Henry Ford II (1917-1987) had a nickname that I happen to like; "Hank the Deuce." Ford was CEO of Ford Motor Company from 1945 to 1960 when he retired. His achievements included taking Ford from a private company to a publicly traded company in 1956. His father was Edsel Ford and his grandfather was the great and innovative Henry Ford, who brought the first affordable automobile to the American middle-class. He also invented the charcoal briquette (ever hear of that?) His grandson, "Hank the Deuce" was just as innovative. He was Ford Motor's chairman of the board from 1960 to 1979.
I know what you're thinking. What do Mitch Barnhart and Henry Ford II have in common? I am about to tell you.
"Hank the Deuce" took Ford Motor Company into racing during the heyday of, perhaps, the greatest period of the automotive industry. The Indianapolis 500 became more popular due to television and Formula I and GT racing became popular largely due to Hollywood making movies about racing.
Ford also wanted to go all in and made an attempt to buy Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari refused to sell. Ford wasn't used to hearing "No." He created Ford Advanced Vehicles which created a 4.2 liter engine in 1963 for the Indianapolis 500.
Mitch Barnhart bought Ferrari in the form of John "The Magician" Calipari and his staff. Some critics say he can't coach, but like Ferrari, he somehow manages to win. While Ford wanted to go all in with racing, Barnhart made the decision to get The University of Kentucky basketball back into the hoops equivalent; competing at the highest level. The results speak for themselves. I submit to you that Kentucky basketball has a history that matches that of Ferrari.
Using that 4.2 liter Indianapolis engine, Ford decided to build a GT mid-engine car designed to win at Le Mans. Ford built three GT prototypes called the GT 40 which raced at Le Mans in 1964. None of the three finished the race, but one set a new lap record of 3:49.4 (131.7 mph).
In 1965, Ford hired Carroll Shelby and his Shelby-American Racing to take the Ford GT project to a higher level, namely win Le Mans. In 2012, Mitch Barnhart hired Mark Stoops to take Kentucky football to a higher level.
Shelby immediately replaced the 4.2 liter engine with the Shelby Cobra 4.7 liter 289 cubic inch 385 hp engine. He replaced the existing gear system, made improvements to the clutch, drive shaft and the fuel feed system. He also improved the cooling and aerodynamics. This enhanced machine made its debut in the 1965 Daytona Continental Race, finishing the race with one car winning and another in third place. None, however, were able to compete at Le Mans because of new rules imposed. In order to compete for the production sports car category at Le Mans, automakers had to produce 50 cars. Ford didn't make the cut until after the 1965 race.
Mark Stoops also made immediate changes upon arrival at Kentucky. He brought in a new conditioning program and hired Eric Korem to run it. Stoops and his staff began improving the acquisition of players by changing directions in recruiting and Junior College transfers, installed a new offense and a new defense under Neal Brown and T.J. Eliot, and began a change in culture throughout the entire football program. He convinced the university to make facilities changes that will take the program to a higher level with the goal of competing in the Southeastern Conference, the Le Mans of college football.
While Carroll Shelby and Ford won it all at Le Mans in 1966 by taking first, second and third, it will take longer for Stoops and Kentucky to reach the same level of excellence. Ford already had a good product, while Kentucky almost has to start from scratch. Kentucky has started with a Model A and is trying to build a GT 40.
Postscript and links:
The car in the photograph is a replica of the Mirage Gulf race car that was used in the movie "Le Mans" which starred Steve McQueen and it later became the camera car in the 1970 24 hour Le Mans. Here's a history of the car (including photos) and the GT 40. You can watch the car in action here.
My wife and I ran across the replica in the opening photo and took several photos of it and talked to the owner. The car runs a street version of the Ford 289 engine. Here's a picture of the car and my fat butt which the owner took with my wife's cell phone:
What's unusual is we were checking out the restaurant at the Boggy Creek Resort and RV Park on East Lake Toho (short for Tohopekaliga) in St. Cloud, FL. Don't ask me how to pronounce Tohopekaliga, I'm from Kentucky. It is formerly known as Boggy Creek Fish Camp and is a known hangout for fishermen from Kentucky. I found out about this place from my landscape company. The owner is originally from Irvine, KY. As we drove up to the restaurant, the car was parked in the parking lot. My wife couldn't understand my excitement at seeing this car.
Great Account of the Race (more detailed)