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October 10, 1901 - one hundred years ago, a racing event on this date changed the world forever. Ford Motor Company celebrated the 100th anniversary of this date in 2001 as the first major milestone leading up to the celebration of the centennial of the corporation in 2003.

In 1901, Henry Ford made an audacious challenge to Alexander Winton, the most accomplished automobile builder and racer at that time. Henry Ford challenged Winton to a 10-lap car race at the Detroit Driving Club in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

From the outset, it looked like Henry wouldn't have a chance. Most cars of the time had 40 horsepower engines, and Winton's racecar had 70 horsepower. But Henry's car produced only 26 horsepower from its 8.8L 2-cylinder engine. Henry's secret was a formula that would help propel Porsche racecars to successes a half-century later - light weight.

Henry Ford was out to prove that efficient, lightweight vehicles could outperform big cars. Henry was 38 years old in 1901 and had failed at his first try at starting a car company. He even endured the indignity of moving himself, his wife and son back into his father's house after becoming financially strapped due to his failed automotive venture. At that point, Henry might've just slipped into obscurity as just another dreamer with a vision. But Henry understood the value of publicity and recognition, and he knew that challenging Winton to a race would give him the exposure he needed, especially if he prevailed over Winton.

With the help of designer Otto Barthel and racer Ed "Spider" Huff, Henry built a car named "Sweepstakes." It was an appropriate name considering the long odds they were facing in a race with Winton. This car incorporated the first modern spark plugs, a rudimentary fuel-injection system and an early version of the planetary transmission later made famous in the Model T. The ignition system was a precursor to the modern distributorless coil-pack ignitions, in that the "wasted spark" system that was used fired on both the compression and exhaust strokes.

The nationally publicized race was held on October 10, 1901 at the old Grosse Point Blue Ribbon Track. The grandstands were packed with an estimated 8,000 spectators. The main event of the day was the 25-mile race between Henry Ford and Alexander Winton. It was the first and only time that Henry would ever drive a racecar in competition. At the outset, Winton took the lead and stayed in front for the first 7 of the 10 laps. But Winton's car sputtered, and the Sweepstakes passed him right in front of the crowded stands. Henry went on to win the race by a large margin, averaging 45 miles per hour.

For the victory, Henry Ford won $1,000 in prize money and a cut-glass punch bowl as a trophy. The punch bowl was actually selected by Winton's sales manager, who persuaded the organizers of the race to pick something that looked good in Winton's home. That's how over-confident they were, and how much of an underdog Henry Ford was. The bowl occupied a place of honor in Henry's home until after his death in 1947, and it was auctioned off in 1951 apparently with no significance attached. It went to an art gallery in New York, and then was sold to a private collector. It is not known where it is now; it is possible that it is even being used as a punch bowl in somebody's kitchen. The Ford Motor Company wants it back, being the first of many racing trophies for Ford. Ford is asking for the public's help in finding the punch-bowl trophy.

A number of people watching from the stands would later step forward and offer financial support, enabling Henry to get funding to build the 999 and Arrow racecars, and eventually to form two new automotive manufacturing ventures. One would become Cadillac (after Henry's departure), and the other was of course the Ford Motor Company founded in 1903. Henry would prove that his belief in low-cost production would put the world on wheels. Ironically, the car he later would produce, the Model T, would also have 26 horsepower.

The Sweepstakes car was sold by Henry in 1902, but he later got it back in the 1930s and it was restored and used for some promotion. The car was then moved to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan where it was shown to the public on and off until 1987. It was originally thought that the car at the museum was a reproduction made in the 1930s, but as the centennial of the race approached, that supposition changed. John Valentine, chief engineer at Ford Research and Vehicle Technology thought it would be great to have even a replica of the Sweepstakes running at special events during the Ford Racing 100th Anniversary celebrations. When engineers got the car out of mothballs at the museum in an attempt to get it in running order, they made an interesting discovery. After removing the bodywork and looking deeper into its workings, they were soon convinced that it was indeed the original car and not a reproduction. They found things that never would have been replicated in the 1930s to make a display car, such as the intricate fuel "vaporizer" system. They also found numerous holes in the chassis where parts had been attached then moved or replaced with something else, as would be common with the development of a racecar. Once it was realized they had the original Sweepstakes car, the scope of the project shifted to a thorough restoration of the original and the production of two replicas to be used at events around the world. They were careful not to damage the original car in any way, and the restored Sweepstakes will now take up residence at the Henry Ford Museum.

In commemoration of the 1901 race, the Ford Motor Company hosted the Ford Racing Centennial Festival, billed as being the most comprehensive gathering of vintage Ford racecars ever assembled in one location. The event took place October 13-14 on the grounds of Greenfield Village in Dearborn and included the participation of several notable drivers (such as Dan Gurney, Jackie Stewart, Ned Jarrett and Bob Glidden) plus owners and personalities who helped shape Ford Racing history. The SAE Press has also re-released The Dust & the Glory, a narrative history of Ford Racing from 1901 through 1968, and released a sequel, The Dust & the Glory Volume II, the history of Ford Racing from 1968 to 2000.

There have been many successful Ford racecars that have won many prestigious events, such as the stunning GT-40 victories at LeMans, Ford's numerous NASCAR stock-car wins and scores of open-wheel racing triumphs, but the Ford victory on October 10, 1901 was truly "the race that changed the world."
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