Dan Gurney was RACER Founder and CEO Paul Pfanner’s childhood hero, so it was no small honor when Gurney asked him to deliver his acceptance speech for his induction into the SCCA Hall of Fame at the SCCA National Convention in 2014.
Following Gurney’s recent death at the age of 86, we’ve taken the opportunity to reproduce that speech.
“Thank you for inducting me into the SCCA Hall of Fame. Thank you Paul for accepting this honor on my behalf. The Sports Car Club of America has been part of my life as long as I can remember. I recently found a letter I wrote to the SCCA in September 1958 as a 27-year-old. John Bishop was president at the time.
“56 years later, I am slightly ashamed of its tone. Who does this opinionated young nobody think he is? Maybe after you hear it you might reconsider whether I am a worthy companion to the ghosts of the past with names like Cunningham, Collier, Shelby, Edgar, Phil Hill and so forth.
“In 1958 I had gotten a one-off invitation from Luigi Chinetti to drive at Le Mans which led to a few more unplanned racing opportunities in Europe during the next 6 weeks. In my absence various US race organizations had been feuding, it was Cal Club vs. SCCA vs USAC, which august body should be permitted to sanction motor races? The major cause of the conflict was the disputed status of amateur vs. professional, the SCCA did not want drivers who got paid in their Series, so when I returned from my European “vacation” the SCCA informed me that my license was suspended which meant that I could not race for Luigi’s Team at Watkins Glen or Arciero’s team at Riverside in the fall.”
Here is the letter:
Dear John Bishop:
I regret that you and your men have decided to suspend my license after my, as you called it, “very successful season in Europe”. I find it hard to believe that I deserve to be punished after going to Europe to try and learn a little bit about the kind of racing that we have idolized here in this country for years. It seems as though you interpret it as a crime. The fact that the trip cost me money and took me away from my family for 7 weeks must also be bad in some way. I did not receive any prize money or appearance money for any of the races I went to. My “successful season”, as you call it in your letter, amounted to two near-fatal accidents of my co-drivers at Le Mans and Reims, and another similar accident at Silverstone in a car I was to drive. I saw three drivers killed over there. I was fortunate enough to practice and race at the Nurburgring. Someday the experience I gained through all of this “successful season” will help me in my attempt to represent the USA in Europe. My family and I have denied ourselves many necessities in our efforts towards me becoming a sports and F1 driver. I eventually hope to be able to compete on an international scale with American cars on an American team. I do not have money behind me, just the desire and the will to win.
I find it difficult to understand the situation. You look up to men like Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorn and Juan Manuel Fangio and yet you try your darndest to prevent an American from finding his way to the top. You cannot get there without driving in a lot of races! I do not see anything wrong in trying to get to the top. I think it is a crime that you try to choke off the channels of development in our sport in a free country such as ours. How can you expect an American driver to make a good showing on a trip to Europe if he is not allowed to practice and race here in the USA? Don’t you want to see new talent developed?
I witnessed Walter Hansgen drive in two preliminary races at Silverstone, one in a Lister Jaguar and another in a Jag Sedan. I also know that he raced at Snetterton, I guess he knows the right people since I see he is still racing SCCA races? Isn’t this an example of an inconsistent rule? I think it should apply to all members. I was proud to see Walt over there, he made an excellent showing, I am sure he gladdened the hearts of many Americans who were there, I wonder what they will think when they find out that he has been banned back home for his performance. You fellows take the cake. Even though I will become a professional as soon as possible, I am still an amateur at this time. You may go ahead and do what you want with my license. If I keep it I’ll race in your races, if I don’t I won’t. It is up to you.
PS: Isn’t it a shame that the SCCA can’t have men like Phil Hill, Masten Gregory and Carroll Shelby race in their national races? Not to mention our fine USAC champions. I suppose the public might enjoy a race like that but it seems as though they do not count very much in your eyes. Why don’t the powers in SCCA let racing grow into something as great as it could be. I am sure the professionals would bend over backwards to provide a spot for amateur racing on their race days. It would give the amateur a better chance than he has today. The SCCA, in my opinion has been very shortsighted.
(Let’s fast-forward 56 years to Dan’s concluding acceptance remarks)
“Well, the SCCA did not stay shortsighted for long. Times and attitudes changed and professionals were allowed to race in the SCCA Series. The SCCA became a powerhouse in motorsports and an important element of its growth during the next half century, ably managed for a long time by John Bishop and his late wife Peggy who became a sort of den mother for all of us. When I recently called John, I said: “I guess I have caused you some trouble throughout the years”. He said: “What trouble? You never were trouble at all.” I guess my youthful outburst is forgiven, back then I wanted to race more than I wanted to breathe, I wanted to make all of you proud of this American. I hope that every once in a while I succeeded.