A Laguna Seca Legend — and son — make a big weekend at the track bigger.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Dan Gurney’s favorite local memory involves a twist to rival those of the storied Seca corkscrew: In this tale there are no other racers giving chase, just military police.
Gurney was in the Army, stationed at Ford Ord, and was leaving the base for the races. “I was held up by some Army guys at the gate,” he says. “At that point I had been in the Army for a while so I didn’t take a whole lot of guff. I took off on my motorcycle and led them on a four-mile chase, all the way to the pits.
“When the Army showed up, I’ve never seen more red faces. SCRAMP talked them out of putting me in the brig.”
Gurney will be honored as a “Legend of Laguna Seca” during this weekend’s US Sports Car Invitational. The longtime driver, manufacturer and team owner will be the first of five men inducted into the inaugural class of Legends this summer as part of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca’s 50th anniversary celebration.
Gurney’s relationship with the racetrack has included several big wins—as both a driver and team owner—and participation in its first-ever professional race, in 1960. But there are other reasons he was selected as the first to be honored.
One reason will wear number 99 in the weekend’s featured event, the Rolex Sports Car Series. Dan’s son Alex is coming off a second-place finish here last year and his first win this March in Mexico City. He and and his partner, fellow California native Jon Fogarty, are among the contenders to shower champagne on the podium crowd come Sunday.
Alex Gurney actually has a little genetic predisposition to do so. Dan Gurney was the first man to ever blast the bubbly, after he won the 24 hours of Le Mans with AJ Foyt in 1967.
“I had no idea at the time it would turn into a tradition,” Dan says.
To pop the cork, Alex’s Bob Stalling Racing team will have to hold off Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas of Chip Ganassi Racing, and Krohn Racing’s Max Pappas-Colin Braun combo over the course of the two-and-a-half hour race.
For the Gurney family, that would be a storybook way to wrap up a legendary weekend.
“I’m always as motivated as I can be,” Alex says, “But it’s nice when family and friends are all there and can see the race. And this race should be about as exciting as they come, with cars that are that close and can pass.”
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It can be hard to fathom how much race history has happened at Laguna Seca in 50 years—until you see how much can happen in just one weekend there. May 18-20 in the lakebed will be no different: From the most serious on-track action (Sunday’s Daytona prototype showdown) to the goofiest off-track engagement (mugging with bikini girls on fancy cars), there is never a shortage of fast times. Here are some highlights.
They could rename today Race Fan Friday. All day, enthusiasts can take advantage of thinner crowds to find more intimacy with the track and the techniques teams are applying in their practice and qualifying rounds. A more relaxed atmosphere also makes it easier to score autographs and talk to drivers.
12:20PM GRAND AM KONI CHALLENGE (STREET TUNER)
With this race, almost 50 cars—Acuras, Mazdas and BMWs that are very similar to their street siblings—offer race fans a glimpse of what their cars could do. “They’re just pushing it a lot harder than you would ever dream of taking your car,” says Seca spokesman Reece White. “It’s a madhouse. By the end there’s bodywork laying all over the track.”
3:20PM ROLEX SPORTS CAR SERIES (GRAND TOURING)
Often times these touring cars share the track with the Daytona prototypes. Having the track to themselves—in part because this series continues to grow in size and popularity, thanks to the extremely competitive quality of their races—means they can focus purely on making passes.
9:10AM GRAND AM KONI CHALLENGE (GRAND SPORT)
This race runs like Saturday’s manic Grand Am affair, only faster. Here the Porsches, Mustangs and company are built purely for sports performance.
1PM ROLEX SPORTS CAR SERIES (DAYTONA PROTOTYPES)
Max Pappas won this two-driver endurance series title last year. His partner, Colin Braun, likely would’ve won, but was not eligible to compete in several races. The reason? Series rules prevent underage racers from competing in Marlboro-sponsored events. Watch out, race world: Now the phenom is 18.
4PM SCCA PRO RACING SIRIUS SATELLITE RADIO MAZDA MX-5 CUP
Thirty-some Mazda Miata specs burn up the track for the weekend’s last event. Since they are identical—from the tires to the engine—the winner here will simply be the driver who circles Laguna’s unique loop the fastest.
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