Dan Gurney, 1931-2018

Dan Gurney photo in Autoweek story. (I wish that I had scanned my slides for a suitable photo of my own to put here.)

Every kid should have a hero; somebody they can look up to and emulate; someone they can put a target on and think, “I want to be like that when I grow up.” That’s why heroes should live to a higher standard; something that seems increasingly hard to do. Perhaps that’s why the age of heroes is dwindling.

I found my hero during a Southern California junior high school shop class. Shop—like the gym—were compulsory classes for a well-rounded education. I hated them. Because I was such a nerd I didn’t do well, and the other boys could smell my insecurity and would circle me, like sharks in bloody water. The cookie cutters that I made weren’t the perfect circles and stars like they made. I probably only got a passing grade because I showed up each day.

That was at the outset of the Southern California car mania, and we were all jacked up on pre-pubescent hormones and we substituted souped-up Fords and Chevys for unrequited sex. At least, those were the magazines allowed in the classroom. In class, I rummaged through piles of Hot-Rod and Motor Trend and found a single issue of Sports Car Illustrated, a car magazine about small European cars and racing more than just accelerating down a drag strip. I took it home and read it cover to cover. This magazine had articles about Jaguars, Porsches, and (drool) Ferraris—with their glorious high-pitched V-12 engines, “OMG; I have to hear that someday.”

It was the first time I read about the pinnacle auto racing circuit—Formula One. The magazine wrote about the European stars such as Graham Hill, Jimmy Clark, Jack Brabham, and a tall American—from California no less—Dan Gurney. That was a life-changing moment and I left drag racing behind and followed a different path.

I read about Dan’s career as he won Formula One races and then Le Mans. In high school one year, my friends drove out to the Riverside track and watched as he schooled NASCAR’s best drivers on a road course (five times in a row). On TV, I cheered his Indy attempts. He was the first driver to win races in Formula One, Indy Car, and NASCAR. His persona was more suited for the Indianapolis milk gulp than Champaign and that may be the reason he invented the inverted Champaign spray—an honored motorsport tradition. After he retired from driving, he continued in racing as a successful team owner and car builder. I admired him enough that when I got to pick out car number in my brief racing career, I chose number 48; as a tribute.

In my early thirties, I was working for a company that flew me to a morning seminar in Orange County. Since my afternoon was free, I booked a later flight and called my friend Gary Wheeler and arranged to have lunch. Gary worked for Dan’s company as an engineer at the time, so I was very interested in hearing about his job. After lunch, Gary took me back to the shop and showed me around. We even went into the boneyard where old racecar parts were kept. I wanted to snitch something for memorabilia, but I didn’t have a way to get it on the plane. In the middle of his tour, Dan came out of the office with an errand that he needed Gary to run. Gary said sure, and in return, he asked Dan if he could drop me off at the Orange County Airport. I was stage-struck when during the introductions anyway, but my heart leaped into my throat during that conversation. Dan said, “Of course, get your things.” I grabbed my briefcase and followed him out to—of all the exotic cars that I envisioned Dan driving—the shop’s Pinto. For me, the five-mile ride to the airport was a New York ticker-tape parade. My head was in the clouds.

Yesterday, my friend Jeff forwarded news that Dan had passed at the age of 86 from pneumonia complications. It’s a very dark day for motorsports worldwide and me personally. I will miss his soft-spoken voice and infectious smile, but I will always remember his triumphs. It’s a very sad moment in my life.

Thanks for the ride Dan.

Until next time — jw

My Dream Jaguar

Last night I had a dream—or maybe a nightmare—one good enough to share. Like most dreams, it was a conglomeration of disjointed segments. I don’t remember how it started, who I was with or any of the details that would make up a coherent story, but somewhere along the journey, we wound up on a porch overlooking a Jaguar for sale in the parking lot. I didn’t recognize the model, but it was a newer swoopy kind. I decided to look closer.

Bruce McLaren at Riverside
In my dreams, I drive McLarens in Can-Am races … if I can get them out of the garage.

When I walked up to it, I could see that the brown paint was cracking like an antique oil painting and after opening the bonnet—it was British after all—there was a fresh oil puddle under the engine. As I walked around it, I pushed on the trunk lid causing new cracks. Just then the owner walked up and asked if I’d like to buy it. I declined and pointed out the flawed paint and the oil, which was now beginning to creep toward the drain. “Yeah, that’s why the price is so cheap. We can talk about it over a scotch.” He was a pleasant enough chap in his late thirties with blondish hair, and since he was a man of good taste, I agreed to meet him at the bar.

Since I knew the way, I agreed to lead the procession and my companion and I headed to my car, which was a BMW, Mercedes or some other Teutonic brand, but when I walked up to it, the design was a mid-engine Italian pointy thing—the kind of car where you only want a view over the hood. It was afternoon rush hour and getting out of the Biltmore Fashion Park garage was going to be tough. Since I couldn’t see to back up, I pulled forward out of the spot and a line of cars followed. I made my way into a dead-end corner of the garage and now I had to back out, but first, everyone behind me had to move.

That’s how the rest of my dream went—with me inching the car backward through a crowded parking garage. I never got that sexy beauty out on the road and up to speed. It was an interesting twist on a common theme of my dreams—trying to get somewhere with insurmountable objects in the way. Studies haven’t been conclusive about the functionality of dreams. One camp believes they may be a harbinger of the future while others feel they’re a way of cataloging our daily experiences—sort of like a librarian putting books back on the shelf. I don’t know if dreams have any meaning or purpose, but at least in this one, I still had my pants on.

Till then … jw

Learning Video

Yesterday, I posted a new video on YouTube. In August 2015, I bought Adobe’s Premiere Pro, a video editing software, and since then, I’ve been trying to learn how to use it. A lot of photographers complain about how complex Adobe’s Photoshop is, but Premiere Pro is way more challenging.

This is my tenth post on YouTube and the first since April. All but one of them is about the amateur car racing that I do. It’s a natural subject for movies. Besides, I can rationalize making the films as a tool to improve my driving skills.

One of the cameras that I own, the Sony A7r, shoots video in ultra high-definition, that’s the format on newer TVs now. So, last season, Jeff (who was co-driving my car at the time) and I bolted it to the passenger side headrest. I made a clunky bracket out of wood that held the camera securely; although there’s still some vibration. We filmed several events with mixed results and gave up on the Sony because we couldn’t get the metering or microphone to work correctly. Instead, I picked up a used GoPro off eBay. It’s a small video camera made for shooting action videos. The focus is set, there are very little other adjustments, and at one tenth the weight of the Sony, the camera mount is now overkill.

Shooting in-car video is very common on YouTube. Mostly, they’re a record of the driver’s best run. They have a beginning title, and the film clip . . . that’s it. They’re of little interest to anyone except the small community of autocrossers.

Because I was learning film making techniques, I wanted to go beyond documenting a single run. I tried to make simple stories out of my videos. With each new video, I added new refinements. I learned how to do fade, cross fades, titles, end slides, and as hokey as it sounds, I worked on creating my brand . . . a simplified interpretation of the MGM lion, as it were.

For this video, I made off-screen commentaries to help make the story-line clearer. To do that, I wrote little scripts and then recorded them using an audio program. After editing the snippets, I inserted them into the video at the proper places. As a result, I see improvement although there is a lot more work to do. If you care to see my new video, here’s the link: https://youtu.be/YdeNB7kr98s

I welcome any comment you have . . . it is a learning experience after all.

Till later . . . jw