Lee Holman and the 2014 Ford Mustang TdF - Hoof Beats
Perhaps Lee Holman should be a bitter man. During the 1960s, his father, John Holman, co-owned Holman & Moody, Ford's contracted competition shop and one of the most successful racing operations of all time. From NASCAR to road rallies and all the way to Le Mans, H&M played a major role in Ford's Total Performance successes. Then Ford yanked out the rug when it suddenly dropped racing in 1970 to pursue safety and emissions, leaving H&M to soldier on as a pioneer of NASCAR innovations, including the quick-fill gas can. Then John Holman died from a heart attack in 1975 and Lee had to sell his sailboat/Hobie Cat business to pay the inheritance taxes. Since then, Lee has taken on and accepted his role as caretaker for the legend that is Holman & Moody.
I recently spent the better part of a rainy Monday with Lee, now 67 and reinvigorated by his recent collaboration with Ford to build the 2014 Mustang TdF (see page 62), a 50th anniversary tribute to the Holman & Moody–prepped hardtops that claimed the Mustang's first-ever competition win at the Tour de France auto rally in 1964. As we sat in a work space surrounded by historic H&M photos, including one of a much younger Lee fueling a GT40 at Reims, France, in 1965, the conversation shifted from the Mustang TdF to Lee's fascinating history at H&M. He was 13 when he started working for his dad, stacking and restacking axles and wheels while taking inventory. He remembers his dad calling him at North Carolina State in April 1964 to tell him to come home to pick up a car—a brand-new Mustang.
Lee notes that by the mid 1960s, H&M had 450 employees, three airplanes with pilots and flight attendants, a huge facility near the Charlotte airport, and a million dollar a month budget. By then, Lee was in his early 20s, chasing California girls during stints at Holman & Moody-Stroppe on the west coast, spending time in England while working with Alan Mann Racing, and traveling to European races on an unlimited Diner's Club credit card. But H&M had only one customer—Ford Motor Company. And when Ford turned off the spigot, H&M's fortunes plummeted.
Throughout our conversation, I can't help but detect that Lee wishes things had turned out a little differently. If his father been a little more promotion minded, perhaps Holman & Moody would be revered today like Shelby American. He notes that Holman & Moody's involvement with rally Falcons in the 1960s led to their involvement with the Mustang's first racing efforts in European rallys. Since Mustangs were essentially rebodied Falcons, H&M knew how to prep the suspension for competition. As Lee tells the story, Shelby took notes from the H&M rally Mustangs when developing the G.T. 350.
Other than building the 1966 A/FX drag Mustangs, a project that Lee says helped dispose of the 427 SOHC engines than had been banned by NASCAR, H&M was rarely involved with Mustangs. The company claimed racing victories in NASCAR, rallying, ocean racing and drag boats, even the Australian Salon championship in a four-door Galaxie, but beyond contributing to the Mustang's first victory, there is little Mustang in H&M storied history.
So I had to ask: Why didn't H&M pursue Trans-Am instead of allowing fellow NASCAR competitor Bud Moore to soak up the Mustang glory? "We had too much other stuff going on," Lee replies. "When dad had enough on his plate, he would tell Ford to go away." Then a sly grin spreads across his face as he asks, "Where do you think Bud Moore got his parts?"
So it's easy to understand why Lee Holman could be, perhaps should be bitter. But he's not. He's got a tremendous family heritage to protect, lots of great memories, and plenty of first-hand stories about the hey-days of Holman & Moody. Now he's starting a new H&M chapter with the TdF Mustang.
I wish him the best.