early auto racing

Henry Ford Museum – 1901 Ford ‘Sweepstakes’

Henry Ford raced to victory on a dirt track in Grosse Pointe on Oct. 10 1901, defeating Alexander Winton, the best race car driver at the time. In The Auto Race That Changed Everything video, Henry Ford wins a race in 1901 that gets him back into the car business after his earlier company went out of business. Henry Ford’s 1901 Sweepstakes racer story is a good example of the engineering design process in action.

Sweepstakes Rides Again (video 7:54 july 2013) – NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards takes the ride of a lifetime as he gets behind the wheel of Henry Ford’s first and only race car, Sweepstakes.

By 1902, Ford had piloted a race car of his own design to a victory against Alexander Winton. The experience taught Ford that his real skill lay in designing and building cars, not driving them at speed.

People in early auto racing

  • Barney Oldfield In October of 1902, Oldfield bought two Ford-constructed cars and raced one of the cars, now know as “Number 999,” in the Manufacturers Challenge Cup against Alexander Winton.

A Winning 1901 Race Car
Henry Ford was a great engineer with good ideas, and the ambition and determination to build a successful car company. Watch The Auto Race That Changed Everything video and look for examples of how Henry identifies problems and solves them.
Each question corresponds to a step in the [/Engineering%20Design%20Process Engineering Design Process].

  • Ask – Henry Ford had some big problems to solve. The video talks about several in detail.
  • Imagine – Henry Ford got help from many people to come up with the winner. There were not very many cars in 1901 and few people knew anything about them. So Henry found other people to help him – a bicycle racer and a dentist as well as others.
  • Plan – Henry worked hard on his car design for many months before the race. As he decided what strategies to use for his race car and the race, he worked on all the different parts and how to make them work together. He needed a car that could perform well for a long race, even if it wasn’t the fastest. It wasn’t like modern car races where large crews are available to repair the car during the race.
  • Create – Henry’s car was smaller and lighter than the other cars. His car included a number of performance enhancements as well.
  • Improve – While he was building and testing his car, Henry made a number of changes as he learned more about the car’s performance and the conditions for the race.

Engineering ideas

  • wheels, power-train, cylinders, fuel injection, ignition, insulation, ceramics, spark plugs, speed trials, turn apex, endurance / sprint races

Do it
Here are some challenges for you to work on…

  • Pick one part of the car and explain and share a detailed solution design proposal for that component. There are some resources listed below but you are not limited to those.
  • Limit your solution to the technologies available in 1901, but with the hindsight of 112 years of engineering.
  • Suggest a solution using all of the modern technologies available today – e.g. carbon fiber, plastics, better metallurgy, modern machining, etc. This highlights the advances made in processes and materials since 1901.

Learn more…