DEARBORN - It was 110 years ago today that Henry Ford raced to victory behind the wheel of the automobile he nicknamed “Sweepstakes” on a dirt track in front of thousands of people who gathered to watch the nationally advertised event at the Detroit Driving Club in Grosse Pointe, Mich.
Ford – a relatively unknown mechanic at the time – defeated Alexander Winton who was widely regarded as the most accomplished race car driver in the country. That race on Oct. 10, 1901, was the first and last race that Ford ever competed in. But it changed the course of history.
“Many of us believe that if Henry Ford hadn’t won that race that Ford Motor Company would not exist today,” said Edsel B. Ford II, member of the Ford Board of Directors and great-grandson of Henry Ford. “I think my great-grandfather thought if he could put together a car and do well in the race that he could generate publicity and get people interested in lending him money to start the Ford Motor Company.”
Ford’s plan worked. Investors rallied behind him, and the Henry Ford Company – later dubbed the Ford Motor Company – was founded in 1903. Also born was an inherent passion for racing that has endured at Ford for 110 years.
“It’s a truly rich legacy that we respect and care for very dearly,” said Jamie Allison, director, Ford Racing. “We race today for the same reason Henry Ford raced back then – to prove out our products and to showcase our great cars and trucks and technologies to a loving fan base.”
Ford is officially involved in three forms of motorsports in North America – NASCAR, NHRA and the Global Rallycross Championship, which includes X Games (the company also is officially involved in the World Rally Championship globally).
Allison represents Ford at those races throughout the country 42 weekends out of the year. He says his enthusiasm for Ford cars and racing began when he was a teenager growing up in Dearborn, Mich.
“When I was in high school – I’ll always remember this – the quarterback had a street Boss 302 that was yellow with black stripes. He was a cool guy and I remember thinking to myself that one day I want to get me a Boss because I want to be cool too,” he said. “And my dad drove a little fast on the road, so I also had an interest in going fast.”
Ford’s passion for racing was ignited in 1966 when his father, Henry Ford II, unexpectedly invited him on a trip to France.
“I was in college and he called me up and said, ‘Listen, I’m going to go to Le Mans and I think you ought to come with me,’” Ford recalled. “We went for three days and of course that was the race where we came in 1-2-3. We beat Ferrari on their own turf. It was really an incredible event and an incredible three days.”
Ford lightheartedly describes his fervor for racing from then on as “a disease.”
“It’s a disease that I’ve spread to all four of my children, and they carry it,” he said with a smile. “They enjoy it like I do.”
Ford says his fondest racing experience over the past 45 years happened this year when he attended the Daytona 500.
“I took three of my four sons, my future daughter-in-law and Ford’s Chief Financial Officer Lewis Booth, and we sat in the pit box for the Wood Brothers, and that, of course, was the race that Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers won,” said Ford. “It was so emotional. The Wood Brothers hadn’t won Daytona in 35 years. It was just remarkable.”
The 2011 Daytona 500 also has a special place in Allison’s heart as his favorite race. He describes it as “a Cinderella story.”
“It was the first race of the year and a young kid, Trevor Bayne, driving for the oldest Ford team in NASCAR – 60 years of uninterrupted support for Ford – wins in a Motorcraft #21 to achieve our 600th win with all of us there,” he said.
“You couldn’t have scripted a better story. I get goose bumps when I tell it,” Allison continued. “It really made me feel like we’re continuing the legacy of Henry Ford because people love Ford and when you win in a moment like that it really just deepens the love for Ford.”
In addition to the passion and excitement that racing evokes, Ford has proven over the last 110 years that it is good for business.
“We race because it’s in our blood. It’s in our DNA. But I can tell you unequivocally that when we win on Sunday, we sell on Monday. It’s an old adage but it’s true,” said Allison.
Ford research shows that nearly half of consumers who intend to buy a car are motorsports fans, and those fans have a much greater affinity for Ford.
“They consider Ford at a higher rate. They shop Ford at a higher rate. They buy Ford at a higher rate, and they just love Ford,” said Allison. “So we know that all we have to do is just endear ourselves to more fans because the more fans we get we know we’re helping Ford’s bottom line by selling more cars and trucks.”
Ford says he thinks his great-grandfather would be proud to see how far his company and Ford Racing have come since that brisk October day in 1901.
“I think that if Henry Ford and Edsel could come back today they’d say that we’ve done a darn good job,” said Ford. “I think they’d be very proud of what they saw, especially under the current management team we have in place. This is the Ford Motor Company that Henry and Edsel always wanted, and I think they’d be thrilled with Ford Racing.”
To learn more about the history of Ford Racing, please visit a website that the Ford Racing team created especially for the 110th Anniversary at www.fordracing110.com.
Also, learn more about Henry Ford’s historic race on Oct. 10, 1901, by watching a special YouTube video hosted by Edsel B. Ford at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POXqGsgAtaY&feature=player_embedded.
Edsel Ford II, Member of the Board of Directors of Ford Motor Company; Elena Ford, director, Global Marketing, Sales and Service Operations; and William Clay Ford Jr., executive chairman, Ford Motor Company celebrate the 110th anniversary of Ford Racing with Henry Ford's winning 1901 "Sweepstakes" race car.
Jamie Allison, director, Ford Racing; Edsel Ford II, Member of the Board of Directors of Ford Motor Company; 6 year old Dan Money, son of Ford employee, Shannon Money and William Clay Ford Jr., executive chairman, Ford Motor Company capture a moment with Henry Ford's 1901 winning "Sweepstakes" race car while attending the 110th anniversary celebration of Ford Racing.
Edsel Ford II, Member of the Board of Directors of Ford Motor Company, Jamie Allison, director, Ford Racing, and William Clay Ford Jr., executive chairman,Ford Motor Company prepare to cut Ford Racing's 110th anniversary celebration cake.