The Best and Brightest, Drivers sound off on 100 years of Ford racing
(All photos by Pete Biro)
To say Ford has been a major player in auto racing for the last 100 years is a bit of an understatement. The company has won virtually everywhere— Le Mans, Monaco, Indy, Bonneville, you name it. The Blue Oval has claimed series titles in Formula One, Indy cars, NASCAR, Trans-Am, sports car racing, sprints and midgets. As part of the company’s 100th year, we asked prominent Ford drivers about their greatest Ford-driving memories. Here’s what they told us.
Mario Andretti: Well, I won the Indy 500 with Ford power, the Daytona 500 with Ford power, six championships with Ford power, Sebring with Ford power and Monza with Ford power, which for me was incredible satisfaction. I could go on and on. I don’t really know where to stop.
Stig Blomqvist: The Ford RS200 rally car was awesome. [Blomqvist drove the RS200 in 1986 and won three rallies and was the World Rally champion in ’84 in an Audi]. We weren’t always the fastest but that car really handled. ’Course, then they [the FIA] killed Group B and it was all history. It was really fun while it lasted, though.
W.C. Junie Donlavey: The first car I ever drove was a Model A Ford, a blue, two-door coach. I was 15 at the time and that car made me the king of the block. It was 1939 and that was a big, big thing for a teenage boy from Richmond. And my first race car was a ’39 Ford-powered Modified. The night Edsel Ford came to Richmond to give me the Spirit of Ford Award was a very, very special night. I looked at the list of everybody who’d won it and thought to myself, “What have I done to deserve this?” That was a big deal because of who gave it to me and who else had gotten it. The people at Ford have always been very, very good to me and my teams. They’re some of the best friends I have in racing.
John Force: When we finally got that 100th win in Houston last year, I’d have to say that was the greatest day I’ve had in my Mustang. When I got started racing, nobody would have looked at me and believed I could win 10 races, let alone 100. Winning my 11th championship to break the record was great, and getting the 86th win was special because it was a record that had stood for so long, but winning that 100th race is something I’ll always be proud of.
A.J. Foyt: My big moment had to be being the first American driver, with [Dan] Gurney, to win Le Mans with an American car and an American team [1967 in a Ford GT40]. That had to be the biggest, even though I won Daytona for them, the Fourth of July for them and Riverside for them.
Bob Glidden: I had so many great moments in my career. But winning that race in 1996 was really special [referring to his last-ever win in Denver]. Some racers say their first win was their favorite. For me, it was that one.
Dan Gurney: There were three things, almost equally special: each of the cars I won Indy with; winning Le Mans with A.J.; and the 500-mile stock car races, I won five of them. But I think there’s also one more that was very special. I got a chance one time back at the Greenfield Museum to drive No. 999. That’s one of the more memorable, very, very special moments—a chance to touch history. That meant a great deal. It was fabulous. It was during the wintertime. It was arranged by the curator of the museum. They said would you care to drive this thing? Of course it was hallowed ground, so to speak, there was still snow in patches. The test track was without snow. So they wheeled it out and here it was, this thing from 1904. Apparent-ly it held the world land speed record at 94 mph, which was pretty impressive for its day. It had a four-cylinder engine of around 14 liters. Maximum rpm was 680. The crankcase had no pan on it. It had rods and crankshaft and everything visible. It had four different bronze cylinder heads. Apparently it had been used quite a bit. The clutch was an internal centrifugal clutch inside this gigantic flywheel.
I’d guess 36 inches in diameter. It was a big devil, thick. The clutch fit inside of it. This thing must have weighed 500 pounds. The clutch had wooden shoes on it. As the revs came up at about 60 or 65 rpm, the clutch would finally lock up. It only had one speed. It had a tiller for steering and different things to control the spark and a hand throttle and a wooden chassis frame. It had been driven by Henry Ford. He was the one who drove it to the record. So I got out on the test track and as I was getting to know it, I started to get in the spirit of it, as it was approaching lockup, I gave her full throttle and it actually accelerated pretty good. At that moment there was a big bang and one of the cylinder heads went about 30 to 40 feet in the air. I said, “Oh my goodness I’ve damaged this heirloom.” But the caretaker said, “Don’t worry about that, it’s happened before several times.” There it was, something that had held a world speed record, something driven by Henry Ford. To be able to wheel something like that out of a museum... I was familiar with other record-holding cars, but nothing as old or as much of a pioneer as that was.
Johnny Herbert: For most of my career I’d driven Ford-powered cars, so to give Ford its first Formula One win in five years in 1999 was something special. My win in the Stewart Ford in the 1999 European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring seemed a good way to pay them back. I think I drove a good race in difficult conditions that day. I’d been watching the clouds and knew the wind direction, so I was able to make the right choice on tires. That put me up toward the front, and I was able to pick off the place from there.
Dick Johnson: Winning the 1981 Australian Touring Car Championship and Bathurst [1000-kilometer endurance race] in the same year, in a Ford Falcon XD, would have to be my most memorable racing achievement. It was the first time ever a Queensland-based Ford team won the championship and Bathurst. That was pretty special.
Parnelli Jones: I’ve driven a lot of Fords. Won a stock car championship in a Mercury, and I won the Motor Trend 500 at Riverside, the L.A. Times Grand Prix, won Pikes Peak in a Mercury. Won the Baja 1000 twice in Fords, my cars won Indy with a Ford. In Trans-Am I won the championship for them in 1970, that was a thrill because we were under a lot of pressure. Each one of those was great, they were highs. It’s hard to say one was greater than the other.
Klaus Ludwig: I have so many good memories from years with Ford, from racing Zakspeed Escorts and Capris in the German DRM sports car series to driving the Mustang and Probe IMSA contenders in the U.S. Then there’s my time in the Eggenberger Ford Sierra RS500s, finishing second in the World Touring Car Championship in 1987 was another highlight. One of my best drives for the Blue Oval, however, has to be the IMSA race at Sears Point in 1981. I was driving a Miller Ford Mustang, which was effectively a Zakspeed Capri, and I overtook Brian Redman’s GTP Lola on the final lap to win.
Bobby Rahal: For me as a fan, Ford’s memorable moment in racing history was winning Le Mans in ’66, and how they took so many Americans over with them, guys like Gurney and [Bob] Bondurant and Jerry Grant, all of those great drivers. As a car guy, the day I bought my 427 Cobra, because as a teenager I lusted after that car, I thought it was the ultimate. And as a driver, I certainly won a lot of races with Cosworths, and if it hadn’t been for Ford there would probably be no Cosworth. And I have to say, being chosen team principal of Jaguar Formula One was a big moment for me personally. When Neil Ressler asked me, I was tremendously proud.
Michael Schumacher: Obviously my most memorable racing experience with Ford was in 1994. I was driving with a Ford engine to my first world championship in Formula One, and it is clear that this was something extraordinary for me. If somebody would have told me I would become world champion when I was young, I would have burst out laughing. I remember I was standing there at the podium with totally mixed feelings, I could not really understand what had happened. It was just crazy. That year clearly is strongly linked to Ford.
Carroll Shelby: I got a lot of ’em. When I built the cars that won Le Mans in ’66 and ’67. When a Cobra won Daytona in ’65. Those are all wonderful memories. My cars have won over 10,000 races. There’s so many wonderful memories there. The first time I drove the first Cobra, that I still own, you knew ya’ had something very special. That was a thrill. When you win Le Mans as a driver, then come back and win it in a car you built. It went on for years. When we took a mule and made it out into a racehorse—we took a Mustang in ’64 and beat the Corvettes for six or seven years. Aw, they’s just so many wonderful memories. I can’t pick one. You go ahead and pick one.
Lyn St. James: I started driving for Ford in 1981, and 1985 was the standout year. My first professional win was in the IMSA GTO class in ’85 at Elkhart Lake. I won the next race, too, at Watkins Glen. The next year I was in the GTP car. I’d have to say 1985 launched my career inside Ford.
Jackie Stewart: I suppose winning my first world championship with Ford, in 1969, would be the highlight. But there are so many. Of my 27 wins [in 99 starts], 25 were with Ford power and all three of my titles, 1969, ’71 and ’73, were with Ford and I finished second in ’72. So I was very much part of the Cosworth DFV’s domination as the winningest F1 engine. Today I am a con******t to Ford, doing things such as training vehicle dynamic engineers who are developing future product. So I’ve gone from sport to the production-car side, which is, I think, a unique relationship in the automobile business. It’s a relationship I cherish.
Glen Wood: There have been so many on-track memories. Winning with Dale Jarrett at Michigan, his first win, and it was ahead of Davey Allison by just a little bit. Tiny Lund at Daytona in 1963, and David Pearson beating Richard Petty in the 1976 race. But maybe the biggest thing was being asked to induct Henry Ford into the Interna-tional Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega in 1993. I mean, of all the people they could have asked, they came to me. I couldn’t believe it because it was such a big honor. Then nine years later, Edsel Ford II agreed to induct me into the same hall. I couldn’t have asked for a better person. It made me real proud because that hall of fame meant I had earned it. Really, me inducting Henry Ford was as big a thrill as having Edsel induct me.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....