You’ve probably heard this one before, and maybe you’ve even wondered it yourself: Are race car drivers really athletes? After all, isn’t the car doing all of the work? And how much different can it be than driving down the interstate, if only a lot faster?
Anyone in the business of motorsports will answer unequivocally “yes” to the first question and a resounding “no” to the second. So, too, will just about anyone who has spent time driving a race car or go-kart at speed on a racetrack.
Jim Leo, the founder and owner of PitFit Training in Indianapolis, is one of those who wholeheartedly endorses the fact that race car drivers are indeed athletes; however, his arrival at that answer came in a very methodical and hands-on way.
Leo has a degree in exercise physiology and biomechanics and early in his postgraduate career set up a health and wellness program for the employees of Detroit Diesel (now Detroit) in the early 1990s. At the time, the majority shareholder and CEO of Detroit Diesel was one Roger Penske of Penske Racing fame and an 18-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 as a team owner. At the time, Leo was not involved with motorsports and had only a passing interest in them when he approached Penske about creating a fitness regimen for his race teams—specifically, the pit crew members.
Soon after, PitFit Training was born, and Leo found himself training not only the Penske Racing crew members but crew members from other teams as well. This coincided with an increased emphasis on athletes across nearly every sport training more scientifically and specifically for the demands of their particular sport. It wasn’t long after that that drivers were coming to Leo for advanced fitness training.
Driver James Hinchcliffe (left) training. At PitFit, it’s common practice for physical exercise to be immediately followed by mental acuity challenges. / Photo by Walter Kuhn
Now, after more than 20 years in the sector, Leo has honed and refined the techniques he uses to keep drivers physically and mentally performing at their peak. “There’s no question that race car drivers are athletes,” said Leo. “But I’ll take it one step further and say that they are more akin to fighter pilots.”
“If you look at a driver’s physical requirements, such as the elevated heart and breath rates, enduring g-forces (the force of gravity or acceleration on a body) and near-instantaneous reflexes in addition to the high demand on cognitive ability, they align closely to the traits of combat pilots. Every athlete has to make split-second decisions on the field of play that have ramifications that may end in a game-losing situation, which is true of race car drivers as well. But drivers have the added weight that their decisions can not only affect the outcome of their race result but could also cause themselves or a fellow competitor potentially grave harm or their team hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of car damage.”
At PitFit, driver James Hinchcliffe (right) completes strength training for his shoulders and arms, key areas of concentration for Indy car drivers since they endure high cornering g-forces without the benefit of power steering. / Photo by Walter Kuhn
Added Leo for further clarification: “Physiologically, we know that a driver’s blood lactate levels rise while in the car as well as cardiovascular demands that are similar to running a 10K at an elite pace.”
Jim Leo likens the cognitive prowess, aka mind conditioning, of a race car driver to that of a combat pilot. It makes sense. Like a fighter pilot, a race car driver must be able to withstand the effects of sustained g-forces on the human body for long periods of time. Consider: An Indy 500 race can sometimes last up to five hours, with drivers often experiencing g’s spiking to three or more. And these drivers, like those pilots, consistently need to have unbelievably quick reaction times and sensorimotor functions, not only to succeed in their mission but to survive.
For a race car driver, reaction times and mental focus are paramount. Driver Charlie Kimball (sitting) tries to keep up with randomized light patterns during a training session at the PitFit facility. / Photo by Walter Kuhn
Imagine yourself having to react to a car that crosses your path at more than 200 miles per hour or to be constantly battered by continuous braking and accelerating forces in a cockpit where temperatures are likely above 100 degrees. Due to the high speeds and g’s alone, the average human on a racing oval would black out.
Where PitFit takes its motorsports training to the next level, and further parallels combat pilot training, is with its approach to incorporating neurocognitive (having to do with the ability to think and reason) elements with physical fitness. PitFit’s brain training is three-pronged, targeting vision, reaction time, and sensorimotor functions to give racing’s athletes the greatest developmental improvements that will lead to success on the tracks.
PitFit incorporates Senaptec’s strobe glasses as part of its neurocognitive exercises. Using liquid crystal technology, the lenses flicker between clear and opaque, removing visual information and forcing an individual to process more efficiently. / Photo courtesy Senaptec
That means workouts are often a combination of neck-centric strengthening exercises matched with ladder-type movements to improve hand-eye-foot coordination that are then paired with high-end virtual- and augmented-reality games and tasks based upon advanced biometrics, artificial intelligence, and data analytics.
PitFit has a custom-built sensory station, for example, created by Oregon-based Senaptec, a startup that’s bringing new visual training technologies to market that are specific to improving eye-to-brain connectivity. (Senaptec has the New York Yankees, Red Bull, and the Air Force on its client list.) PitFit’s station requires drivers to interact with moving images on a screen through activities that an article on thedrive.com compared to the arcade game Whac-A-Mole. Skill levels are then measured to help indicate the driver’s ability to make quick decisions under pressure.
Through high-end virtual and augmented reality games and tasks at the sensory station, you can assess your hand’s reactions to visual signals and find out how well you can see through distractions, judge depth, and track multiple objects in space. / Photo courtesy Senaptec
Race Trainer, another PitFit exclusive, is a homemade steering-resistance machine centered around a weighted steering wheel paired to pedals. A lighted control board behind the wheel prompts the driver to simulate a turn on the track, which then prompts the trainer to pull on resistance bands strapped to weighted headgear worn by the athlete. The exercise, according to PitFit, mimics the effects of those lateral g’s.
The light on PitFit’s Race Trainer serves as a reaction trainer—green means turn now—and it’s all about how the driver responds when the steering wheel and headgear are weighted. / Photo by Walter Kuhn
There are also low-tech training exercises. For instance, a trainer drops playing cards from chest height, and the driver has to try and grab one before the card hits the ground. The cards may fall in different directions, and this builds reaction-time skills that result in better, safer results on the track.
Mind + Matter
To get a sense of what a race car driver deals with, imagine this: You are out in the parking lot of your local shopping center in full sun at high noon in July wearing a pair of thick flannel sweatpants and sweatshirt, with gloves, shoes, and socks, atop an exercise bicycle that you must pedal hard enough to maintain a heart rate above 130 beats per minute. On your head is a helmet that has bungee cords attached, pulling your head randomly in four directions. With your left hand, you’re doing 15-pound bicep curls, while with your right hand you are throwing darts at a board every two seconds and each must hit the bull’s-eye. Meanwhile, a tennis ball machine is firing balls at you from 10 feet away, so you must duck out of the way to avoid being hit. To top it all off, through a set of earphones, you are being fed complex math problems that you must solve instantly or face the possibility of an electric shock if you answer incorrectly or if you miss the bullseye.
Taken as a whole, this hypothetical may border on the absurd, but each element gives us a sense, through ordinary tasks that we can all identify with, of the physical, reflexive, and mental rigors of driving a race car, along with the physical jeopardy that can result from bad decision-making.
“Drivers are always analyzing what they see on track or what information they are being fed from a spotter about track position or an engineer about strategy,” said Leo. “We spend a lot of time training a driver’s neuropathways to better cope with the physical and cognitive demands of racing by having them train at specific intensities, immediately followed by a cognitive skills test like repeating a pattern on a light board or visual recognition test, even sometimes adding some kind of auditory distraction to really create a chaotic environment while their heart and breath rates are still high.
Driver Zach Veach spends time at PitFit doing exercises designed to perfect hand-eye-foot coordination, which is part of the program’s brain training to improve success on the track. / Photo by Walter Kuhn
“The idea is to have them practice focusing on the task at hand to push beyond the physical stress,” elaborated Leo. “This trains a driver to cope with both the physical and mental demands they are required to exercise on track in competition.”
Consistency Is Key
That kind of focus may not be apparent to the spectator trackside or on television, but one need only look at the consistency of a top driver’s lap times to get the real picture. Over the course of a race, discounting laps where there is a yellow flag or a pit stop, it’s common to see a string of 25 or more lap times that never vary by more than half a second—the equivalent of throwing 25 darts in quick succession all within the bullseye.
While the romantic lore around a race car driver may be of a brazen daredevil driving by the seat of his or her pants, the reality is far from it. Drivers are highly fit athletes with astounding cognitive ability—meaning there is far more to winning a race than standing on the gas.
A Fitting Connection
Early in 2019, Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation for The Henry Ford, along with other staffers, was on the phone with racing legend Lyn St. James. They were talking about themes and stories for Driven to Win: Racing in America, The Henry Ford’s permanent racing exhibition, then in progress. St. James, a longtime supporter and partner of The Henry Ford, was an integral source of ideas and insights related to Driven to Win since its conception—and she is one of the drivers showcased within the exhibit.
Lyn St. James (left), photographed by Michelle Andonian, instructs a student at her Complete Driver Academy in 2008. / THF58776
It was during this call that St. James recommended The Henry Ford investigate Jim Leo’s story of entrepreneurship and innovation. A who’s-who of auto racing had been having great success on the tracks using Leo’s PitFit Training approach, including drivers such as Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Will Power, Kasey Kahne, Sam Hornish, Jr., Larry Dixon, Morgan Lucas, Pippa Mann, Levi Jones, and James Hinchcliffe.
Soon after that call, Anderson and team were in Indianapolis, meeting Leo and touring his industry-leading motorsports training facility. “Jim couldn’t have been friendlier. He opened his doors and gave us an up-close look at his methods and machines,” noted Anderson, who admitted to being a bit starstruck when driver Pippa Mann walked into Leo’s gym to work out while The Henry Ford team was on-site.
“Jim had us try some of the physical and mental workouts,” Anderson continued. “We did our best, but, needless to say, none of us will be starting in the Indy 500 anytime soon.” The team decided then and there to incorporate elements of the PitFit program into the exhibition. Leo enthusiastically agreed to help adapt some of the training machines he uses into interactives for visitors to experience in Driven to Win. We also received assistance from Senaptec, who customized their app specifically for museum visitors.
“Our visitors will be able to use some of the same training machines, and some of the same sensory performance devices, that top drivers use,” Anderson said. “Once you realize the physical strength and mental acuity required of these racers, you’ll never doubt their athletic abilities again.”
It’s one thing to cover auto racing for a living. It’s quite another to live the racing you cover. Journalist and race driver Denise McCluggage earned a unique place in racing history not only for her reporting on a golden era of motorsport, but for her participation in it too.
McCluggage was born in Eldorado, Kansas, in 1927. She traced her love of cars to a moment when, at six years old, she saw a Baby Austin parked on the street and decided she had to have one. Alas, even a letter to Santa Claus didn’t make that dream come true. But McCluggage realized another childhood dream—a career in journalism—that was ignited when she published her own neighborhood newspaper at age 12.
After high school, McCluggage studied at Mills College in Oakland, California, where she earned degrees in economics, philosophy, and politics. She began her journalism career at the nearby San Francisco Chronicle. McCluggage moved to the other side of the country in 1954 and went to work for the New York Herald Tribune. She joined the paper’s sports department, where her assignments included reports on auto racing.
McCluggage developed a lasting friendship with fellow driver Sir Stirling Moss. The two are pictured here at Bahamas Speed Weeks in 1959. / THF134439
As she covered the sport, McCluggage began to take a deeper interest in racing. She bought a British MG TC and began running in small sports car club events. McCluggage didn’t have any formal lessons, but she proved a natural on the track. Her experiences in competition brought unusual insight to her reporting and—at a time when women weren’t welcomed in pits or garages—gave her better access to the male drivers she covered. McCluggage’s efforts on the track gained her greater respect in the macho world of 1950s and 1960s motor racing, and she earned a reputation as someone who did what she wrote about. (When she wasn’t writing or racing, McCluggage was often on the slopes where she became an accomplished skier—another sport she frequently covered.)
With her trademark polka dot helmet, McCluggage earned an impressive list of victories and became one of the top female racing drivers of her time. She won Nassau Ladies Races in 1956 and 1957, and she took the checkered flag at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Ladies Race in 1957. McCluggage placed first in the GT category at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1961, and she finished first in her class at the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally.
McCluggage won the GT class at the 1961 Sebring 12-Hour Race. Her #12 Ferrari 250 is at center right. / THF246594
McCluggage’s journalism career flourished as well. In 1958 she collaborated in the founding of Competition Press. The racing magazine eventually broadened its focus to general car culture and changed its name to Autoweek, but it remains active today as a digital publication. McCluggage contributed columns to Autoweek for the rest of her life. She also wrote several books, including The Bahamas Speed Weeks, The Centered Skier, American Racing: Road Racing in the ’50s and ’60s, and By Brooks Too Broad for Leaping—a collection of some of her pieces for Autoweek.
Denise McCluggage passed away in 2015. At the time of her death, she was remembered as much for her achievements behind the wheel as for her accomplishments behind the typewriter, and she was recognized as one of the trailblazing women in racing. Time has not diminished her triumphs; McCluggage was posthumously inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2022.
Mark Twain said “write what you know.” Denise McCluggage struck a similar chord in a quote published in Sports Illustrated in 2018: “Racing was something I wanted to do, so it was something I wanted to cover.” The automotive world is richer because she did both.
In 1993, inspired by a handful of century-old newspaper references, nine employees volunteered to form The Henry Ford’s first historic base ball club. What started small has become a grand and beloved Greenfield Village tradition, guided—as it was from the beginning—by a passion for authenticity.
The Greenfield Village Lah-De-Dahs and the general store that spurred the club’s formation, 1994. / THF136301
It all began with Greenfield Village’s general store. New research in the 1990s initiated a more accurate historical interpretation of the J.R. Jones General Store as it existed in Waterford, Michigan, during the 1880s. It also turned up references to a local amateur base ball club—the Lah-De-Dahs—in period newspapers. Employees eagerly set about reviving the Lah-De-Dahs as a historic base ball club. A clue about the original uniform came from a colorful report on the Lah-De-Dahs’ poor showing in a summer 1887 game:
As the contest went on, slowly but surely dawned upon the minds of all the truth that a fine uniform does not constitute a fine pitcher, nor La-de-dahs in their mammas’ red stockings make swift, unerring fielders. —Pontiac Bill Poster, September 14, 1887
The revived Lah-De-Dahs of Greenfield Village wore white base ball shirts with a red script “L” and, at first, nondescript white painter’s pants. (The Henry Ford’s period clothing studio soon produced matching, knickers-style bottoms.) That first season, the Lah-De-Dahs played a handful of matches with rules pieced together from various historical interpretations. At Firestone Farm, the club challenged farmhands in the harvested wheat field before whatever crowd gathered along the lane. The Lah-De-Dahs also hosted a few outside historic base ball clubs at their future home field, Walnut Grove.
Historic base ball in Greenfield Village quickly assumed a more structured form that incorporated thoughtful details rooted in history—beginning with the name of the sport itself. Virtually all of the earliest references to this style of bat-and-ball game in England and the United States used the hyphenated name, “base-ball.” By the late 1830s and into the 1840s, likely due to simple changes in typesetting practices, the two-word spelling, "base ball," had begun to replace "base-ball." Conventions continued to shift, with the hyphenated version reemerging in the mid-late 19th century and receiving formal backing from the U.S. Government Printing Office in 1896. But years earlier, in 1884, the New York Times had explicitly changed its style guide away from "base-ball" to "baseball"—an early move toward the one-word convention that would stick. To highlight overlapping customs in the sport’s formative decades, The Henry Ford emphasizes the two-word spelling in its historic base ball program.
Henry Chadwick’s 1867 Base Ball Player's Book of Reference, the first reference book designed to teach the game of base ball, from which the current rules of play in Greenfield Village were drawn. / THF214794
For demonstration in Greenfield Village outside of Lah-De-Dahs matches, a set of rules, known as “Town Ball” or “Massachusetts Rules,” was selected from the 1860 Beadle’s Dime Base Ball Player. Written by Henry Chadwick, a sports journalist and leading promoter of base ball, this book included early rules of the game we know today, as well as the alternative “Massachusetts Rules” version of the game. This early version of baseball requires minimal equipment, calls for a soft ball, and features chaotic rules, making it a perfect choice for guests of Greenfield Village to try.
Elements added for the comfort and enjoyment of spectators on Walnut Grove appropriately reflect the 1860s setting. On select dates, the Dodworth Saxhorn Band provides musical accompaniment representing that of a period brass band. (Much of the music commonly associated with the professional game of baseball in America—including its unofficial anthem, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”—was published two generations later.) Refreshments are served from contextual, temporary structures fitting the rural environments where 1860s base ball was played. And a uniquely designed sound system—disguised by several strategically placed waste receptacles—allows the umpire and scorekeeper to present a real-time account of the game via concealed cordless microphones. The live music and play-by-play, combined with the unpredictability of the game, make for an entertaining afternoon.
The Lah-De-Dahs’ roster grew to 25 players over the club’s second and third seasons. They wore handmade uniforms for matches, which were held whenever visiting clubs could make the trip to Greenfield Village. By 2002, the season consisted of a dozen games played on select Saturdays throughout the summer. After nearly a decade of play, the Lah-De-Dahs had attracted a dedicated fan base, and spectators increasingly requested a regular schedule with more games.
The reopening of Greenfield Village in 2003 after a massive restoration project heightened expectations for the historic base ball program. With financial support from Edsel and Cynthia Ford, The Henry Ford delivered an entire summer of base ball with expanded offerings: daily period base ball demonstrations, formal games on Saturdays and Sundays—now played by the “New York rules” specified in Henry Chadwick’s 1867 Base Ball Player's Book of Reference (which were more familiar to spectators than the Massachusetts Rules game)—and the development of the World Tournament of Historic Base Ball.
The Henry Ford’s World Tournament of Historic Base Ball pays homage to the original “World's Tournament of Base Ball” hosted in August 1867 by the Detroit Base Ball Club. Though organizers ultimately failed to attract the world-famous clubs of the day, they managed to stage a remarkable, one-of-a-kind event. The trophy bat awarded to the Unknown Base Ball Club of Jackson, Michigan—winners of the first-class division of the 1867 tournament—is now in The Henry Ford’s collections. It is displayed each year in Greenfield Village during the World Tournament of Historic Base Ball.
Trophy bat awarded at the 1867 World's Tournament of Base Ball. / THF8654
For 2004, the Lah-De-Dahs’ season expanded from 12 to 30 games, and its roster swelled to 42 players. To make sure they always had an opponent, The Henry Ford created a second club. The National Base Ball Club takes its name from a competitor in the 1867 World's Tournament of Base Ball. New uniforms purchased for both clubs added to the already vibrant atmosphere during matches, with the Lah-De-Dahs in their now-familiar red and white and the Nationals in striking dark blue and gold. At first, many considered the Lah-De-Dahs to be Greenfield Village’s “home” club, but displays of sportsmanship and close games going to either side have endeared fans to both.
One of the close plays that have helped endear fans to both Greenfield Village clubs.
Over time, baseball became “America’s pastime,” an enduring cultural touchstone—and a multibillion-dollar business. Historic Base Ball in Greenfield Village (and also played in many other venues around the country) showcases an early form of the sport, from a time when amateurs played for recreation and innocent amusement—for the love of the game!
Baseball autographed for All-Star centerfielder Curt Flood by one of his heroes, civil rights icon Rosa Parks. / THF96558
Curt Flood was an All-Star, Gold-Glove centerfielder for the powerhouse St. Louis Cardinals baseball team of the 1960s. He undoubtedly signed thousands of baseballs during and after his career. So why would Flood save a baseball signed by Rosa Parks among his personal effects?
The ball is part of a story of inspiration, courage, and perseverance.
Inspired to Take a Stand
Curt Flood grew up in Oakland, California, and had no direct experience with the intense racism of the Jim Crow South. He was among the first generation of Black players in Major League Baseball. In 1956, as a 19-year-old minor leaguer in the Deep South, Flood came face-to-face with the virulent racial hatred that had arisen in the wake of the 1955 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in schools, and from the ongoing Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott inspired by Rosa Parks. It was the courage shown by Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson (the player famous for breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier), and others that gave Flood the strength to persevere through his two-year minor league stint.
Flood joined the Major Leagues when he was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1958. He and two of his new teammates, Bill White and Bob Gibson, became increasingly outspoken about segregationist aspects of the Cardinals operation. These men successfully pressed the organization to patronize integrated hotels and restaurants. Flood also joined Jackie Robinson at NAACP rallies across the South.
Curt Flood was featured on the August 19, 1968, cover of Sports Illustrated. The issue, pictured here with Flood’s St. Louis Cardinals hat, called him "Baseball's Best Centerfielder." / THF76590
Fighting the Reserve Clause
Flood's stellar 12-year career with the Cardinals ended suddenly in 1969, when he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies were a team going nowhere, with a fan base and management that were hostile to Black players. Flood had little desire to be part of that team. But the reserve clause gave Flood no choice in the matter. This clause was a standard part of every baseball player's contract, requiring him to play wherever the owners wanted him to play. The player had no say in the matter.
Flood's only options were to go along with the trade or retire. His first instinct was to retire. But, after reconsidering, he decided to challenge the reserve clause and sue Major League Baseball. Flood knew that this action would, in effect, end his baseball career and that he personally would gain little in the end. But the reserve clause made Flood feel like a piece of property, and he could not let that injustice stand.
After twelve years in the Major Leagues, I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.
It is my desire to play in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia Club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decisions. I, therefore, request that you make known to all the Major League Clubs my feelings in the matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.
Sincerely yours, Curt Flood
Lonely Path to the Supreme Court
As expected, Major League Baseball rejected Flood’s request. Over the next two and a half years, Flood, with the support of Marvin Miller of the Players Association (the fledgling professional baseball players' union), pursued his case in court, then in appeals court, and finally to the United States Supreme Court. At the inception of the suit, Flood became one of the most hated men in baseball—he was criticized in the press for trying to destroy baseball and received mountains of hate mail from fans. But it was the lack of support from active players that hurt Flood the most. Some supported Flood privately but feared retribution if they spoke out. Others were outright hostile and tried to undermine the suit even though it would benefit all players. Only baseball outsiders testified on Flood's behalf: his hero, Jackie Robinson; Hank Greenberg, who battled anti-Semitism throughout his career with the Detroit Tigers; and the iconoclastic Bill Veeck, who had owned several major and minor league baseball teams.
Curt Flood (left) and pitcher Bob Gibson had been close friends since their days in the minor leagues. Gibson privately supported Flood in his activism, but despite being one of the best pitchers in the game, he feared he would be ostracized from baseball if he backed Flood publicly. / THF98488
The court battles took a physical and emotional toll on Flood. He fell out of shape physically and turned from a social drinker to an alcoholic. The relentless negative attention from the press and fans forced Flood out of the country, first to Denmark, and later to Spain. He lost touch with his children and, by 1975, was nearly destitute and homeless. Flood was despondent and depressed. In 1978, Richard Reeves interviewed him for Esquire magazine as part of a series on men who had stood up to the system. Reeves said, "He was about the saddest man I ever met."
The closely divided Supreme Court ruled against Flood in the end. The majority opinion said, in effect, that the reserve clause was "an anomaly," but that it was Congress's job to fix it, not the courts’. Despite the Supreme Court loss, Flood's fight had created an opening to challenge baseball's reserve clause on the bargaining table. Within a few years, Jim "Catfish" Hunter became the first free agent, followed closely by Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally. While Curt Flood lost the case, his efforts transformed the relationship between owners and players across professional sports, and for people with unique and valuable skills in the world at large.
Curt Flood signed this copy of the Supreme Court summary report of his suit against Major League Baseball. / THF98457
Recovery and Recognition
After more than a decade in a personal wilderness, Flood began to turn his life around with the help of friends. He was treated for alcoholism in 1980, re-married in 1986, gained a new family, and reconnected with the children of his first marriage. Flood took up the late Jackie Robinson's cause, pushing for more diversity in the management of baseball. Along with other former players, he co-founded a group known as the Baseball Network for that purpose.
In 1987, Curt Flood received the NAACP Jackie Robinson Sports Award. While he was never hired for a position in baseball management, Flood became a regular at old-timers’ games. There, many former players took the opportunity to thank him personally. In 1994, Flood was featured in Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary and attended the premiere, where he met President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. Not long after, he met another hero from his youth, Rosa Parks, who signed a baseball for him. Flood wrote to friends in a Christmas letter that year, "I am in the process of living happily ever after."
In 1987, the NAACP recognized Curt Flood's fight by awarding him the Jackie Robinson Sports Award. / THF76582
In the summer of 1995, Flood developed throat cancer; he died on January 20, 1997. During that year and a half, many people visited him to express gratitude for what he had done for baseball and for society at large. At his death, Curt Flood was eulogized by many, including Jesse Jackson and conservative columnist George Will, who compared him to Rosa Parks.
Curt Flood and his wife, Judy Pace Flood, with Rosa Parks in 1994. / THF98496
While in retrospect, it may seem as though changes in society are predetermined and expected, Curt Flood's experience shows that they are not a sure thing—and they are never easy. The reserve clause was a legal anachronism that stripped players of their freedom to control their own careers. It took a successful man—inspired by heroes who had taken similar steps before him—who was willing to give up everything to make that change occur.
Jim McCabe is former Curator and Collections Manager at The Henry Ford. This post originally ran in February 2010 as part of our “Pic of the Month” series. It was updated for the blog by Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.
Handbook of Winter Sports cover, 1879. / THF112472
"Within the past decade we have become … a nation of sport-loving people…"
The above quote appeared almost 130 years ago in the small but richly detailed Handbook of Winter Sports. Written by Henry Chadwick, this 1879 handbook provides a fascinating glimpse into the sports that excited and engaged Americans at the time. Sportswriter and promoter Henry Chadwick spent much of his career helping to make baseball America’s “national game.” His ongoing desire to increase Americans’ devotion to “physical exercise and healthful outdoor recreation” is clear in many of the passages of this winter sports handbook.
With the Industrial Revolution cranking up after the Civil War, thousands of Americans flocked from farms and villages to cities for jobs in industry and business. The pressures and routines of the workplace caused many people to begin to view sports as a necessary outlet. Joining an amateur sports club or team provided a comforting feeling of community amidst the growing anonymity in American cities.
Some of the sports described in this handbook may seem a little unusual to us today, but they made perfect sense to Henry Chadwick and his readers back in 1879.
Early factory-made ice skates, made during the late 1860s by Smith Brothers, Boston, Massachusetts. / THF25566
"The great outdoor recreation of the winter season in our northern clime is, undoubtedly, the invigorating and exciting exercise of skating."
Ice skating was America's first national winter sports craze. When New York City's Central Park opened in 1858, it became a fashionable pastime, both for men and for ladies who wanted to “keep up with the times." Soon, all classes and ages of Americans were taking to the ice—on country ponds, in small-town parks, and at indoor rinks.
1881 trade card advertising the roller-skating rink in Northampton, Massachusetts. / THF225132
By 1879, roller skating was considered a perfect alternative to ice skating—especially for those times when the ice was too rough or too soft, or when "the keen blasts of the winter's wind are too severe." Roller skating would become a huge craze in the 1880s, when almost every city and town had its rink. Story even has it that the upstairs of the J.R. Jones General Store, now in Greenfield Village, was used for roller skating for a time—probably in the late 1870s or early 1880s—back when the store was at its original location in Waterford, Michigan.
Match between Scottish and American curlers at Cortlandt Lake, Westchester County, New York, from Harper's Weekly, February 9, 1884. / THF700390
"Curling is a game worthy of the hardy Scots, calling into play … most of the characteristics of manliness…"
In the sport of curling, teams of players slide slightly flattened, round granite stones to a designated spot on the ice. From Scotland, curling spread to Canada—where it took permanent hold. Although this sport showed sure signs of popularity in America in the 1870s, it would never have as passionate a following as it did in Canada.
Ice-boating is part of this idyllic winter scene, from a trade card for the Young & Striker dry goods store in Amsterdam, New York, around 1890. / THF125112
"…for thrilling excitement [ice-boating] surpasses every other [sport] in vogue."
Ice-boating probably originated in the Netherlands, where frozen canals and lakes became speedy highways during the winter months. This sport's early popularity in America centered around the Hudson River, where ice-boating became a mass spectator sport during the 1870s. Simple ice boats evolved into great ice "yachts"—designed for stability and speed.
This is the first known diagram of an American football field, pictured the 1879 Handbook of Winter Sports. / THF231598
"The game of football is called the 'national winter game' in England, because it is played there throughout the winter season."
Americans don't generally think of football as a winter game. Even Chadwick admitted that "in all but the Southern states, it can only be played during a portion of the winter season, when the snow is off the ground." But by 1879, football was showing definite promise as an up-and-coming American sport. So Chadwick seized the opportunity to document its rules and publish the first known diagram of an American football field in this handbook.
Football, which evolved from the English game of rugby, first became popular as a collegiate sport. The rules of play for the American version of football continued to evolve into the 20th century. Professional football would not come of age until the 1920s.
This 1897 football game shows the rough nature of the sport at the time, predating the use of helmets and padding. / THF117849
The American refinements to English rugby rules included reducing the number of players from 15 to 11; assigning players to specific positions; changing rules for running, kicking, and passing the ball; and replacing the rugby huddles, or “scrummage,” with a clearly defined line of “scrimmage.” As the game became Americanized, it focused more on speed and finesse—with a new emphasis on passing—and away from brute force and roughness.
What's Missing from the 1879 Handbook?
Cover of the 1932 Winter Olympics program in Lake Placid, featuring the exciting bobsled competition. / THF125111
Basketball was devised at a Y.M.C.A. in 1891 as a way to keep athletes in shape over the winter months. This sport quickly spread to school physical education programs for both boys and girls. It did not go professional until 1946. Skiing was brought to America by Scandinavian immigrants during the late 19th century. Ice hockey came to the United States as an organized sport from Canada during the 1890s. Amateur, youth, and collegiate teams were popular before professional ice hockey gained a national following during the 1920s.
More than any other sports event, the international Winter Olympics (begun in 1924) heightened Americans' interest and enthusiasm for winter sports—especially after the Olympics came to Lake Placid, New York, in 1932.
Then and Now
The pastimes and sports described in the 1879 Handbook laid the foundation for Americans' passion for winter sports. Many winter sports became faster and more competitive. They came to be played by men and women of all ages and provided outlets for people from many different walks of life.
Some winter sports—like football, basketball, and hockey—have become mass spectator sports. However, many others—like sledding, skating, and snowshoeing—still provide opportunities for healthful recreation and, as Chadwick put it back in 1879, "a wonderful power of exhilaration attendant upon breathing the pure oxygen of a winter atmosphere."
You can read the entire handbook in our Digital Collections here.
Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted from the January 2007 entry in our former Pic of the Month series.
This Cincinnati Red Stockings trading card, issued by Peck & Snyder in 1869, is one of the earliest baseball cards. / THF94408
What does an old baseball card tell us about life in the United States? This baseball card was issued by Peck & Snyder, a New York sporting goods store. It features a team photo of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. This card is one of the earliest baseball cards, and in many ways, it marks the emergence of the modern game as a national pastime.
Since the 1840s, baseball had been evolving rapidly from a game for children to one for gentlemen. The grown-ups soon imposed structure and standardization on the largely improvisational kids’ game. Baseball clubs formed for recreation and exercise, and friendly competition between clubs was soon part of the mix. Following the end of the Civil War, that friendly competition became more intense. Strong rivalries developed between local baseball clubs; gradually, playing for sport was replaced by playing to win. Clubs began to recruit better players. They cast nets that extended well beyond their communities and quietly offered top players various enticements to play, including jobs and cash. The best ball players gained celebrity status and came to be known far and wide. Newspapers covered their exploits, fanning the flames of "baseball fever" across the country. The spread of railroads allowed clubs to play games farther away from home.
The stage was set for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.
The Cincinnati Red Stockings are one of the legendary teams of baseball. Harry Wright, who played for several New York clubs before the Civil War, saw the business opportunity in baseball as a spectator sport. In 1869, Wright built a club around a nucleus of himself, his brother George, and several other strong players from teams from the eastern United States. Backed by Cincinnati investors, the Red Stockings became the first openly professional baseball team. Taking advantage of the opening of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the Red Stockings embarked on a coast-to-coast national tour, covering 12,000 miles and playing before over 200,000 spectators. They were unbeaten in more than 70 games over two seasons, finally losing to the Brooklyn Atlantics in June 1870.
The exploits of the Red Stockings did much to popularize baseball around the nation and demonstrated that professional baseball teams could be an economic success. Major League Baseball marks its start with the Red Stockings’ national tour of 1869. The team lasted only five years (1866–1871), but Harry and George Wright went on to form the Boston Red Stockings (which eventually became the Boston-Milwaukee-Atlanta Braves) and are members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Andrew Peck, founder of Peck & Snyder, signed the reverse of this Cincinnati Red Stockings trading card. Peck & Snyder's offerings included a wide range of recreational items, from baseball equipment to accordions to magic tricks. / THF94409
Peck & Snyder was Manhattan's first sporting goods store. Founded by Andrew Peck, who got his start in 1865 making baseballs, Peck & Snyder is credited with starting the first baseball card series when the store pasted advertisements on the back of team photographs, including the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the Chicago White Stockings, the Boston Lowells, the Brooklyn Atlantics, the New York Mutuals, and the Philadelphia Athletics. Along with brewers, hotel keepers, and transit companies, sporting goods makers knew that baseball was good for business.
In this card, we can see the emergence of baseball as a true national pastime—and as a business. Here was a New York store, creating a trade card with a Cincinnati team on it. The example now in the collections of The Henry Ford was important enough that it was framed—reflecting the celebrity status of the players it depicted and, perhaps, the rooting interests of its owner.
Jim McCabe is former Curator and Collections Manager at The Henry Ford. This post originally ran in May 2008 as part of our “Pic of the Month” series. It was updated for the blog by Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.
Ford Novelty Band Playing at Ford Baseball Team Game, 1941 / THF271722
Every month, we feature some items from our archives in our History Outside the Box program. You can check the new story out on The Henry Ford’s Instagram account on the first Friday of the month, but we’re reposting some of the stories here on our blog as well. In May 2021, Reference Archivist Kathy Makas shared photographs, articles, and other documents ranging from the 1910s through the 1950s that detail how employees at Ford Motor Company spent their leisure time. Learn more about Ford’s musical groups, sports teams, gardeners, and social/service clubs in the video below.
Corey Williams, Dearborn Truck Plant Manager, will tell you that the culture at the plant where the F-150 is built is one of a kind. / Photo by Nick Hagen
Corey Williams has been a part of the Dearborn Truck Plant management team for nearly four years, promoted to plant manager in January 2021, and he’s worked at many Ford facilities in a variety of management positions over the 25-plus years he’s been with Ford. He’ll tell you with conviction that the Dearborn Truck Plant, where the Ford F-150 is built and The Henry Ford’s Ford Rouge Factory Tour welcomes thousands of visitors a year, is unlike anywhere else in the world.
“Every Ford plant has the same goals, metrics and objectives—we all want to deliver the best, highest-quality product to the customer that we can,” said Williams. “But at Dearborn Truck, the culture is different. And when I say different, I mean everyone here understands that we are building America’s bestselling truck and the sense of pride in that is like no other.”
“Everybody knows that we are leaders, never followers,” he added. “That if it can be done, it will be done at DTP [Dearborn Truck Plant]—at not only the highest rate and volumes but with the greatest efficiency.”
Ford F-150 Truck Assembly at the Dearborn Truck Plant at the Ford Rouge Complex
That attitude and mental mantra fit perfectly with Williams’ persona. He’s not afraid to admit he’s an ultracompetitive guy who feeds off having to face the next challenge.
“I’ve been a sports guy my entire life,” he said. “I love to compete and like the idea of a team—the collaborative part of it and how you have to work together toward a common goal.”
And when asked about the new set of players—vehicles as well as workers—that are now ready to call the Ford Rouge Complex home along with Dearborn Truck Plant, Williams couldn’t be more excited. In 2022, the new Rouge Electric Vehicle Center is slated to open, employing hundreds of new hires and manufacturing the all-new battery-electric F-150. “Not a day goes by that people don’t ask me about our new hybrid, the EV center, and electric truck—the buzz and amazement just grows,” said Williams. “It’s a huge step in continuing our truck leadership and dominance. We are changing the game.”
Play to Work
Staff from Ford Motor Company and The Henry Ford trace some of their interest in STEM and manufacturing to childhood television, toys, and games, like this 1960s Clue set in our collection. / THF188744
We asked Corey and other members of Ford Motor Company’s vehicle launch team and The Henry Ford’s Ford Rouge Factory Tour what games, TV shows, toys, etc., they remember growing up that helped spark their interest in STEM and manufacturing.
Corey Williams, Plant Manager at Ford: Playing team sports in his younger years is a key precursor to his manufacturing management skills today. “Involving yourself in team events where you need to collaborate and compete as a team toward a common objective is extremely relevant from a STEM standpoint,” he said.
James Housel, Bodyshop Launch Manager at Ford: “Saturday morning cartoons watching ‘Wile E. Coyote, SUUUUUUPER Genius.’” The cartoon character is always obtaining crazy gizmos from fictional mail-order company Acme in the hopes of capturing the Road Runner.
Cynthia Jones,Director, Museum Experiences & Engagement, at The Henry Ford: “I loved to play the board games Risk and Clue. Both of those helped me identify patterns, test hypotheses, set strategy goals and learn from failure.” Like Williams, Jones, a dedicated swimmer through high school, credits competitive sports too.
Doug Plond, Senior Manager, Ford Rouge Factory Tour, at The Henry Ford: “As a really young tyke, I loved to build with my red cardboard brick set—knocking them down was the fun part. Once I got a bit older, I moved up to Lincoln Logs.”
The website for Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness Stakes, notes that its 1870 founding makes Pimlico the second-oldest race track in the United States today, after Saratoga. / THF239341
Horse racing was America’s first popular spectator sport, dating back to colonial days. The fashionable standards and sporting traditions established by wealthy Southern planters influenced the future acceptance and organization of many American sports. Further, of the wide variety of sporting diversions in which they engaged, horse racing was the most popular. Subscription races were held in larger towns in Virginia and South Carolina (sponsored by the gentry, but spectators came from every class), while quarter-races (informal quarter-mile matches) were a universal feature of Southern country life at the time.
The Southern planters’ enthusiasm for horse racing in the mid-17th century was soon matched by that of the wealthy gentry living along the Eastern Seaboard. The popularity of horse racing in the East, especially the spontaneous quarter-races between neighboring settlers’ horses, also spread rapidly to the frontier. By 1788, a circular race track had been constructed as far west as Lexington, Kentucky. English thoroughbreds were imported in large numbers during this time, establishing new and dominant bloodlines. Heavy betting accompanied these races, which is why horse racing was widely prohibited in many areas until well into the 19th century.
People working and living in the growing cities craved diversion. In the 1820s, highly organized horse-racing meets took place in cities as new courses and larger grandstands were built for paying customers. Rules were standardized, schedules published, and racing times recorded. Early sporting periodicals—including the most popular of this era, The Spirit of the Times—spurred the growing enthusiasm. Although betting continued, horse racing had achieved some degree of respectability by the 1850s. It flourished in all parts of the country (except New England) and was especially popular in the South, the West, and on Long Island in New York State. Horse racing also became a major feature of agricultural fairs, to the annoyance of those who had supported the earlier, noncommercial character of these events.
The front of this trade card for "The Big Fair" in New Castle, Indiana, in August 1890 depicts a horse race, while the reverse promises “the fastest races.” / THF225118
During the mid-19th century, the distinctive American sport of trotting (also called harness racing) largely replaced thoroughbred racing at fairs. This sport gained popular support because of its “democratic” nature—a trotting horse with a rig was far less expensive to buy, train, and maintain than a thoroughbred racehorse. It was considered “common to all … open to every one who keeps a horse for his own driving … the butcher, the baker, or the farmer,” and was “the people’s sport, the people’s pastime” (Frank Forester’s Horse and Horsemanship of the United States and British Provinces of North America, 1857).
This circa 1891 trade card for a Detroit carriage and buggy manufacturer shows a harness racer on the track. / THF225366
Moreover, many people considered harness racing more respectable than thoroughbred racing since it was not as closely associated with gambling. Thousands upon thousands who cared not a whit for running horses were eager spectators of trotting matches—it fascinated a wide general public, and commercialized trotting races became thoroughly entrenched features of county and state fairs. A National Trotting Association, formed in the 1870s, brought uniform rules, national contests, and the publication of statistics and records.
From 1905 to 1909, undefeated trotting horse Dan Patch became a national celebrity, with a speed so fast that other owners refused to race their horses against him. Dan Patch’s fame subsequently led to his appearance in endorsements of numerous products, including toys, cigars, washing machines, and automobiles. It was decades before his record was broken.
Race horses often became celebrities in their own right—like Lady Suffolk, depicted on this mid-19th century weathervane from our collection, as well as in prints. / THF186729
Harness racing remained a popular spectator sport at county fairgrounds and at specially lit race tracks that made night racing possible. Meanwhile, horse racing remained popular with both the wealthy and the gambling “sporting fraternity.” The number of metropolitan courses increased, and races were highly organized. The Kentucky Derby, first held in 1875, gave national prestige to thoroughbred racing and encouraged the construction of race tracks across the country.
Leisure offers an exceptional opportunity for the display of wealth and the assertion of social importance. Horses were expensive, and some of the great industrialist fortunes of the post–Civil War years went into breeding thoroughbreds for racing. Especially during the 1880s and 1890s, the wealthy joined exclusive country clubs where they might attend horse races at ultrafashionable courses, play polo, or go fox hunting in the English manner. The first of these social spots is believed to be the Brookline Country Club, near Boston, but it was soon followed by the Westchester, Essex, Tuxedo, Philadelphia, Meadowbrook, and Chicago clubs.
This 1885 trade card for a tailor in Amsterdam, New York, depicts two well-dressed ladies and an equally well-dressed gentleman, presumably quite well-to-do, watching a horse race. / THF224642
During the 1930s, the hope of great fortunes combined with the publicity surrounding colorful thoroughbreds (like Seabiscuit) and new technical advances (like automatic gates and electric timers) to help revive the sport of horse racing at rebuilt and new courses. Horse racing and harness racing continue to be popular spectator sports today.
This Hallmark Keepsake Ornament from 1984, “Santa Sulky Driver,” demonstrates the ongoing appeal of horse- and harness-racing. / THF181752
Horse- and Harness-Racing Vehicle Highlights from The Henry Ford’s Collection
This sulky was used for trotting. It was reportedly used by harness racehorse Guy Wilkes and brought to California in the 1880s. High-wheeled sulkies were lightweight, strong, and efficient, allowing the racehorse to move as swiftly as possible.
This sulky was used for trotting and was made by A. Bedford of Coldwater, Michigan. The low-wheeled sulky, introduced in 1892 by the Massachusetts bicycle factory of Sterling Elliott, created a revolution in the sport of harness racing. The low wheels and pneumatic tires reduced friction, especially around turns, and enabled horses to improve their speed dramatically. These sulkies were also lightweight, to help the horses increase their speed around the track.
U.S. Senator Leland Stanford (who helped build the Central Pacific Railroad and was also governor of California) trained and exercised two of his finest trotting horses, Sunol and Palo Alto, with this breaking cart. At his 11,000-acre ranch in Palo Alto, California, Stanford developed original methods of training horses that were later adopted by other breeders. By the mid-1880s, he had achieved recognition as the foremost trotting-horse breeder in America. The speed of his two- and three-year-old horses startled the world of harness racing.
This speeding cutter was made by A. E. Perren of Buffalo, New York. Speeding cutters (sleighs) were hitched to trotters and pacers for horse-racing enthusiasts who found winter no obstacle to their activities. This cutter was used by Everett L. Smith of Westborough Massachusetts, for trotting races, then by Frank P. Knowles, who built a private track at his cattle farm in Auburn, Massachusetts, upon his retirement from his position as vice president at Crompton & Knowles Loom Works.
Bob Casey is former Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford. This post is adapted from an educational document from The Henry Ford titled “Transportation: Past, Present, and Future—From the Curators.”
As students everywhere settle into a new school year, let’s take a look back at the Henry Ford Trade School, founded in 1916.
The first six boys and three instructors, 1916. / THF626066
The school was formed to give young men aged 12–19 an education in industrial arts and trades. Boys who were orphans, family breadwinners, or from low-income families from the Detroit area were eligible for training and split their time between classroom and shop.
Henry Ford Trade School students and teachers in classroom, October 31, 1919. / THF284497
Students working on machinery at the Rouge Plant, 1935. / THF626060
The school started at the Highland Park plant, expanded to the neighboring St. Francis Orphans Home, and then to the Rouge plant and Camp Legion.
Henry Ford Trade School building, August 1, 1923. / THF284499
Trade School students on campus at the Rouge Plant, 1937. / THF626062
While students were receiving their education, they were also being paid an hourly wage, as well as a savings balance that was available to them at graduation. Students started off repairing tools and equipment, and as they gained more experience, moved on to working on machinery.
Trade School student at the Ford Motor Company Rouge Plant, August 3, 1942. / THF245372
Students also got four weeks of vacation and daily hot lunches.
Students at lunch in the Rouge B Building cafeteria, 1937. / THF626068
The students were trained in a wide range of courses, both shop and academic, using textbooks created by the trade school. Shop courses ranged from welding to foundry work, and academic classes from English to metallurgy.
When Ford Motor Company participated in various World’s Fairs, top trade school students were selected to demonstrate their unique style of learning.
Henry Ford Trade School demonstration, California Pacific International Exposition, San Diego, 1935. / THF209775
Students also had time for sports and clubs, including baseball, football, and radio club.
Henry Ford Trade School baseball team and manager, August 1927. / THF284507
Henry Ford Trade School football team, 1923. / THF118176
Claude Harvard with other Radio Club members, Henry Ford Trade School, March 1930. / THF272856
The Henry Ford Trade School closed in 1952. In its 36 years of operation, the school graduated over 8,000 boys from Detroit and the surrounding area. Students graduating from the trade school were offered jobs at Ford but were free to accept jobs elsewhere; among the graduates who later worked for Ford was engineer Claude Harvard (shown above). Other students went on to work in a wide range of endeavors from the automotive industry to arts and design, and even medicine and dentistry.
You can view more artifacts related to Henry Ford Trade School in our Digital Collections, or go more in-depth on our AskUs page. While the reading room at the Benson Ford Research Center remains closed at present for research, if you have any questions, please feel free to email us.