Five Wins at Riverside

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Dan Gurney Wins the Motor Trend 500 at Riverside and again... and Again and Again and Again.

Dan Gurney at Riverside 1964

By Matt Stone, From a story in Motor Trend Magazine, February 2003

Back in the days when a humble car magazine could afford to sponsor and promote a NASCAR race, we did just that.

The Motor Trend 500 was held at the late and absolutely great Riverside International Raceway from 1963 through 1971; NASCAR continued racing there until the track’s still-mourned demise in 1988. During the nine years MT’s name was affixed to the event, Dan Gurney won it an amazing five times. Though he ran several other NASCAR races during the meat of his driving career, all his stock-car victories came at RIR. He was so dominating there – winning four times in a row from 1963 through 1966 (plus 1968) – the race was colloquially dubbed "The Gurney 500.

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Dan was by no means a NASCAR regular; if anything, the stock-car establishment saw him as an outcast. He was born in New York and lived in California. He drove cars that turned both left and right, and most of them didn’t have doors or fenders – all manner of British, German, and Italian sport and formula machines, not the domestic door-slammers that’ll always be the heart of stock-car racing.

Gurney was a star wherever he went, but nowhere was he more "The Man" than at his home track, Riverside International Raceway.

What made this F1/USA/sports-car racing standout feel compelled to mix it up with the Good Ol’ Boys? "I always suspected I could probably do pretty well with a stock car at a road race,’ says Gurney. "I was a road racer and an oval racer, and we (including such contemporaries as A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, and Parnelli Jones) drove lots of different cars: Indy, Can Am, sports cars. We were hungry, we loved to race, we wanted to jump into almost anything and adapt as rapidly as possible. You learn things in every car you drive, something you can apply to any end of the spectrum."

The Gurney/NASCAR/Riverside combo made sense. RIR was a fast and challenging nine-turn road-racing course, something the stock-car regulars had little or no experience with at the time, as almost all the schedule was run on small and large ovals. Dan knew the track, living nearby for many years. His world-class talent as a sports-car and endurance-racing pilot also meant he knew how to orchestrate – and preserve – a car’s tires, brakes, transmission, and clutch. "Most of the stock-car guys used the brakes only when they were coming into the pits and shifted gears only when they left the pits.." He cracks that humble yet all-knowing grin and continues: ‘…so even though a lot of them were really fast, they just burned their brakes or clutches and transmissions up by midpoint in the race." Someone who’d run endurance races at Sebring and Le Mans would, of course, know better.