BROOKLYN, Mich. — In late summer of 1901, with one failed company and a bunch of unhappy investors in his rear view mirror, a desperate Henry Ford built a race car. Clocked at 72 miles per hour during a road test, it may have been the fastest car in the world.
Ford entered it in a race, 10 laps on a one-mile dirt oval, against 12 competitors at the Detroit Driving Club in Grosse Point.
He named his racer Sweepstakes.
Ford and his car won, financial backers got in line, and he was back in business. In 1903 he started the Ford Motor Co.
Last Thursday, Carl Edwards visited the Henry Ford Museum and met Sweepstakes.
“Edsel Ford [II] actually let me drive Sweepstakes,” Edwards said at Michigan International Speedway. “We got it up to maybe 20 or 25 miles per hour driving on the road there and they said it [went] 72 or 73 miles per hour in 1901. It was scarier driving that thing 25 miles per hour than it is taking the corner here at 205. Those guys were brave.
“The neatest thing … if it weren’t for winning that race, Ford Motor Co. as we know it might not exist. We talk about racing and Ford, they have been racing since Day One and racing is what got the company started. And hopefully we can get their 1,000th win.”
That would be today in the Quicken Loans 400 and Ford’s chances for that milestone NASCAR victory certainly look better than they did before Edwards won the pole position with a 202.452-mph qualifying run on Friday.
You couldn’t blame Edwards, his Roush-Fenway Racing team and all of Henry Ford’s descendants for celebrating. It is Ford Racing’s first Sprint Cup Series pole position of the year.
Races at MIS, of course, are home games for NASCAR’s Chevrolet and Ford racing teams. Those companies’ world headquarters are in the neighborhood and, well, they don’t call Detroit the Motor City for nothing. There are bragging rights, and a whole lot more, at stake.
No team takes that more seriously, perhaps, than Roush Fenway, itself based nearby in Livonia. Jack Roush, the man known as “the cat in the hat,” has turned that home-field advantage into 12 visits to Victory Lane at MIS and he would like nothing more than to deliver Ford’s 1,000th win today.
But all has not been well with Ford or with Roush Fenway. Ford has just two wins with its Gen-6 Fusion in 14 Sprint Cup Series races this year. Edwards scored RFR’s only triumph at Phoenix; David Ragan won at Talladega for another Ford team, Front Row Motorsports.
Prospects remain bright for Chevy, which has the next three cars in today’s starting grid, and which leads the manufacturers with seven Sprint Cup wins. The bowtie logo has won three straight races entering today.
Ford trailing Chevy, as painful as it may be, is nothing new. But Ford is also taking it on the chin from Toyota, which has five wins. Toyota Racing is headquartered in California, but does have a 600-acre research and development facility near Ann Arbor.
MIS president Roger Curtis said on Friday that the track will begin awarding a trophy to the winning manufacturer after each of the two annual races here. Each company’s top racing official joined him at the announcement with Ford’s Jamie Allison being seated first in the line.
“Are we being seated in the projected order of finish?” Allison asked lightly.
No one was so impolite as to shout, “NO!”
What’s going on with Ford? It depends who you ask. But one word that comes to most everyone’s lips is collaboration, or in this case the lack thereof.
It seems as if Ford’s teams, particularly long-powerful Roush Fenway and 2013 newcomer Penske, another Michigan team that switched over from Dodge, have not been playing nice.
All Ford teams run the same car with the same engine on a common body. It is normal for race teams under the same manufacturer umbrella to work together on aerodynamic testing, engine development, and simulation.
But it hadn’t been happening and it had been the talk of NASCAR the previous couple weeks.
The speculation of why doesn’t really matter because early last week the Ford Racing hierarchy and top brass from all of Ford’s teams sat down for a powwow at corporate headquarters. Doors were closed. The law was laid down.
“We talked about it at Ford world headquarters,” Edwards said, “the things we needed to do better as a group and working with the folks at Penske and we just started this ball rolling. This is one lap. That process is just starting … we can use these things to move forward and gain faith in a better process and I think that is going to be great.”
Nothing would be greater for Ford, though, than that 1,000th win coming out of nowhere today here in the shadow of the Motor City. Even Henry, who knew desperation, would appreciate it.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: email@example.com or 419-724-6398.