Ford v Ferrari and the 24 Hours at Daytona

Full disclosure: I know nothing about motor sports. I didn’t even know motor sports were called motor sports (it was just car racing in my head) before attending the 24 Hours of Daytona race this weekend. Granted, I knew a little bit about the event going in, but that’s only because I saw Ford v Ferrari, the 2019 Oscar-nominated Best Picture film that, among other things, has Christian Bale (playing historical driver Ken Miles) driving the race in 1966 while Matt Damon (playing car designer Carroll Shelby) urges him on from the sidelines.

As it turns out, Ford v Ferrari’s portrayal of the 24 Hours of Daytona as well as France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans gave a good, albeit historical, representation of what a day-long motor race is like. I know my non-expert opinion doesn’t mean much here, but even those who have direct racing experience agree: “I really loved the movie,” said Cooper MacNeil right before he drove the 24 Hours of Daytona this weekend in a WeatherTech Ferrari. “It was a great depiction of motor sports and especially Le Mans in the 60s.” 

Things Have Changed in Motor Sports Since the Ford v Ferrari Days, But Some Things Have Remained the Same

Cooper, along with former drivers attending the race this weekend, were also quick to point out that a lot has changed in motor sports since the 1960s. It’s a lot safer for one—while driver deaths were far from uncommon in the 50s and 60s, they are a rare thing today, although people still get banged up pretty good if things go wrong. It’s also a lot faster today; unlike the RPM restraints depicted in the movie, today’s car engines can handle going all-out, all the time. 

One thing that hasn’t seemed to change over time, however, is that the races are very fast, very loud events. In Ford v Ferrari, the gunning of car engines is a constant refrain during the racing scenes. It was the same this weekend; wherever you went on the speedway, there was the ever-present thrum of the cars speeding around you, whether you’re up close to track near the pit stops or inside one of the buildings. 

Another thing that hasn’t completely gone away are certain mechanical snafus popping up at inopportune times. In Ford v Ferrari, for example, Miles was unable to close the door during his first lap at Le Mans, something that was only remedied by using a rubber mallet to knock it back into place. Despite improvements in car design and technology, failures like this remained a staple of the sport in the decades after Ford v Ferrari.  “I had a door fly off,” recalls Hurley Haywood, a race driver who drove from the 1970s through the early 1990s. “Talk about getting your attention—they put a new door on but the door didn’t fit properly, so one of the mechanics took his belt off…and latched it that way. The angle of the airflow then got deflected away from the intercooler and we fried an engine. The engine seized with one lap to go, and we puttered around with a sister car catching us, and luckily we managed to get across the finish line. It sounds kind of crazy, but it happens all the time.” 

Successfully Recreating the 1960s Racing World in Ford v Ferrari

One of the main goals of Ford v Ferrari was to make the 1960s motor sports world—both its mechanical failures and its triumphant wins—believable. “We were focused on making things as realistic as possible and to get the audience to feel what it’s like to be in Ken Miles’s position,” explains Robert Nagle, Stunt Coordinator on the film. Based on the positive responses from those intimately involved in the sport, it’s clear Ford v Ferrari succeeded. Nagle and his team achieved this by focusing on practical stunts—which involved 20-25 vehicles going speeds up to 185 MPH—instead of CGI to transform snippets of 4-5 locations in Georgia into France’s Le Mans 1966 speedway. 

For those looking for more on Ford v Ferrari’s recreation of Le Mans, there’s a featurette included with the new digital release that delves into the details, something that even those involved in the project are excited to see. “I’m looking forward to the digital release because I get to pause it,” Jeff Bucknum, a former professional race car driver who was a stunt driver on the film, says with a smile. “I was caught up so much in the movie, how well the script was written and the storyline…I loved it. I loved the acting and I almost missed some of the stuff I did in the movie as far as driving…. So when I buy the digital, I’m going to pause it and see my one second of fame.”

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Ford v Ferrari is available on digital right now and on 4K Ultra-HD, Blu-Ray and DVD February 11

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