Dan Gurney opening champagneIf you’re going to Le Mans to watch the 24-hour motor race this weekend it’ll probably rain, rain champagne that is. Traditionally the winner’s bottle is sprayed into the crowd and we can thank the American racing driver, Dan Gurney, for starting it all in 1967.

Dan Gurney difficultiesStanding on the victory podium, 36-year-old Dan accepted the winner’s bottle of Moët et Chandon champagne and after some difficulties opening it, began spraying at the other drivers, press photographers, Henry Ford II, team manager Carroll Shelby and their wives. It was something nobody had ever done before, and it quickly became a race-winner’s tradition.

Since then hundreds of magnums and jeroboams have been sacrificed in celebration, which is a shame as champagne in big bottles matures rather well. These days Formula One drivers spray Mumm champagne rather than Moët, except in Bahrain, added to the Formula One calendar in 2004 (controversially taken off and then put back on the calendar after the Bahrani protests earlier this year). In that Islamic country champagne is replaced by ‘Waard’, a specially-created non-alcoholic fizz made with pomegranate, trinj (a locally grown fruit) and rosewater.

Gurney cradles bottleThat historic empty bottle ended up with LIFE photographer Flip Schulke, who used it as a lamp stand. Years later he gave it back to Gurney, who retired from racing in 1970 but, at the age of 80, is still running his own All American Racers operation in California. And the champagne tradition he started 40-odd years ago is still going strong.

A poster of Dan Gurney’s victory spray (‘Spray It Again Dan’) is available from Gurney’s All American Racers website priced $45.00.