Dan Gurney’s Eagle race cars adorn Road America at Elkhart Lake
ELKHART LAKE — As fog hovered over Road America, Dan Gurney’s cars were grounded.
While these Eagles were meant to race, many now live in museums, three, four and more than five decades after they competed. In some cases, owners had no intention of upping the ante at the WeatherTech International Challenge. Others were to participate in the “demonstration session”.
But Gurney’s legacy was built on the track, not in a gravel pit or in a heap. So, under the tent, two dozen examples of All American Racers’ best work sat on Friday.
George Bruggenthies, the vintage racing enthusiast who spent 20 years as president of Road America, was talking about the little things:
“Well, what do you think?”
It’s hard to think of those cars or the event as anything but special, even when your feet get wet.
Earlier, Bruggenthies’ successor Mike Kertcher had expressed expectations. This weekend is going to be more important than ever, he predicted. Although a departure from the fierce weekend competition IndyCar five weeks ago, NASCAR two weeks ago or IMSA the first weekend of August, the International Challenge has always been popular. There is an appetite for nostalgia.
In this paddock, Bobby Unser lives in the autograph he signed five years ago on an Eagle he rode for three seasons. The 1967 car was originally owned by Leader Card Racers. Now it’s in the hands of music industry executive Scott Borchetta, who races a 1971 Corvette at vintage events and a modern Ford Mustang in Trans Am’s TA2 class.
A few steps away, the history of American motor racing lives on in the car that won the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. Built and raced by Gurney, it was the first American-built car to win a grand prix and he was the second American driver to do so. It and the Jorgensen Eagle in which Unser won the Indianapolis 500 in 1975 are part of the Miles Collier Collection and are generally held at the Revs Institute, a museum and archive in Naples, Florida.
Other cars built by All American Racers on site were driven by Rick Mears, Mark Donohue, Mike Mosley, Lloyd Ruby, Al Unser Jr. and Johnny Parsons Jr., to name a few, and prepared by a number of teams as famous as they are obscure. . Nine of them are number 48. And a younger crowd may remember watching the Toyota MSA GTP once shared by PJ Jones and Juan Manuel Fango II on those 4 miles in the early 90s.
There has never been a meeting like this, pointed out Bruggenthies, now a senior consultant for Road America.
While Can-Am cars are often the first draw of one of the most extensive vintage race weekends in the country, this time the Eagles are, even when parked.
They are far from the only cars. The track provided for some 400 entries, ranging from a 1929 Ford Model A Speedster to a 2018 Porsche and Audi, late ’60s Trans Am cars to ’97 Formula 1 cars driven by the father/son duo from Brian. and James French.
The action was fairly light for Friday’s qualifying sessions, although that didn’t stop a few riders from pushing – and pushing – the limits of their machinery and skills in questionable conditions.
Blue skies throughout the weekend should produce more action as the star races begin on Sunday morning. And what better against a brilliant blue background than an eagle? Or an eagle?