By: Spencer Neff
May 23, 2019 | 10:19 AM
It is often said that no one remembers who finished second at the Indianapolis 500. In 102 runnings there have been six times that a driver has crossed the Yard of Bricks one spot short of victory lane in consecutive years.
Bill Holland, Tom Sneva and Dan Wheldon would each go on to victory after their near-misses. Conversely, three men were not so lucky – Harry Hartz, Rex Mays, and Dan Gurney.
Today, we look at the latter of those three men, Gurney, and his second runner-up finish in the 1969 Indianapolis 500.
Looking for More
In 1967, Gurney placed his Eagle-Ford entry second on the grid, his best career start at Indy. Following his second front row start in three years and leading two laps, Gurney dropped out after a piston broke.
A year later, Gurney returned as an affiliate of Oscar Olson’s team. This time, his Eagle-Ford would start 10th.
Despite not leading a lap, he was able to finish the race for the first time since his sophomore campaign in 1963: Gurney finished a career-best second at the 52nd running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1968.
Winning the race would be Bobby Unser, behind the wheel of one of Gurney’s Eagle chassis – the first win for his car.
Close, but no Cigar
In 1969, Gurney continued his affiliation with Oscar Olson’s Olsonite brand. This time the New Jersey-born driver was listed as the entrant for his car. After several weeks of waiting out the rain, the field of 33 was finally set on May 25. As he did in. 1968, Gurney qualified 10th.
When the race began five days later, Mario Andretti and his Brawner Hawk-Ford entry were the class of the field – even with some mechanical shortcomings. Despite several near-misses, Andretti led 116 laps en route to a dominant victory at the 500-mile race.
Nearly two minutes behind Andretti, Gurney crossed the Yard of Bricks in second-place once again for 1969.
During the USAC season, Gurney went on to wins at Brainerd and nearby Indianapolis Raceway Park. In 1970, he and Olson reunited at Indy, as Gurney started 11th and finished third. Following the season, Gurney stepped away from driving.
Creating a Legacy
Despite not doing so as a driver, Gurney was able to reach the Indianapolis 500 victory lane three times. In 1973, Patrick Racing’s Gordon Johncock took Gurney’s Eagle to victory, five years after the chassis’ triumph with Bobby Unser.
Two years later, Gurney and Unser teamed up at Indy to take the victory, his first as an owner for the All-American Racers brand.
Although the team did find some success with driver Mike Mosley in the 1980s – who finished third in 1980 and started second in 1981 – they could not match the success of the earlier ventures.
In 1986, Jan Lammers failed to qualify for the 70th Indianapolis 500. To date, it is the last time All American Racers has entered the Indianapolis 500.
In January 2018, Gurney passed away at the age of 86.
Although the Gurney family has not competed at the Indianapolis 500 in 33 years, their impact is stil recognized.
Over the past decades, teams like Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Oriol Servia in 2009) and A.J. Foyt Racing (Alex Tagliani in 2015) have paid homage to Gurney with a special paint scheme or running his legendary No. 48 on their cars.
This year, Dreyer and Reinbold Racing has elected to do the same. With 2011 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and runner-up JR Hildebrand behind the wheel, their Dallara-Chevrolet will carry the famous No. 48. On Sunday, Hildebrand will start 21st.
Dan Gurney is one of auto racing’s biggest icons, and that status still remains at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Header Image By Indianapolis Motor Speedway/INDYCAR
Open-Wheels coverage of the 2019 month of May at Indianapolis is presented by Driven 2 Save Lives. Driven 2 Save Lives, an entity of the Indiana Donor Network, is a program that utilizes motorsports as a platform to encourage race fans to become organ donors. Currently, there are 114,000 individuals that are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Register as an organ, tissue, and eye donor at Driven2SaveLives.org/register and follow Driven2SaveLives on Facebook and Twitter.