Second-generation race drivers Alex Gurney and Jeff Bucknum (pictured L and R above) were hired as stunt drivers for the film Ford V Ferrari. Alex also portrayed his father Dan Gurney who won the pole for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966, which is the race the movie is focused on. Gurney’s car broke that year but he went on to win Le Mans the following year with teammate A.J. Foyt. Ironically, Foyt had co-driven with Bucknum’s father Ronnie in the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1966 (placed 12th with brake issues).
Also pictured is Derek Hill (center). Hill, the son of 1961 Formula 1 champion Phil Hill, portrayed Graham Hill in the film (no relation) and was a stunt driver in the film as well.
Alex, the youngest of Gurney’s four sons, didn’t start racing until he was in college but he became a two-time Rolex Sports Car Series co-champion (2007, 2009) with Jon Fogarty driving for the Gainsco Bob Stallings team. Bucknum, whose father Ronnie finished third at Le Mans in ‘66, won the 12 Hours of Sebring and fielded his own car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2003. Bucknum drove a partial schedule for Foyt in 2005 and 2006 scoring his best finish of 10th with the team at Sonoma Raceway in 2005.
We asked Alex and Jeff a few questions…
Q: How did it come about that you were tapped to do the stunt driving in the movie?
Alex: “I got a call one day from Rich Rutherford, an old racing friend who has been doing stunt work in all kinds of movies and commercials for many years. He told me that there was a part for the Dan Gurney character and that I should audition for the part of my dad since I look a lot like him. Rich put me in touch with the stunt coordinator Robert Nagle and things started to move from there. I went up to Fox Studios and read a few lines in the audition, a strange but exciting experience! The whole idea was a nice fit since I would be able to do both the little bit of acting and all the stunt work required.”
Jeff: “I got a call from a good friend of mine named Rich Rutherford who is one of the top stunt drivers in Hollywood that I knew from my early years of racing at the Skip Barber Racing school. Rich was one of the instructors at Skip Barber Racing school back in the 90’s when I got my start in racing and then he went into the Hollywood industry doing movies and commercials as a stunt driver. He called me and let me know about the movie and that the stunt coordinator (Robert Nagle) wanted to hire me to do the driving of my dad’s #5 GT40 car featured in the movie plus other cars in the movie.”
Jeff Bucknum in a replica of the car that his dad drove to third place in the ’66 race.
Q: Have you ever worked on a movie set before? If yes, what is your favorite thing in making a movie. If not, what surprised you the most?
Alex: “I have never been involved in a movie before or even set foot on a movie set so it was all new to me. It was fascinating to observe how the sausage is made. As it was a big budget Hollywood production, there were so many people on set and so many necessary and important duties. It was just interesting to see how everyone works together to create something of this magnitude. Most of the time it was like a fun vacation for me as I was working with a bunch of stunt drivers, many ex-race drivers, that I had known previously so it was a bit like hanging out with your buddies every day and being served nice meals. The most surprising aspect for me that I hadn’t realized before was how often you have to shoot the same scene over and over again from different angles, I thought there would be a better way to do it but apparently not!”
Jeff: “Actually I have never worked on a movie set this large. I had done a few small movie and commercial stunt driving jobs in the past but this was on a completely different level. I was extremely impressed on how much effort, time and money they put into rebuilding things like the Pit Lane / Garages to duplicate as close as possible the real thing as the 1966 race at Le Mans in France. I was also impressed on how well they took care of all the stunt drivers with our own dressing rooms and wardrobe. We even had people doing all of our hair and makeup which took a bit of getting used to.”
Alex Gurney poses on the extraordinary pit lane set created for the movie.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome—or the hardest thing for you with regard to the filming?
Alex: “The heat during filming in Willow Springs was serious, over 100 degrees every day, but the extras had it much worse than the drivers did. We always had cool suits in the car so it was fairly cushy for us. Our stunt coordinator Robert Nagle was a true pro and he always made sure to take care of his drivers.
“There were some scenes in Georgia where we hit some respectable speeds on a highway in Statesboro in the rain and fog, a few dangerous moments but not too bad. There were several nights where we filmed from sun down to sun up.”
Jeff: “The biggest thing I had to learn was realizing every day was not going to be the same. Most of our days were 10 to 15 hour days on location. The hard part was some days we would do almost NO driving at all while they were trying to get other filming done with some of the acting stuff and other days we were in cars for almost 15 hours straight with very few breaks. You just never knew what each day was going to be like until the day unfolded.”
The group of stunt drivers who worked on the movie. Bucknum is third from right, Gurney is sixth from right.
Q: Was it bittersweet portraying your dad?
Alex: “It was. Showing up every day and putting on a near exact replica of a race suit with my dad’s name on it was a strange but special experience. In any way that I could, I tried to make sure that my dad was portrayed accurately. I had hoped there would be a little mention about him being on the pole in ’66 and leading much of the race but not to be.”
Jeff: “I was actually hired to do just the driving stuff in my dad’s #5 GT40. Before I was hired onto the movie, the director had already hired Tanner Foust to do the acting parts of my dad Ronnie Bucknum. Tanner was really awesome during the whole movie shoot because he kept trying to get me to do the acting parts of my dad which were only a couple lines in the movie which never made it in the movie anyway. During the whole movie shoot, Tanner and I had a fun joke going on where I called him ‘Dad’ and he called me ‘Son’ which we still do whenever we talk or text each other.”
Q: After working on the movie, did you get a feel or sense for that era?
Alex: “I feel I had a sense for the era going in but there were moments that really hit home and brought us all back. I was massively impressed by the Le Mans pit lane set built in Agua Dulce and filming the start sequence was an unforgettable experience. As the drivers lined up for the running start on the opposite side of the start straight, with a view of Henry Ford II ceremoniously walking down the pit lane, with Christian Bale standing next to me as Ken Miles, I’m staring over at all the beautiful GT40s and Ferraris and Porsches, the big crowd, I’m crouched down in the pole position spot, ready to dart across and jump in the car, what a moment. I felt a sense for the era right there.”
Jeff: “They really did a great job of making everything look like and feel like you were really back in the 1960’s. As we would work on the movie set everyone had their hair and clothing just like the 60’s so it was funny to see people at the end of the day wearing their normal current clothes. I almost didn’t recognize people away from the movie set at restaurants or other places we would meet up.”
Q: Did you talk to your dad about the race in ’66? What stood out for him?
Alex: “I did talk to my dad about many of his races, more about ’67 than ’66 though. He was on the pole by 1.1 seconds over Ken Miles in ’66 and was heartbroken to have dropped out while leading in the 18th hour.”
Jeff: “To be honest, I don’t remember having many conversation with my dad about the 1966 race at Le Mans, but the few things I do remember is his telling about the start of the race as they had to run to the cars and jump in the cars and take off before they even had the seat belts on. He told me it wasn’t until he got on the Mulsanne Straight on the first lap that he would have a chance to put his belts on while he was doing 200 mph. He said he would drive the steering wheel with his knee while he used both hands to get his belts on. The other thing I was amazed about was how back then they did the whole 24-hour race with only 2 drivers. I had the privilege of racing the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2003 and we had three drivers.”
Ronnie Bucknum exits his car after his shift at LeMans. His teammate was Dick Hutcherson, who competed in NASCAR as a driver before becoming a car builder. They finished third at LeMans.
Q: Did you go to Le Mans for any part of the movie?
Alex: “I did not go to Le Mans for any part of the movie.”
Jeff: “No we did not ever go to Le Mans for the movie. We did all of the filming in America. Fortunately, I had already raced at the 24 Hours of Le Mans so I had a good idea of what the whole experience must have been like even back in the 1960’s.”
Q: Where did they film the racing scenes?
Alex: “I was in Georgia for almost a month. We filmed in three different locations there. We were at Road Atlanta and used that just for a few sections, mainly under the ‘Dunlop Bridge.’ We were also at a great little track in Savannah that used to have Indy Lights races in the ‘90s and is still kept up well. And we also used a tree-lined highway in Statesboro as a stand-in for the Mulsanne straight (and a few other corners like Arnage). That was amazing that the powers-that-be were able to somehow commandeer a whole highway. There were people that lived along the side of the highway, so we would have to shut down production when the bus would come through to pick up and drop off kids for school each day.”
Jeff: “We did the filming at a few different race tracks and a rural long stretch of road in Georgia that duplicated the Mulsanne Straight. We started off at Willow Springs Raceway in California, then we went to the Hutchinson Island Savannah Raceway. After that we went to Road Atlanta and then the rural six-mile road blocked off in Georgia. We finished filming at California Speedway and all of the pit lane straight away was filmed at a small private airport in the hills of Los Angeles.”
Alex shared the podium with his dad in 2008 when Dan was the Grand Marshal of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Q: Have you raced in the 24 Hours of LeMans?
Alex: “I never raced at Le Mans but I did do the 24 Hours of Daytona nine times. I was on the pole twice (2007 and 2014) and I finished 2nd in 2008 with Jimmie Johnson, Jimmy Vasser, and Jon Fogarty.”
Jeff: “Yes I raced at the 24 Hours of Le Mans one time (2003). Not only did I get to drive in the 24 Hours of Le Mans but I actually owned the race team that raced there (Team Bucknum Racing). I am one of the few owner-drivers that have raced at Le Mans. My co-drivers were Brian Willman and Chris McMurry who I raced with for five years in the American Le Mans race series in America.”
Q: Where did you watch the movie?
Alex: “I have seen the movie and was lucky enough to be able to take my wife to the premier up in L.A. and hang out with the big wigs. We also later rented a theater close to home on two different nights and had a great time, and invited a bunch of family, friends, and co-workers.”
Jeff: “I have seen the movie twice. I went to see the movie on Opening Night with my whole family and fiancée Tamara Baglin. The next night, Tamara and I went to a private screening of the movie that Alex Gurney and his family put together in southern California for all the stunt drivers and many famous racing drivers like Townsend Bell and Jimmy Vasser.”
The Gurney family rented a theater in Newport Beach to host a preview of the movie for family and friends. Here Dan (center) is pictured with his sons at Indy in 2015, the year Dan was honored with an exhibit at the IMS museum. His sons (L to R): Jim, Justin, Alex and Danny. Dan passed away in January, 2018 due to complications from the flu.
Q: Jeff, you drove A.J.’s No. 14 Indy car at select races in 2005-2006. What did you think of that experience?
Jeff: “I was telling my son Spencer Bucknum, who is just starting his racing career and plans to be a third generation racing driver in the Indy 500, how much it meant to me in my racing career to not only get a chance to race Indy cars but to drive the #14 AJ Foyt Racing Indy car. A.J. was always such a great team owner and mentor to me while I was racing for him. He is such a wealth of knowledge from all his years as a racing driver and being a team owner, that he knew all the right things to get the best out of me every time I got in the car. I can still hear his voice in my ear over the radio encouraging me to keep pushing and wanting me to never give up during a race. I think many times A.J. is misunderstood as being an angry person until you get to be in his racing camp and realize it’s his extreme passion for competing and being the best. Of course there are things that might upset him from time to time but if you give him five minutes he will be back in the race trailer telling some sort of amazing, crazy and funny story that has happened to him in racing or just regular life. It was honestly a true honor to have driven for A.J. Foyt in his #14 Indy car before I retired from my racing career.”
Bucknum drove the No. 14 at Milwaukee in 2006.