NASCAR driver Carl Edwards has made history on race track surfaces everywhere since the beginning of his career, but the once in a lifetime experience he had driving Sweepstakes changed him forever, much like it did for Henry Ford, who built the car along with principal designer Oliver Barthel.
Sweepstakes carried Ford to victory in the first and only race he ever drove — the race against Alexander Winton on October 10, 1901, in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.
Edsel B. Ford II, great-grandson of Henry Ford, invited Edwards out to Greenfield Village located in Dearborn, Michigan to learn more about the history of the vehicle and eventually learn to drive the historic 1901 race car. Edwards is only the second NASCAR driver allowed behind the wheel of Sweepstakes to date.
“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.”
In those days race cars had to have an on board mechanic. The timing had to be advanced and controlled, as well as many other elements of the engine’s operation. In fact the mechanic was often hanging off the side of the car performing adjustments during the race.
Ford’s win changed everything for him, and ultimately the history of the auto industry. Onlookers that day became investors and along with his $1,000 winnings, set him on the path to establish Ford Motor Company in June 1903.
Henry Ford’s 1901 Sweepstakes race car is part of the Racing in America collection at Henry Ford Museum and is on display daily.