October 10, 1901
Henry Ford’s first and last race
In the early days of the automobile, it was not the practical uses of the new invention that attracted the most widespread attention, but rather the thrill of motor sports. The always entrepreneurial Henry Ford, who had been constructing automobiles since 1896, recognized the public’s enthusiasm for the new sport, and so sought to establish his name as a racing manufacturer and driver. On this day, Henry Ford drove one of his automobiles for the first and last time in an automobile race. Sponsored by the Detroit Racing Club and held at the Grosse Point Race Track in Michigan, Ford puttered up to the starting line of the main 10-lap race in an automobile he had constructed earlier in the summer with engineer Oliver Barthel. Ford’s competitors were the famed Alexander Winston and another driver who withdrew just before the start of the race because of a mechanical problem. The experienced Winston was clearly the superior driver, but fortune proved to be in Ford’s favor as Winston’s machine began leaving a trail of smoke after three laps, and he had to withdraw. Although Ford won the race and the kind of public acclaim he had hoped for, he found the experience so terrifying that he retired as a competitive driver, reportedly explaining that “once is enough.” Nevertheless, Ford continued to construct automobiles for motor racing, and a year later Barney Oldfield drove into motor racing history in Ford’s 999 racer, kicking off a legendary driving career and winning Ford his first major racing victory. With the prestige of racing under his belt, Ford went on to establish the Ford Motor Company in the following year, making a fortune as he pioneered the modern assembly-line manufacturing that put the automobile within the average American’s reach. But motor racing still remained important to the Ford Motor Company, and today Ford is the only automaker that can lay claim to victory in the Indy 500, Daytona 500, 24-Hours of LeMans and Daytona, 12 hours of Sebring, the Monte Carlo Rally, and the Baja 1000.