When NASCAR superstar Carl Edwards hopped aboard Sweepstakes, the 1901 racecar built by Henry Ford, he wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the ride. But much like it did for Ford in his victory over Alexander Winton, the time Edwards spent behind the wheel of the historic vehicle changed his life forever.
Edwards joined Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett as the second NASCAR driver allowed behind the wheel of the car, when he took it for a spin on June 13. Edsel B. Ford II, great-grandson of Henry Ford, invited Edwards out to Greenfield Village to learn more about the history of the vehicle, meet with Sweepstakes Engineer Glenn Miller, and eventually learn to drive the 1901 machine.
“This is the coolest car I have ever driven, no doubt about it. There isn’t even a close second,” said Edwards on the grounds of Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford. “It may not look like much standing here, or on video, but I am telling you that is one of the scariest things I have ever done. Coming around that turn back there, there are no brakes. I don’t know how those guys did that because we were only going what, eight miles per hour? They drove this thing near 70 mph back in 1901. That is just insane.”
Sweepstakes carried Henry Ford to victory in the first and only race he ever drove the race against Alexander Winton on Oct. 10, 1901, in Grosse Pointe, Mich. Since Ford was the underdog, and the local favorite who defeated one of the best and most successful racers in the country, his victory was popular and widely publicized.
In fact, Ford’s win changed everything for him, and ultimately the history of the auto industry. Several people watching that day came forward with offers of financial support, which set him on the road to establishing Ford Motor Co. in June 1903. Ford went on to prove his belief in low-cost production with the Model T, the car that put the world on wheels.
“To think that this car is what started this whole thing is just amazing,” Edwards reflected. “If it weren’t for this, there might not be a Ford Motor Co., there might not be a Ford Racing, and a lot of people’s, including my own, paths would be very different.”
Henry Ford’s 1901 Sweepstakes racecar is part of the Racing in America collection at Henry Ford Museum and is on display daily.
“Sweepstakes is one of the key, paradigm-changing cars in our collection at The Henry Ford,” said Christian Overland, executive vice president of The Henry Ford. “To be able to have someone like Carl come out and experience what Mr. Ford felt when he drove Sweepstakes back in 1901 is important in helping others understand the challenge he was facing that day going against the best driver in America. The result of that race changed the automotive world as we know it.”