Why Ken Miles Was the Unluckiest Le Mans Driver

by Rudra Mehta


Why Ken Miles Was the Unluckiest Le Mans Driver

January 29, 2021

Ken Miles was arguably the greatest driver in history to not win the Le Mans event. Something indicates that there is more to it than meets the eye.

We’ve all seen Ford vs Ferrari. We’ve all laughed at Ken Miles’ persona. We’ve all had tears of joy, watching him rise through the ranks. We’ve also cried at the end. This article will have spoilers for the film – you’ve been warned. Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s discuss why Ken Miles is still genuinely underrated despite being the subject for many movies and documentaries.

Ken Miles was portrayed to perfection by Christian Bale in Ford vs Ferrari

The Documentary Didn't Do Ken Miles Justice

Avid movie watchers might have loved FvF, and so did we. But the movie does not paint the entire picture. Sure, Shelby and Miles did get together to build the earliest version of the Ford GTO, and yes, it was the best Le Mans car ever made at that moment in time (this was before humans even contemplated electricity as a power source). Caroll Shelby started the Ford GT program, but his assertion on it was short-lived.

On digging deeper, the plot of the movie starts to unravel. Ford did approach Shelby, and he accepted the offer after quite some deliberation, but there’s more. Earlier, we were oblivious to Ford’s involvement in the whole operation. Henry Ford II was portrayed as a relatively “weak” character who was easily swayed into decisions by his trusty sidekick Leo Beebe.

According to the movie, Beebe was the real reason why Miles didn’t win the race and why Miles was left out of the 1965 Le Mans because of his personality, which irked Beebe. When the movie released, friends of Leo came out in support of him, alleging that the film has got Beebe all wrong and there were no ill intentions for Beebe’s behaviour towards Miles.

Leo Beebe's character in Ford vs Ferrari was portrayed by Josh Lucas, and to immaculate gravitas.

You can ask a thousand people here about Leo Beebe, you're going to get a thousand positive opinions.

- Ron Jaworski, former Eagles quarterback and Beebe's mentee.

Office Politics or Something More?

Leo’s friends argued that Leo was a stand-up guy and always put the organisation’s interest before his own. He had no personal vendetta against Miles and was just trying to protect the company’s image. Despite the testimonials from his friends, it isn’t easy to sympathise with Leo.

This is mainly because of his stunning portrayal by Josh Lucas and because no one wants to see our homeboy Ken be bullied by a smarmy suit-and-tie guy. Blame it on the way humans remember things, but we always seem to favour the underdog, protagonist or not.

I've interacted with a lot of people in the world of business, and there's no one I hold in a higher stead than Leo Beebe. He was a tough guy, but a gem of a person. I used to call him a human engineer. He knew and understood how to get the best out of people, and how to motivate them.

- Ed Cloues, Board member and Beebe's colleague at K-Tron.
Ken Miles and Caroll Shelby created the Ford GT mark that would revolutionise the sport for good.

The Fateful End

Well, there were two fateful ends. Whether Leo was a good guy or a bad guy, his decision only caused one individual damage. Leo’s decision to create a dead heat (when they crossed the line together) created an iconic image. Ford did win the 1966 Le Mans. Ford did go on to create one of the most successful GT programs of the 20th century. The Ford-Shelby union solidified further. But Ken Miles was still the loser.

Ken was not just fighting for the Le Mans victory. He was fighting for a Triple Crown in Endurance Racing. He had already won at Daytona and Sebring and winning Le Mans would have put him in the royalty status of history’s most significant drivers. Not that he needed that validation on paper, everyone knew about his talent and potential. Miles didn’t lose; his victory was snatched away from him, for corporate reasons or personal vengeance. That was the first end.

The second end was the worst imaginable. Miles was determined to repeat his performance once more. He believed in Shelby and the car, and Shelby trusted his friend like no one else. They got to work once more to build an even better car for 1967. But sadly, test driving that car killed Ken when the vehicle lost control and expelled him out of the vehicle. Miles never got to fulfil his dream, and that is where our hearts swell up until we can go further no more.

It pains us to know that such a talented driver just fell short of a historic win due to petty business politics, or worse; being himself. The real reason behind the entire finish line fiasco remains a vast mystery and will continue to act as conspiracy fodder for years to come.

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