Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt with Victory Champagne at the 24 Heures du Mans (24 Hours of Le Mans) Race, June 1967 / THF127983
Celebration of Success
Whatever the form of racing, every team wants to be in the Winner’s Circle. It’s where victors are crowned and reputations are made. The Winner’s Circle in our new auto racing exhibit, Driven to Win: Racing in America Presented by General Motors, puts five remarkable race cars on an honorary pedestal. They are connected to some of the greatest drivers, teams, and personalities in racing. They broke records, they broke traditions, and they broke new ground with innovative designs and ideas that influenced all who followed. The Winner’s Circle is a celebration of success.
This car, and especially its team, brought a fundamental change to NASCAR racing. The team owner, Carl Kiekhaefer (founder of Kiekhaefer Corporation, maker of Mercury outboard boat motors), brought a level of professionalism to his team’s operation that set a new standard in auto racing. His drivers and mechanics all wore matching uniforms, and his cars were immaculately prepared. He transported his cars in closed trucks rather than open trailers (providing more advertising space), and his teams were among the first to practice pit stops. That alone might not have influenced other teams to follow his example, but the clincher was his team’s domination of the series in 1955 and 1956. In 1955, driver Tim Flock scored 18 wins and 32 top-10 finishes on his way to the NASCAR championship. Then, in 1956, Kiekhaefer drivers Buck Baker and Speedy Thompson together won 22 of 41 races, including 16 in a row, with Baker taking the championship. After that season, Kiekhaefer dropped out of racing, but the professionalism he brought soon became the norm.
Racing legend A.J. Foyt made the most of this car’s dirt-track prowess. It was key to Foyt winning his first three Indy Car championships in 1960, 1961 and 1963. Race car builder Wally Meskowski engineered and built this car specifically for dirt-track racing, which comprised most of the USAC Championship (Indy Car) series in the early 1960s (the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was one of just three paved tracks in the series in 1960). From 1960 through 1963, Foyt drove this car in 26 races, and scored 13 of his 17 victories in it, all but three of them on dirt tracks. It was powered by the iconic Offenhauser four-cylinder racing engine that dominated Indy Car races from the late 1930s until well into the 1960s. Every Indianapolis 500 from 1947 to 1964 was won with an Offenhauser engine. The engine’s design, with the block and double-overhead-cam cylinder head cast as one unit, produced both the racing essentials: power and reliability.
Talk about a disruptor! This car could qualify as the greatest disruptor ever in American racing history. In 1965, Formula One champion Jim Clark drove this car to victory in the Indianapolis 500, marking that race’s first-ever win by a rear-engine car. A few years earlier, legendary road racer Dan Gurney had concluded that a car/engine combination designed using European Formula One technology could revolutionize the 500 and Indy Car racing. He brought Ford Motor Company together with Colin Chapman, the English builder of Lotus Formula One cars. That collaboration resulted in a lightweight Lotus chassis powered by a specially designed Ford V-8 engine. With its monocoque chassis, four-wheel independent suspension, and rear-mounted engine, the Lotus-Ford brought an abrupt end to the traditional Indy front-engine roadster’s long domination and established a new paradigm for American race cars.
In the 1960s, Ford Motor Company made the most massive sports car racing effort ever seen in America. The objective was to beat the dominant Ferrari team in the world’s most important sports car endurance race—the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The weapon was a family of cars best known as the Ford GT40. Ford’s first of four straight victories, in 1966, was won by the GT40’s Mark II variant, fielded by the Shelby American team and driven by New Zealanders Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme. The next year, Shelby returned with this car—the more powerful Mark IV. Its chassis was built of an aluminum honeycomb material used in aircraft construction, and the body shape resulted from hours of wind tunnel testing. The big 427-cubic-inch V-8 engine was based on Ford’s stock car racing engine and proved highly reliable. Drivers Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt beat the second-place Ferrari by 32 miles at a record-breaking average speed of 135.48 mph. That win was another first at Le Mans because, unlike the year before, the winning car was built in the United States. This was the first Le Mans win by an American car, built in the United States and driven by Americans.
1988 Chevy-Penske PC-17 Indy Car
1988 Rick Mears Winning Indy Car Replica, on loan courtesy General Motors Heritage Center. / THF185962
In 1988, Rick Mears qualified the original version of this car on the pole and won Penske Racing's seventh Indianapolis 500. The win marked Mears’ third victory at one of motorsports’ most renowned events, and contributed to him becoming one of the most respected drivers in Indy car racing history. That year, all three Penske team drivers—Mears, Danny Sullivan, and Al Unser, Sr.—piloted the new PC-17 chassis powered by redesigned Chevrolet engines. The Penske team swept the top three qualifying positions on pole day. Mears’ four-lap qualifying speed of 219.198 mph became the new Speedway standard, and the Penske team, led by Mears’ win, took two of the top three podium positions (Unser placed third).
Official 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
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.
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.
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.
“When I was growing up, I had pictures of a Lamborghini Countach and Porsche 959 on my wall next to Duran Duran,” laughed Beth Paretta, the first female executive to lead a performance division for a major auto manufacturer.
After graduate school, Paretta took a job selling cars, then landed a management role with Volkswagen Credit. “That taught me the behind the scenes of the automotive business,” she shared. “It was a good opportunity to sit on all sides of the table, to figure out what the manufacturers and the dealers want, let alone the customers.”
She then spent four years as the U.S. operations manager for Aston Martin. Because the company was so small, this gave Paretta hands-on experience in every aspect of the business—a major factor why she was recruited by Ralph Gilles and the late Sergio Marchionne to lead the SRT brand when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) spun it off as a separate “halo” division.
Running SRT brought responsibility for managing FCA’s American motorsports programs, taking Paretta’s life full circle. During her tenure, FCA drivers won multiple championships in NASCAR and International Motor Sports Association (IMSA). “Racing was a comfort for me since I was about 5 years old,” she said. “I found it weirdly soothing to watch, and I was mesmerized by it. At a basic level, I still find that. When I got involved, I loved solving business problems and figuring out how to do things better.”
Whether at VW, Aston, or FCA, Paretta often noticed something. “I spent much of my career sitting in meetings where I was the only woman at the table,” she said. “I’ll be honest, there were times at the beginning when I thought that was kind of cool. ‘Hey, look at me!’ But then I was like, ‘This isn’t cool at all. Why am I the only one here?’”
In 2015, Paretta formed Grace Autosport, using racing as a platform for encouraging young women to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. She hopes to eventually field a car in IMSA or the Indianapolis 500 with a pioneering all-female team.
“Racing is the fuel that keeps the spotlight on what we are doing, but the important work is the education,” Paretta said. “We know we can affect a kid’s trajectory of what they want to do when they are 10-12 years old. That’s when you plant the real seed. Racing is fantastic because it demonstrates teamwork, and it’s applied STEM, or STEM in action.”
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.