CONCORD, N.C. — On Oct. 10, 1901, Henry Ford I wheeled his state-of-the-art Ford Sweepstakes to a rousing, upset victory against Alexander Winton.
That win launched Ford Motor Company from hope to reality. And 121 years later, Leonard Wood provided the gift of all gifts to Edsel Ford, Ford’s great-grandson.
Wood, a member of the legendary Wood Brothers, handcrafted a complete, working half-scale model of the prestigious vehicle, carefully piecing together an identical car at 50% the size with the same materials as the original, presenting it to Edsel Ford himself on Sunday morning at the Ford Performance Technical Center.
Wood and his late brother Glen, founders of Wood Brothers Racing’s NASCAR Cup Series team in 1950, each received replicas of the vehicle for the car’s 100th anniversary back in 2001. Shortly after the 120th anniversary — and some three months after his 87th birthday — Wood got to work on a replica of his own.
“I looked at this thing and said, ‘What more rewarding would it be to make a half size one of these?’ ” Wood told NASCAR.com.
The details were immaculate. Wood took some 120 photos of the original to understand how each part of the car was designed before setting his plan of attack. As Wood began to work, he requested the help of Benny Belcher, a machinist who’s worked with the Woods since 1986. Belcher meticulously molded the brass handles and latches that don the car, including the automatic oiler that sits within the driver’s compartment.
Mike “Andretti” Smith, who’s worked with WBR since 1990 in numerous roles, was charged with paint-matching the original piece and sent no less than 20 paint chips to Michigan to find the perfect hues.
Edsel Ford was aware Wood was pursuing this project. But the resulting work of art still left Ford flabbergasted as Wood drove the model through the garage doors and to his feet.
“Well, I was told it was 50% the size of the original car. Of course, it’s hard to comprehend what that means until Leonard drove it in,” Ford said. “And then you see it for the first time and I was overwhelmed. Then you get a closer look at it, and you see the detail that went into making it. It’s just, it’s remarkable.”
Wood is no stranger to half-scale projects, recently recreating a model of a 1967 Ford 427 engine in 2021 that powered the 1967 Ford GT40 Mk. IV to a win at the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans. But working on a muted scale means measuring, halving and working in more confined ways. The process included work with ash wood, brass, rubber, metal. No automation machining was done; this was all created by hand.
The pride Wood takes in his final product is evident in his voice.
“The fun part about it was looking at it and seeing how he made it and why he made it this way,” Wood said. “And all of it shows how intelligent the man was, the way he did it. Now, we’re talking about 1901 and he made the brake bands to where they pull from both sides together, rather than just one band tied and then pulling a half of it. It pulls the band, which makes it brake way more effective. And then he had adjustments to adjust the rear-end housing in back to tighten the chain. He’s got turnbuckles to align the rear wheels you know, towed in or out and to bring them forward or back and it drives awesome. It drives better than a go-kart.”
Ford relished the moments spent inspecting the model-scale Sweepstakes. Without the original, Ford, as it exists today, may never have come to fruition.
“I was with a group of people that we put together to look at the legacy of Clara and Henry Ford,” Ford said. “And we were looking at dates (Saturday), and Henry Ford started three times to make an automobile company. And it really was the last time that he was successful in 1903. And, of course, this was October 1901 [when the Sweepstakes became victorious].
“And many of us — and I can’t speak for my family — but many of us believe that if Henry Ford hadn’t won the race, that he wouldn’t have had enough money to start the Ford Motor Company. And so for me, this means a great deal.”
The Wood Brothers have always been closely tied to Ford. Throughout the company’s history dating back to its inaugural Cup start in 1953, the only manufacturers WBR competed with were Ford, Lincoln or Mercury — all under the Ford banner.
“My uncle bought a brand new ’40 Ford in 1940 and I was like 7 years old,” Wood said. “[The car was] maroon, same color the frame of this, and I’ve been a fan of Ford products for more than 80 years. We’ve run nothing but Fords for 72 years, and to make a half-scale replica of the most famous race car in the world, and then to come in and show it off, it’s just, it’s the most gratifying thing I ever made.”