Disclaimer: This is purely based on the 2019 movie Ford vs Ferrari and may have no correlation with the real Carroll Shelby, Ken Miles, Leo Beebe, Lee Iacocca, and Henry Ford II. In my view, the movie was dramatized to get the viewers a feel of the battle between David vs Goliath aka the common man vs big corporate.
The movie starts with Carroll Shelby (hereafter referred to as Shelby) reminiscing about winning 24 hours of Le Mans while he is being told by the doctor that he can’t race anymore due to his heart ailment. From that moment, Shelby went on to create a Ford that can not only match but also beat a Ferrari. As the movie progressed, it became clear that this movie is not about racing or cars. There was no technical info about Le Mans, Daytona, Sebring, engines, transmission, brakes, etc. Ford vs Ferrari is about people and how they went through personal growth, battling their demons whilst creating history. Let’s delve into the transformation of Shelby and Ken Miles.
Key Moments of Ford vs Ferrari
⇒ Ford cars couldn’t even finish the 1965 Le Mans, but Shelby saw a silver lining and a crack in Ferrari’s armor. He conveyed the same to Henry Ford II which made Ford II trust him. Shelby switched the focus on the process, unlike Ford employees who were judged on outcomes. Al the while Miles was listening to the race on the radio as his behavior was not in line with the Ford way
⇒ Shelby stood by Ken Miles and went as far as betting his company if Miles doesn’t win Daytona. There is a great chance that Ford wouldn’t have taken the company even if Miles came second, but Shelby’s conviction and defiance of the 6000 RPM strategy showed he is willing to risk it all to be granted freedom to do things the Shelby way, not the Ford way.
⇒ By the time Le Mans day came, Ford had gone through organizational restructuring of their racing division. Now Shelby had to take orders from a person who would ensure that Ford-way is followed to the dot. In that photo-finish moment Shelby understood that although he can defy Lee Beebe once again, he cannot defy the vision of Ford. The way he delegated the decision to Ken Miles completed Carroll Shelby’s transformation from a person living for the thrill of a one-day race to a person whose vision would transform the US automobile landscape for decades.
Carroll Shelby - The Coach
What would a former race car driver do once he can’t race anymore? He does what everyone does when they lose their north star. He becomes a salesperson. Shelby designed and sold cars and he was good at it. He couldn’t stay away from the track and that’s where his buddy Ken Miles comes into the picture. More of him in the second part of the article. When Lee Iacocca from Ford offers Shelby a black cheque to create a car that can beat Ferrari at Le Mans, it was an offer that he couldn’t refuse. But it was not as easy as it seems. How does a man turn a family-friendly, boring car into a youth-loving, fun car? How does an outsider change the Ford way of doing things? How does a race driver turned a car designing entrepreneur navigate the organizational track? This is where Shelby stood apart from the others and his character grew from a winner to a coach as shown in Ford vs Ferrari. What made Shelby a great coach was his focus on the process, the relentless will to do things in his way, and the long-term vision.
Ken Miles - The Player
Ford vs Ferrari shows Ken Miles as an egoist, eccentric and difficult to predict person. He couldn’t tolerate being wrong. He is seen communicating with cars more than humans. He could understand what a car is going through but made zero effort to learn about people. Miles was a great mechanic and driver but his arrogance cost him again and again. He only knew one way of expressing himself. An allusion to his WWII tank drive from Normandy to Berlin maybe justifies his reluctance in forming bonds with people and my way or the highway attitude. It was only in the final moment, just before the photo finish at 1966 Le Mans, that Miles started trusting people again. At that moment, he understood that he cannot do everything alone. He transformed from a high-performance individual to a team player. He still had a long way to go before he becomes a team builder but he died doing what he knew best.