1967 – The Year of American Racing Heroes
If there was a Mount Rushmore for US racing driver legends, the four would likely be A. J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Richard Petty, and Dan Gurney. Americans do love their motor racing and revere their great drivers. I know there are those who insist that great ones like David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt, and Rick Mears should be there, but we’ll keep this in a context of the rock carving being done fifty years ago. There have been many great individual performances over the years but one year was quite extraordinary – 1967.
The 1967 Daytona 500 was won by Mario Andretti, a stellar achievement over NASCAR’s established stars including teammate Fred Lorenzen, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, the Allison brothers, and the King himself, Richard Petty.
Although he failed to win the 500 at Daytona (a feat he accomplished a record seven times), Petty proceeded to completely dominate the NASCAR Cup Series that year (it was called the Grand National back then) as no driver has ever done before or after. All Richard did was win a record 27 sanctioned races while no other competitor won more than two.
Displaying his amazing versatility, Andretti followed his great NASCAR win by teaming with Bruce McLaren in winning the 12 Hours of Sebring a few weeks later.
Fast forward to the month of May and Mario won his second consecutive Indy 500 pole with Dan Gurney starting second on a grid that was perhaps the most impressive in speedway history as the great Indycar stars of the period were challenged by three of Europe’s finest, Jim Clark, Graham Hill, and Jackie Stewart. A.J. Foyt outlasted them all to take his third 500 victory, tying the record at that time which he himself would break a full ten years later.
A scant ten days later, Foyt would team with Dan Gurney in the famous Ford MKIV prototype sports car to win the 24 Hours of Lemans, making history as the only all-American drivers, All-American team, Shelby-American, to win the famous event in an American car. Gurney, regarded at the time to be perhaps the world’s finest sports car driver, would establish a motor racing tradition in spraying champagne all over the other drivers and much of the nearby admiring crowd, a stunt that has stood the test of time to become a custom to this day on winning driver podiums worldwide.
Gurney would go on just another week later by winning the Belgian Grand Prix in the famous Eagle-Weslake, thus becoming the only American driver to score a Formula One victory in an American chassis of his own design.
While the NASCAR schedule was so dominated by Richard Petty, the Indycar USAC Championship would go down to the last race, the Rex Mays 300 in Riverside, California. Although Mario had won seven USAC races to Foyt’s five, the points were then awarded in proportion to race distance and A.J. had acquired much of his point lead by winning at Indy. Although a long shot going into the last event, Mario’s championship hopes were kept alive when Foyt was involved in a racing accident and would not finish. Andretti could then overtake his chief rival by winning and just fell short, finishing third behind Bobby Unser and the race winner, none other than Dan Gurney, a man who was generally in a class to himself at Riverside.
As the curtain closed on the 1967 season, A.J. Foyt had won the Indy 500, co-driven to win Lemans, and won the USAC Championship. Richard Petty had dominated NASCAR at a time where drivers actually raced purely for the winnings earned. The King of stock car racing won just over $150,000 in 1967. While not winning a series championship, Andretti had won seven Indycar races, the largest NASCAR race, and had his first victory at Sebring.
Dan Gurney had not won any series championship but he had accomplished the rare feat of winning a major race in Formula One, Indycar, and sports cars (Lemans) all in the same year.
The fact that most of the better American drivers today, like Kyle Larson, migrate toward NASCAR only, the time when drivers would pick and choose their races based on prize money, and often skipping from one race discipline to another is pretty much history. To that end, there will never likely be another year in American racing lore like 1967.
1967 – A Year of American Racing Icons
1967 – The Year of American Racing Heroes