Lorraine-Detrich Automobile Driven by Arthur Duray at the Vanderbilt Cup Race, Long Island, New York, 1906 / THF203486
Early American Racing: A Compulsion to Prove Superiority
The quest for automotive superiority began on the track. Innovation proved to be king—it is the fuel that built reputations, generated interest and investment, and paved the way to newfound glory.
Near the end of the 19th century, the infant auto industry was bursting at the seams with ideas, experiments, and innovations. The automobile was new and primarily a novelty—as soon as there were two cars on the road, their builders and drivers were compelled to race each other. Being competitive: It’s just human nature. Which was the best car, the best driver?
Automobile races soon became a proving ground, where carmakers could showcase their design and engineering prowess. Winning built reputations, generated interest and attracted investment.
The “Dawn of Racing” section of our new exhibit, Driven to Win: Racing in America, immerses you in an exploration of the early days of racing, using period settings, images, and authentic artifacts. It features two of America’s most significant early race cars.
Henry Ford only ever drove one race, on October 10, 1901, and that was in the car they called “Sweepstakes.” He certainly was the underdog, but against all odds he won. In Driven to Win, you will discover the innovations that Ford developed for “Sweepstakes” that helped him achieve that remarkable victory. It gave a powerful boost to his reputation, brought in financial backing that helped launch Ford Motor Company, and a few years later, Ford Motor Company put America—and much of the world—on wheels with the Model T.
Driving “Old 16” in the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup race, George Robertson scored the first victory by an American car in a major international auto race in the United States. At that time, the Vanderbilt Cup race was world-famous and highly prestigious, and “Old 16” became known as “the greatest American racing car.” In Driven to Win, you will learn about and see firsthand the expertise, craftsmanship and attention to detail that made this car a winner.
Jeanetta Holder with Her Indianapolis 500 Quilt Made for Bobby Unser, 1975-1980 / THF78732
On May 30, 1932, the day that Jeanetta Pearson Holder was born in Kentucky, race cars sped around the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway about 250 miles to the north. The timing of Jeanetta’s birth was certainly a hint of things to come: she would grow up with a passion for auto racing, and, as an adult, become that sport’s “Quilt Lady.”
For four decades, Jeanetta combined her love of auto racing and her sewing talents to create unique quilts for winners of the Indianapolis 500 and other auto races.
Dale Earnhardt is wrapped in pride and his quilt after the 1995 Brickyard 400 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. / THF78819
A Love for Racing, A Talent for Sewing
As a little girl growing up on a Kentucky farm, Jeanetta made her own small race cars out of tobacco sticks and lard cans which she “raced everywhere [she] went.” Jeanetta’s childhood creative streak soon extended to sewing. She began to make clothes for her doll—and her pet cat. By the time she was 12, Jeanetta began sewing quilts, filling them with cotton batting from cotton she grew herself.
Jeanetta was clearly “driven.” When she didn’t have a car in which to take her driver’s license test, the teenager borrowed a taxicab. About this same time, Jeanetta started going to the race track. Soon 20-year-old Jeanetta was speeding around an oval dirt track at the wheel of a 1950 Hudson at Beech Bend Park in Warren County, Kentucky. In the early 1950s, women drivers were uncommon—and so was safety equipment. Jeanetta was dressed in a t-shirt and blue jeans for these regional races.
Lyn St. James, photographed by Michelle Andonian, 2008 / THF58574
Lyn St. James was watching from afar when Janet Guthrie was trying to break into Indy car and stock car racing. At the time, St. James was a part-time competitor chasing a Sports Car Club of America road-racing national championship in a Ford Pinto.
“I was excited and pumped about my racing, and I watched her on the television and thought, ‘God, she’s struggling and nobody wants her there,’” St. James recalled. “She didn’t smile very much, and it made me say, ‘Why would I want to do that? Why would I want to put myself in that kind of situation when I was having so much fun?’”
This racing helmet worn by Lyn St. James is going on display in Driven to Win: Racing in America. / THF176437
In the early 1980s, Kelly Services sponsored the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) American Challenge championship and paid bonuses to female drivers. St. James parlayed an opportunity in that series, along with a chance encounter with legendary Ford executive Walter Hayes, into a highly successful relationship with Ford that produced six wins in IMSA competitions, including class victories at Daytona and Sebring, prior to shifting her focus to Indy cars. She is also the only woman to win an IMSA GT race driving solo.
Lyn St. James at IMSA, Watkins Glen, NY, 1985 / THF69459
“I wanted to test-drive one, just to experience the peak of race car performance,” she said. “I was just in heaven. I had set speed records in a stock car at Talladega, and in comparison, it felt numb. Dick Simon [IndyCar team owner] was very supportive, and that was a turning point. I wrote to 150 companies over four years seeking support. J.C. Penney was the 151st, but the first one that said yes.”
Finally, in 1992, St. James became the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 since Guthrie last had, 15 years earlier. St. James finished 11th in the race, claiming Rookie of the Year honors (the first woman to do so). In 1994, she out-qualified reigning Indy car champion Nigel Mansell at Indy; she made a total of seven Indianapolis starts, with her last in 2000. She has been inducted into the Sports Car Club of America and the Florida Sports halls of fame, and held 21 international and national closed-circuit speed records over a 20-year period.
Lyn St. James’s Indy 500 history from 1992 to 2000. / THF284826
Mentor of Motorsports
St. James still occasionally competes in vintage races, and in addition is a speaker, author, philanthropist, and coach, but spends most of her time mentoring female drivers. Her foundation’s driver development program has graduated more than 230 participants over the last 25 years, including then-future Indy car drivers Sarah Fisher and Danica Patrick.
Lyn St. James at her Complete Driver Academy, which provided a comprehensive education and training program for talented women race car drivers who aspired to attain the highest levels in motorsports, in Phoenix, Arizona in 2008 (photograph by Michelle Andonian). / THF58682
“It’s sad that leaders in motorsports have not figured out that the car levels the playing field for everyone,” St. James said. “The leaders have missed an opportunity to show how female involvement in racing really represents society. Women can perform and compete on an equal level.”
Involvement with The Henry Ford and
Driven to Win
In 2008, a small crew from The Henry Ford traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, to visit a race car driver academy for women. The institution, called Complete Driver Academy, was established by Lyn St. James in 1994 to help identify potential champion female drivers and provide the tools they needed to further their careers. The Henry Ford interviewed St. James there as part of its Visionaries on Innovation collection of video interviews, which also features other racing legends such as Mario Andretti.
Lyn St. James’ 1992 Indianapolis 500 "Rookie of the Year" trophy will be on exhibit in Driven to Win. / THF176451
In addition to documenting St. James’ oral history, The Henry Ford has many artifacts from her racing career in its collections—some of which will be on display in the new Driven to Win: Racing in America permanent exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where St. James is a showcased driver. “Lyn has been an adviser to the exhibit going back more than ten years,” said Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson. “From the start, she has offered her help and advice, including connecting us with innovators like motorsports training expert Jim Leo of PitFit Training in Indiana.”
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.
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.
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.
Racing Suit Worn by Erin Crocker While Competing in the 2003 Season of World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series / THF176375
Erin Crocker, the youngest of five siblings, was born in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, on March 23, 1981. Her father William encouraged Erin’s brothers to share his passion for racing and was pleasantly surprised when Erin also showed an interest in the sport. She started quarter midget racing in 1988, at the age of seven, winning numerous events and being named the Most Improved Novice her first year racing.
Throughout middle school and high school, Crocker continued to collect accolades, racing quarter midgets, mini sprints, and sprints. Her athleticism wasn’t confined to racing, however, as Crocker established herself as a star high school athlete, playing varsity lacrosse, tennis, and soccer and being a member of the ski team.
Crocker began racing professionally while attending college at New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, finding time to focus on schoolwork and play varsity lacrosse during the week, while still being able to race on weekends. In 2003 she graduated with a degree in industrial and management engineering and continued successfully racing sprint cars, while Rensselaer sponsored her World of Outlaws endeavors.
By 2004, Crocker caught the attention of Ford’s driver development efforts and she was invited to participate in their program, with hopes of breaking into NASCAR. Crocker opted not to go with Ford in 2005, but accepted a position with Evernham Motorsports, becoming the first woman to enter its driver development program. While with Evernham Motorsports, she was able to gain experience in the ARCA, Busch, and Craftsman truck series, which helped make a name for herself in the world of racing.
In fact, the Biography Channel featured Crocker during an episode of their 2006 series NASCAR: Driven to Win. The series, produced in conjunction with NASCAR, profiled young, up-and-coming drivers to show their lives on and off the track as they dealt with the everyday realities of competitive racing.
However, Crocker found herself without a sponsor after Evernham Motorsports decided to close the #98 team following the 2006 season. She continued to race in a few truck series events in 2007, as well as volunteer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She provided her racing insights when she jumped into the SPEED Channel’s broadcast booth for a September 2008 ARCA/REMAX race.
In August 2009, Erin married Ron Evernham, a well-known individual within the racing community. Evernham is currently a co-owner of Gillett-Evernham Racing, an ESPN analyst, owner of the East Lincoln Speedway outside Charlotte, North Carolina, and proprietor of Ray Evernham Enterprises, which includes a museum and auto shop.
Erin Crocker’s Racing Achievements and Awards
Was a three-time Northeast Regional Quarter Midgets of America Champion. Crocker held the quarter midget title from 1993 to 1996, and was Quarter Midgets of America Female Driver of the Year from 1993 to 1995.
Became the youngest driver to win at the Whipp City, Massachusetts, Speedway, when she earned a mini sprint victory at the track in 1998.
Won five feature races and twelve heat events driving a 360 winged sprint car for Woodring Racing in 2002.
Won the 2002 National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Outstanding Newcomer Award.
Became, in 2003, the first woman to qualify for the 410 winged sprint class at the Knoxville Nationals, and was named the 2003 Knoxville Nationals Rookie of the Year.
Became first woman to win a World of Outlaws feature, when she claimed a victory in October 2004 at the Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare, California.
Was the 2004 USAC Kara Hendrick Spirit Award honoree.
Competed in the 2005 ARCA/RE MAX series as part of the Evernham Motorsport’s driving development program. She collected five top-ten finishes and two pole positions in six starts, winning the Superspeedway Championship, the first woman driver to do so.
Competed in the 2006 Craftsman Truck series as part of the Evernham #98 Dodge Ram team. Crocker, the first woman to run a full season, finished the series in 25th place.
Toured throughout the 2008 season supporting affordable entry-level racing technology within the newly developed SpeedSTR class.
This post was adapted from a profile developed for the exhibition Women in the Winner’s Circle, a collaboration between The Henry Ford and Lyn St. James’s Women in the Winners Circle Foundation.
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.
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.
Janet Guthrie at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 1979 / detail from THF140173
After graduating from the University of Michigan, Janet Guthrie worked as an aerospace engineer while also serving as a pilot and flight instructor. But her passion was driving her Jaguar in Sports Car Club of America road races, and by the time she was 35, Guthrie was a full-time racer.
In 1976, she arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) as a 38-year-old rookie with the eyes of the world upon her. Several prominent drivers publicly criticized her presence. "Most of the oval track drivers never had the experience of running with a woman driver, and they were sure they weren't going to like it," recalled Guthrie, now 81. "That got calmed down within the course of the races that I ran in 1976. But the public, I think, needed to be convinced."
When the controversial newcomer didn't find enough speed in her primary car, A.J. Foyt offered his spare Coyote, and Guthrie showed enough pace in practice to become the 500's first female qualifier. But that historic achievement would have to wait another year. "Those were the glory days of the Indy 500, with 85 cars entered, so qualifying for the first time was really a major moment of my life,” she said.
The autographed racing glove worn by Janet Guthrie in 1977, when she became the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500, will be on display in the Driven to Win: Racing in America exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. / THF166385
Guthrie's car broke early in the 1977 race, but more importantly, Indy's gender barrier had been broken. She returned to IMS a year later and drove to a ninth-place finish despite concealing a broken wrist. In all, Guthrie drove in 11 Indy car races between 1976 and 1979, earning a career best fifth-place finish at the Milwaukee Mile in her final open-wheel start. She also competed in 33 NASCAR Cup Series races in the same period, earning five top 10 finishes.
Besides being the first female to qualify and compete in both the Indy 500 and Daytona 500, Guthrie was inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 1980, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006, the Sports Car Club of America Hall of Fame in 2018, and the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2019.
In retrospect, Guthrie did much of the heavy lifting for the female drivers who followed her into the American motorsports arena. Respect for her achievements, from both a sporting and sociological standpoint, only increases with the passing of time. "The 'first woman' thing was more of a responsibility than anything," Guthrie said. "I think I took the heat, and then the drivers discovered that I was competitive, I was courteous and that I was getting the most out of my equipment."
Guthrie is convinced that a female circuit racer will one day demonstrate the kind of championship-winning success women have achieved in NHRA drag racing. "There's a lot of talent at the lower levels, and it all depends on who gets the chance," she said. "I'm sure that eventually we will see a woman win the Indianapolis 500, and similarly with the Daytona 500."
In his first race ever, Henry Ford beat Alexander Winton in the Sweepstakes Race. / THF94819
On October 10, 1901, Henry Ford made history by overcoming the favored Alexander Winton in his first-ever automobile race. Backed by a willingness to take risks and an innovative engine design, Henry earned the reputation and financial backing through this one event to start Henry Ford Company, his second car-making venture.
His success that day is a natural introduction display for our newest permanent exhibition, Driven to Win: Racing in America, presented by General Motors. Driven to Win celebrates over 100 years of automotive racing achievements and the people behind the passion for going fast.
Photos of the 1901 race provide a view of the environment that written accounts don’t. / THF123903
In creating an exhibition, we start with many experience goals. In this case, one exhibition goal is to take our guests behind-the-scenes and trackside. As you experience Driven to Win, you’ll find many of the vehicles displayed on scenic surfaces and in front of murals that represent the places the cars raced. Henry Ford’s Sweepstakes Race took place on a horse racing track in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Through reference photos and discussions with our exhibit fabrication partner, kubik maltbie, artisans created a surface that captures the loose dirt quality of a horse racing track. If you look closely, you’ll see hoof prints alongside tire tracks, which capture the unique location of this race.
kubik maltbie’s artists created a variety of samples to find the most accurate dirt display surface that’s also suitable for use in a museum setting.
Look closely and you can see evidence of horses having raced on the same track.
The next component in bringing this race to life needed to illustrate what the day was like. It also needed to convey the most exciting part—when Henry Ford overtook his competition. Working with a local artist, Glenn Barr, we created a background mural depicting Henry’s rival being left in the dust. To do this, we returned to available reference photos showing the track, grandstand, and Henry’s rival, Alexander Winton, who was the country’s most well-known racer at this time.
Sketches and small-scale paintings allowed Glenn Barr and the design team to discuss components of the mural before the final painting was created.
Glenn created a series of early sketches to make sure we had all the important elements. We then took those sketches and added them to our 3D model of the exhibition. This allowed us to pre-visualize the entire display from all angles, and verify we had the correct perspective in the mural. Color plays a big part in creating this scene with a certain mood. The goal was a color palette that felt like 100+ years ago, but also like we were watching the race. Glenn created a series of color samples that allowed us to find the right combinations.
Programs like Sketchup allow us to easily create exhibit spaces in three-dimensions so that we can study sightlines and relationships between exhibit elements.
While this photo was posed, likely to commemorate the race win, Henry Ford and Ed “Spider” Huff’s postures are confirmed from other photos, and this one provides clearer details. / THF116246
The last element in creating our day-of-the-race display was perhaps the most important—Henry Ford and his ride-along mechanic, Ed “Spider” Huff, themselves. Again, reference photos are vital tools in seeing the past. In creating these mannequins we had three key elements to address: Henry and Spider’s likenesses, the clothing they wore, and the postures they’d have sitting in the vehicle. kubik maltbie’s artists were able to capture this moment. They started with clay sculptures of Henry and Spider’s faces.
Henry Ford and Ed “Spider” Huff’s likenesses were captured in life-sized clay sculptures that would later be used to create molds for the finished mannequins.
As these mannequins needed to sit directly in the vehicle, a museum artifact, much of the final sizing, positioning, and decisions on how they interfaced with the car was done away from the actual vehicle. kubik maltbie’s sculptor came to the museum for several days and built a wood frame system around the Sweepstakes. This accurately captured important dimensions and connection points. An exact replica of the steering wheel became a template that sculptors could use in their studio to finalize hand positioning.
If you’ve visited Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford, you’ll have seen that period clothing is one of our specialties. Every spring we distribute over 1,000 sets of handmade attire authentic to many different time periods. With insight from our curators, our Clothing Studio provided period-accurate clothing, from shoes to hats, for Henry and Spider.
Henry Ford and Ed “Spider” Huff arrive at the museum.
Museum conservators and the installation team place Ed “Spider” Huff, Henry’s ride-along mechanic, on the Sweepstakes’ running board.
Together, all these elements allow us to take you on a trip back in time. I invite you to visit the museum and see this monumental moment in racing history, stand trackside, and imagine what it must have been like. You can even hear our faithful replica of the “Sweepstakes” running. It sounds nothing like today’s track-ready racing machines.
Wing Fong is Experience Design Project Manager at The Henry Ford.
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.
Jochen Rindt at the Grand Prix of the United States, Watkins Glen, October 1966 / THF146483
Cooper T81 Driven by Jochen Rindt in the Grand Prix of the United States, Watkins Glen, October 1966 / THF146482
Cooper T81 Driven by Jochen Rindt in the V Grand Premio de Mexico (5th Grand Prix of Mexico), October 1966 / THF146484
Jochen Rindt in His Eagle/Ford Race Car at the Indianapolis 500, May 1967 / THF96147
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
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.