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America’s First Stock Car was a Hot Rod Ford

America’s First Stock Car was a Hot Rod Ford

When Ford first introduced its flathead V-8 in 1932 it was shunned by car buyers. To increase the sales of V-8 powered Fords, Henry Ford hatched an idea. He decided to promote a get involved in a racing event that would help boost the V-8’s performance image. Even way back then, Ford understood that winning on Sunday meant extra showroom traffic on Monday.
Road racing had just about disappeared in this country following World War I, but in the ‘30s the Racing Club of America began a revival with contests staged on twisting seaside circuits at Cape Cod, Mass., Alexandria Bay and Montauk, N.Y. The flathead V-8 was particularly well-suited for these events and the Ford dealer body got involved in racing by stripping down stock bodied Fords and essentially turning them into “hot rods” to compete in road races .
The Elgin National Road Races had been held in Elgin, Ill., between 1910 and 1915. The popular competition was revived in 1919-1920, but its return was short lived. Over the next 13 years no Elgin Road Races races were held, but on Aug. 26, 1933, the Elgin Road Races were brought back. And Henry Ford decided to use one of the hot rods to promote renewed interest in the Ford V-8.
Ford realized that there would be no boost in sales if a Ford didn’t win the race. Little would be gained if his cars came in behind the Chevrolets, Dodges, and Plymouths. To guarantee that the Fords would win the checkered flag, Henry enlisted the services of racing guru Harry A. Miller to dial in his cars for top speed. With Miller tuning the engines for a big win, Ford realized he also needed winning drivers. For this role, he turned to 1932 Indy 500 winner Fred Frame. 
With its heavy factory backing, the 1933 Elgin National Road Race race for stock cars became the first sanctioned race for “production” automobiles. The competing vehicles supposedly came straight from the assembly lines, although Fred Frame’s roadster looked more like an early hot rod than a racing car.  Henry Ford understood that a win by his cars would bring customers into Ford dealerships. He was determined to pull out all stops to achieve a major victory.
Ford's plan worked perfectly. By the end of the 203-mile race, his hot rods had taken all of the first seven spots. The only rivals to come close were the eighth place Plymouth and the tenth place Chevrolet. A Ford was also ninth. 
The winner of the first stock car race was Fred Frame, with Cote Motor Co. sponsorship. Cote was a New England dealership owned by Arthur V. Cote, who also owned Ford Power Products of Boston, Mass. This car, now owned by auctioneer Dana Mecum, is regarded to be the first American stock racing car.  
Elgin, Ill., was the racing capital of the world in the early part of the 20th century, but the course had too many tight turns that scared drivers away. Eventually, safety concerns did the race in, but it was still the inspiration of several books and articles including E. C. Alft’s Elgin; William E. Bennett’s Elgin, Illinois “Wish You Were Here” and J. C. Burton’s article, “Stutz Sweeps Card at Elgin” in a 1915 Motor Age Magazine. Also of interest is Elgin Road Race Scrapbook compiled by the Elgin Area Historical Museum. A 60th-anniversary brochure called The Story of the Elgin Road Races was also produced.