Steven Cole Smith
Steven Cole Smith Contributor
9/15/20 10:57 a.m.

When the call came that changed everything, racer Ben Keating was waiting at the baggage claim carousel at the Houston airport late on a Monday night, his packed-up uniform still damp and smelling of the Moët & Chandon Champagne that winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans have sprayed around the podium since 1966. 

That’s the year winner Jo Siffert, Jeroboam in hand, accidentally doused the crowd after the cork shot out of the bottle. A year later, winner Dan Gurney recreated that moment on purpose, creating a tradition that has lived on and spread around the globe.

Tradition is important in motorsports, and it’s important to Keating, the 48-year-old owner of 19 auto dealerships in Texas. His grandfather owned a Ford store, his father owned a Ford store, and the first dealership in Keating’s portfolio was a Ford store.

So it was a proud moment when Ford decided to sell Keating—and, as of this writing, nobody else—one of its current-generation Ford GT racers. It happens to be the very car that won the model’s first race, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Monterey Grand Prix at Laguna Seca in California on May 1, 2016.

Of course, six weeks later, the GT did exactly what Ford intended it to do when it revived the model: win the 24 Hours of Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of the brand’s first victory there. That win is the subject of the hit film “Ford v Ferrari,” where the main character is Carroll Shelby, another Ford-loving Texan and an idol to people like Ben Keating.

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