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Henry Ford’s Own Story

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Henry Ford’s Own Story
Chapter XVIII
WINNING A RACE

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Return to Henry Ford’s Own Story - Chapter XVII - ANOTHER EIGHT YEARS

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Chapter XVIII - WINNING A RACE

COFFEE JIM pondered the situation. He knew Ford thoroughly ; he believed in the car. To win the Grosse Point races would give Ford his chance a chance he was missing for lack of money. Coffee Jim thought of his own bank ac count, which had been growing for years, nickel by nickel, dime by dime, from the profits on fried- ham sandwiches and hamburger and onions.

"See here, Ford," he said suddenly : "I'll take a chance. I ll back you. You go on, quit your job, build that car and race her. I ll put up the money."

Ford accepted the offer without hesitation. He believed in the car. Coffee Jim waved aside Ford's suggestion of securing the loan by his personal note, or by a mortgage on the little house.

"Take the money ; that's all right. Pay it back when you can. Your word s good enough for me/ he said. He believed in Ford.

It was a demonstration of the practical value of friendship a pure sentiment which had come unexpectedly to the rescue when all material means had failed.

Hard work, real ability, business sagacity, had been unable to give Ford the start which his friendship with the owner of the little lunch wagon had brought him. It was one of those ex periences which helped to form Ford s business philosophy, that philosophy which sounds so impractical and has proved so successful.

"Any man who considers everything from the standpoint of the most good to the most people will never want for anything," he says. "No, I don t mean mental influence, or psychic attraction, or anything like that. I mean plain common sense. That s the attitude that makes friends all kinds of friends, everywhere, some that you never even hear about and friends bring all the rest."

He took Coffee Jim s money, gave up his job at the Edison plant, and went to work on the little racer.

"It seemed pretty good to be able to work all day on the car, as well as the evenings," he says.

He took down the engine and entirely rebuilt it, substituting the best of material for the make shifts he had been obliged to use. He spent long hours designing a racing body, figuring out problems of air-resistance and weight.

Eight months of careful thought and work went into that car. At last, in the early summer of 1902, it was finished. At 4 o'clock one morning, business being over at the lunch wagon, he and Coffee Jim took it out for a trial.

It ran like the wind. Down the quiet, vacant streets of Detroit, in the gray chill of early morn ing, they raced at a speed that made the houses on either side blur into a gray haze. Coffee Jim clung breathlessly to the mechanic s seat, while Ford bent over the steering lever and gave her more power, and still more power.

"Holy Moses, she sure does run!" Coffee Jim gasped, when the car slowed down smoothly and stopped. "You ll win that race sure as shoot ing."

"Yes, she's a good little car," Ford said, look ing it over critically. "She s a pretty good little car." He stood looking at it, his hands in his pockets.

"I ve got an idea for a four-cylinder motor that will beat her, though," he said. "It s too late to build it now ; we ll have to put this one in the race. But I ll make a car yet that ll beat this as much as this beats a bicycle."

It was not a boast; it was a simple statement of fact. The little racer was finished, thoroughly well done; he spent no more thought on it. Already his mind was reaching ahead, plan ning a better one.

It may be imagined with what anxiety the Fords awaited the day of the races. Ford was to be his own driver, and Mrs. Ford s dread of losing the race was mixed with fear for his safety if there should be an accident. She had seen the car in the tryout, and its speed terrified her, though Ford assured her, with masculine clumsiness, that even greater speed had been made in previous races. Alexander Winton of Cleveland, then the track champion of the country, had beaten it more than once. On the racetrack, Ford said, he was confident he could do better. Later there was a quiet tryout on the racetrack that showed Ford he was right, though he kept secret the exact time he had made.

On the day of the races enormous crowds gathered at the Grosse Point tracks. It was the first automobile track meeting ever held in Michigan, and excitement ran high. Alexander Win- ton was there, confident and smiling in his car, which had broken so many records. The crowds cheered him wildly.

Ford, quiet and perhaps a little white with the tension, drove his car out on the tracks, was greeted with a few uncertain cheers.

"Who s that?" people said.

"Oh, that s a Detroit man let s see, what is his name? Ford never heard of him before. Funny little car, isn t it?"

"Maybe he s been put in to fill out. He s the only man against Winton in the free-for-all. They couldn t get a real car to race Winton."

"Hi, there s Cooper! Cooper! Rah!" The crowd got to its feet and cheered Tom Cooper, the bicycle champion, who strolled on to the field and chatted with Winton.

Ford was outside it all. He had been too busy working on his car, had had too little money, to be on intimate terms with the big men of the automobile business, or to become friendly with champions.

One supposes he wasted no regrets on the situ ation. He had his car, the concrete form of his mechanical ideas. The time had come to test their value. If they were right he would win the race; if they were wrong he would go back to his shed and work out better ones. He examined the car again, looked to the gasoline and oil, and was ready.

Coffee Jim, slapping him on the shoulder, said, "All right, Ford, go to it !" and hurried up to his seat in the grandstand, where Mrs. Ford and the boy were already sitting, tense with excitement and apprehension.

Winton waved his cap in a last response to the roar from the crowd, pulled it down tight and settled back into his seat. The signal came. Ford, bending over his steering lever, threw on the power and felt the car jump forward. The race was on.

It happened thirteen years ago, but there are still people in Detroit who talk of that race. They describe the start, the enthusiasm for Winton, the surprise of the crowd when the little car, driven by nobody knew whom, hung on grimly just be hind the champion, to the end of the first stretch, through the second stretch, well on to the third. Winton s car shot ahead then. The crowd cheered him madly. Then the roar died down in amazement. The little car, with a burst of speed, over took the champion, and the two cars shot past the grandstand side by side and sped into the second lap.

Into the silence came a yell from Coffee Jim: "Ford ! Yah, Ford ! Go it, go it, go it ! Ford !" The crowd went crazy.

No one knew clearly what was happening. "Ford! Ford! Winton! He s ahead! Go it, go it! Winton! Come on, come on! Look at em! Look at em! Ford!" they yelled.

Then the two cars swept into the final stretch abreast ; the crowd, wild with excitement, hoarse, disheveled, was standing on the seats, roaring, "Come on, come on, come on ! Ford ! Ford !"

Every detail of that race must still be distinct in Ford s mind, but he sums them all in one con cise sentence :

"It was SOME race. I won it."

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

Source:  Wikisource


Go to Henry Ford’s Own Story - Chapter XIX - RAISING CAPITAL


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