It has been 50 years since Edsel Ford 2nd and his father, Henry Ford 2nd, smiled broadly on pit lane at the 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race.
Edsel, great-grandson of automotive pioneer Henry Ford, and “Hank the Deuce,” grandson of the iconic Dearborn automaker, had just witnessed the Ford GT40 finish 1-2-3 at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, spanking Porsche and Ferrari.
The resounding win was the first at Le Mans for an American car company, with New Zealand drivers Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon leading the way in the No. 2 Ford GT40.
At Le Mans this weekend, Edsel Ford, his wife, Cynthia, and the couple’s four boys are scheduled to be at the track to watch the all-new Ford GT return to the legendary race a half-century after the victory.
On Monday at Michigan International Speedway (MIS), Ford, 67, was in the pits as Team Penske’s Joey Logano won the NASCAR Sprint Cup race there.
He was excited for Logano but couldn’t hide his eagerness to return to the scene of a racing upset orchestrated by his father over the powerful European automakers.
“I’m thrilled to be going back with my family,” said Ford, whose father, Henry Ford 2nd, was chairman and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Company at the time of the Ford GT40 sweep of the podium. “What is etched in my mind as a 17-year-old was the 1-2-3 victory and how pleased my dad was. I’m taking my wife and kids to Le Mans. They knew my father. It’s a very special trip.”
Ford, under the direction of Chip Ganassi Racing, have entered four Ford GTs in the LM GTE Pro Class at Le Mans. Each car will have three drivers who will take shifts at the wheel during the 24-hour race.
“I’m anticipating we’ll do very well,” said Ford, who lives in Grosse Pointe Farms. “I don’t know a lot about the competition, but it appears the Ferraris are very fast and the Aston Martins, too. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
Among the drivers running the four Ford GTs are former Team Penske pilot and Indy 500 pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe and American sports car standout Joey Hand.
The two were at the Henry Ford Museum recently along with Mose Nowland, the legendary Ford Performance engine engineer who was at Le Mans in 1966 and played a key role in the crushing victory.
The three looked over the 1967 Ford GT40 there that Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt drove to the outright win at Le Mans the year after Ford’s breakthrough.
“This is very cool,” Hand said. “For a kid born and raised in California to be going to Le Mans in a Ford GT car, well, it’s just a thrill of a lifetime.”
Briscoe, a winner in the Verizon IndyCar Series, missed this year’s Indy 500 because of conflicts with the Ford GT Le Mans program.
But the Australian-born racer doesn’t mind.
“This is a whole new experience for me,” Briscoe said. “The Indy 500 is huge, but you’re stepping back in time going to Le Mans.
“This whole program has been a learning experience for me. Learning about the car, Ford and the family. It’s kind of back to the future. Nothing has ever come close to this for me as a driver,” he added.
Nowland, who is 82 and lives in Dearborn Heights, still consults for Ford Performance and works three days a week at Henry Ford Museum caring for the antique and vintage cars.
He won’t be at Le Mans this weekend, but he is sending with Briscoe and Hand a reminder of his 1966 trip to the race — a French flag “I borrowed” from atop a flagpole at the Ford GT40 garage, loaned for the race by Peugeot.