Ford’s Exit Of NHRA Leaves Force In Limbo
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Neither John Force’s rat-tat-tat sponsorship spiels nor Courtney Force’s slightly naughty nudie magazine layout could convince Ford Racing to continue its team support programs in the NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series beyond 2014.
That’s one way to interpret Ford’s stunning decision to concentrate its drag racing dollars on NHRA’s grassroots and Sportsman racers beginning in 2015.
Announced during the 26th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals in California last weekend, Ford’s decision directly will impact the Ford Mustang-bodied Funny Car programs of John Force Racing, Tasca Racing and Tim Wilkerson Racing as well as Larry Morgan Racing’s Pro Stock Mustang.
On Wednesday, Jamie Allison, director, Ford Racing, elaborated on the decision during a Q&A interview posted on the FordRacing.com website. Allison began by stating that Ford and drag racing remain “inseparable.”
“We at Ford see the two landscapes of NHRA: the Nitro Pro level and the Enthusiast/Sportsman level,” Allison said. “We are just shifting our focus and support toward the production-based Sportsman level. That point is very key since we fully intend to support our customers and Ford enthusiasts who buy and race Ford products around the world.”
Fifteen-time Funny Car world champion John Force presides over a family-based juggernaut that includes former world champion/son-in-law Robert Hight and daughter Courtney, as well as fledgling Top Fuel driver/daughter Brittany. JFR has enjoyed a 17-year alliance with Ford that is one of the most productive in the sport’s history. JFR Mustangs have won 42 percent of the NHRA tour events in which they have participated (156 of 373) since the start of their Ford affiliation in 1997.
Ford’s Funny Car teams certainly have been delivering for the manufacturer this season. Heading into this weekend’s 26th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals in Kent, Wash., near Seattle John Force (fourth), Courtney Force (tied for sixth) and Hight (10th) all are eligible for the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race playoff that will begin on Sept. 13. Wilkerson (eighth) also is headed to the playoffs, while Tasca III is 11th, three points behind Hight, one round out of ninth and two rounds out of eighth.
On the pop culture front, Courtney Force generated plenty of traditional headline buzz and social media chatter when she graced the national cover of “ESPN The Magazine’s” 2013 so-called Body Issue.
Tasca III, grandson of legendary Rhode Island Ford dealer Bob Tasca Sr., has led the racing branch of his family since 2008. When he’s not involved with his Ford Shelby Mustang racing team, Bob III still works at the family dealership.
Allison acknowledged that severing those long-term family relationships was particularly tough.
“We made a business decision as we evaluated the Pro/Nitro level in the sport this past year, reviewing our investment, the returns from activation, television ratings and overall product/technology relevancy,” Allison said. “It is vital that we align our motorsports at Ford to closely match our global products, technologies and customer outreach, especially in this ever-changing automotive world. Again, we want to reinforce Ford’s continued and deep commitment to the roots and foundation of NHRA and drag racing, in the Sportsman level in the sport.
“In drag racing, we will continue with production of our highly-successful Mustang Cobra Jet race cars and will continue to support Ford racers with engines/parts support and contingencies in many of the popular classes.
“We have built and sold 200 Cobra Jets so far and we will deliver another 50 this year. We also have the most rewarding contingency program of any manufacturer in drag racing that pays for the success of any Ford, no matter the model year. We offer generous payouts for wins and championships for Cobra Jet racers that are second-to-none. In addition to NHRA, we also post contingencies in NMRA and NMCA drag racing for our loyal customers.
“This is a very important enthusiast and customer base for us, and we look forward to helping those who want to race Fords to do so at this level of the sport.”
At Sonoma last weekend, John Force reminded his team and fans of what the Blue Oval has meant to the growth and development of JFR, especially in the aftermath of the death of Eric Medlen from injuries suffered in a crash while testing at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway in March 2007.
“I don’t know if we could have come back from the loss of Eric Medlen without the support of Ford and the Ford Racing engineers, and for that we will always be grateful,” Force said in a statement released by his PR team upon request. “It’s been a great run and our goal over the next 18 months is to continue to represent Ford as we always have.”
JFR Mustangs have been responsible for almost 75 percent of Ford’s NHRA Funny Car victories (156 of 219) and almost half (49.3 percent) of all Ford wins at the professional level (156 of 316 in Funny Car, Pro Stock and Top Fuel). JFR Fords have won 11 of the last 16 NHRA series titles.
“We’re proud of what we’ve done on the track,” said Force, first drag racer to be voted Driver of the Year in 1996. “But I’m more proud of what we did off the track. With Ford’s help, we completely redesigned a Funny Car chassis that hadn’t changed in 25 years and we helped make the sport better for everyone, not just the Ford teams.
“Ford made a decision and I respect that decision. They’re a lot smarter than me. I have a year-and-a-half left with Ford and, honestly, at my age (64) a year is a lifetime.”
Force noted that he felt lucky to sign one-year sponsorship deals with Wendy’s and Jolly Rancher at the launch of his touring career in the 1980s. “I still have a job to do and I never count on just one sponsor to make JFR a success,” Force said. “(The Ford people) were a big help with the chassis program and I can never thank them enough for all the safety help, but I have to look at the big financial picture.
“I have two options moving forward. I can start selling chassis, motors and paint to other race teams, which I have the capability of doing right now, or I have to find a new manufacturer – and that door could be open any day. I have made some changes to my team to put us in position to win for the future and with these young drivers and crew chiefs we can adapt, so this is an exciting time. There will always be bumps in the road. It’s a challenge and I love challenges.”
Tasca and Wilkerson also issued statements, with the former considerably less politically correct than Brut Force. “For Ford to make a decision to pull out of professional drag racing, I truly believe they have underestimated the passion and loyalty of the NHRA fans,” said Tasca, whose ties to Ford theoretically could make it difficult for him to align with a rival manufacturer.
Grandfather Bob Tasca Sr. founded Tasca Racing in 1962, one of the first businessmen to capitalize upon the potential of “Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday” during drag racing’s infancy. Bob Sr. opened his Ford dealership at age 27; 70 years later, Tasca Ford is run by the family’s second and third generations.
“It is a sad day for all Ford drag racing fans,” Tasca III continued. “Tasca Racing has no plans on leaving the sport. I have already begun working on sponsorships for the 2015 season and beyond. Expect a big announcement from Tasca Racing sometime next season. Until that time, I look forward to a successful 2013 and 2014 season with Ford, Motorcraft and Quick Lane.”
Wilkerson, meanwhile, said he was thankful to be a part of Ford Racing. “We’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and we’re proud of how we represented the company since we came on board in 2009,” Wilkerson said. “We also appreciate Ford giving us this much advance notice so we can adjust and make our future plans over a good length of time. For now, we’re just going to look forward to having a strong finish here in 2013 and then on to a great 2014 with Ford. It’s been an honor to be associated with them.”
Allison said Ford would continue to support grassroots/enthusiast drag racing, sports and touring car racing, stock car racing, off-road racing, stage rallying and action sports worldwide.
“We review all our motorsports programs regularly to ensure they are relevant and returning good ROI for the company and supporting our outreach to our fans and customers,” Allison said. “We’ve upped our NASCAR efforts this season with the addition of Penske Racing in Sprint Cup and Nationwide and also expanded our Global Rallycross program in alignment with the debut of Global X Games earlier this year.
“Our continued partnership with M-Sport in rally ensures that we offer the latest and most competitive Fiesta in rally with our Ecoboost technology. We are committed to look for motorsport and enthusiasts opportunities that fit with and showcase our global products and technologies.”
O’REILLY AUTO PARTS NHRA NORTHWEST NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 26th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, the 16th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, at Pacific Raceways, Kent, Wash.
SCHEDULE: Friday_ Professional qualifying at 2:45 and 5:30 p.m.; Saturday _ Professional qualifying at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m.; Sunday _ Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.; eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
TELEVISION: Saturday, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise 90 minutes of qualifying highlights at 10:30 p.m. (EDT). Sunday, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of coverage starting at 7 p.m. (EDT).
2012 EVENT WINNERS: Steve Torrence (Top Fuel); Courtney Force (Funny Car); Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock).
MOST VICTORIES: John Force, seven (Funny Car); Bob Glidden, six (Pro Stock); Joe Amato, five (Top Fuel); Tony Schumacher, four (Top Fuel); Warren Johnson, four (Pro Stock).
TRACK RECORDS: Top Fuel _ 3.802-seconds by Tony Schumacher, July ’08; 322.19 mph by Schumacher, July ’10.
Funny Car _ 4.056-seconds by Robert Hight, July ’08; 308.85 mph by John Force, August ’11.
Pro Stock _ 6.531-seconds by Jason Line, August ’11; 211.69 mph by Allen Johnson, August ‘11.
NATIONAL RECORDS: Top Fuel _ 3.701-seconds by Antron Brown, October ’12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Concord, N.C.
Funny Car _ 3.986-seconds by Jack Beckman, October ’12, Reading, Pa.; 320.58 mph by Beckman, October ’12, Reading, Pa.
Pro Stock _ 6.471-seconds by Mike Edwards, April ’13, Concord, N.C.; 214.35 mph by Jason Line, October ’12, Reading, Pa.
POINT STANDINGS: Top-10 following the 15th of 24 national events:
Top Fuel _1. Shawn Langdon, 1,210; 2. Spencer Massey, 1,108; 3. Tony Schumacher, 1,106; 4. Doug Kalitta, 924; 5. Antron Brown, 904; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 865; 7. Clay Millican, 769; 8. Morgan Lucas, 768; 9. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 726; 10. Steve Torrence, 688.
Funny Car _ 1. Matt Hagan, 1,034; 2. Ron Capps, 1,007; 3. Cruz Pedregon, 983; 4. John Force, 961; 5. Johnny Gray, 945; 6. (tie) Jack Beckman, 910; Courtney Force, 910; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 804; 9. Del Worsham, 799; 10. Robert Hight, 782.
Pro Stock_ 1. Mike Edwards, 1,339; 2. Allen Johnson, 1,273; 3. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 1,147; 4. Shane Gray, 948; 5. Vincent Nobile, 918; 6. Jason Line, 902; 7. Greg Anderson, 821; 8. Erica Enders-Stevens, 743; 9. V. Gaines, 742; 10. Rodger Brogdon, 660.
Pro Stock Motorcycle_ 1. Hector Arana Jr., 795; 2. Matt Smith, 646; 3. Michael Ray, 599; 4. Hector Arana, 553; 5. John Hall, 534; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, 523; 7. Eddie Krawiec, 465; 8. Adam Arana, 462; 9. Shawn Gann, 428; 10. Steve Johnson, 424.3 Comments