Dan Gurney's long list of accomplishments in auto racing includes an obscure but interesting footnote: He was the first driver to spray champagne into the crowd from the victory podium.
In 1967, after winning at Le Mans, the son of a Metropolitan Opera singer originated one of the sport's most operatic traditions.
"I was caught up in the excitement," Gurney says of the exuberant gesture that has been emulated by winners worldwide ever since. "Finally, after maybe seven or eight times of trying at Le Mans, we ended up winning it, A.J. Foyt and I driving. . . .
"We were up there on the podium, and there were a lot of people around, a lot of photographers. It seemed like a pregnant moment, and here I was holding this big magnum of champagne, and I thought, 'Let's let her rip.'
"We had a great time, and it looks like we started something."
It seems appropriate this week to remember Gurney's unusual toast because on Sunday at California Speedway, the Southland racing community will raise a glass to the Newport Beach resident as the first winner of the Shav Glick Award.
Named for the venerable sportswriter who has covered motor sports for The Times since 1969, the Shav Glick Award is sponsored by Eagle One and given for "distinguished achievement in motor racing by a Californian."
Other nominees this year included Rick Mears, a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500; Wally Parks, founder of the National Hot Rod Assn.; Kenny Roberts, world champion motorcycle rider; and J.C Agajanian, the late car owner and racing promoter.
Gurney, 69, was the choice of a six-member panel of journalists and industry professionals, who honored him for a career that has included success as a driver, car builder, owner and team manager.
Before retiring from active driving in 1970, Gurney won 48 races and was the first driver to win races in Formula One, NASCAR, Indy cars and sports cars. Only Mario Andretti has since matched the feat.
Gurney is the only American in modern-day Grand Prix racing to have won a Formula One race in his own car.
In the Indy 500, he finished second twice and third once, and was instrumental in luring English team owner Colin Chapman to the Indianapolis Speedway at the start of the rear-engine revolution.
Later, after Gurney started All American Racers in 1965 with Carroll Shelby, his Eagle chassis was driven to victory in 1975 by Bobby Unser. In 1992 and 1993, his GTP Toyota Eagles won 17 consecutive IMSA races.
One of the founders of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), Gurney came up with the name and acronym. He was also one of the founders of the Long Beach Grand Prix.
"Of course it was fun," Gurney says of his career, which continues to this day as a car builder, owner and designer at his shop in Santa Ana. "It was more than fun. It was something that consumed one's whole life. I think you're fortunate if you can end up doing something that you love to do, and that was it for me.
"I wasn't sure I would sustain that feeling, but I did."
Gurney, whose father, John, appeared in 253 performances at the Metropolitan Opera, said he never considered a singing career.
"I had stage fright," he said. "I'd break out in a cold sweat."
Born in Port Jefferson, N.Y., Gurney grew up in Manhasset, also on Long Island, and was bitten by the racing bug at a young age.
"Early on, when I was probably about 12 years old, I was a rabid fan," he says. "I was caught up in the sounds and the smells and the pageantry and the lore. To me, it was something that I couldn't deny, and it didn't go away. It wasn't a passing fancy. . . .
"I followed a guy named Phil Walters, who raced under the pseudonym Ted Tappet and was a great midget and stock car driver. He was a fabulous role model for me. I didn't know him, but I knew he was from my hometown."
After graduating from high school in 1948, Gurney moved with his family to Riverside, where he reportedly honed his driving skills by weaving through orange groves.
"When we came to California, it was like Br'er Rabbit being thrown into the briar patch," he says. "Of course, it was exactly where he wanted to be, and that was kind of the way I felt.
"Hot rods were going strong in the dry lakes of El Mirage, and drag racing was just beginning right here in Orange County--and we were there."
After a few years of street racing with fellow gearheads in Riverside--and a two-year hitch in the Army during the Korean War-- Gurney drove a Triumph TR-2 at Torrey Pines in 1955 and finished fourth in his first official race.
"Of course, I didn't know how long it might last, or whether I could even find a place," he says of his early days in auto racing. "There was precious little professional road racing. It was just like professional football in those days. Nobody made any money at it.
"It wasn't until the dawn of the television age that things started really cooking for pro football, and car racing was also influenced by [television coverage]."