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Tasca Earned Piece Of Wally; Now Wants More

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 25 2011

Bob Tasca played a major role in the Funny Car championship which John Force won last year. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Long before firing-off what John Force has dubbed “The shot heard ‘round the world,” Bob Tasca III had considered the NHRA Funny Car icon an extended family member.

“I’ve described my relationship with John a number of different ways,” said Tasca, whose paternal Ford Motor Company roots in NHRA Championship Drag Racing run as deep as the famed Wood Brothers’ in NASCAR. “If you’re a basketball player, you dream of maybe working with Michael Jordan. If you’re a baseball player, maybe it’s Babe Ruth. In our sport of drag racing, there is none other than John Force. I have the ultimate respect for him as a family man, as a businessman and as a racer.

“What I’ve been able to learn from John – it ain’t no secret. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for John Force.”

And Brut Force wouldn’t be starting the 2011 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season as 15-time/reigning world champion without a little help from Bobby T.

NHRA’s 60th season rolls into Day 2 of the 51st annual Kragen O’Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals today in Pomona, Calif., site of the defining moment to-date of Tasca’s professional career.

On Nov. 14, Tasca and Funny Car point-leader Matt Hagan staged against each other at Auto Club Raceway as the fifth pairing in the first round of the 46th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals. A little over four-seconds later, Hagan’s 38-point lead over Force began to disappear.  A failed piston at the 660-foot mark of the 1,000-foot distance dramatically slowed Hagan’s DieHard Dodge Charger R/T. Tasca passed him en route to numbers of 4.148-seconds and 303.57 mph.

Minutes later, Force won his first-round match against Gary Densham, then won again in the second round against Bob Bode to take the points lead and the crown.

“I joke, but I’m really serious,” said Force, owner/driver of the Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford

Bob Tasca III is an inter-team player. (Photo courtesy the NHRA)

Mustang. “ ‘The shot heard ‘round the world’ was when Tasca opened the door at Pomona last year to allow our Ford to win the championship when he took out Hagan. The key was that motor program (Ford BOSS 500), which his crew chiefs worked on with mine.

“Even though we’re separate teams, Tasca’s hot rod was flying, he got the win that opened the door for me. So it even made my own people understand – if Ford’s going to invest money in this technology, we have to share it with the Ford personnel, and the Tasca family is part of that.”

Tasca advanced to the third round of the NHRA Finals before being trailered by Jeff Arend and his Toyota Camry, a defeat that was easier to accept once Force had completed his improbable championship comeback.

“I was at the starting line and played a small role,” said Tasca, a 35-year-old resident of Hope, R.I. “I give John and his team the credit on winning the championship. Henry Ford III was at Pomona and it shows the Ford family and their love and support for their racers. He was there at the starting line. To have our Ford beat a Dodge and open the door, and John come and run the table the way that he did…I’ve been in a lot of Ford boardrooms and I can tell you this, there wasn’t a dry eye. Everyone had an ear-to-ear grin on their face.

“It was a defining moment for the ‘One Ford’ concept coming together. It was also a defining moment for our team. When our backs were against the wall, the world was watching and we had to step-up and deliver that victory to deliver a Ford championship. The ‘One Ford’ approach paid off in 2010 and if you are a betting man I think it’s going to pay off in 2011, too.”

Force, 61, is well-aware that Bobby’s grandfather was instrumental in launching the Blue Oval’s return to professional drag racing more than 40 years ago.

“My introduction to Ford Motor Company, even though I was with Ford in my early days with local dealers, was through the Tasca family,” Force said. “And from that, from Grandpa Tasca (Bob Tasca Sr.), I learned about being a team and being a family. I took it one-step further to the ranks of even Ford’s thinking today, and our program with ‘One Ford.’ We all race together.”

Recall that during the 1960s, battles for drag racing’s modest purses, hardware and bragging rights largely were fought along geographical East Coast/West Coast boundaries. And Tasca Ford quickly was emerging as a powerhouse out of its Rhode Island dealership.

“I had known of the Tasca name,” said Force, a native of Southern California. “I knew the Tascas

John Force got some help from fellow Ford man Bob Tasca III last year. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

were big but I’m a West Coaster – I had never been over to the East Coast. When I went into that dealership that (first) day, the Tasca family walked up – Grandpa, Bobby’s dad, and all of his brothers, they looked like the Wyatt Earp family – I thought, ‘Who are these guys?’

“I was there to either rent a car or buy a car because I needed a four-wheeler in the snow. It was the way that they had taken me in, and to listen to Grandpa preach the gospel. What was really amazing was to look at the history on their wall, all their drivers. I’ve read Grandpa Tasca’s book; Grandpa said you need to ‘Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.’ ”

That catch-phrase still rings true with the manufacturers who continue to leverage motorsports as the basis of their multi-platform marketing programs.

“My grandfather had such a passion for NHRA drag racing,” said Tasca, owner/driver of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford Shelby Mustang. “I remember him telling the story back in the ‘60s when he recognized this sport as a great opportunity. It’s when he coined the phrase ‘Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.’ At the time he was very close to Henry Ford II and Ford wasn’t that involved in drag racing at all. He passed out Henry’s mailing address to a lot of people in drag racing and the letters started rolling into Henry about drag racing. Finally he (Ford) called my grandpa and said, ‘Stop the letters, let’s go drag racing.’

“I remember the early programs that they had with Ford and how they activated at the track. He always recognized that not only do the fans have unprecedented access to the teams, but to the sponsors and the relationships to the sponsors as fans. It’s pretty unprecedented in any other form of motorsports. It’s a 60-year tradition that lives on today. Certainly the business model and the dynamics are very different than they were in the ‘60s, but the whole slogan ‘Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday’ is alive and well in NHRA drag racing and obviously for Ford, Motorcraft and Quick Lane. They’ve been able to leverage this opportunity over the last couple of years.”

Tasca finished fifth in points at the conclusion of NHRA’s six-race Countdown to the Championship format in 2010, and with a 29-22 won/loss record. Tasca has qualified for 49 consecutive races dating to Richmond, Va., in 2008.

“This is the first time we ended a season with the tune-up that we start a season with,” Tasca said during a pre-Winternationals teleconference. “Over the last three years we’ve gone through a lot of transitions with different setups and combinations. We made that ‘One Ford’ announcement last year, and it was a huge momentum boost for our program. Just for Marc (Denner, co-crew chief), Chris (Cunningham, crew chief) and the guys to roll into Pomona with basically the same setup we left with, with some minor changes.

“We are running the all-new JFR (John Force Racing) Ford chassis. We did a lot of testing at Palm Beach (International Raceway) and had some of the quickest 330-foot times of my career, so we’re real happy with how that car’s reacting.”

In fact, Tasca is running the same “three-rail” JFR chassis that carried Force to his championship last year. That chassis is a direct result of research and development launched after the death of JFR driver Eric Medlen from head injuries sustained during a crash in practice at Gainesville Raceway in March 2007.

“I’ve lived a nightmare season. We lost Eric,” said Force, the father of three daughters who has described Medlen as the son he never had. “It used to be that when you set a car on fire you showed how tough you were, Superman Drag Racer. You just go out there and you build another car.

“When we lost Eric – when we woke up – nobody wanted to race. The trophies didn’t have a meaning. It was really hard to say, ‘Go back.’ What do you do? Go back and work hard so you can have money so you can have a nice house? Go back to it so you can have money to send your kids off to college? Go back so you can win championships without Eric? It didn’t make sense. It was the safety that came out of it that made sense.

“We didn’t know where to go. We had never tried to change the car that had evolved over 50 years. My car that I drove 30 years (ago) looked identical to the car that I crashed in (at Texas Motorplex in September 2007) and that Eric crashed in. The Ford engineers started looking at it, like building a bridge and like building a Ford car that they build today. They said, ‘Here’s what you need to do.’ We worked with Murf McKinney, one of the best chassis-builders, and it started evolving in The Eric Medlen Project.

“I crashed four months later and I can tell you that I would not be standing here if it wasn’t for Eric Medlen’s crash. It was like the Lord took him to save me.  I don’t know why, it makes no sense, but maybe it was to continue to work with Ford and their engineers who made it financially possible to put race cars out so I could look my wife in the eye and say, ‘I believe in that car and your child (Ashley Force Hood) who’s in it will be safe.’ You can’t get any more than that.”

Force suffered career-threatening upper-body and foot-and-leg injuries in that crash at Billy Meyer’s facility in Ennis, Texas. Remarkably, Force returned for the start of the 2008 season following an aggressive rehabilitation program that continues today with regular gym workouts.

“It did break my arms and legs,” Force said of the crash, “but we continued with that car and out of it came the three-rail chassis that my daughters, (son-in-law) Robert Hight and Bob Tasca all drive that they (critics) said would be too heavy, too expensive.  But these hot rods will out-run anybody. They’ll win championships and they’ll save lives. They’re like six to seven times stronger. NHRA has changed the rules on how we do stuff but now we have to stay in that game and continue to change. Maybe it’s changed the face of racing and it’s changed our numbers a bit, but you just can’t go around knowing that you’re going to lose somebody. We changed that at Ford and at John Force Racing.”

Tasca, who made his nitro Funny Car debut at the Winternationals in 2008, was a Top Alcohol Funny Car regular building his nitro team when Force crashed at The Plex. “We didn’t even have a race car at the time that John crashed,” Tasca said. “My wife and father said, ‘What are you doing? Are you sure this is what you want to do? Look at what happened to Eric Medlen and look at what happened to John.’ We flew down and John was in the hospital bed (in Dallas) and you’ve seen the pictures.

“He called me to the side of the bed with as much energy and passion as I’ve ever seen, and he told me what they were going to build. He had the plans for the three-rail chassis, I’ll never forget this. I remember telling my dad that John wouldn’t get back in a car he didn’t think was safe. To sit in that three-rail car it’s like a fortress around you. Your whole body is encapsulated in steel instead of a two-rail and I think that’s a big reason why I continued to race, seeing John in the hospital and seeing how much energy that he had and Ford had in building this safer car.”

The BOSS 500 engine developed by JFR and being run by Tasca features a new injector that Force said is designed to make the cars react quicker off the line. Force was third after Thursday’s qualifying session at 4.093-seconds and 305.84 mph. Tasca, who put down an opening-round pass of 4.191-seconds at 296.76 mph, stood ninth at the start of what he believes will be his signature season.

“I’ve broken the season down into three parts,” Tasca said. “You’ve got the first four races or so where the conditions are pretty ideal. You have to run the big number to have the chance to win those races. Then you have the summertime, where you really just have to stay alive in these hot rods. They make so much power; you’ve really got to pull them back. Then, Good Lord willing, you’re in the Top 10, and in our sport it’s pretty much proven that you can go in No. 1 and end up No. 10 and you can go in No. 10 and end up No. 1. One of the things that make our sport so exciting is that if you make it into the Top 10, anything can happen.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 25 2011
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