young Gurney soon emerged as a solid driver, collecting his first road-racing win in 1956.
In early 1957, Gurney talked his way into a test in the Ferrari of legendary car owner Tony Parravano, whose driver roster at times included Carroll Shelby and Phil Hill. Gurney’s test proved to be a rare failure and, as Gurney told Motor Sport Magazine, “That was the first and only time I got fired…It was practically the end of my life.”
Dominating in a Corvette
Losing the Ferrari ride wasn’t the end for Gurney, as we well know. It was a chance afforded to Dan by the colorful Cal “Mr. Corvette” Bailey — a man with his own, stranger legacy — that really showed off Gurney’s potential. Bailey needed a better driver for his ’57 Corvette Fuelie at that year’s Sports Car Road Races at Riverside International Raceway. The down-and-out Gurney scored the drive for that race, which happened to take place at his home track.
Gurney didn’t just win his two races, he dominated them. In the shorter production-class race, the Corvette romped away to a 29-second victory — no small feat in a 12-lap race. And All-American Dan was just getting warmed up.