How Spraying Champagne On The Podium Became A Tradition
You can thank Dan Gurney...
Even though it may seem like the tradition of spraying champagne after a victorious win on the podium is as old as motorsport itself, surprisingly, the world-renowned tradition is not that old as we assumed. Champagne celebrations after a well-deserved win have always been a part of motorsport and racing history, past and present. However, before the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans, champagne was more of a “classy” tradition in motorsport. You would be handed the champagne bottle, just for a quick sip, and if you felt really fancy and classy, you would get handed a glass of champagne...
However, those days are long and gone, podiums are now filled with drivers soaked in alcohol, whether they like it or not, but that feeling of being on the top three steps of the podium, being handed the champagne bottles, and spraying the other drivers, will always be an emotional and life-changing moment, something the drivers would and will never change. Spraying champagne will always be a part of motorsport, no matter what type of event it is. It is a tradition that will last on till the last race, but how did it first occur and catch on?
Photo Credit: Ford Archive
It was the year 1967, Ford beat Ferrari the previous year at the infamous and gruesome 24-hour race with the GT40 and Denny Hulme was going on to take the Formula 1 Drivers World Championship. Everything in the automotive world was perfect. Ford was set to race and enter at the 24 Hours of Le Mans again, bringing their now dominant and celebrated Ford GT40 for another round on the French streets. The 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans was the 35th running of the endurance race, and Ford alongside Carroll Shelby was looking to make it another race to remember. The Ford GT40 sported and also brought a couple of new upgrades to the table.
The massive mid-engined V12 had a much more sleek, aerodynamic, narrow, and rounded-out body shape and chassis, to be able to direct airflow much more smoothly. Against the likes of Ferrari, Ford, Chaparral, Lola, Mirage, Porsche, and Matra, Ford and Shelby American was able to establish themselves and create a name for themselves in no time, giving them the upper hand in 1967.
A.J Foyt and Dan Gurney - 1967
Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt won the menacing and one-day-long race after leading the pack from the second hour, becoming the first, and as of now only, all-American drivers, car, and team to take an iconic victory at Le Mans. Ferrari came in second and third, once again behind the Ford's. In fact, the whole entire race was dominated by the 7-litre Ford Mk IV driven by no other than Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt who led also almost all the way through and won by three laps over the remaining factory Ferrari P4 driven by the likes of Mike Parkes and Ludovico Scarfiotti. Another victory Ford was able to write in their history books, little did they knew one of their drivers was going to write history as well.
Dan Gurney was an American racing driver, race car constructor, and team owner who dominated the racing game throughout the late 50s to 60s. Dan Gurney had won races in Formula One, Indy Car, NASCAR, Can-Am, World Sports Car, and the Trans-Am Series, proving his versatile skills and talent. Dan was a worldwide talent and was regarded as one of the best racing drivers in the world, which is no wonder Carroll chose Gurney himself. Dan Gurney partnered with Carroll Shelby and started their own team, Anglo American Racers (AAR). The team raced with an Eagle Mk1, which is considered one of the best-looking Formula 1 cars out there, but also very unstable and not consistent, you can win one race then break down the other. Shelby and Gurney built a very strong friendship over the years, and Carroll knew that the New Yorker had experience at the pressuring French 24 Hour race.
Once 1967 came around, Dan Gurney and his fellow legendary American racer, A.J Foyt were set to drive the GT40 at the anticipated 24 hours of Le Mans that was held on the ever-so-beautiful yet difficult Circuit De la Sarthe. The Ford's unexpectedly crossed the finish line first after 24 Hours, taking Ford's second consecutive victory at the race, and setting the bar for Ford in the two more years to come.
Gurney and Foyt shook all the hands, took off their racing suits, and headed for the packed podium that awaited them patiently. Henry Ford II, Carroll Shelby, their wives, journalists, photographers, and whoever else was around the photo capturing moment were caught in the ground-breaking event. The New Yorker had a spontaneous feeling to shake the bottle of cold champagne and create an exciting and unforgettable environment and celebration for Ford’s second overall win. Gurney didn't even think twice, he just felt that it was right to shake the bottle, spray his fellow driver and team. Little did the Le Mans winner know, he had become the first-ever driver to spray champagne on the podium. That race marked many records, including the start of one tradition that will hopefully never be broken.
The then-new celebration caught on quickly, as Jackie Stewart used the celebration tactic in Formula 1 and became the first Formula 1 driver to spray champagne on the podium. Now we all crowd around our televisions as we wait for the champagne celebrations on the podium, to see our favorite drivers jump and shake the bottle with joy. Without that one man, one race, and that one spontaneous feeling, we wouldn't have the motorsport we love and know today.