The Eagle’s Nest

Father and Son, Rick and Jacques Dresang, at Road America. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

Father and Son, Rick and Jacques Dresang, at Road America. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

By Jack Webster & Eddie LePine

There is a place, a very special place, located in the Kettle Moraine region of southern Wisconsin which is the resting place for an outstanding collection of motorsports history. On the face of it, it would seem like the most unlikely location for such a collection to reside, let alone thrive. For this is a collection of Eagles – Gurney Eagles to be exact.

These Eagles were hatched in California, fledged and flew the nest and then raced around the country and the world. They were the creations of Dan Gurney – engineer, designer, builder, driver – all around American entrepreneur. His company was aptly named: All American Racers.

A small group in Wisconsin, the Dresang family of husband and wife Rick & Alison along with son Jacques and daughter Alissa, have taken on the task of being “caretakers of history” as they restore, display and tell the stories of their collection of Gurney Eagles. With the able assistance of Paul Jay as full-time mechanic, fabricator and crew chief, this small group has taken on the mission of preserving Dan Gurney’s legacy for future generations to enjoy.

From Santa Ana, California to Hubertus, Wisconsin is quite a flight for these Eagles. As it has turned out they couldn’t have ended up in better hands.

The Dresang family has always had a very close relationship with nearby Road America, and Rick actually attended his first race there in 1973 – by sneaking into the track in the trunk of a friend’s car! He witnessed Mark Donohue win the CanAm race in the Porsche 917/30 and that was that – he was hooked.

By 1975 Rick owned a garage in nearby Plymouth (just down the road from Road America) and lent Dan Gurney his shop to do some repairs on the team’s transporter. Gurney’s crew left $300 in the tip jar as a ‘thank you’. Perhaps that encounter with Dan Gurney provided the spark of inspiration for what would eventually evolve into Kettle Moraine Preservation and Restoration, for fast forward to 2004 when Rick and his wife Alison purchased their first Eagle – a 1972 Mark Donohue car. That was followed four years later by the acquisition of the former Chip Mead 1981 Eagle Cosworth (recently shown to the public at Vintage Indy at Road America). That was followed up in 2009 with the purchase of the 1977 Eagle DGF Formula Ford, which was restored and is currently campaigned by son Jacques in vintage events around the country.

Jacques inherited his father’s passion for motorsports and began racing karts in 1996 at the age of 11. After a successful and multi-championship karting career, he helped with the restoration of the family’s growing Eagle collection and since 2010 he has been the pilot of the crowd favorite 1977 All American Racers Eagle DGF, capturing many wins in vintage racing (against newer machines). The Eagle has landed in the proper hands, as it were.

We caught up with Jacques at the NTT IndyCar race at Road America, where Kettle Moraine Preservation and Restoration was displaying the 1981 Chip Mead Eagle Cosworth. The car looked fantastic, but was not yet running as it needed plumbing to be done to complete the restoration. If you come to Road America for the WeatherTech International Challenge with Brian Redman vintage weekend in July and you should be able to see the car running. The July event will also be a very special race weekend, as the it will feature AAR Gurney Eagles from all over the world. Suffice to say, the Dresang collection of outstanding cars will be a front and center part of the display.

Jacques: “The five cars we will have at Road America in July will be the 1981 Eagle, the 1972 Eagle that Mark Donohue raced in 1973 as the Sunoco/DX Offenhauser powered car, another ’72 Eagle that Lloyd Ruby ran as the Commander Motorhomes car in late ’73 and ’74 and then a 1977 Eagle DGF Formula Ford that I campaign. Finally, a car that is new to our collection and that has not been seen in public in a long, long, long time – the 1977 Jorgensen Offset Eagle Sidepack, that is also Offenhauser powered and was driven by Pancho Carter during the 1977 season.”

We were intrigued by the former Chip Mead 1981 Eagle Cosworth on display in the Vintage Indy paddock at Road America. (Author’s note: Jack Webster worked closely with Chip in the 1980s on the Porsche Fabcar team and he was a good friend.)

Jacques picks up the story: “What we have on display is a 1981 Eagle Cosworth built by Dan Gurney’s All American Racers. This car was purchased for the 1981 season by Dayton, Ohio’s Chip Mead. Mead bought the car basically just as a rolling chassis and decided to go the unconventional route, he leased a Cosworth DFX from Dan Gurney and Teddy Yip and that was unfortunately the car’s undoing as the center of gravity changed because of the height of the Cosworth versus the stock block Chevy. And so, this car is kind of an odd duck.

“Chip failed to qualify at Indy in 1981 even though he was quick enough as he had a gear failure on his final attempt. Among other drivers who drove this car was Big Al (Unser) who ran it once in 1981 for Longhorn Racing – he actually led four laps at Michigan International. This was also Chris Kneifel’s rookie car and Gilles’s brother Jacques Villeneuve’s rookie car in 1982 as well.”

What drew Jacques to Chip’s somewhat obscure old ride? “I always want to know more about a character, be it a Formula One driver, like a Rolf Strommelen – one of my personal favorites, or the car that didn’t make a mark in history – there’s always a story to be told. It’s journalism 101, you just have to find the angle and with these cars – they are far more than just cars – there’s always a human interest story, whether it was the driver, or where they came from. In 1981 Chip Mead was going to Indy, it was his ultimate dream – he did more later in IMSA running the Fabcar with John Higgins, Howard Cherry and James King, but at that point in time (1981), Indy and this car was everything.”

(Jack Webster’s note: I can attest to Jacque’s statement. Regardless of what he accomplished in racing after that 1981 season, Chip always looked back on Indy 1981 as the “what if” moment of his racing career. We discussed it many times.)

What drew the family to Dan Gurney Eagles in the first place, besides that chance encounter at Rick’s shop back in 1975? Jacques: “The fact that Dan Gurney went and challenged the world as an American with a small team was amazing. That he took American know how and creativeness and the ‘never say die’ attitude to challenge the world and he was successful.”

One can see Dresang’s focus and passion for the AAR Gurney Eagles, for each one has a story to tell and it is the mission of the Dresang family to tell those stories. Of their shop, he says: “It’s a restoration shop, it’s a hobby shop. We work on our own cars. It’s funny, my parents rescue St Bernards, I rescue dogs and together we rescue race cars.”

Perhaps the mission statement of Kettle Moraine preservation and Restoration sums it up the best: “We are simply caretakers. The moment one fools him or herself into believing more, he or she is most likely three feet into a concrete wall. Since August 2004, KMPR has been actively restoring, preserving and fielding vintage race cars and transporters, primarily those that began life in Dan Gurney’s All American Racers shop in Santa Ana, California. Some cars have an amazing history. Some started and finished their lives classified simply as ‘also rans’. Despite the disparity, each vehicle has a story, and it is the stories and people that are entwined in each car’s history are what we long to keep alive. With each restoration comes great responsibility to showcase history in great detail and accuracy; to honor those who made each car a part of history, now a time capsule of a time when racing was at its peak.”

With the continued dedication to Dan Gurney’s legacy, we can say that his Eagles are in good hands. They have come from hatching in Santa Ana, to fledglings leaving the nest, to racers known the world over.

Now they reside in a place that is the true “Eagle’s Nest” and their stories are being shared with new generations of racing fans

For more information, visit their website:

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