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Winter weather means winter sports and activities: skiing, ice racing, ice boating, sledding, ice hockey, and even snowball fights. Throughout the archival collections in The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center, images, brochures, pamphlets, and books shed light on the various activities people participate in during the cold months of the year. Below are some of the highlights from January’s virtual History Outside the Box, which was featured on The Henry Ford’s Instagram and Facebook Stories.

Street scene looking down sidewalk lined with a row of delicate snow-covered trees on either side; houses in a row down one side
Winter morning at the corner of Canfield Avenue and Second Avenue in Detroit, Michigan, circa 1905 / THF110432

Grayling, Michigan, became a winter sports destination in the 1920s and 1930s, with toboggan runs, a hockey rink, and a ski jump dotting the landscape. A yearly carnival was held, with the crowning of a winter Sports Queen. This image shows the 1939 Winter Sports Queen, holding snowshoes, standing next to a Mercury V-8.

Woman, holding two snowshoes, stands next to a car with a snowy hill (perhaps a ski slope) in the background and a long low wooden building to one side
Grayling Winter Sports Queen with Mercury V-8, January 1939 / THF271673

Skiing, and ski jumping, have been popular in Iron Mountain, Michigan, for over 100 years.

People on steep, snow-covered ski slope, with crowds on either side and more crowds and a car in the foreground
8th Annual Kiwanis Ski Club Tournament, Iron Mountain, Michigan, February 1941 / THF272300

Ice skating has been a popular wintertime activity for over 150 years. And yes, even Henry Ford would get in on the fun.

Man in cardigan with collar turned up, hat, knickers, and ice skates, on ice with trees and buildings in background
Henry Ford ice skating, 1918 / THF97906

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Michigan, History Outside the Box, photographs, archives, sports, winter, by Janice Unger

Close-up side view of man's head in crash helmet with a gloved hand to his mouth

Jochen Rindt at the 1969 Canadian Grand Prix / THF116686

November 18, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of Jochen Rindt winning his first and only Formula One Driver’s World Championship. The day also marks another 50th anniversary in Formula One—the first and only time a driver has posthumously won the Driver’s World Championship. In his too short career, Rindt made waves in the racing world, competing twice in the Indianapolis 500; enduring the 24 Hours of Le Mans four times and winning in 1965 with Masten Gregory; and spending six seasons in the world of Formula One. In his first five seasons, he took home one first place victory. But in the 1970 season, Rindt hit his stride, taking the podium in five of the eight races he completed. When he tragically died during practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Rindt had already earned 45 points towards the championship. Even with four races left in the season, second place finisher Jacky Ickx could only muster 40. Below is a selection of images of Jochen Rindt from the Dave Friedman Collection (2009.158) to honor the life and legacy of this racing legend. You can see even more images related to Rindt in our Digital Collections.

Two men talking; other people in foreground to right and in background are more people and a raceway
Jochen Rindt at the Grand Prix of the United States, Watkins Glen, October 1966 / THF146483

Race car with stripes and diagonal number 8 on hood, and person wearing helmet and goggles inside
Cooper T81 Driven by Jochen Rindt in the Grand Prix of the United States, Watkins Glen, October 1966 / THF146482

Partial side view of racecar with text "8" and "RINDT" on side; person inside in helmet, goggles, and mouth covering
Cooper T81 Driven by Jochen Rindt in the V Grand Premio de Mexico (5th Grand Prix of Mexico), October 1966 / THF146484

Man sitting in race car with several people gathered around it; additional people in the middle distance and grandstands full of people in the far background
Jochen Rindt in His Eagle/Ford Race Car at the Indianapolis 500, May 1967 / THF96147

Low race car with number "40" on side on race track
Jochen Rindt behind the Wheel of the Porsche 907 LH He Co-drove with Gerhard Mitter at the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans / lemans06-67_426

Woman sitting cross-legged smiling at man sitting on low wall with feet extended, also smiling
Jochen Rindt and Nina Rindt before the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans / lemans06-67_030


Janice Unger is Processing Archivist at The Henry Ford.

 

Le Mans, Indy 500, race car drivers, by Janice Unger, cars, racing

THF231106Pete Henderson, #16 Duesenberg, Ora Haibe, #14 Sebring, John Aitken, #2 Peugeot, Sheepshead Bay, 1914. THF231106

If you’re a fan of the Disney musical Newsies, you may remember the character Racetrack singing about obtaining "a permanent box at the Sheepshead races" in the song King of New York. While Racetrack was referring to a horse racing track located in Sheepshead Bay, New York, that same facility was later converted to a board track for automobile racing. While board tracks around the country had a limited lifespan, they set the stage for the eventual creation of modern paved oval racetracks and the expansion of automobile racing across the United States.

THF111772Barney Oldfield riding the "Blue Streak" on the Salt Palace Board Track, Salt Lake City, Utah, circa 1900. THF111772

The earliest oval board tracks in the United States, commonly known as motordromes at the time, were constructed around 1910. With designs based on the velodromes used for bicycle racing in Europe, they utilized thousands of small, wooden boards in their construction. For the one mile long track at Playa del Rey, California, over 300 miles worth of boards were used to create the racing surface.  Many of the board tracks also included steep banked corners, adding to the excitement. The wooden surface was cheaper to install than a paved one at the time, although the upkeep did create additional costs over the years.  

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Board track racing on the track in Playa Del Rey, California. THF228751

Over the next 20 years, board tracks were constructed in cities around the country, including Chicago, Tacoma, Omaha, and Brooklyn. Smaller communities also had tracks: Valley Junction, Iowa; Hopwood, Pennsylvania; Sharonville, Ohio; and Salem, New Hampshire, to name a few.  They ranged in length from half a mile to 2 miles, with thousands of people attending races. The American Automobile Association (AAA), which had established its Contest Board in 1908, sanctioned championship level races on these tracks. From 1920 through 1931, 82 of the group's 123 championship events were staged on wooden raceways. Early motor racing stars, such as Joe Nikrent and Louis Disbrow, found success on the boards as well as paved tracks.

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Joe Nikrent and Louis Disbrow racing in Oakland, California. THF229073

There were some drawbacks to the board tracks though. Safety issues, including high rates of speed in corners, extreme G-forces on the drivers, flying splinters and debris, and the basic tire technology of the time, led to accidents and fatalities on the tracks. Spectators, especially those at motorcycle races, were vulnerable to out of control vehicles veering off the track. Track upkeep was extremely expensive, with the tracks needing to be resurfaced every five years or less. Stories remain of repairs being made to the tracks as cars raced overhead. Lack of competition with the increase overall speeds was another drawback; generally the fastest car at the start of the race crossed the finish line first.

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Dave Lewis's Race Car Stopped on the Board Track at Altoona Speedway, Tipton, Pennsylvania, in 1925. THF73131

Major races ceased to be held on boards after 1932, although a few tracks prolonged their lives by hosting midget racing competitions. In the end, the majority of the tracks were torn down, the land utilized for other purposes. Alas, this was the fate of the Sheepshead Bay Speedway. The track, built in 1915 on the site of the old horse racing facility, only operated until 1919. The land was sold four years later and redeveloped for residential purposes, with no trace of the facility remaining today. Relegated to memory, it is important to remember the integral role that this board track and others like it played in the expansion of automobile racing across the United States.  

Janice Unger is Processing Archivist , Archives & Library Services for the Benson Ford Research Center, at The Henry Ford.

cars, by Janice Unger, racing

THF122945

Official Program of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 27th 500 Mile International Sweepstakes Race, May 30, 1939. THF 122945

Over the years, sporting events have become traditions in our lives: the Super Bowl in the winter, the Kentucky Derby every May, and the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day Weekend. Iconic events such as these develop their own customs over time, and the Indianapolis 500 is no exception. As we celebrate the 100th running of the race on May 29, here is a look at a few of the traditions that have developed over the years.

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Start of the 1911 Indianapolis 500. P.O.2703

Some of the current Indy traditions started in the early days of the race. Since the inaugural running on May 30, 1911, the contest has always been held on Memorial Day or that weekend. As a tribute to horse racing practices, only the winner of the race (and his team) are honored in Victory Lane, without a podium for the top three finishers. Speaking of victory celebrations, Lewis Meyer began another triumphal tradition in 1936.  After winning that year's race, Meyer grabbed a bottle of buttermilk to cool himself down, as he typically did on hot days. After an executive from the Milk Foundation saw a photograph of the celebration, it became a yearly occurrence.  Although there have been a few years without milk in Victory Lane, this appears to be a tradition that will last for years to come.


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Bobby Unser drinking milk in Victory Lane, 1968, 2009.158.317.5507

The 1940s saw the start of more traditions at the Indianapolis 500. In 1946, the song "Back Home Again in Indiana" was first played in pre-race festivities. Numerous artists have been enlisted to perform the song over years, including Jim Nabors, who sang it 36 times between 1972 and 2014. (Singer Josh Kaufman will fulfill the duty for this year.) In 1947 Grace Smith Hulman, the racetrack owner's mother, suggested balloons be released before the start of the race. Since 1950, 30,000 multicolored balloons, now made of biodegradable latex, have been let loose coinciding with the final notes of "Back Home Again in Indiana."

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Di Gilmore and Jim Nabors at the 1977 Indy 500 

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Balloon release at the 1963 Indy 500. 2009.158.317.1729

The next decades brought more long-lasting traditions to the Indianapolis 500.  In 1953, Wilbur Shaw first gave the starting call of "Gentlemen, start your engines!"  Some variation of this call has been used every year since then, with the opening periodically changing to "Lady and Gentlemen" or "Ladies and Gentlemen" for the years when female drivers are competing. A few years later, the 500 Festival Parade developed after local newspaper columnists noted the community festivities that accompanied the Kentucky Derby. The 2016 festival includes a mini-marathon, parade, children's activities, and the Snakepit Ball. It was 1960 that was the first year that the winner was adorned with a wreath, drawing from Grand Prix traditions.  The current wreath design contains 33 white cymbidium orchids representing the 33 cars and drivers on the starting grid.

THF110641

Jim Clark draped in victor's wreath at the 1965 Indy 500. 2009.158.91

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1968 Indy Festival Queen with the Borg Warner Trophy, 2009.158.317.5261

Since the 1970s, more traditions have been added to the Indy 500. The Last Row Party, started in 1972, is a charity function held the Friday before the race. In addition to raising scholarship funds for local students, the party also serves as a roast for the last three competitors to make the starting grid. A few years later, in 1976, Jeanetta Holder created and presented her first quilt to the winner of the race.  Over the years, she has crafted more than 40 hand-stitched quilts, with Bobby Unser's 1981 quilt now in the collection of the Henry Ford. More recent additions to the Indy traditions include concerts on Carb Day and Legends Day, and the kissing of the bricks, which actually started in NASCAR tradition in 1996. Gil de Ferran was the first Indy driver to do it at the conclusion of the 2003 race.

THF94584
Jeanetta Holder quilt for Bobby Unser, 1981. 2009.171.18

Tradition and ritual are a part of our everyday lives, and will certainly be an integral part of this year's Indianapolis 500. Over the last 99 contests, drivers, owners, and even fans have created new customs that add to the history and lore of the race. As you watch the 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on May 29, keep your eyes open for the existing traditions and perhaps some new ones in the making.

Janice Unger is 
Digital Processing Archivist for Racing, Archives & Library Services, at The Henry Ford.

by Janice Unger, racing, race cars, race car drivers, Indy 500

Driver Graham Hill, Winner of the United States Grand Prix, October 3, 1965 THF116676

When you hear the phrase “Triple Crown,” the sport of horse racing generally comes to mind.  However, the world of motorsport also has its own, unofficial Triple Crown title. To achieve this feat, a driver must win three specific titles during their career. Some enthusiasts contend the three titles are the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Monaco Grand Prix, while others replace the race in Monaco with the Formula One World Championship.

The Triple Crown of Motorsport has been possible since 1929, when the last race, the Monaco Grand Prix, was first run through the streets of the principality. (If you are using the Formula One World Championship title instead, the Triple Crown became possible in 1950.) In the last 86 years, many drivers have won one or two components of the Triple Crown, but only one man, Graham Hill, completed either trifecta. This accomplishment attests to Hill’s immense skill on the track, as each race or title corresponds to a different discipline of the sport. Continue Reading

by Janice Unger, racing

 

Jim Clark and his Racing Team with Lotus Racer, Indianapolis 500 Race, 1965 (THF 110496)

 

This year marks the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, more commonly known as the Indy 500. Since the race’s inception in 1911, men and women from around the world have participated, but only 5 drivers have come from Scotland. With 2015 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first Scottish win at Indy, here is a look at the five Scots who brought their talent from Dunfermline, Glasgow, Bathgate, Milton, and Kilmany to the Brickyard.

Jim Clark (1936-1968) became the first Scottish driver to compete at the Indy 500 in 1963, going on to start the race in five consecutive years (1963-1967). In his Indy rookie year, Clark took second place, 34.04 seconds behind Parnelli Jones.  After dropping out of the 1964 race with suspension problems, Clark rebounded the next year by crossing the finish line in his Lotus-Ford 38/1 almost two full minutes ahead of Jones. The year 1966 witnessed another second place finish, this time to Graham Hill, and 1967 saw an early exit after 35 laps due to piston problems. Unfortunately, Clark would not have the opportunity to compete the next year, as he was killed during a Formula Two race in Hockenheim, Germany on April 7, 1968. Continue Reading

Indy 500, cars, by Janice Unger, racing