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Aerial shot of museum exhibit featuring cars, along with other artifacts and graphic panels with images and text

Driven to Win: Racing in America presented by General Motors.

The Henry Ford’s newest exhibition, Driven to Win: Racing in America presented by General Motors, opened to the public on March 27. It’s been a thrill to see visitors experiencing and enjoying the show after so many years of planning.

Along with all of that planning, we did some serious collecting as well. Visitors to Driven to Win will see more than 250 artifacts from all eras of American racing. Several of those pieces are newly acquired, specifically for the show.

Black and white athletic shoes
Shoes worn by Ken Block in Gymkhana Five. Block co-founded DC Shoes in 1994. / THF179739

The most obvious new addition is the 2012 Ford Fiesta driven by Ken Block in Gymkhana Five: Ultimate Urban Playground; San Francisco. The car checked some important boxes for us. It represented one of America’s hottest current motorsport stars, of course, but it also gave us our first rally car. The Fiesta wasn’t just for show—Block drove it in multiple competitions, including the 2012 X Games in Los Angeles, where he took second place (one of five podium finishes Block took in the X Games series). At the same time, we collected several accessories worn by Block, including a helmet, a racing suit, gloves, sunglasses, and a pair of shoes. The footwear is by DC Shoes, the apparel company that Block co-founded with Damon Way in 1994.

Racing toys and games are prominently represented in Driven to Win. We have several vintage slot cars and die cast models, but I was excited to add a 1:64 scale model of Brittany Force’s 2019 Top Fuel car. Force is one of NHRA’s biggest current stars, and an inspiration to a new generation of fans.

Silver box with text and screenshot from video game of cars on a racetrack
Charmingly dated today, Pole Position’s graphics and gameplay were strikingly realistic in 1983. / THF176903

Many of those newer fans have lived their racing dreams through video games. We had a copy of Atari’s pioneering Indy 500 cartridge already, but I was determined to add newer, more influential titles to our holdings. While Indy 500 didn’t share much with its namesake race apart from the general premise of cars competing on an oval track, Atari’s Pole Position brought a new degree of realism to racing video games. Pole Position was a top arcade hit in 1982, and the home version, released the following year, retained the full-color landscapes that made the game so lifelike at the time. I was excited to acquire a copy that not only included the original box, but also a hype sticker reading “Arcade Hit of the Year!”

Another game that made the jump from arcade to living room was Daytona USA, released in 1995 for the short-lived Sega Saturn. Rather than open-wheel racing, Daytona USA based its gameplay on stock car competition. The arcade version was notable for permitting up to eight machines to be linked together, allowing multiple players to compete with one another.

More recently, the Forza series set a new standard for racing video games. The initial title, Forza Motorsport, featured more than 200 cars and encouraged people to customize their vehicles to improve performance or appearance. Online connectivity allowed Forza Motorsport players to compete with others not just in the same room, but around the world.

One of my favorite new acquisitions is a photograph showing a young racer, Basil “Jug” Menard, posing with his race car. There’s something charming in the way young Menard poses with his Ford, a big smile on his face and hands at his hips like a superhero. His car looks worse for the wear, with plenty of dents and an “85” rather hastily stenciled on the door, but this young driver is clearly proud of it. Menard represents the “weekend warrior” who works a regular job during the week, but takes on the world at the local dirt track each weekend.

Wooden case open to reveal a number of silver drafting tools inside, set in black velvet
When we talk about a racer’s tools, we don’t just mean cars and helmets. / THF167207

Drivers may get most of the glory, but they’re only the most visible part of the large team behind any race car. There are folks working for each win everywhere from pit lane to the business office. Engineers are a crucial part of that group, whether they work for the racing team itself, the car manufacturer, or a supplier. In the early 20th century, Leo Goossen was among the most successful racing engineers in the United States. Alongside designer Harry Miller, Goossen developed cars and engines that won the Indianapolis 500 a total of 14 times from 1922 to 1938. We had the great fortune to acquire a set of drafting tools used by Goossen in his work. The donor of those tools grew up with Goossen as his neighbor. As a boy, the donor often talked about cars and racing with Goossen. The engineer passed the tools on to the boy as a gift.

We could not mount a serious exhibit on motorsport without talking about safety. Into the 1970s, auto racing was a frightfully dangerous enterprise. Legendary driver Mario Andretti commented on the risk in the early years of his career during our 2017 interview with him. Andretti recalled that during the drivers’ meeting at the beginning of each season, he’d look around the room and wonder who wouldn’t survive to the end of the year.

Improved helmets went a long way in reducing deaths and injuries. Open-face, hard-shell helmets were common on race tracks by the late 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1968 that driver Dan Gurney introduced the motocross-style full-face helmet to auto racing. Some drivers initially chided Gurney for being overly cautious—but they soon came to appreciate the protection from flying debris. Mr. Gurney kindly donated to us one of the full-face helmets he used in occasional races after his formal retirement from competitive driving in 1970.

And speaking of Dan Gurney, he famously co-drove the Ford Mark IV to victory with A.J. Foyt at Le Mans in 1967. We have a treasure trove of photographs from that race, and of course we have the Mark IV itself, but we recently added something particularly special: the trophy Ford Motor Company received for the victory. To our knowledge, Driven to Win marks the first time this trophy has been on public view in decades. Personally, I think the prize’s long absence is a key part of the story. Ford went to Le Mans to beat Ferrari. After doing so for a second time in 1967, Ford shut down its Le Mans program, having met its goal and made its point. All the racing world had marveled at those back-to-back wins—Ford didn’t need to show off a trophy to prove what it had done!

White glove in black frame with gold plaque containing text below it
Janet Guthrie wore this glove at the 1977 Indy 500—when she became the first woman to compete in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. / THF166385

For most of its history, professional auto racing has been dominated by white men. Women and people of color have fought discrimination and intimidation in the sport for decades. It is important to include those stories in Driven to Win—and in The Henry Ford’s collections. We documented Janet Guthrie’s groundbreaking run at the 1977 Indianapolis 500, when she became the first woman to compete in America’s most celebrated race, with a glove she wore during the event. I quite like the fact that the glove had been framed with a plaque, a gesture that underlined the significance of Guthrie’s achievement. We’ve displayed the glove in the exhibit still inside that frame. More recently, Danica Patrick followed Guthrie’s footsteps at Indy. Patrick also competed for several years in NASCAR, and in 2013 she became the first woman to earn the pole position at the Daytona 500. She kindly donated a pair of gloves that she wore in 2012, her inaugural Cup Series season.

Man in jumpsuit with short curly hair and mustache leans against back of race car, with other race cars, people, and equipment in the background
Wendell Scott, the first Black driver to compete full-time in NASCAR’s Cup Series, as photographed at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1974. / THF147632

Wendell Scott broke NASCAR’s color barrier when he battled discrimination from officials and fans to become the first Black driver to win a Cup Series race. Scott earned the victory at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, in December 1963. We acquired a photo of Scott taken later in his career, at the 1972 World 600. Scott retired in 1973 after sustaining serious injuries in a crash at Talladega Superspeedway. In addition to acquiring the photo, we were fortunate to be able to borrow a 1966 Ford Galaxie driven by Scott during the 1967 and 1968 NASCAR seasons.

Wendell Scott’s impact on the sport is still felt. Current star Darrell “Bubba” Wallace is the first Black driver since Scott to race in the Cup Series full-time. Following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, Wallace joined other athletes from all sports in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. He and his teammates at Richard Petty Motorsports created a special Black Lives Matter paint scheme for Wallace’s #43 Chevrolet Camaro, driven at Virginia’s Martinsville Speedway on June 10, 2020. We acquired a model of that car for the exhibit. The interlocked Black and white hands on the hood are a hopeful symbol at a difficult time.

Our collecting efforts did not end when Driven to Win opened. We continue to add important pieces to our holdings—most recently, items used by rising star Armani Williams in his stock car racing career. There will be more to come: more artifacts to collect, more stories to share, and more insights on the people and places that make American racing special.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

#Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, women's history, video games, toys and games, racing, race cars, race car drivers, Henry Ford Museum, engineering, Driven to Win, by Matt Anderson, African American history

Young man wearing jumpsuit looks at camera as he sits in open race car cockpit
Bobby Unser, 1963. / THF218272


The Henry Ford mourns the loss of Bobby Unser, who passed away on May 2, 2021. He was a good friend to our organization and, of course, one of America’s most accomplished racing drivers.

Bobby Unser was born into automobile racing. His father and uncles grew up in the shadow of Pikes Peak and competed in the legendary Pikes Peak Hill Climb race. Bobby’s uncle, Louie, earned nine victories in the contest from 1934 to 1953. Bobby’s father, Jerry, finished third as his personal best, but his sons would go on to dominate at Pikes Peak—and Indianapolis.

Bobby Unser was just one year old when his parents, Jerry and Mary, relocated the family from Colorado Springs, Colorado, to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jerry opened a service station on Route 66—wisely locating it on the west side of town, so his station was the first one motorists saw after traveling across the New Mexico desert. Bobby and his brothers, Jerry Jr., Louis, and Al, grew up working in the station, living and breathing cars. Not surprisingly, they all caught the racing bug. Jerry Jr. and Louis each competed at Pikes Peak for the first time in 1955. Jerry Jr. won his class twice, in 1956 and 1957. He went on to compete in the 1958 Indianapolis 500, but died in a crash during qualifying for Indy the next year. Louis won his class at Pikes Peak in 1960 and 1961, but retired from competitive driving in 1964, when he developed multiple sclerosis. Al earned back-to-back Pikes Peak overall victories in 1964 and 1965. He made his Indy 500 debut in 1965 and went on to become only the second person to win the race four times, taking the checkered flag in 1970, 1971, 1978, and 1987.

Person wearing face mask, helmet, and jumpsuit drives race car on dirt road with rocky slopes on either side
Bobby Unser racing up Pikes Peak, 1960. / THF217906

Even in a family of racing legends, Bobby Unser stood out. Following service in the Air Force, he made his own debut at Pikes Peak in 1955. He earned the overall victory there the following year, kicking off an incredible run of nine overall wins in 13 years. Altogether, Bobby Unser claimed 10 overall victories and 13 class wins at Pikes Peak between 1956 and 1986. It’s no wonder they called him “King of the Mountain.”

Bobby followed his older brothers to Indianapolis in 1963. His first years at the Brickyard weren’t promising—crashes took him out early in the 1963 and 1964 races, and during qualifying in 1965—but he earned a top-ten finish in 1966. Two years later, Unser won his first victory at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Despite a challenge from Andy Granatelli’s turbine cars, and his own car getting stuck in high gear, Bobby finished nearly a lap ahead of second place finisher Dan Gurney.

Man drinks from glass milk bottle in the midst of a crowd with a large trophy and men in beefeater hats nearby
Bobby Unser drinks the traditional bottle of milk following his first Indy 500 win, 1968. / THF140423

Unser and Gurney went from competitors to collaborators. Bobby joined Gurney’s All American Racers (AAR) as a driver and competed at Indy under the AAR banner through most of the 1970s. The capstone of their partnership came in 1975 when Unser once again became a reigning Indy 500 champion—or, more properly, a “raining” champion. Mother Nature put on the biggest show at the 1975 race. With 174 of the 200 laps down, the skies let loose with a torrential downpour. Visibility fell to nil, the track flooded, and cars spun left and right. Officials called the race early with Unser in the lead. The race may have been abbreviated, but it was enough to give Bobby his second win.

If Unser’s 1975 win was his most dramatic, then his third Indy 500 win, in 1981, was his most controversial. The final lap saw Bobby cross the finish line five seconds ahead of Mario Andretti. But Andretti and his teammates protested that Unser had passed cars illegally while under a caution flag earlier in the race. After a night of review and deliberation, race officials ruled in Andretti’s favor, penalizing Unser one position and giving Andretti the victory. Unser’s team appealed the ruling and, after months of further investigation, officials reinstated Bobby Unser’s win. The whole affair soured Unser’s love for racing, and he retired from IndyCar competition in 1983.

Man in suit and tie with NBC peacock logo on pocket looks at camera
Bobby Unser in his sportscasting days, 1985. / THF222929

Thirteen wins at Pikes Peak, or three wins at the Indianapolis 500, would be enough to put any driver on a list of all-time greats, but Bobby Unser had more achievements still. He earned USAC national championships in 1968 and 1974, and an IROC championship in 1975. Following his retirement, Bobby worked in broadcasting, providing commentary on auto races for ABC, NBC and ESPN.

From the 1990s on, Bobby Unser was lauded by almost every imaginable racing heritage organization and hall of fame. In 2008, he gifted his personal papers to The Henry Ford, giving us a rich record of his career and accomplishments. He also kindly loaned us the family’s 1956 Ford F-100 pickup and the 1958 Moore/Unser car in which he won Pikes Peak seven times. Both vehicles debuted in our new exhibit, Driven to Win: Racing in America, presented by General Motors, just weeks ago.

We share the grief of racing fans everywhere at the loss of a true giant. At the same time, we celebrate Bobby Unser’s many achievements on and off the track, and we feel honored to have a role in preserving a significant part of his legacy.

 

  • Hear Bobby Unser describe his career and accomplishments in his own words on our “Visionaries on Innovation” page here.
  • Explore the Bobby Unser Papers, in the Benson Ford Research Center, through the finding aid here, and browse digitized photographs and other artifacts from the collection here.
  • See highlights from The Henry Ford’s Bobby Unser Collection here.


Close-up of man's head and shoulders, wearing black shirt and smiling at camera
Bobby Unser, 2009. /
THF62889


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

in memoriam, by Matt Anderson, Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win, race car drivers, racing

Light blue car with distinctively pointed headlights and center front grille
The Henry Ford’s 1951 Studebaker Champion, a cousin to Fozzie Bear’s 1951 Commander. / THF90649


Cars and movies go together like peanut butter and jelly, or cake and ice cream. It’s only natural. The two industries appeared almost simultaneously around the turn of the 20th century. Southern California became a major center of American automobile culture and, of course, the center of the U.S. film industry. Over time, certain movies even came to define certain marques. Aston Martin had Goldfinger, DeLorean had Back to the Future, and Studebaker had… The Muppet Movie.

For those who haven’t seen The Muppet Movie, which brought Jim Henson’s creations to the big screen, for the first time, in 1979, stop reading and go watch it right now. Seriously. I’ll wait.

But if a summary has to suffice, then I’ll tell you that The Muppet Movie is in the tradition of the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope “Road” movies, where a simple trip turns into a series of misadventures. But instead of Bing and Bob, you get Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear. (Well, you get Bob too, but I digress.) The movie follows Kermit as he makes his way from the Florida swamps to the bright lights of Hollywood, chasing his dream to “make millions of people happy” in show business. Along the way he meets Fozzie, the Great Gonzo, Miss Piggy, and all the usual Muppet favorites.

Man leans over miniature pool table in front of a wall filled with posters
Paul Williams, seen on a 1980 visit to The Henry Ford, co-wrote The Muppet Movie’s songs. He’d previously penned hits for Three Dog Night, the Carpenters, and Barbra Streisand. / THF128260

Kermit begins his journey on a bicycle, but, after meeting Fozzie Bear, the two continue the trip in Fozzie’s uncle’s 1951 Studebaker Commander. The Stude doesn’t make it all the way to Hollywood—they trade it in for a 1946 Ford station wagon partway through—but it features in two of the movie’s memorable musical numbers: “Movin’ Right Along” and “Can You Picture That?,” both co-written by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher.

The Muppet Movie is more than great songs and story. The film set new standards in puppetry by convincingly putting its characters into “real world” settings. Prior to Henson’s work, puppets were largely stationary figures, stuck behind props that hid puppeteers from view. Even early Muppet projects, notably The Muppet Show, suffered from this limitation. But in The Muppet Movie, Kermit rides a bicycle, Gonzo floats through the sky below a bunch of balloons, and Fozzie, of course, drives his Commander.

Close-up of car grille with pointed areas at either end housing headlights and in the middle
The Studebaker’s “bullet nose” served a practical purpose for the filmmakers. / THF90652

In a way, these elaborate special effects were responsible for the Studebaker appearing in the film. The 1951 Commander’s most distinctive feature is the chrome “bullet nose” between its headlights. The special-effects Commander used in The Muppet Movie had its bullet removed and replaced with a small video camera. The car’s trunk was fitted with a TV screen connected to the camera, a steering wheel, throttle and brake controls, and a seat. With these modifications, a small person was able to operate the car, hidden from view and able to see the road ahead via the camera. With Fozzie placed in the driver’s seat; his puppeteer, Frank Oz, hidden under the dashboard; and the car’s operator concealed in the trunk, it appeared as though the comic bear himself was driving the Studebaker in several scenes. The trick worked so well that, more than 40 years later in the age of computer-generated special effects, Fozzie’s driving is still remarkably convincing. The crew used a second, unmodified Commander for shots where driving effects weren’t needed.

Practical concerns weren’t the only reasons a Commander was used in the movie. In comments published in Turning Wheels, the newsletter of the Studebaker Drivers Club, The Muppet Movie screenwriter Jerry Juhl described the ’51 Commander as perhaps the “goofiest” looking car ever put into production. Goofiness, Juhl added, was a highly-respected quality in the Henson organization, so it seemed only fitting that Fozzie should drive that particular car.

Man with mustache wearing suit and striped tie leans on a surface holding a small car model
Studebaker’s bullet nose was part of a long, productive relationship between the automaker and industrial designer Raymond Loewy. / THF144005

That bullet nose is a story unto itself. Credit for the feature goes to designer Bob Bourke, working for Studebaker contractor Raymond Loewy Associates at the time. As Bourke later recalled, Loewy told him to model the car’s appearance after an airplane. Bourke responded with the bullet, more properly described as a propeller or a spinner, since it’s a direct reference to that crucial aviation device. And a divisive device it was. People either loved the Studebaker bullet nose or they hated it (and so it goes today).

It’s worth noting that the feature wasn’t without precedent. Ford had used a similar device on its groundbreaking 1949 models. (In fact, Bob Bourke later said that he had contributed informally to the design of the 1949 Ford. You can read Bourke’s reminiscences here.) Studebaker used the bullet nose for just two model years, 1950 and 1951, but it remains one of the company’s most memorable designs.

Advertisement with picture of yellow car at airport next to airplane; also contains smaller pictures and text
Studebaker emphasized the aviation influence on the bullet nose design in this 1950 advertisement. / THF100021

The Henry Ford’s collections include a Maui Blue 1951 Studebaker Champion coupe. The lower-priced Champion featured a six-cylinder engine, while the Commander came with a standard V-8. Other than their different badges, the look of the two models is nearly identical. But if you’d like to see the actual car that Fozzie and Kermit used in The Muppet Movie, then head over to South Bend, Indiana. The effects car survives in the collections of (where else) the Studebaker National Museum. It still wears the psychedelic paint scheme applied by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem in a clever plot device—faded with age, but unmistakable.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Driving America, Henry Ford Museum, popular culture, music, movies, Jim Henson, design, cars, by Matt Anderson

Smiling African American man with arms crossed, wearing white jumpsuit with a number of patches and logos
Armani Williams. (Photo courtesy Team Armani Racing.)


Grosse Pointe, Michigan, native Armani Williams is at the start of a promising career in auto racing. He competes in multiple professional truck and car racing series, and is honing his skills with an eye toward joining NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series—one of NASCAR’s three national series and among the highest professional racing series in the United States. This is an impressive goal for any young driver, but especially so for Mr. Williams, who is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Autism generally is characterized by difficulty in focusing on and processing multiple stimuli and tasks simultaneously. “Focusing on and processing multiple stimuli and tasks simultaneously” is also a pretty fair description of what a competitive driver does behind the wheel, which makes Williams’s achievements all the more impressive.

White, blue, and black helmet with "graffiti" style text and pattern
Helmet worn by Armani Williams, Scorpion EXO. / THF186734

Like most racing drivers, Armani Williams developed his love for motorsport as a young boy. That passion was fostered by toy cars, televised NASCAR races, and a memorable trip to see NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2010. Eager to get behind the wheel himself, Williams began racing go-karts at age eight. He then advanced to Bandolero racing, a type of motorsport in which young drivers pilot scaled-down versions of stock cars capable of speeds better than 70 miles per hour.

Williams made his competition debut in Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) Pro Series pickup truck races in 2016. He set ARCA records by becoming the highest-finishing African American driver in a series race, and by posting the best finish for an African American driver in the ARCA Truck Pro Series championship.

White jumpsuit with red panel under each arm and black cuffs and shoulders; also contains text and logos
Racing suit worn by Armani Williams, Alpinestars. / THF186736

NASCAR invited Armani Williams to compete in its Drive for Diversity combined tryouts in 2016 and 2017. Established in 2004, the Drive for Diversity program is intended to create a more inclusive culture in NASCAR on the track, in the pits, and in the stands. The program provides training and support to people of color and women pursuing careers as drivers, crew members, sponsors, or team owners.

In 2017, Williams made his debut in the Pinty’s Series, NASCAR’s Canadian stock car racing series. To date, he has earned eighteen wins and two championships in the Pinty’s Series. In 2018, Williams joined the K&N Pro Series East. This American NASCAR series serves as an important development pipeline, building and supplying new talent headed toward NASCAR’s upper levels. Williams earned his first K&N Pro Series top-ten finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he finished ninth on September 22, 2018. Williams earned another top-ten finish—this time in ARCA’s Menards Series for stock cars—on August 9, 2020, at Michigan International Speedway, his “hometown” track. By competing in the Pinty’s and K&N Pro racing series, Armani Williams became the first driver in any NASCAR series with openly-diagnosed autism.

Race car in dark and light blue with a pattern of puzzle pieces, much text, and many logos
Race 4 Autism car driven by Armani Williams. (Photo courtesy Team Armani Racing.)

Throughout his growing career, Armani Williams has used his platform in racing to raise autism awareness. He established his Armani Williams Race 4 Autism Foundation in 2015. He also covered one of his race cars with a special Race 4 Autism paint scheme featuring the jigsaw puzzle motif that is widely used as a symbol for autism spectrum disorder.

Blue sneakers with blue laces and a black patch containing an extended letter "A" and a star on the outside
Racing shoes worn by Armani Williams, Alpinestars. / THF186733

Mr. Williams recently donated pieces of his equipment to The Henry Ford. They include a helmet, a racing suit, and a pair of shoes used by him while racing in the ARCA Truck Pro Series. We are delighted to add these artifacts to the museum’s racing collections, and we look forward to incorporating some of them into our newest exhibit, Driven to Win: Racing in America Presented by General Motors. We also look forward to following Armani Williams’s competitive driving career. He’s already made history—and he’s just getting started.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

cars, race cars, African American history, Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win, race car drivers, racing, by Matt Anderson, Michigan

Large piece of beige metal equipment with round yellow screen (?) at one end and buttons and switches

THF154728

The growth of commercial aviation in the United States presented a challenge—how could airports control aircraft within the increasingly crowded space around them? The earliest efforts at air traffic control were limited to ground crew personnel waving flags or flares to direct planes through takeoffs and landings. Needless to say, this system needed improvement.

The first air traffic control tower opened in 1930 at Cleveland Municipal Airport. Pilots radioed their positions to the tower, where controllers noted the information on a map showing the positions of all planes within the airport's vicinity. Controllers radioed the pilots if a collision seemed possible and gave them permission to land or take off. Soon, all large American airports employed towers operated by the airports' respective municipal governments and staffed by growing crews. Smaller airports, though, remained dependent on a single controller (who might also handle everything from the telephone switchboard to passenger luggage). Additionally, some pilots treated controllers' instructions as mere suggestions—the pilots would land when and where they pleased.

Two planes and several people in open field near low building
Before air traffic controllers began communicating with pilots by radio, airports relied on ground crew personnel to direct planes through takeoffs and landings. / detail of THF94919

Airlines recognized the need for formal oversight and attempted to supply it themselves. They formed Air Traffic Control, Inc., in 1936 to regulate traffic at larger airports. This new agency worked well but applied only to commercial aircraft. It became clear that only federal supervision could regulate all commercial and private air traffic at the nation's airports. The Civil Aeronautics Act, passed by Congress in 1938, established the Civil Aeronautics Authority—the forerunner of today's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—to establish safety guidelines, investigate accidents, regulate airline economics, and control air traffic.

The post-World War II economic boom brought a surge in air travel, as well as larger and faster jet aircraft. But the nation's air traffic control system remained unchanged. Upgrades came only after a tragic mid-air collision between two passenger planes over the Grand Canyon in 1956. All 128 passengers and crew aboard both flights perished. Public outrage forced the widespread implementation of radar, a technology greatly improved during the war, into the management of U.S. skies.

Into the 1960s, air traffic controllers augmented radar signal displays with hand-written plastic markers that identified each plane and its altitude. Integrating computers with radar eliminated the need for written markers, as information about each plane automatically displayed on radar screens. This improved radar system, referred to as the Automated Radar Terminal System, finally made its way to metropolitan airports in 1969, when the FAA contracted with Sperry Rand to build control computers and radar scopes.

Large piece of beige metal equipment with round yellow screen (?) at one end and buttons and switches; open panels on top and sides showing complex wiring
This computer-integrated radar scope, used at Detroit Metro Airport from 1970 to 2001, was one of the first units capable of displaying an airplane's identification number and altitude directly on the screen. In this photograph, panels have been removed to reveal the unit’s internal components. / THF154729

This radar scope display panel is the first of those scopes to be produced. It was installed at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in 1970. This unit, and others like it, sat in the tower's radar room. It was used to monitor and control aircraft within 35 miles of the airport. Two people worked the unit in tandem, sitting on either side of the display screen. While this arrangement made maximum use of expensive equipment, it led to inevitable difficulties—users sometimes disagreed on screen contrast settings. With the introduction of single-user LCD displays in the 1980s and 1990s, this unit was downgraded to training use and then retired from service in 2001.

Today, radar itself is facing retirement from air traffic control. Aircraft can relay their positions to each other and the ground without radar through Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, which combines GPS technology with high-speed data transfer. Required in most controlled airspace as of January 1, 2020, this new system provides more accurate location information. It also allows closer spacing of aircraft in the skies, increasing capacity and permitting better traffic management.

Though it was outpaced by newer technologies, this computer-integrated radar scope—the first of its kind—survives in the collections of The Henry Ford as evidence of the critical developments that produced the safe and efficient aviation system we rely on today. To discover more aviation stories, visit the Heroes of the Sky exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, or find more on our blog.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

computers, technology, Michigan, flying, Detroit, by Matt Anderson, airplanes

Looking to add some adrenaline to your next virtual meeting? Try the new backgrounds below, taken from Driven to Win: Racing in America, presented by General Motors. These images feature some of the exhibition’s iconic race cars, including the 1965 Goldenrod and the 1967 Ford Mark IV.

If you want even more background options, you can download any of the images of our artifacts from our Digital Collections. Our racing-related Digital Collections include more than 37,000 racing photographs, 400 three-dimensional artifacts (including race cars!), and nearly 300 programs, sketches, clippings, and other documents. Beyond racing, this collection of backgrounds showcases some views from Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour.

These links will give you instructions to set any of these images as your background on Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

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race car drivers, African American history, Mark IV, photographs, Driven to Win, Henry Ford Museum, cars, by Bruce Wilson, by Ellice Engdahl, by Matt Anderson, race cars, racing, technology, COVID 19 impact

White car with large red and black text on side and hood

Vicki Wood drove at least one Chrysler 300 car from Carl Kiekhaefer's NASCAR team—though we can’t be sure this Kiekhaefer Chrysler in our collection was driven by her. / THF90106

Stock car racer Vicki Wood was born March 15, 1919, in Detroit. Her success on Detroit area tracks in the early 1950s caught the attention of Chrysler's public relations office. Sensing a promotional opportunity, they arranged for her to try for speed records at Daytona Beach in 1955 and 1956. Each time, she drove a Chrysler—and it's possible, though we can’t be sure, that one was the Kiekhaefer Chrysler in our collection, pictured above.

Wood set several records on the sands of Daytona Beach between 1955 and 1960. In three of those years, her times beat all the male drivers. In 1960, Wood set a one-way speed record of 150.375 mph—the fastest one-way run by a woman in the history of Daytona’s beach course. Wood retired in 1963 but, because beach racing ended in 1959 when Daytona International Speedway opened, she’ll always be “the fastest woman on the beach.”

She passed away on June 5, 2020, in Troy, Michigan.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

cars, race cars, by Matt Anderson, women's history, racing, race car drivers

Two women wearing lanyards pose with arms around each other, with a grandstand full of people in the background

Sarah Fisher with Lyn St. James. Photo courtesy Lyn St. James.

Born October 4, 1980, in Columbus, Ohio, Sarah Fisher raced quarter midgets and go-karts before age 10, and earned multiple karting championships in her teens. When she competed in her first Indianapolis 500 in 2000, she was only the third woman to do so (after Janet Guthrie and Lyn St. James) and—at age 19—the youngest. With her third-place finish at Kentucky Speedway later that season, Fisher became the first woman to earn a place on the podium in an IndyCar Series event.

Red jumpsuit with black trim containing text and corporate logos on bodice
Racing suit worn by Sarah Fisher in 2009, which will be on exhibit in Driven to Win: Racing in America in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.  / THF176380

Fisher retired from driving after 2010 (and after nine starts in the Indy 500), but continued as a team owner. In 2011, Fisher became the first female owner to earn an IndyCar victory, with driver Ed Carpenter at the wheel.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

entrepreneurship, Indy 500, Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win, women's history, by Matt Anderson, race car drivers, cars, racing

Woman sits in race car with feet dangling out open door; other people and cars in background

Denise McCluggage at Bahamas Speed Weeks, November-December 1959 / 1959NassauSpeedWeek_080

Denise McCluggage was born January 20, 1927, in El Dorado, Kansas. A journalist by trade, McCluggage was covering motor racing for the New York Herald when she developed an avocational interest in the sport. She had no formal training, but proved herself a natural talent on the track. Through the 1950s and 1960s, she raced against some of the era’s finest professional drivers. Along the way, she earned victories in sports car races at Nassau, Watkins Glen, and Sebring.

Woman leans against wooden post and talks to several other people, with additional people and cars nearby
Denise McCluggage Talking with Stirling Moss at Bahamas Speed Weeks, November 27 - December 10, 1961 / THF134439

McCluggage co-founded Autoweek in 1958 and contributed pieces to the magazine through the remainder of her life. McCluggage was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Sports Car Club of America Hall of Fame in 2006, and died on May 6, 2015, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

cars, race car drivers, by Matt Anderson, women's history, racing

Red car with white hood; text in multiple areas including "34" on door and roof, "Wendell Scott" on roof

Wendell Scott, NASCAR’s first full-time Black driver, used this 1966 Ford Galaxie, currently on exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, during the 1967–68 seasons. (Vehicle on loan courtesy of Hajek Motorsports. Photo credit: Wes Duenkel Motorsports Photography.)

Stock car racing is a difficult business. Budgets and schedules are tight, travel is grueling, and competition is intense. Imagine facing all of these obstacles together with the insidious challenge of racism. Wendell Scott, the first African American driver to compete full-time in NASCAR’s top-level Cup Series, overcame all of this and more in his winning and inspiring career.

Portrait of man with text underneath: "Wendell Scott, Danville, Va."
Portrait of Wendell Scott from the February 1968 Daytona 500 program. / THF146968

Born in Danville, Virginia, in 1921, Scott served in the motor pool during World War II, developing skills as a mechanic that would serve him well throughout his motorsport career. He started racing in 1947, quickly earning wins on local stock car tracks. Intrigued by the new National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), formed in 1948, Scott traveled to several NASCAR-sanctioned events intent on competing. But each time, officials turned him away, stating that Black drivers weren’t allowed.

Undaunted, Scott continued to sharpen his skills in other stock car series. He endured slurs and taunts from crowds, and harassment on and off the track from other drivers, but he persevered. Of necessity, Scott was his own driver, mechanic, and team owner. Gradually, some white drivers came to respect Scott’s abilities and dedication to the sport. Through persistence and endurance, Scott obtained a NASCAR competition license and made his Cup Series debut in 1961. He started in 23 races and earned five top-five finishes in his inaugural season. On December 1, 1963, with his victory in a 100-mile race at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, Wendell Scott became the first Black driver to win a Cup Series event.

Car, with large number 34 on door, on racetrack
Wendell Scott on the track—in a 1965 Ford Galaxie—in 1966. / THF146962

But that win did not come easy—even after the checkered flag fell. The track was rough, many drivers made multiple pit stops, and no one was sure just how many laps some cars had completed, or who truly had the lead. Initially, driver Buck Baker was credited with the victory. Baker went to Victory Lane, posed for photos, addressed the press, and headed home. Wendell Scott was certain that he had won and, as was his right, immediately requested a formal review. After two hours, officials determined that Scott was, in fact, the true winner. Scott received the $1,000 cash prize, but by that time the ceremony, the trophy, and the press were long gone. (The Jacksonville Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame presented Scott’s widow and children with a replica of the missing trophy in 2010—nearly 50 years later.)

Throughout his career, Scott never had the support of a major sponsor. He stretched his limited dollars by using second-hand cars and equipment. During the 1967–68 seasons, he ran a 1966 Ford Galaxie he acquired from the Holman-Moody racing team. That Galaxie was one of 18 delivered from Ford Motor Company to Holman-Moody for the 1965–66 NASCAR seasons. During the 1966 season, Cale Yarborough piloted the Galaxie under #27. Scott campaigned the car under his own #34, notably driving it at the 1968 Daytona 500 where he finished seventeenth.

Car, with large number 27 on door, in front of blurred stands full of people
Cale Yarborough at the wheel of the 1966 Ford Galaxie at that year’s Daytona 500. THF146964

Wendell Scott’s Cup Series career spanned 13 years. He made 495 starts and earned 147 top-ten finishes. He might have raced longer if not for a serious crash at Talladega Superspeedway in 1973. Scott’s injuries put him in the hospital for several weeks and persuaded him to retire from competitive driving. Scott passed away from cancer in 1990, but not before seeing his life story inspire the 1977 Richard Pryor film Greased Lightning.

Scott’s 1966 Ford Galaxie is on loan to The Henry Ford courtesy of Hajek Motorsports, which previously loaned the car to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina. We are proud to exhibit it, and to share the story of a pioneering driver who overcame almost every conceivable challenge in his hall-of-fame career.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

cars, Driven to Win, Henry Ford Museum, by Matt Anderson, racing, African American history