Five must-sees at The Henry Ford’s ‘Driven to Win’ racing exhibit

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 5, 2021

Dearborn — Behind the giant McDonald’s Hamburgers sign (over 160 million sold!) and sandwiched between the airplane and locomotive exhibits in The Henry Ford is one delicious serving of motorhead red meat.

“Driven to Win: Racing in America” opened March 27, and it’s a must on Detroit’s spring menu.

The entrance to The Henry Ford's "Driven to Win: Racing in America" exhibit. Joey Logano's championship NASCAR from 2018 is featured.

Occupying 24,000 square feet of floor space in the museum’s American Innovation building, the permanent exhibit is touted as America’s most comprehensive exhibit of motor sport.

True to The Henry Ford’s purpose, it draws on multiple resources — including those of sponsors like General Motors, Italian brake maker Brembo and Canadian racing supplier Multimatic — to showcase the evolution of U.S. auto racing.

Through 13 years of planning, building and acquisition, curator Matt Anderson and his elves have assembled the human — as well as mechanical — aspects of the sport. The narrative is both sweeping (covering everything from IndyCar to land speed racing) and meticulous in detail (a corner of the exhibit is dedicated to racing movies).

It all adds up to a display that can be visited over and over again. Here are my five highlights:

Behind the wheel of a Porsche GT3 simulator at The Henry Ford's "Driven to Win: Racing in America" exhibit.

1) The simulators. This exhibit will keep you coming back. At its heart is a bull ring of six racing simulators. With three big wrap-around screens and hydraulic hardware, the sophisticated sims let drivers age 10-plus take the wheel against other competitors for a 15-minute race around one of the world’s race tracks. My simulated race was aboard a Porsche GT3 at the Red Bull Ring in Austria.

The racing was intense, but not too technical. Follow the racing line (helpfully laid out on the pavement before you), be patient, and you might just score a podium — assuming you can survive the Turn 1 mayhem. Then go online and see how your lap times compare with other racers before you.

A 15-minute film puts you behind the wheel with IndyCar champ Josef Newgarden at The Henry Ford's "Driven to Win: Racing in America" exhibit.

2) The film. “Fueled by Passion” is a big-screen, 16-minute film that immerses you in the racing world from five perspectives: Breehanna Daniels (NASCAR tire changer), Brittany Force (drag racer), Tim Hardy (Pikes Peak BMW racer), Josef Newgarden (IndyCar champ) and Megan Volk (Bonneville Salt Flats racer).

The fast-paced film takes you to highs and lows of motorsport as these competitors tell their stories. It’ll get your heart racing for the rest of the exhibit.

The #68, Le Mans-winning Ford GT at The Henry Ford's "Driven to Win: Racing in America" exhibit.

3) Sports Car Performance Center. Behind this doorway is the Ford GT, the most stunning supercar ever conceived, in three guises. There’s a full-size clay model used by designers, two halves of a production GT and GT race car fused together to show you how closely they compare, and the actual #68 GT race car — still wearing the bugs and sweat of the race track — that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016, 50 years after Ford’s first victory at the legendary French circuit.

A wall of screens take you onboard for a high-velocity lap around Le Mans with video as well as telemetry charting #68’s speed, engine temps and lateral g-loads, among other data. It’s not just any lap, either — but the very lap where driver Joey Hand overtook arch-rival Ferrari for the lead.

Jimmy Clark's 1965 Indy 500-winning Lotus at The Henry Ford's "Driven to Win: Racing in America" exhibit.

4) The cars. Assembled here are priceless legends of motorsports. Everyone will have their favorite. Two of mine:

  •  Jimmy Clark’s Lotus Type 38 was the first mid-engine racer to win the Indianapolis 500, in 1965. No front-engine car would win it again. The Flying Scot was also a harbinger of winners to come as today’s race is populated by the world’s best drivers.
  •  The 2011 Ford Fusion brought 20-year-old Trevor Bayne across the Daytona 500 finish line that year, making him the youngest driver to ever win the storied race. Like the Le Mans-winning Ford, the Fusion still wears all the battle scars of the 500-mile race.
Early racer. Henry Ford's 1901 "Sweepstakes" racer at The Henry Ford's "Driven to Win: Racing in America" exhibit.

5) Sweepstakes. The car that started it all. History seems so pat in retrospect, but Henry Ford’s place in it was hardly pre-ordained. With his first car company a failure, Ford rebuilt his reputation by racing. His 1901 “Sweepstakes” car brought him renown — and investors — when he beat well-known Cleveland automaker Alexander Winton in a 10-mile Grosse Pointe race.

Two years later, he would form the successful Ford Motor Company.

There is much more racing history to come, and “Driven to Win” will be here to chronicle it. New exhibits will be opening in the coming months as we move beyond COVID restrictions. Kids will soon enjoy an interactive, tire-changing pit stop as well as a pinewood derby track.

As the film says: “racing is in our blood.”

More to come: the NASCAR tire-changing display will open to the public as COVID recedes. The Henry Ford's "Driven to Win: Racing in America" exhibit.

Driven to Win: Racing America exhibit

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

Address: 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn

Admission: $25, adults; $22.50, senior citizens; $18.75, ages 5-11; children 4 and under are free (additional charge for In the Driver’s Seat Simulators).

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