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Pink-tinted photo showing shack, people, cars in a large open expanseOfficial Timing Stand, Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, 1956 / THF126228


How Fast Will It Go?


Land speed racing is like a moonshot that never leaves Earth, and it answers the never-ending question, “How fast can it go?” In the quest for the prestige of setting a land speed record, highly specialized cars compete in flat, wide-open, isolated settings, without a lot of fanfare or spectators.

In this section of our new racing exhibit, Driven to Win: Racing in America, you will experience the unique setting that is the Bonneville Salt Flats and feel a touchable material that simulates the area’s salt surface. There are many classes—right up to the ultimate “unlimited” world land speed record—so a diverse assortment of cars turns up at each of these events. Drivers race against the clock, one at a time, to an agreed-upon point and back again. Speed is recorded over a “measured mile” within those runs. Usually, it is the average speed from the out-and-back measured miles that establishes the official record. Vehicles used in this type of racing are innovative in developing their conquest of speed.

1951 Beatty Belly Tank Lakester Land Speed Race Car


Tear-shaped race car in two shades of blue
THF90121

Its exterior bodywork was crafted by Tom Beatty from the auxiliary “belly” fuel tank of a World War II fighter plane. Because of their aerodynamic design, these war-surplus tanks were ideal in shape and size to form the body of a land speed racing car, and many were used for that purpose on California’s dry lakes and Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. Tom Beatty’s car was fastest in its class at the Bonneville National Speed Trials in 1951, 1952, 1955, 1959, and 1962. At its debut in 1951, a run of 188.284 mph made it the fastest open-wheeled car at the event. In 1955, Beatty set a two-way average of 211.267 mph, and he became the 16th member of Bonneville's 200 mph club. In 1962, using an upgraded driveline, he set what was to be his highest speed record for the car and class—243.438 mph.

1965 Goldenrod Land Speed Race Car


Very long, low golden race car with text on side
THF90969

In November 1965, this sleek car flashed across Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats to break the world land speed record for wheel-driven cars (as opposed to jet or rocket-powered autos). One key to Goldenrod’s success was its long, slim shape, which minimized wind resistance. The other key was the clever engineering that packed four Chrysler Hemi engines—along with the machinery to drive all four wheels—inside its slim shape. Goldenrod’s record of 409.277 mph stood for more than a quarter century, until 1991. Goldenrod’s builders, Bob and Bill Summers, started their own business building custom transmission and driveline parts and became part of Southern California’s automobile culture. This generated a “hot rod economy” with people who built cars and equipment, promoted races, operated tracks, sold equipment and accessories, and wrote about cars and events.

Additional Artifacts


Straw hat with red and white striped band and many buttons and badges containing text and images
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Beyond the cars, you can see these artifacts related to land speed racing in Driven to Win.


Dig Deeper


Long, low, race car at gas pumps under banner reading "Official Fueling Station," in open area with mountains in the background
Goldenrod Land Speed Race Car, circa 1965 / THF244527

Learn more about land speed racing with these additional resources from The Henry Ford.

making, race cars, racing, Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win

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

Early open race car careens around a corner on a dirt road, kicking up clouds of smoke with spectators looking on and houses in the background
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.

1901 Ford "Sweepstakes" Race Car


Early open car with four large white wheels
THF90167

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.

1906 Locomobile "Old 16" Race Car


Long open car with number "16" on sides and front
THF90188

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.

Additional Artifacts


Red velvet helmet with chin strap and buckle
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Beyond the cars, you can see these artifacts related to early racing in Driven to Win.

Dig Deeper


Sepia-tone photo of two men in early open race car on beach with ocean behind them; also contains text
Barney Oldfield in "Lightning Benz," Daytona Beach, Florida, March 16, 1910 / THF228867

Learn more about early racing with these additional resources from The Henry Ford.

race cars, cars, race car drivers, Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win, racing

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 minimalistic early cars with a driver in each on dirt track with fence and grass in background

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. 

Early minimal race car in the mid-distance on a dirt track with a fence and grass behind it
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.

Tiles that look almost like carpet samples, but visually appear similar to dirt
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.

Dirt-looking surface with tire tracks and hoofprints built in; part of tire visible in corner of photo
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.

Sketch of car on track with fences on either side, grandstands in background, clouds of smoke rising from it
Car on dirt track with clouds of smoke behind it, fences on both sides of track and grandstands in the background
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.

Rendering of car on ramp with toy cars nearby and images and outlines of people nearby
Programs like Sketchup allow us to easily create exhibit spaces in three-dimensions so that we can study sightlines and relationships between exhibit elements.

Man sits in early open race car, with another man crouching on running board
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.

Head of man with mustache
Head of man with receding hairline, mustache
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.

Open crate with two human-like figures swaddled in packing material
Henry Ford and Ed “Spider” Huff arrive at the museum.

Three men move a mannequin into place on the running board of a car; another mannequin is inside the car
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.

cars, making, art, design, race car drivers, race cars, collections care, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, by Wing Fong, racing, Henry Ford, Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win

The vehicles in Driven to Win: Racing in America are displayed in a much more dynamic and contextualized way than we’ve attempted in previous car exhibits. Cars that have been displayed for decades on the floor are now elevated and (in some cases) tilted, to recreate how you would see them while racing. The payoff in guest experience will be significant, but these varied vehicle positions required extensive conversations, engineering, and problem solving between our internal teams and kubik maltbie, our fabrication partner. This post highlights four of the most notable car installations.

1965 Goldenrod Land Speed Race Car


The 1965 Goldenrod Land Speed Race Car is now displayed on a salt-flat mimicking platform just three inches high. For most vehicles, three-five people would use a couple of short ramps and push or tug the vehicle up, all in less than an hour. But for a vehicle that is 32 feet long and sits less than 2 inches off the ground, another solution had to be found—since no ramp long enough to prevent the vehicle from bottoming-out would fit in the space provided.

As a land speed racer, Goldenrod achieved its fame in miles per hour, not in turning ability. To get the vehicle anywhere besides straight back and forward, custom gantries (mobile crane-like structures) are needed to lift it off the ground so that it can turn on the gantries’ wheels, not its own. The gantries provided inspiration to solve the issue of how to raise the Goldenrod high enough to make it onto the exhibit platform.

Men wearing face masks kneel around a long, low, torpedo-shaped golden car
Conservation and Exhibits staff attach gantries to Goldenrod to enable movement.

Since Goldenrod can be raised several feet once it is attached to the gantries, we were able to get the vehicle as close as possible to the platform, align it properly, then detach the back gantry and lift it onto the exhibit platform. This ability to lift the gantries independently was critical to our success.

Men guide a golden car suspended from crane-like structures past railcars and streetcars
A forklift is attached to the rear gantry and used to tow Goldenrod into position over railroad tracks covered with steel plates.

Sections of plywood and Masonite were laid to the same height as the exhibit platform. At this point, the rear gantry was rolled forward onto this temporary surface, aligned once again with its hubs.

Group of men wearing facemasks stand and kneel around a long, low, torpedo-shaped golden car
Plywood and Masonite were used to transition the gantries to the correct height to roll Goldenrod into the exhibit.

The back gantry was then reattached to Goldenrod, allowing three-quarters of the vehicle to roll onto the exhibit platform.

Group of men wearing facemasks stand and kneel around a long, low, torpedo-shaped golden car
Halfway there!

The same process was followed with the front gantry, and the vehicle was then adjusted into place. Steel plates and Masonite allowed the gantries to roll on the platform without damage to the faux salt surface.

Men wearing facemasks, one with arms raised triumphantly and one giving a thumbs-up, stand, kneel, and lie around a long, low, torpedo-shaped golden car in front of a backdrop of a salt flat, mountains, and blue sky
Exhibits and Conservation staff celebrate Goldenrod's final placement.

Installation into the Winner’s Circle


The Winner’s Circle is the premier location in Driven to Win, showcasing some of the most renowned winning vehicles in all of motorsports, and deserves to be elevated in display. During the planning process, we first returned to our typical method of placing cars on a platform: ramps. But in this case, as with Goldenrod, not every car would have made it up a ramp with the pitch necessary, due to other exhibit items in the way. We went back and forth from idea to idea for some time.

What we finally settled on was what we’ve deemed “rolling jackstands,” or dollies. kubik maltbie took our measurements of these vehicles and fabricated these dollies out of Unistrut and casters. Each was custom-fitted and modified on site to conform to the load when the car was rested on top of them. Once on these dollies, the cars are very easy to move. They slide into the Winner’s Circle and the fronts of their platforms slide into place in a theatrical, modular way.

Metal frame on casters with widgets at each corner
Custom dollies, or "rolling jackstands" allow vehicles to be elevated for display and rolled into the exhibit at the appropriate height.

By this point, half of the problem was solved. The other half was how to get these cars onto their jackstands. For this, we employed three techniques. First, we were able to sling some of the cars and lift them using a huge gantry on the back half and a forklift on the front. We used this method on the 1958 Moore/Unser Pikes Peak Hill Climb Racing Car. It was a slow but effective means of raising the vehicle just high enough that the jackstands could be slid underneath.

Red and blue race car suspended from a gantry and forklift with men kneeling by it
1958 Moore/Unser Pikes Peak Hill Climb racing car being lifted using a gantry and forklift.

One vehicle, the 1956 Chrysler 300C Stock Car, had the ability to be lifted from below using floor jacks.

White car with bold red text along the side with several people guiding it into place in an exhibit
1956 Chrysler 300B Stock Car rolling into its display position.

Finally, some vehicles, including the Indy cars and the 1967 Mark IV Race Car, posed serious issues since they had nowhere that we could use a floor jack, and did not have bodies that could be slung with straps.

In this case, we benefited from having an expert volunteer on our team. Mose Nowland was one of the original engineers who built the Mark IV in the 1960s. A fantastic problem-solver, he designed a custom metal apparatus, which we call a “sling,” that would allow a telescopic handler to lift it. We had Mose’s design fabricated at a metal shop. Since the sling spread out the attachment points, straps could then be placed and balanced at appropriate points on the vehicles. It really helps to know one of the car’s original engineers when you need to figure out rigging stunts like this.

Red race car with part of body removed and large "1" on side, suspended from a crane-like gantry in front of a large door; one person stands nearby and another examines the car
Mark IV being lifted onto its dollies with the help of a custom sling and a telescopic handler.

But what if we wanted some of these elevated cars to be on an angle, like they would be while actually racing? First, we needed to have that approved by a conservator, to make sure the car can physically handle years or decades in that position. Then, the same lifting methods described above were used, but the rolling jackstand dollies were made with legs of various heights. When the cars were set down upon them, they were strapped in with custom mounts so that they could sit comfortably for much time to come.

Ultimately, the goal of any artifact mount is to safely hold the object but not call attention to itself. We hope that we’ve succeeded in keeping the emphasis on an exciting presentation of these vehicles that we are looking forward to showing our guests.

Red and blue race car with large number "92" on side sits on a dirt-like surface in front of a backdrop of a mountain road and trees; placards in front
The 1958 Moore/Unser racing up our scenic recreation of Pikes Peak in Driven to Win.

Low red race car with number "1" in a circle on side sits on a platform in front of a green backdrop with a large photo and text
The Mark IV on permanent display in Driven to Win.


Kate Morland is Exhibits Manager at The Henry Ford.

race cars, Mark IV, racing, Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win, collections care, cars, by Kate Morland, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

indy-500-sunliner
The 1953 Ford Sunliner, Official Pace Car of the 1953 Indianapolis 500. (
THF87498)

As America’s longest-running automobile race, it’s not surprising that the Indianapolis 500 is steeped in special traditions. Whether it’s the wistful singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” before the green flag, or the celebratory Victory Lane milk toast – which is anything but milquetoast – Indy is full of distinctive rituals that make the race unique. One of those long-standing traditions is the pace car, a fixture since the very first Indy 500 in 1911.

This is no mere ceremonial role. The pace car is a working vehicle that leads the grid into the start of the race, and then comes back out during caution laps to keep the field moving in an orderly fashion. Traditionally, the pace car’s make has varied from year to year, though it is invariably an American brand. Indiana manufacturers like Stutz, Marmon, and Studebaker showed up frequently, but badges from the Detroit Three – Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors – have dominated. In more recent years, Chevrolet has been the provider of choice, with every pace car since 2002 being either a Corvette or a Camaro. Since 1936, the race’s winning driver has received a copy of pace car as a part of the prize package.

amelia-pacecar-1935
Amelia Earhart rides in the pace car, a 1935 Ford V-8, at the 1935 Indianapolis 500. (
THF256052)

Likewise, honorary pace car drivers have changed over time. The first decades often featured industry leaders like Carl Fisher (founder of Indianapolis Motor Speedway), Harry Stutz, and Edsel Ford. Starting in the 1970s, celebrities like James Garner, Jay Leno, and Morgan Freeman appeared. Racing drivers have always been in the mix, with everyone from Barney Oldfield to Jackie Stewart to Jeff Gordon having served in the role. (The “fastest” pace car driver was probably Charles Yeager, who drove in 1986 – 39 years after he broke the sound barrier in the rocket-powered airplane Glamorous Glennis.)

Ford was given pace car honors for 1953. It was a big year for the company – half a century had passed since Henry Ford and his primary shareholders signed the articles of association establishing Ford Motor Company in 1903. The firm celebrated its golden anniversary in several ways. It commissioned Norman Rockwell to create artwork for a special calendar. It built a high-tech concept car said to contain more than 50 automotive innovations. And it gave every vehicle it built that year a commemorative steering wheel badge that read “50th Anniversary 1903-1953.”

ford-999
Henry Ford’s 1902 “999” race car poses with the 1953 Ford Sunliner pace car on Ford’s Dearborn test track. (Note the familiar clocktower at upper right!) (
THF130893)

For its star turn at Indianapolis, Ford provided a Sunliner model to fulfill the pace car’s duties. The two-door Sunliner convertible was a part of Ford’s Crestline series – its top trim level for the 1953 model year. Crestline cars featured chrome window moldings, sun visors, and armrests. Unlike the entry-level Mainline or mid-priced Customline series, which were available with either Ford’s inline 6 or V-8 engines, Crestline cars came only with the 239 cubic inch, 110 horsepower V-8. Additionally, Crestline was the only one of the three series to include a convertible body style.

wcf-999
William Clay Ford at the tiller of “999” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (
THF130906)

Ford actually sent two cars to Indianapolis for the big race. In addition to the pace car, Henry Ford’s 1902 race car “999” was pulled from exhibit at Henry Ford Museum to participate in the festivities. True, “999” never competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But its best-known driver, Barney Oldfield, drove twice in the Indy 500, finishing in fifth place both in 1914 and 1916. Fittingly, Indy officials gave William Clay Ford the honor of driving the pace car. Mr. Ford, the youngest of Henry Ford’s grandchildren, didn’t stop there. He also personally piloted “999” in demonstrations prior to the race.

As for the race itself? The 1953 Indianapolis 500 was a hot one – literally. Temperatures were well over 90° F on race day, and hotter still on the mostly asphalt track. Many drivers actually called in relief drivers for a portion of the race. After 3 hours and 53 minutes of sweltering competition, the victory went to Bill Vukovich – who drove all 200 laps himself – with an average race speed of 127.740 mph. It was the first of two consecutive Indy 500 wins for Vukovich. Sadly, Vukovich was killed in a crash during the 1955 race.

sunliner-side
Another view of the 1953 Ford Sunliner pace car. (
THF87499)

Following the 1953 race and its associated ceremonies, Ford Motor Company gifted the original race-used pace car to The Henry Ford, where it remains today. Ford Motor also produced some 2,000 replicas for sale to the public. Each replica included the same features (Ford-O-Matic transmission, power steering, Continental spare tire kit), paint (Sungate Ivory), and lettering as the original. Reportedly, it was the first time a manufacturer offered pace car copies for purchase by the general public – something that is now a well-established tradition in its own right.

Sure, the Sunliner pace car is easy to overlook next to legendary race cars like “Old 16,” the Lotus-Ford, or – indeed – the “999,” but it’s a special link to America’s most important auto race, and it’s a noteworthy part of the auto racing collection at The Henry Ford.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

racing, race cars, Indy 500, Ford Motor Company, cars, by Matt Anderson

THF114611

Dan Gurney at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 1963. THF114611

The Henry Ford is deeply saddened by the loss of a man who was both an inspiration and a friend to our organization for many years, Dan Gurney.

Mr. Gurney’s story began on Long Island, New York, where he was born on April 13, 1931. His father, John Gurney, was a singer with the Metropolitan Opera, while his grandfather, Frederic Gurney, designed and manufactured a series of innovative ball bearings.

The Gurneys moved west to Riverside, California, shortly after Dan graduated high school. For the car-obsessed teenager, Southern California was a paradise on Earth. He was soon building hot rods and racing on the amateur circuit before spending two years with the Army during the Korean War.

Following his service, Gurney started racing professionally. He finished second in the Riverside Grand Prix and made his first appearance at Le Mans in 1958, and earned a spot on Ferrari’s Formula One team the following year. Through the 1960s, Gurney developed a reputation as America’s most versatile driver, earning victories in Grand Prix, Indy Car, NASCAR and Sports Car events.

His efforts with Ford Motor Company became the stuff of legend. It was Dan Gurney who, in 1962, brought British race car builder Colin Chapman to Ford’s racing program. Gurney saw first-hand the success enjoyed by Chapman’s lithe, rear-engine cars in Formula One, and he was certain they could revolutionize the Indianapolis 500 – still dominated by heavy, front-engine roadsters. Jim Clark proved Gurney’s vision in 1965, winning Indy with a Lotus chassis powered by a rear-mounted Ford V-8. Clark’s victory reshaped the face of America’s most celebrated motor race.

Simultaneous with Ford’s efforts at Indianapolis, the Blue Oval was locked in its epic battle with Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Again, Dan Gurney was on the front lines. While his 1966 race, with Jerry Grant in a Ford GT40 Mark II, ended early with a failed radiator, the next year brought one of Gurney’s greatest victories. He and A.J. Foyt, co-piloting a Ford Mark IV, finished more than 30 miles ahead of the second-place Ferrari. It was the first (and, to date, only) all-American victory at the French endurance race – American drivers in an American car fielded by an American team. Gurney was so caught up in the excitement that he shook his celebratory champagne and sprayed it all over the crowd – the start of a victory tradition.

Just days after the 1967 Le Mans, Gurney earned yet another of his greatest victories when he won the Belgian Grand Prix in an Eagle car built by his own All American Racers. It was another singular achievement. To date, Gurney remains the only American driver to win a Formula One Grand Prix in a car of his own construction.

Dan Gurney retired from competitive driving in 1970, but remained active as a constructor and a team owner. His signature engineering achievement, the Gurney Flap, came in 1971. The small tab, added to the trailing edge of a spoiler or wing, increases downforce – and traction – on a car. Gurney flaps are found today not only on racing cars, but on helicopters and airplanes, too. In 1980, Gurney’s All American Racers built the first rolling-road wind tunnel in the United States. He introduced his low-slung Alligator motorcycle in 2002 and, ten years after that, the radical DeltaWing car, which boasted half the weight and half the drag of a conventional race car. Never one to settle down, Gurney and his team most recently were at work on a moment-canceling two-cylinder engine that promised smoother, more reliable operation than conventional power plants.

THF56228Dan Gurney, 2008. THF56228

Our admiration for Mr. Gurney at The Henry Ford is deep and longstanding. In 2014, he became only the second winner of our Edison-Ford Medal for Innovation. It was a fitting honor for a man who brought so much to motorsport, and who remains so indelibly tied to The Henry Ford’s automotive collection. Cars like the Ford Mark IV, the Mustang I, the Lotus-Ford, and even the 1968 Mercury Cougar XR7-G (which he endorsed for Ford, hence the “G” in the model name), all have direct links to Mr. Gurney.

We are so very grateful for the rich and enduring legacy Dan Gurney leaves behind. His spirit, determination and accomplishments will continue to inspire for generations to come.

Hear Mr. Gurney describe his career and accomplishments in his own words at our “Visionaries on Innovation” page here.

View the film made to honor Mr. Gurney at his Edison-Ford Medal ceremony below.

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

wdmp_170406_00289
A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney, reunited with the Ford Mark IV 50 years after their Le Mans triumph. (Courtesy of Ford/Campbell Marketing)

Fifty years ago, on June 11, 1967, Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt made history by winning the first and – to date – only all-American victory at France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. For Ford Motor Company and race team Shelby American, it was the second consecutive Le Mans win, following the memorable 1-2-3 finish of 1966. But that first victory came courtesy New Zealander drivers Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, and the British-built GT40 Mark II. With Californian Gurney and Texan Foyt behind the wheel of the made-in-Dearborn Mark IV, the 1967 win was as American as the proverbial apple pie.

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Gurney and Foyt on the Le Mans podium in 1967. (From the Collections of The Henry Ford)

In conjunction with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Road Racing Drivers Club recognized Mr. Gurney, Mr. Foyt and the milestone anniversary in a special ceremony on April 6. The Mark IV left its usual place in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and headed west to join the veteran drivers in California, making for a rare reunion of the men and machine that dominated the Circuit de la Sarthe in 1967 and capped the fiery Ford-Ferrari feud. Gurney and Foyt shared their still-vivid memories of the race, reflected on changes in endurance racing over the past five decades, and resoundingly agreed that June 1967 marked a high point in both of their careers. (Just ten days before the ’67 Le Mans, Foyt won his third Indianapolis 500, and a week later, Gurney won the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix in one of his Eagle race cars.)

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Edsel Ford II presents A.J. Foyt with the Spirit of Ford Award. (Courtesy of Ford/Campbell Marketing)


Mr. Foyt received another tribute before the evening was over. Ford Motor Company director Edsel Ford II presented him with the Spirit of Ford Award, the company’s highest honor in auto racing. Foyt is only the 26th recipient since the prize was established 1988, and he joins a prestigious group of past winners like Carroll Shelby, Richard Petty, Denise McCluggage, John Force and Sir Jackie Stewart. (Mr. Gurney is a 1999 Spirit of Ford recipient.)

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Foyt and Gurney joined by a new generation of Ford GT drivers (L to R: Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Joey Hand, Dirk Müller, Richard Westbrook and Sébastien Bourdais). (Courtesy of Ford/Campbell Marketing)

It was an incredible evening, not only because of the chance to reflect on 1967, but also due to the excitement building toward this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Ford will look to defend its 2016 class victory with the current Ford GT. Two of Ford’s 2016 driver teams, Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Sébastien Bourdais; and Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon, were on hand in Long Beach. Past and present came together when the “kids” joined Foyt and Gurney for a group photo with the Mark IV. Fifty years later, A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney continue to inspire – on the track and off.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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

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Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon won the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans in the #2 Ford GT40 Mark II. THF252433

Fifty years ago this month, Ford Motor Company earned one of its most memorable racing victories: a stunning 1-2-3 finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. No win in that famed French contest comes easily, and Ford’s arrived only after two years of struggle and disappointment. But that story is among the most interesting in motorsport.

There was Ford’s failed bid to buy Ferrari in 1963, which left Chairman and CEO Henry Ford II determined to beat the Italian automaker on the race track. There was British designer Eric Broadley, whose sleek Lola GT Mark VI car inspired the design of Ford’s Le Mans car, the GT40. There was Carroll Shelby, the larger-than-life designer and team manager who turned around Ford’s struggling program. And there were drivers like Ken Miles, who gave everything – including his life – to the effort.

It all culminated with New Zealander drivers Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon standing on the podium with Henry Ford II on June 19, 1966, having proved that Ford Motor Company could build race cars as good as – better than – any in the world. As if to prove that the win wasn’t a fluke, Ford came back to do it again in 1967, this time with American drivers – Dan Gurney and A.J. Fort – in an American-designed and built car – the Mark IV.

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of Ford’s first Le Mans victory (and, not incidentally, on the eve of Ford’s return to that race), we’ve produced a short film on the 1967-winning Ford Mark IV and the bumpy road that led to it. It’s a story that’s always worth retelling, but especially in a milestone year like this.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Mark IV, race cars, Le Mans