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Sports Then and Now

The History of Ford Racing

Posted on April 13, 2020 by Martin Banks

Ford is often thought of as the father of modern automotive technology. The man the company was named after created the world’s first assembly line for automobile production in 1913. It could build an entire car — at the time, the Model T — in two and a half hours.

They might be best known for being pioneers of automotive innovation, but the brand also has an exciting and colorful racing history. Let’s take a closer look at what made Ford stand out on the racetrack as well as on the highway.

The Early Years

While Ford might not have made a name for himself until the early 1900s, at least when it came to car manufacturing, he was still trying to make his mark on the world. In 1896, in his first car, which he called the Quadricycle, he reached a top speed of 20 mph — the fastest vehicle at the time. Five years later, in 1901, Ford won his first race by beating Alexander Winton in a 10-lap race at the Detroit Driving Club. You can see that exact car, known as the Sweepstakes, at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

By 1903, his race cars were topping 60 mph. It might not seem like much by today’s standards, but at the time, it was the fastest car in the world. Four years later, a Model K drove 1,135 miles, setting a 24-hour endurance record. Then in 1909, a Model T won the transcontinental race that took it from New York to Seattle.

Even before we had a name for it, Ford has been a well-known name in the country’s racing circuit.

The 1930s

For Ford fans, the 1930s are one of the most exciting decades. In 1932, the brand introduced its iconic V-8 Flathead engine, branding it as “Everyman’s power” for the road and for racing. That same year, a pair of mechanics took their Ford Special with that V-8 Flathead and won the Swedish Winter Grand Prix. Four years later, in 1936, a pair of drivers won the Monte Carlo Rally with the same iconic engine.

The 1940s

The 1940s mark the brand’s entrance into the world of NASCAR. Driver Jim Roper won the brand’s first NASCAR race in 1949. This marked the beginning of nearly 700 checkered flags for the brand between 1949 and today, with 16 manufacturer’s titles and eight driver’s titles spread out over the nearly 70 years that the brand has been racing. While Roper’s victory does count as a win for the brand, he was actually driving a Lincoln in that iconic race.

The 1950s

The 50s aren’t a terribly exciting decade for Ford racing fans, but one important thing did happen during this time period. A year after Jim Roper’s victory, another driver, Jimmy Florian, managed to win a NASCAR race in a Ford-branded vehicle. Some purists might argue that this was Ford’s first NASCAR victory, but we’re not here to split hairs over a year.

The 1960s

By the 1960s, Ford was a well-known brand both in the automotive and racing circuits, but there was something missing. They were thriving on NASCAR courses, but the brand hadn’t yet made the jump to the Grand Prix. In 1967, that changed when Jim Clark took the cup at the Dutch Grand Prix. He was behind the wheel of a Lotus-Ford crossbreed, but it’s still one of the brand’s proudest moments.

The 2000s

And now we jump ahead to modern times. In 2003, Ford celebrated its last Grand Prix victory — number 176 — during the Brazillian Grand Prix. Over the previous four decades, the brand had earned 10 manufacturer’s titles and 13 driver’s titles in the Formula One circuit, but after that final victory, the brand decided to shift its focus away from Formula One.

They might return to the circuit in the future, with Ford motorsports boss Mark Rushbrook saying, “never say never” in regards to their return to the track, but it’s not currently on the brand’s radar.

The 2010s

Now we’re almost up to the present day. 2011 was a great start for the decade, with the brand taking a 1-2-3 finish in the year’s Daytona 500. In addition to being a sweeping victory, this also marked Ford’s 600th NASCAR victory since it started racing on that circuit in the 1940s.

By 2016, the brand wasn’t just sticking to NASCAR tracks. They entered four different Ford GT’s in the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race and came in 1st, 3rd, 4th and 10th. Two years later, a win on the Homestead Miami Speedway gave the brand its first NASCAR championship cup since 2004.

Looking Forward

It’s been a long and often hard road for Ford racing, but we can’t wait to see where these supercars might win as we move into the future.

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