50 artifacts in this set
Frank J. Duryea sits at the tiller of the horseless carriage he designed, built, and drove to victory in the 1895 Chicago Times-Herald race. Beside him is umpire Arthur W. White. The event, held November 28, was the first official auto race in the United States.
This is Henry Ford's first race car. After his first auto company failed, Ford turned to racing to restore his reputation. He raced "Sweepstakes" against Alexander Winton on October 10, 1901, and, to everyone's surprise, the novice Ford beat the established Winton. The victory and resulting publicity encouraged financiers to back Ford's second firm.
Henry Ford Driving the Sweepstakes Racer Against Alexander Winton, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, October 10, 1901
This photograph shows Henry Ford in his race car, "Sweepstakes," as he begins to pass Alexander Winton during a 10-mile race at Grosse Pointe, Michigan, in 1901. Winton's car was faster, and his experience greater, but he had engine problems and lost to the upstart Ford. With the win and backing of new investors, Ford began his second automobile company.
Henry Ford hired a fearless bicycle racer named Barney Oldfield to drive "999." Although he had never driven a car, Oldfield learned quickly and won his first competition. He went on to become America's first nationally famous racing hero, known for his thrilling exhibition races and the trademark cigar he chewed to protect his teeth in a crash.
After building this massive racing car in 1902, Henry Ford was reluctant to drive it. He hired a bicycle racer named Barney Oldfield, who would win many races at the controls of the Ford "999." Both men built careers on the car's success--Oldfield became America's first nationally famous race driver and Ford gained support for his next venture: Ford Motor Company.
In 1908, driver George Robertson and mechanician Glenn Ethridge took this car to victory in the Vanderbilt Cup, America's first great automobile race. It was the first time an American-built car won a major international road race in the United States. The Locomobile competed while wearing race number 16, and it's been known as "Old 16" ever since.
This racing car set the fastest 1906 Vanderbilt Cup lap, but finished in tenth place. In 1908, shod with improved tires, the Locomobile thundered to victory. "Old 16," as it was known afterward, was the first American car to win a major international race. In this photograph, the driver and mechanic wear protective cloth face masks, goggles, and leather helmets.
When Carl Fisher and his partners opened Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909, the crushed stone and tar track surface quickly proved too dangerous. Fisher had the entire track resurfaced with 3.2 million paving bricks. The track was fully paved with asphalt by 1961, but a three-foot brick strip -- at the start/finish line -- remains, as does the speedway's nickname: the Brickyard.
As automobile racing speeds increased, repurposed dirt horse tracks became inadequate. In the 1910s promoters turned to wooden boards, which provided a smooth road surface and were less expensive than bricks or concrete. But rotting wood required frequent replacement. Improvements in concrete and asphalt made board tracks obsolete in the 1930s. The 1.25-mile board track at Altoona, Pennsylvania, operated from 1923-1931.
Harry Miller, one of America's most important racing designers, built this car for Ford Motor Company's effort at the 1935 Indianapolis 500. It has all of Miller's hallmarks -- innovation, craftsmanship, and an almost sculptural presence. All that it lacks is a victory. Miller built ten similar cars, but a hurried production schedule led to mechanical problems and none finished the race.
Leo Goossen ranks among the most influential engine designers in American auto racing history. Goossen engines, built first with Harry Miller and then with Fred Offenhauser, dominated the Indianapolis 500 for the better part of 50 years. Goossen used these drafting tools while creating or refining many of his designs.
Tether cars, gas-powered model race cars, were popular in the 1930s and 1940s. They were raced individually while tethered to a central pivot, or against each other on a scaled-down board track. This magnesium-bodied model of an Indianapolis-style racer was built by Barney (B.B.) Korn. While Korn's models weren't particularly fast, they were exceptional in their fine detail and craftsmanship.
Like many other young drivers of the time, Basil "Jug" Menard fell in love with auto racing. Through the late 1940s, he competed in amateur events at tracks in his native Massachusetts. Here Menard poses proudly -- with a smile on his face and hands on his hips -- in front of his modified 1933-34 Ford race car.
This program from 1947 contains an airplane view of the 12.42-mile Pikes Peak Hill Climb course. To do well, drivers must memorize 156 turns as they ascend 4,270 feet to the top.
After World War II, hot rodders started using external fuel tanks from fighter planes as car bodies. The teardrop shape was ideal for speed record runs on dry lake beds and Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats. Californian Tom Beatty crafted this tank that was once the world's fastest.
In the 1930s, land speed racers everywhere began to flock to a landscape seemingly custom made for their sport: Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats. The hard, white salt provided a smooth running surface while the 46 square miles of open space offered plenty of room to speed up and slow back down. Typically, speed records were based on the average over an out-and-back run.
The National Hot Rod Association, established in 1951 to govern drag racing, held its first national championship meet in 1955. The event took place on an airport runway in Great Bend, Kansas. Drag races run like tournaments. Two cars at a time face off, the winner advances, and the loser is eliminated. The last remaining driver earns the grand prize.
Mercury Marine founder Carl Kiekhaefer formed his NASCAR team with top drivers, first-class equipment, and fast cars like this powerful Chrysler 300-B. Kiekhaefer taught rivals a lesson, dominating the 1955 and 1956 seasons. But he learned something too: success breeds contempt. When fans began to resent Kiekhaefer's dominance, he disbanded the team in 1957.
How do you win the Pikes Peak Hill Climb nine times in 13 years? (1) Drive well. (2) Continually improve your car. Bobby Unser had already won the event twice when he wheeled this car to victory in 1959. Over the following years, he made the car lighter by modifying the frame and suspension and switching to an aluminum radiator, transmission case, and fuel tank. Unser drove it to six more wins.
Bobby Unser earned a place among automobile racing's greats, having successfully competed in nearly every form of the sport. The racing career of this three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 13-time Pikes Peak International Hill Climb winner spanned more than 30 years. This photograph -- only one of thousands donated by Bobby and Lisa Unser to The Henry Ford -- helps to document his career.
Between 1960 and 1963, A.J. Foyt won 13 of the 26 races he drove in this car. Under its hood is a version of the famous Offenhauser engine designed by Harry Miller and refined by Fred Offenhauser. "Offy" engines powered their first Indianapolis 500 winner in 1935 and their last in 1976. The final turbocharged versions pumped out 1,000 horsepower.
Parnelli Jones (left) and A.J. Foyt charge around the dirt track at the Indiana State Fairgrounds during the 1961 Hoosier Hundred in Indianapolis. Foyt won the 100-mile/100-lap event with an average race speed of 92.369 miles per hour. Jones bowed out on lap 78 due to problems with his car's rear end.
Sam Buck and Bob Thompson built this car in 1960. They bought the chassis as a kit, and the 1948 Ford engine was highly modified with special cylinder heads, crank, pistons, magneto, camshaft, and fuel injectors. In this style of dragster, popular from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s, the driver sat behind the rear wheels "like a rock in a slingshot."
Drag racing is racing in its simplest form. From a standing start, two cars race to the finish line one quarter mile away. After the run, competitors receive a timing slip recording their top speed. Sam Buck and Bob Thompson received this slip at Oswego Dragway, near Chicago, in 1963. It verifies a top speed of 123.29 miles per hour.
Scotsman Jim Clark won the Indianapolis 500 with this rear-engine car in 1965. After his victory, a traditional front-engine car never won that race again. The Lotus-Ford combined a European Formula One-inspired lightweight chassis with a big Ford V-8 engine. The Lotus-Ford's success effectively killed the traditional Indy roadster and established a new design for American race cars.
Jimmy Clark's Lotus-Ford is refueled during Clark's run to victory in the 1965 Indianapolis 500. To service Clark's car Ford Motor Company hired the Wood Brothers, the fastest, most efficient crew in NASCAR. Even though Clark's Lotus was number 82, the Woods wore the same uniforms they used when racing their number 21 Ford on the stock car tracks.
This photograph shows the victorious Jim Clark after his 1965 Indianapolis 500 win. Clark drove the innovative British Lotus. The car's builder, Colin Chapman (in sunglasses), beams next to the driver.
On November 12, 1965, Goldenrod streaked across Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats at 409.277 miles per hour, setting a new land speed record for wheel-driven cars. Builders Bob and Bill Summers powered Goldenrod with four massive Chrysler V-8 engines. Although other car builders copied its sleek design, Goldenrod held the record until 1991.
Brothers Bob (left) and Bill Summers set a wheel-driven land speed record of 409.277 miles per hour with Goldenrod, their streamlined race car, in November 1965. The car was powered by four lightly modified Chrysler "Hemi" V-8 engines that produced 600 horsepower each. Goldenrod's impressive record stood for 26 years.
When machinist George Montgomery started racing in 1953, all drag racers were amateurs with "real jobs" supporting their hobby. This car helped change all that. Montgomery bought an old Willys in 1958 and built a dragster so successful that promoters started paying him to run at drag strips nationwide. In 1966, Montgomery became one of drag racing's first full-time professional drivers.
Electric slot car sets became popular by the early 1960s. Aurora Plastics Corporation marketed to younger hobbyists by manufacturing sets that were smaller in size and somewhat less detailed than those from its competitors. This ad features a crew of young racers imagining they're at Florida's celebrated 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race.
When Ford Motor Company's 1963 bid to buy Ferrari failed, Henry Ford II decided to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. After two disappointing years in which Ford cars didn't even finish the race, Mr. Ford gave these "motivational" cards to his senior managers in 1966. They worked! Ford took first, second, and third places at that year's race.
Ford GT40 Mark II Driven by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon at the 24 Heures du Mans (24 Hours of Le Mans) Race, June 1966
Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon won the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans in the #2 Ford GT40 Mark II. Ford swept the podium that year with first, second, and third places. The company attempted a dramatic three-way tie but, because McLaren and Amon started farther back in the grid, they technically covered more distance in the French endurance race.
This car was built to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driven by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt, it accomplished that goal in 1967, beating the second-place Ferrari by 32 miles at a record-breaking average speed of 135.48 miles per hour. The Mark IV combined a sophisticated chassis with a big engine based on Ford's V-8 for stock car racing.
Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt Popping Cork of Victory Champagne at the 24 Heures du Mans (24 Hours of Le Mans) Race, June 1967
Caught up in the excitement of winning the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans race, driver Dan Gurney vigorously shook his champagne bottle and sprayed the sparkling wine over everyone within reach. "It was like a fire hose," Gurney later said, "and they were loving it." Gurney's spontaneous celebration started what is now a victory tradition.
At the end of the day, automakers go racing because of its marketing value. Success on the track leads to sales in the showroom. Ford bragged about its racing record in this 1967 advertisement. The photo includes cars like the Cobra 427, the GT40, and the Mustang GT350, along with drivers like Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, and Connie Kalitta.
This hulk is what remains from one of the worst crashes in Indianapolis 500 history. On the first lap of the 1973 race, David "Salt" Walther's car crashed into the outside wall, exploded, and overturned. Though badly burned, Walther survived. After a lengthy rehabilitation, he returned to compete at Indy the following year.
Engineer Bill Ludwick Explaining Goodyear's "Crashworthy" Fuel System to Driver Tom Sneva, 1975-1976
Many safety advances in auto racing focused on fuel systems -- making them more robust and less prone to fire in a crash. Driver Tom Sneva, who survived a serious crash at the 1975 Indianapolis 500, looks on as Goodyear engineer Bill Ludwick shows components of the improved rubber fuel cell required for new cars at the 1976 race.
Until the late 1960s, auto racing helmets provided no protection for a driver's face, leaving it exposed to flying stones and debris. Dan Gurney introduced the full-face helmet to Indianapolis and Formula One in 1968, wearing a Bell model in the Indy 500 and the German Grand Prix. Other drivers soon adopted it. Gurney wore this 1975 helmet in post-retirement races.
Janet Guthrie broke one of auto racing's highest glass ceilings in 1977 when she became the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500. Guthrie wore this glove in that race. Engine problems held her back to finish in 29th position. Guthrie raced again at Indy in 1978 and 1979. She also competed in 33 NASCAR races over four seasons.
Pole Position was a top hit at American arcades in 1982. The home version, issued the following year for the Atari 2600 console, enjoyed similar success. Its full-color landscapes and challenging Formula One-inspired gameplay brought new realism to racing video games. Pole Position is regarded as one of the most influential racing games of all time.
Tom Sneva set the fastest qualifying lap at the 1984 Indianapolis 500 with this car, but a broken rear suspension forced him out early during the actual race. The car's front and rear wings and underbody ground effects represent the aerodynamic advances that increasingly shaped race cars in the 1970s -- and continue to do so today.
Lyn St. James had a successful career in sports car racing when she qualified for the Indianapolis 500 in 1992, but Indy was only her second open-wheel race and her first on an oval track. St. James was named Rookie of the Year for her strong 11th-place finish -- the first woman to earn that honor.
The HANS (head and neck support) device is a compulsory safety item in many auto racing series. This tall, stiff collar -- secured with shoulder belts and tethers -- assures the driver's helmeted head moves in concert with the torso. Without this device, the head can whip violently during a crash causing severe injury or death. This HANS device belonged to Lyn St. James.
Released for Microsoft's Xbox system in 2005, Forza Motorsport featured more than 200 race cars and multiple real-world tracks. Cars could be customized to improve performance or appearance, and online connectivity let players compete with others around the world. Praised by critics and gamers alike, Forza Motorsport inspired several direct sequels and spin-off games.
Formed in 1950, Wood Brothers Racing is the oldest active team in NASCAR. That legacy continued when Trevor Bayne drove #21 to victory at the 2011 Daytona 500. Wood Brothers is noted for quick, rehearsed pit stops and exclusive use of Ford Motor Company cars. Bayne, who turned 20 the day before the race, became the Daytona 500's youngest winner.
Danica Patrick honed her driving skills in Formula Ford races in the United Kingdom. She returned to the United States and, from 2005 to 2011, competed in the IndyCar Series. Patrick transitioned to NASCAR full time in 2012. The following year, she earned pole position at the Daytona 500, becoming the first woman to win the pole at a top-level NASCAR race.
Racing Suit Worn by Joey Logano While Competing in the Ford EcoBoost 400 Race, Homestead, Florida, 2018
Joey Logano was just 18 when he debuted in NASCAR's top-level Cup Series in 2009. In the 2018 season, he earned three wins, 13 top-five finishes, and 26 top-ten finishes. Logano wore this suit in that season's final race, at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He won the race and clinched the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series championship.
Ford Motor Company won its class at France's 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in 2016, fifty years after the automaker first won that race in 1966. Lego commemorated both victories with a building set featuring models of the two winning cars, the 2016 Ford GT and the 1966 Ford GT40 Mark II.
Drivers Sebastien Bourdais, Joey Hand, and Dirk Muller won their class at Le Mans with this Ford GT in 2016 -- fifty years after Ford Motor Company's first victory in the French endurance race. The GT's carbon-fiber body, direct fuel injection V-6 engine, and flying buttress features were all state-of-the-art, but the car's look recalled the original GT40 of the 1960s.