Race car unveiled marking Ford’s 150th birthday

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Photo by Bob Oliver
Wood Brothers Racing Owners Eddie and Len Wood (left) and Nascar Sprint Cup driver Trevor Bayne flank the No. 21 Ford Fusion that Bayne was scheduled to drive in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday. The three took part in the public unveiling of the custom paint job, which pays tribute to Henry Ford’s 150th birthday, at The Henry Ford July 24.

By BOB OLIVER
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Ford brands Motorcraft/Quick Lane and Ford Racing wanted to find a unique tribute to commemorate the 150th birthday of Henry Ford on July 27. In the end, they settled on highlighting how Ford bounced back from failure and entered his first and only race as a driver.

The groups, along with Ford’s great-grandson Edsel B. Ford II, unveiled the special design that the Wood Brothers Racing team was going to have their driver Trevor Bayne using during the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The unveiling took place inside Henry Ford Museum July 24. The race was scheduled to be run Sunday.

The car featured new graphics depicting scenes from Ford’s first and only personal plunge into automobile racing. Ford’s race car “Sweepstakes” is pictured on the hood while crew chief Edward “Spider” Huff rides along on the driver’s side door.

Edsel Ford II said he was honored to have the specially designed car in the race and that the family has been reflecting on the history of Ford Racing during the build up to Henry Ford’s birthday.

“This is a great day in racing,” Ford said. “It is also a very emotional day for all of us at Ford.”

Motorsports Marketing Manager, Ford Customer Service Division Travis Hunt said the story of how Henry Ford became a race car driver is not very well known, but is integral to the formation of what became the Ford Motor Co.

“It’s always great when someone congratulates Ford Motor Company for an anniversary, such as this year’s 110th,” Hunt said. “Many people do not realize that Ford Racing is actually two years older because of the race in 1901.”

In 1901, Ford’s first venture into the automobile manufacturing business abruptly ended with the dissolving of the Detroit Automotive Co. The failure of the company caused the 37-year-old to have to move back into his parent’s home with his wife, Clara, and son, Edsel.

In order to make another attempt in the industry, he needed investors to back him. The idea for entering a car into a race was hatched, with Ford and a crew of workers creating an automobile for a race at the Blue Ribbon horse racing track in Grosse Pointe. The race took place on Oct. 10, 1901, and pitted Ford against famed racer Alexander Winton in a 10-mile race.

Ford trailed early, but came from behind at the end to win the race. He won $1,000 and a glass punch bowl trophy for the victory. More important, it showed investors that Henry Ford could design and build automobiles.

Edsel Ford II said that without the race, things might have turned out different for Henry Ford.

“Many of us believe that if Henry Ford hadn’t won the race in 1901 that Ford Motor Company might not have existed because by winning the race, he generated a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of people wanted to invest with Henry Ford,” Ford said.

About two years after the race, the Ford Motor Co. was launched.

One hundred twelve years later, the custom-designed Ford Fusion will make its debut during the Brickyard.

Hunt said he hopes people would appreciate the history depicted on the car while watching the race.

“This car represents a big piece of history for the Ford Motor Company,” Hunt said. “I can’t wait to see it on the track.”

(Bob Oliver can be reached at boliver@bewickpublications.com.)

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