DEARBORN - As Ford celebrates 110 years of racing, @Ford Online sat down with Edsel Ford II, member of the Board of Directors, Ford Motor Company and great-grandson of Henry Ford, to discuss the importance of racing to the company and his family, some of the best moments in racing over the years and his favorite racing moment.
Q. What does racing mean to Ford as a company?
A. In theory, it should mean everything because many of us believe that if Henry Ford hadn’t won the race on Oct. 10, 1901, that Ford Motor Company wouldn’t have existed. When he won the race Henry Ford created new friends and found new investors. He started Ford Motor Company again for the third time, and it took. If it wasn't for racing, we would be working for somebody else.
I think Henry Ford decided that this was going to be a big race and that this could be a way for him to get his name in front of a lot of people. There were two or three thousand people that went to Grosse Pointe for the race. They closed Detroit and everybody went out because Alexander Winton – a very famous automobile person and well-known racer – was in the race. I think my great-grandfather thought if he could put together a car and do well; he could generate publicity that would get people interested in lending him money to start Ford Motor Company.
Q. What does racing mean to you?
A. I’ve been involved in racing since I was 18 so it’s been a long, long time. I’ve been everywhere. I’ve seen everything. I’ve known a lot of people. I tell my children all the people in racing that I’ve met have never disappointed me. They’ve been good close friends of mine. They’re good solid citizens. They give back to their community. They love what they do. And they’re just really remarkable people.
Q. When you were a child did your family tell stories about the historic race?
A. No. The first time I found out about Sweepstakes was at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Ford Racing. No one really understood the origins of Ford Motor Company – it was just all of a sudden my great-grandfather started the company and he went to the Piquette Plant and started building the Model A. He built A, B, a limited number of Cs and then went directly to T, which is obviously the most well-known of all the cars he made. The guys in engineering in Ford Racing went snooping around at the Henry Ford and they found Sweepstakes. The people at the Henry Ford didn’t know much about Sweepstakes either. As we dug for information we found this magnificent story.
Q. How did you get involved in racing? Did you go with your father to the races?
A. He was the problem; he took me to LeMans in 1966. I was in college and he called me up and said, "Listen I’m going to go to LeMans, and I think you ought to come with me." "Oh," I said. "That’s great. I’d be happy to." We went for three days and of course that was the race we came in 1-2-3. We beat Ferrari on their turf. It was really an incredible event and three days. Not only spending time with my father, but watching Ford win the race. I met Carroll Shelby, and that was introduction into motor racing.
Q. As you look back over 110 years, what are some of the races that really stand out in your mind?
A. There have been victories at LeMans. There have been victories at Daytona. There have been victories in Formula One. I think Ford has victories in every great race around the world – Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, the 24 hours of LeMans, Monaco Grand Prix, the Baja 1000, rally races in Great Britain, Bathurst 1000, and Rally Cross.
The best race I’d ever been to was last year. I took three of my four sons, my soon to be daughter-in-law, and Lewis Booth, CFO, Ford Motor Company, to sit in the pit box for the Wood Brothers. That was the race that Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers won, it was so emotional. Not only emotional for me, but to be with my children, my future daughter-in-law, Lewis and the Wood Brothers. They hadn’t won Daytona for 25 years. It was just remarkable.
Q. Why is racing so important to the company?
A. I think my father once said 40 or 50 years ago, "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday." And I believe that. I think it’s great for employee morale to beat Chevrolet, Dodge or Toyota. It’s a morale booster for our company. From an engineering point of view, there’s a lot to be learned. And then there’s this whole grass roots that you and I never see. It's weekend racers who depend on Ford Racing for parts to support their cars. There was a time when we didn’t pay any attention to weekend racers, but now we spend a lot of time on them. I would argue that you can go to any race track on any given weekend and there are more Ford vehicles there than ever before. Now we have great cars. We’ve got great engines. The people can buy the parts and pieces they need to go weekend racing.
Q. What would your great-grandfather say if he were able to see how far the company has come with racing?
A. I don’t think he’d believe anything. I don’t think he’d believe Ford Motor Company is as big as it is. I do think that this has something to do with racing. I think that if Henry Ford and Edsel Ford could come back today – and my father to a lesser degree –they’d say that we’ve done a darn good job. 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. We’re a global player. We’re No. 1 in marketplaces that they were interested in. I think they’d be thrilled with racing, especially Edsel. We never saw the end of Edsel’s life. Henry started it with Sweepstakes, but there are lots of pictures in my garage of Edsel in Indianapolis and I think he was a real motorsports fan. I think they’d both be very proud.