Video: Ford Used A Racecar To Relaunch His Car Building Reputation

Before Carl Edwards left the friendly Ford confines of Roush Fenway Racing and moved to the Joe Gibbs  Racing team, he was treated to one of the Ford Motor Company’s greatest historical rides. The Sweepstakes, Henry Ford’s first and only racecar, is rarely offered to for anyone to drive but NASCAR’s Cousin Carl got the chance of a lifetime.

Edsel Ford II explains the Sweepstakes car to NASCAR’s Carl Edwards.

The story behind Ford’s Sweepstakes car is an interesting one that describes how racing became the force behind car innovation and reputation building. History documents the tale as one of a recreation of Henry Ford’s first attempt at car building.

How It Happened

Ford left Edison Illuminating Company to found the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899. Unfortunately the cars produced were higher priced than Ford wanted, and substantially lower quality. The company was dissolved at the end of 1900/beginning of 1901.

Still stinging from the business defeat, Ford decided to build a racecar to restore his reputation. He raced the 26-horsepower craft in a ten-mile race. Due to his success, which was due in large part to some innovations like dental porcelain to insulate the spark plugs, Ford won the race against Alexander Winton.

Ford and his riding mechanic, Ed “Spider” Huff, pose for a photo of the race team.

Using that success and friendships created with the stockholders of the defunct Detroit Auto Company, he formed the Henry Ford Company in 1901. Once the stockholders brought in Henry Leland as a consultant, Ford left the company that was named after him. The remaining investors renamed the company the Cadillac Automobile Company.

Henry Ford joined forces with Alexander Malcomson to create the Ford & Malcomson Ltd. company to build automobiles. The new company began working with a local machine shop that was owned by John and Horace Dodge (The Dodge Brothers), who took partial payment as stock in the new company. The company was reincorporated as Ford Motor Company in 1903, and the rest is history.

Ford’s Sweepstakes car.

Back To The Sweepstakes

The racecar built by Ford to beat the well established racer and car builder, Alexander Winton, is the first known use of the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” slogan that racing became known for.

The car, which was pretty advanced for the time, was a culmination of effort between designer Oliver Barthel, Ed “Spider” Huff, who did all the electrical work on the car, a pair of machinists that did the lathe and machining work, Ed Verlinden and George Wettrick, and metal bender Charlie Mitchell.

The 538 cubic-inch, two-cylinder engine was conservatively rated at 26 horsepower, with Ford claiming that the car could achieve an unbelievable 72 mph.

Edwards goes for a spin.

Once the Sweepstakes race between Ford and Winton started, the inexperienced Ford trailed the veteran driver by three football fields. Winton’s car started to develop mechanical trouble and Ford caught up and passed the racer, and eventually won the race.

He sold the Sweepstakes racecar in 1902 and was able to repurchase it in the 1930s. Time had taken its toll on the old car and Ford had a new body built to replace the damaged original. The car was then displayed in the Henry Ford Museum.

Edwards gets behind the wheel.

Stats:

  • Builders: Oliver Barthel, Henry Ford
  • Origin: Detroit, Michigan
  • Color: Black, Red, Gold
  • Height: 58 inches
  • Width: 61 inches
  • Length: 133 inches
  • Diameter: 30.5 inches
  • Wheelbase: 96 inches
  • Weight: 2,430 pounds
  • Tires: Diamond Rubber Company 36 X 4
  • Engine: Horizontally opposed 2 cylinder, atmospheric intake valves and mechanical exhaust valves, 539 cubic-inches
  • Horsepower: 26 hp @ 900 rpm est.
  • MPG: 2 miles-per-gallon on 87 octane

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
Read My Articles

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