Photo: A.J. Foyt Racing

Foyt, Gurney reflect on 1967 Le Mans triumph with Ford (VIDEO)

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One of the most famous moments in motorsports history came at the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans, and not just because it birthed the spraying of champagne as a standard celebration. The celebration lives on 50 years later.

The second in a run of four consecutive Le Mans victories for the Ford GT40 marque, it is the only “All-American” triumph, one in which an American driver lineup won for an American team in an American car, in the history of the event.

The victory also came at the height of a rivalry between Ford and Ferrari after a failed attempt from Henry Ford II to purchase the Italian marque from Enzo Ferrari.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the victory, Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt, the victorious drivers that year in the famous GT 40, sat down to reflect on the race. Foyt immediately deflected credit to Gurney, and admitted that it was Gurney’s influence that brought him into the team.

“All I can say is, I’m glad (Gurney) chose me for his co-driver,” Foyt quipped. “It doesn’t seem like 50 years ago, but our health is showing it. I always had a lot of respect for him, as a car builder and a race driver. We’ve been friends for a long time and he gave me a chance. He had the car running so damn fast, I didn’t know how to back it off.”

For Gurney, the desire to have Foyt as his co-driver that year came down to a simple reason.

“I chose him for only one reason and that was because he’s a winner,” he recalled. “I felt like we were going to win once A.J. was in the car. He hadn’t been a specialist in road racing like I was, but he did a great job. We had a lot of fun talking about it and gradually, the car turned out to be a really nice, smooth, fast car without any bad habits. It was just a great time.”

Photo courtesy Ford Performance

To further illustrate the point about Gurney’s influence, Foyt explained how influential he was in organizing the driving strategy, and Foyt happily followed his lead. “I think Dan was more involved in strategy than I was. He’d been there before and I was just glad to be over there, for Ford Motor Company to give me such an opportunity. I was listening to Dan quite a bit. He gave me some pointers and all that.”

Foyt also had to go to school of sorts and learn the track, for which he used Gurney and other drivers as a model. “I think before I got in the car, Dan run in the first shift and I got in the second shift, I think I had about 10 laps and, I’ll never forget it, when I came into the pits Denis Hulme, who was in another Ford, was leading, and I knew he’d been out of there for a lot of time, and I followed him for about four-five laps and got lucky enough to get by him. That’s kind of how I learned the course,” Foyt recalled.

Gurney, meanwhile, revealed that he and Foyt had to temper themselves, citing that when the team told them to push the car to its limits, they knew to only take things so far. “We just tried to use our experience,” Gurney asserted. “They expected us to be the rabbit and we were going to battle each other for fast time, and everything, and we could tell that the car wasn’t going to finish with that sort of attention. So we told the strategy guys that ‘yeah, you’re right,’ and of course, we didn’t pay any attention to it,” Gurney laughed.

Of course, no good effort would be complete without some unexpected surprises. For Foyt, one of those came when he pitted and expected Gurney to take over…only for the Californian to be nowhere in site. “I told them when I came into the pits that my arms hurt so bad and they said ‘We can’t find Dan.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, you can’t find him? Hell, he’s over there sleeping, somewhere!’ They said ‘You have to get back in.’ I said ‘Oh no, don’t do that to me.’ And still Dan laughs about it. I think he was hiding on purpose,” Foyt laughed.

And, perhaps most famously, the victory sparked the victory tradition of spraying champagne, with Gurney first spraying Ford president Henry Ford II. “(Henry Ford II) was there with a new bride, I think, on their honeymoon and when I started spraying him, I’m not sure he liked it or not, but he was a good sport about it and we had a wonderful time spraying champagne, A.J. and I both,” Gurney of the spontaneous celebration to quickly became a staple of Victory Lane across all racing disciplines.

The 1967 race was Foyt’s only appearance at Le Mans, while Gurney made ten appearances between 1958 and 1967.

Photo courtesy Ford Performance

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Indy 500 analyst role part of looking forward for Danica Patrick

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It’s been 10 months since Danica Patrick last competed in an auto racing event and she is completely fine with that.

Patrick was last seen in a cockpit in last May’s Indianapolis 500, part of her mini-retirement tour from racing that also included a run in the Daytona 500.

Now she’ll be back at the track, serving as an analyst for NBC’s broadcast of the 103rd Indy 500 on May 26.

It will be an interlude to her post-racing career.

“I really don’t miss racing,” Patrick said during a teleconference Wednesday.  “I’m really happy. I selfishly set out (with) the intention I wanted to travel a lot. I’ve definitely done that. Also working on my other businesses.”

Without racing, Patrick is able to look over her “Warrior” clothing line and her Somnium wine. She’s also been a host of ESPN’s Espy Awards show.

“I’m not a look-back kind of person, I’m a look-forward (person),” Patrick said. “This is something that’s part of looking forward. This is something totally new and different for me. It’s coming at a place where I have a lot of history, but it hasn’t been my job, which is why I’m going to work really hard to make sure I’m ready, like anything else I do that’s different.

Since retiring, Patrick said she watches racing “when I can.”

“I’m not going to lie, I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” Patrick said. “It’s allowed me new opportunities like this.”

This won’t be the first time Patrick has served in an analyst role for a race. She did the same for some Xfinity Series race broadcasts in the last few years of her NASCAR career.

“It’s very good to have had that experience,” Patrick said. “Obviously I was giving my driving experience sort of perspective and that insight, which is something I’m going to be doing again. But it was a guest spot.

“This is firm and established, part of a small team of two with Mike (Tirico) and I. I think there’s going to be a lot more preparation involved, I’m going to need to know a lot more information.”

Patrick said there will be one difference in her Indy 500 experience this year compared to the eight times she competed in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“I didn’t purposely look at the buildup of the day,” Patrick said. “I didn’t want to see the fans rolling in, all the pomp and circumstance. I really liked to keep it quiet. I wanted to just walk out there and have it be the event, not let myself get built up too much in my head with nerves, just the platform, the iconic event that it was, the millions of people. I just wanted to stay focused and go do it.

“This time, I’m sure I will see the buildup. I’m sure I’ll see the place fill in and turn from a quiet, peaceful, magical place, (and) at the shot of a cannon it’s going to start unraveling. That will be a cool perspective for me that I purposely haven’t really watched closely.”

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