DAYTONA BEACH – It all started at this year’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Mere minutes after No. 77 Mazda DPi driver Oliver Jarvis unofficially broke the 26-year-old track record set by PJ Jones in the Toyota Eagle built by Dan Gurney’s All American Racers in qualifying for race week garage and pit selections, the dialogue began. John Doonan, Mazda North American Operations director of motorsports and a lifelong racing fan, participated in the post-qualifying press conference alongside Jarvis.
Doonan was quick to recognize the legend that was Dan Gurney and his team in his remarks, while Justin Gurney – Dan’s son – happened to be watching the live stream of the press conference on the IMSA Facebook page.
“Thank you all at Mazda for the very kind words about AAR and, of course, about Dad,” commented Justin on the stream. “Congratulations on your new lap record and the speed of your car! You deserve it.”
Gurney’s comments didn’t end there.
“Going to have to dust off the P car and get (his brother, former IMSA champion driver) Alex’s helmet ready,” he remarked.
Three weeks later, Jarvis earned the official record in Rolex 24 At Daytona qualifying, lapping the 3.56-mile Daytona circuit at one minute, 33.685 seconds (136.792 mph). Jarvis was almost two tenths of a second quicker than Jones’ time of 1:33.875.
“We obviously had to get the job done officially at the race, and Olly was able to do it again,” Doonan said. “At Mazda, we always recognize who came before us, who blazed the trail and who laid the foundation, and we never forget about our heritage, which is really important to us.
“We did it right away in that press conference. Olly will tell you, he studied what that meant, and I knew the history from growing up here and what Dan meant to grassroots racing, as well as all the professional levels.”
But Doonan wanted to do more. He wanted to come up with a unique way to commemorate his team’s achievement, while at the same time paying tribute to Gurney and the AAR team, which lost its patriarch when Dan Gurney passed away in January 2018.
“We could have easily written a letter or something like that, but (motorsports artist) Bill Patterson’s been a good friend and I thought, ‘What a cool way to maybe do an artist’s conception of having both cars on the banking,” Doonan said. “So, we commissioned Bill, and I thought it would be really special to have Olly – the guy that got the job done – deliver it to Evi (Dan Gurney’s widow) and Justin, so that’s what we did.”
They did it last Wednesday, just prior to the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach. Doonan, Jarvis and their Mazda Team Joest teammates paid a visit to the All American Racers shop in nearby Santa Ana, California to present the painting.
During the visit, Jarvis got the opportunity to sit inside the previous Daytona record-holding Eagle.
“Incredible car, way ahead of its time,” Jarvis said. “So, it was a really special day for me. It meant a lot, the way they accepted us coming into their workshop. They seemed pleased for us that we were able to beat the record. There seemed a great camaraderie between the two teams.”
Doonan noted that the camaraderie extends beyond the race team and actually includes Mazda and Toyota as manufacturers.
“I think the link to Toyota is somewhat ironic, because last August, Mazda announced a joint venture with Toyota to build a manufacturing facility in Alabama,” he said. “So, it doesn’t happen by accident. It’s neat that all this sort of molded together, the Toyota/Mazda brand in a plant, the All American Racers and Mazda Team Joest and Olly and PJ.
“That was the deal on Wednesday for me was this coming together of people that are truly passionate about what we do. I think we’ll hopefully be able to put up a result here soon that matches what those guys accomplished.”
And – racers being racers – the conversation quickly shifted to how long it might take Jarvis to break his own record if given the opportunity to drive the Eagle at Daytona.
“We were having that discussion,” Jarvis said. “I reckon there’s a couple of seconds in the tires. We were joking about it, but it might not be a bad experiment. Get the thing unrestricted and put some Michelins on it – but I think they’ve probably got a certain PJ Jones that might want to jump in it before me.”