1901: Henry Ford (4) about to pass Alexander Winton
in the 1901 race.
1903: Henry Ford never raced again after his 1901
victory, but he sometimes drove the race cars. He drove 999 in a
1903 demonstration run with Harry Harkness at the Grosse Pointe
1911: The Elgin, Illinois Road Race. Frank Kulick
finished second in the light car class with his Model T racer.
1935: Four Miller-Fords qualified for the
Indianapolis 500. All of them were forced out with seized
steering because the steering box was mounted too close to the
1955: The "Purple Hogs" were Ford's first
factory- backed NASCAR stock cars.
1963: Indianapolis 500 Pre-Race. Jim
Clark confers with Colin Chapman before qualifying in the Lotus
Ontario 500, Canada. AJ Foyt (#21) passes Richard
Petty (#43) and Bobby Issac (#71).
1973 David Pearson drives the Wood Brother's
1973: RAC Rally. Timo Makinen and Harry Liddon win in a
Ford Escort RS1600
1980: Donington Park. Zakspeed Ford Capri Ford driven by
2001: Roush Racing has agreed to help Ford celebrate the
100th Anniversary of Ford Racing by outfitting the #97 Roush
Racing Ford Taurus with a special edition paint scheme for the
Ford's involvement in motorsport is a century old today. Ten laps
around a one-mile dirt oval 100 years ago by Henry Ford himself set his
fledgling company on track to become one of the world's largest organisations.
A crowd of eight thousand gathered at the Detroit Driving Club’s track in
Grosse Pointe, Michegan on Oct. 10th 1901, to watch more than a dozen cars
compete in a race event that was being touted as what "ought to be the
largest affair of its kind held, so far, in this country." The
spectators were to witness a showdown between the most noted car racer in the
United States and a little-known mechanic and tinkerer whose first venture into
auto manufacturing ended one year after it began.
Henry Ford, along with several other partners, had founded the Detroit
Automobile Company two years earlier, in 1899, but the business closed the
following year, producing less than two dozen vehicles. Ford had wanted to
develop better cars, but his stockholders decided to dissolve the company
instead. By 1901, he was looking to start another company in an over-crowded
industry that catered to a niche market.
In 1901 More than 50 car manufacturers existed in the US, mostly in New
England, producing more than 4,000 vehicles, powered mainly by steam or
electricity, not petrol. In addition, cars were primarily a novelty for the very
wealthy. "The public refused to think about the automobile as anything
but a fast toy," Ford would say years later. But, he had the opposite
view. He believed that the car could be a mass-produced, inexpensive, reliable
mode of transportation that a majority of people could afford.
In order to establish financial backing for his next business enterprise,
Ford needed to convince potential investors that that his ideas were sound, and
that his affordable cars could be a commercial success. He needed to promote his
name and build his reputation, and racing was a high-profile way to do both. And
that’s how a 38-year-old hopeful businessman found himself soon to be entered
in his very first race.
In May 1901, Ford, with the help of several others, started working on an car
nicknamed "Sweepstakes," which would later be entered in the race in
Grosse Pointe. Its frame was made from ash and its two-cylinder engine was 539
cubic inches (8.8 litres). Sweepstakes would be completed and test driven within
two months. Over a measured half mile, Sweepstakes was timed at 72 miles per
hour, not bad for 1901!
Ford – who produced his first working car, the Quadricycle in 1896 – was
just one of 13 entrants from Detroit, as was Ransom E. Olds, founder of
Oldsmobile and later REO. Others came from as far away as Buffalo and
Pittsburgh. The favourite, though, hailed from just the other side of Lake Erie.
Alexander Winton, from Cleveland, was not only an car manufacturer, he was the
most celebrated racer in the country. Winton’s business manager convinced the
race promoters to allow him to help pick out the trophy, which turned out to be
a cut-glass punch bowl, perfect for Winton’s home.
Because of attrition to the cars of most of the competitors and the length of
the earlier races, the day’s featured event was shortened from 25 to10 laps.
Only three cars were entered, but when one of those experienced a mechanical
problem at the start line and was forced to withdraw, the finale became a
two-car showdown between Alexander Winton’s "Bullet" and Henry Ford’s
Winton, like Ford, was an car manufacturer, but unlike Ford, was a successful
and celebrated racer whereas Ford had never raced before. And, the power
produced by the two cars was as different as the racing experience of the two
drivers. Bullet produced about 70 horsepower, nearly three times that of
Ford’s debut as a driver didn’t start well. His inexperience showed as he
backed off in the corners . Ford and Sweepstakes fell behind by as much as a
fifth of a mile.
But, midway through the race, Ford slowly started to make up ground. And
then, on the seventh lap, Winton’s car, slowing noticeably, began to sputter
and smoke. With the timing of a master showman, Ford, the decided underdog and
sentimental favorite to the hometown crowd, passed Winton right in front of the
crowded grandstand and went on to win by a wide margin. Sweepstakes averaged 45
miles an hour during its 10-mile historical journey.
Sweepstakes’ engine featured a technologically advanced ignition system. In
the systems in use at the time, inconsistent spark and electrode fouling were
common, often causing engines to misfire. The team that built Sweepstakes –
Ford, Oliver "Otto" Barthel, Ed "Spider" Huff, Ed
Vanderlinden, Charlie Mitchell and George Wettrick – commissioned a local
dentist to put together a case made of porcelain to insulate the spark coil.
With the porcelain insulation, there was a hotter, more consistent spark,
helping the engine run better, longer. The ceramic insulation eventually led to
the introduction of the spark plug.
Ford’s wife, Clara, perhaps best captured Ford’s achievement in a letter
she wrote to her brother, Milton Bryant. "Henry has been covering
himself with glory and dust," she penned. "I wish you could’ve seen
him. . . . The people went wild. . . . That race has advertised him far and
wide. And the next thing will be to make some money out of it. I’m afraid it
will be a hard struggle."
In addition to "glory and dust," Ford won the $1,000 prize and the
cut-glass punch bowl that was earmarked for Winton’s home in Cleveland. More
important, though, Ford won the financial backers who would help him start the
Henry Ford Company and, ultimately, Ford Motor Company in June 1903. Ford went
on to prove his belief in low-cost production with the famed Model T, the car
that put the world on wheels. The Model T, like Sweepstakes, also produced 26
The car that started it all, Sweepstakes, was sold by Henry Ford in March
1902 then re-acquired in the early 1930s. It had been stored in a warehouse for
many years, and the wooden body had been destroyed by fire. It was restored,
used for some promotions and moved to Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michegan,
where it remained, displayed to the public off and on, until 1987. Sweepstakes,
painstakingly restored again during the past year, will be on display at the
Ford Racing Centennial Festival in Dearborn on Saturday and Sunday, October