Racing loses another one: RIP John Gunn

Racing back in the Sixties and Seventies was very different from today and so were the racers. A couple of years ago, pro racer Charles Espenlaub, was chastised by The Man for accepting a beer from fans after his car broke at Mosport. Back in the day, accepting a cold beer from a fan’s cooler was a given while waiting for the tow vehicle at the end of the race.

With series like the Can Am and Formula 5000, many consider it the golden age of racing. Certainly the drivers were more akin to gladiators than modern pro drivers. Monstrous horsepower, sometimes rudimentary aero and rather primitive safety equipment meant that these guys were tough as nails and beyond brave. Perhaps the toughest of all were the independents, guys who didn’t have the resources of Penske and the like. John Gunn was one of those guys.

Gunn raced primarily in the Can Am and Formula 5000 series, but also spent time endurance racing in Alfa Romeo’s and Ferrari’s. In the Seventies, he raced the mighty Porsche 934/935 before switching to closed cockpit Phoenix cars in IMSA racing. Gunn remained involved with these cars until 1989. His best ever finish was 2nd at the 1977 Can Am at Mont Tremblant. Many fans remember John Gunn for his tenacious battles against the teams that had far deeper pockets.

Having battled heart problems of late, John Gunn passed away in his sleep. Thanks for the memories!

To learn more about John Gunn’s racing history visit Racing Sports Cars and Richard Sirgany. Also, follow the memories of fellow racers and fans at Autosport.

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Comments

  1. says

    Great article and very well written and awesome photo. In 2007 when I raced in La Carrera Panamericana a friend who has run there numerous times in a Studebaker which is traditionally painted to look like a vintage Mexican police car (working siren and lights included) was parked next to me at the end of the last stage on the last day. Needless to say this car is very popular with the Mexicans. We were asked to wait a few miles out side of town for all the rest of the cars so we could all drive (at speed) into the city together. Just before taking off one of the Mexican Federalies pulled up next to him. As the Federalie's passenger door opened we saw the officer in the passenger's seat open a cooler and pull out a cold beer and hand it to the driver of the police car and then drove away. One of the coolest damn things in racing I have ever seen.

  2. Bill Anspach says

    John Gunn was the character and charisma of sports car racing when we started in 1972….and of course knew nothing about
    anything. He helped us in all ways and we grew to respect his knowledge and enthusiasm and thorough love of racing. It could
    be possible that John had Valvoline coursing through his circulatory system. On a particularly slow national race weekend at
    PBIR, the powers that be asked both of us if we would do a short race between just the two of us….John had a homongous
    powered formula A car and I had a March formula B…..no real competition but a fun project. The kids and I fastened hastily made
    posterboard knives that we fastened to the rear hubs of the March…..al la Ben Hur….to slice Johns tires when we passed him.
    Anyhow I had the best time and never saw so many revs as I did that day in John Gunn's draft. He could blow me away on the straights
    but I could catch him in the corners and make him sweat a bit. He won, of course, but we had a hell of good time and remained
    friends. Break a leg John, we will all miss you a bunch, Bill Anspach and the Anspach Effort

  3. Steve Brownstein says

    Wow…………..Just kinda stumbled upon this article by accident and was shocked and saddened. Stumbled was kind of the operative word with both John and Myself back in the day. That day was late 60's early 70's. I raced a Formula B and He his A car. Somehow we always seemed to be close together at one time or another, boy did I like Lime Rock. The above picture speaks volumes for a whole bunch of us.

    But it not racing that sticks in my mind, it was a little event called the Beginning of the End. A whole lot of racers know because they were there. Without ever sending out an invitation, every New Years Eve, like lemmings, We all showed up year after year. For the dedicated it started around the 27th and ended on the 5th. He had the greatest lemon trees in his backyard down in the Grove, which were perfect for the endless Bloody Mary's with the ever Lovely Ms. Dallas leading the parade. They were great hosts and friends. Then one day, like some things in life, people start to drift away, which is where I've been for last 40 years or so out in the wilds of the Mojave Desert. God Speed Johnny Boy.

    BTW….Dallas, if you're out there somewhere, our condolences go out to you. Hope the years have been kind to you. We have no complaints. the "We" being Merrie and Me who just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary last month. Who knew? Big Hello to any and all who were there and also might have stumbled onto this story.

  4. says

    John had more Heart, did more with less, and was twice the Racer than most of the drivers racing IMSA and SCCA during his career. He was a guy who designed, built, and drove the Phoenix. He did the fiberglass layups, aerodynamics (his wind tunnel at Sebring was an airboat blowing air over tufts of wool), engine, gearbox, drove his tow truck to the track, and then raced it – WHAT A GUY!!!

    I was Honored he let me drive for him at the Miami GP / No one worked harder than John / I was Honored I was his Friend – I know that we'll see him again…

    • Tim says

      Thank you for the great synopsis Mr MacInnes.
      I "gophered" for John after Long Beach in '75, during the west coast run of the F 5000 series,
      then again the next year when he showed up with an ex-Holbert Porsche running Camel GT.
      At Long Beach on Sunday, he blew an engine in morning practice, acted as crew chief/mechanic as they did the change, then jumped in the car as the pace lap was in progress. I ran and got gas for them at the 76 trailer after Dallas Heyser said (famously, at least to me) "hey kid, wanna be a big time auto racer?" John Gunn was simply, the real deal….

  5. Richard Mateosian says

    I met John Gunn about 40 years ago. If I look around I can probably find his business card — Fastest Gunn in the South.

    The national Board of the National Organization for Women (NOW) was meeting in San Francisco. Our wives were doing NOW business — getting sloshed with Betty Friedan, while three of us guys sat around chewing the fat. The third one was John Backus, the inventor of the FORTRAN computer language and namesake of a standard way of presenting the grammars of context free languages.

    In the years since, I often wondered about John Gunn, and I was sorry to hear of his passing.

  6. Scot says

    Sorry that we are to lose such nifty fellows. Bring back Roman Brio Racing! To many of my friends are heading into the wall.

    S

  7. RJ Nelkin says

    John and I had many great times in the off season down in Florida. In Can-Am all of us used to hang out together…Dallas too. One Can-Am race @ Elkhart Lake I was reaching the end of the front straight like 180 and was going to pass a slower car on the right side of him….When I pulled out I did not realize that John was in my blind spot…We hit side to side !!! We twitched abit and then reeled it back in to make the right hander…..Whew ! We sure all miss a good natured fellow like John…..RJ Nelkin

  8. Bonnie Heacock says

    I was saddened to find this website and learn of John's passing. I had the pleasure of meeting and knowing John through his former wife, Dalles Heyser who was a good friend of mine. I met Dalles at a local Corvette shop- Performance Automotive, owned by a mutual friend, Richie Small. This was during the time of the first two Miami Grand Prix's in the early 1980's. At that time John had "Gunn's Goodies," and Dalles owned "Eclipse" auto accessories. The local newspapers followed him closely as "the hometown guy that designed, built, and raced his own car". I got to see the car being built from the chassis, all the way to finish, and was wowed by his skills. I was part of his pit crew (honorary -as timekeeper) for both the first and second Miami Grand Prix races, and found the racing world to be very exciting for a gal in her early 20's. Through John and Dalles, I met many people in racing, and had a lot of fun . Thanks for that exciting chapter in my life. R.I.P. John, you won't be forgotten.

    Bonnie Heacock

  9. Curt Clingman says

    I worked for John during the '79 & '80 Can-Am season. Changed my life forever. From Gunn I learned what real race prep is, that "racing is nothing more than a series of lists", that you can do more with less given determination and talent. I went on to become a cook/chef/restauranteur and when I explain how my racing background set in motion my food career the people around me get it, in racing and in restaurant work we put in a ton of time prepping for an event, trying to set ourselves up for any possible scenario. When they say go, we go like hell until the finish. Then we do it again, each time working at getting better. Thanks John.
    Curt Clingman

  10. Chris Weber says

    Boy I sure hope John has found Ralph Bunn waiting up there in Heaven's Corkscrew. I miss my good buddy Ralph and he loved his buddy John.

  11. KEN KLEINPETER says

    I KNEW JOHN AS A RACO RACER OUT OF MIAMI. JOHN AND MY DAD HUGH KLEINPETER RACED AS A TEAM IN MANY OF THE 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA AND SEBRING 12 HOUR. GREAT DRIVER . GREAT FRIEND. I WILL NEVER FORGET JOHN BUILDING A ENGINE FOR HIS FORMULA 5000 CAR. WHILE WE WERE IN TRANSPORTING ACROSS COUNTRY JOHN WAS REBUILDING HIS ENGINE IN SIDE THE MOTORHOME. THE KICKER WAS THESE WERE OLD PARTS FROM COMPETITORS . JOHN ALWAYS FOUND AWAY TO MAKE IT TO THE NEXT EVENT, EVEN BUILDING ENGINES IN THE MOTOR HOME WHILE WE TOOLED DOWN THE ROAD. JOHN , HUGH ,BOB BEATTY , JIM FITZGERALD, ALL HEROS OF MINE. MAY GOD WATCH OVER THESE RACERS. YOU ALL ARE MISSED, KEN KLEINPTER

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