Ford finds unlikely allies in Gen-6 car development

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 12, 2013 at 10:35 PM

What next?

Pepsi and Coke working together on a new soda formula? Peace in the Middle East?

One can only guess after Ford and Chevrolet worked together, along with Toyota, to help NASCAR develop the new Gen-6 race car.

Edsel Ford II, the great-grandson of Henry Ford and a member of the board of directors at the Ford Motor Company, explained how the bitter rivals found common ground.

“All the manufacturers told NASCAR we need a car to look more like what we sell,” Ford said. “NASCAR was willing to work with all the manufacturers to come up with this new car. I can’t speak for the other manufacturers, but from Ford’s point of view, we did put the stock back in stock cars.”

Jamie Allison, the director of North American motorsports for Ford, explained while the goal is still to outrun the competition, the common good of all outweighed the interests of just one manufacturer.

“We are part of a community called NASCAR,” Allison said. “Our task was to work together and come up with an envelope that allows all the manufacturers to compete and have the competitive racing that exists in NASCAR today. The three cars look different, but they will be competitive.”

The unlikely alliance led to a few surreal moments. Perhaps the strangest occured when all representatives from all three current NASCAR car makes, as well as Dodge, got a glimpse at the cars the others were developing.

“I went to the wind tunnel to see NASCAR’s wind tunnel and the car we were putting in there,” Ford said. “General Motors was sitting next to Toyota, sitting next to Dodge, sitting next to Ford. We were all in one room, but we had a common purpose to work with NASCAR to come up with a car which all the manufacturers liked. They did it and the cars look fantastic.”

Ford, who previously served as President and Chief Operating Officer of his family’s company, has seen both the ebbs and flows of the business on and off the track. He talked about how the NASCAR program has bounced back from some rough times in recent years.

Ford saw great success in the early 2000’s as Dale Jarrett won a third Daytona 500 title for Robert Yates Racing and Roush Racing drivers Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch won back-to-back Cup Series titles.

However, the second half of the decade saw the Yates team quit fielding cars, leaving Roush-Fenway as the only top-tier team running Fords.

That’s changed the past couple of years with better performance from Richard Petty Motorsports and the addition of Penske Racing, which won last season’s Cup Series championship with driver Brad Keselowski.

“I think our NASCAR program is in the best shape it’s been in for many, many years,” Ford said. “Look at our Nationwide driver lineup and the Mustang has been great with two championships. The Fusion program is in as good shape as ever. Doug Yates from my point of view the best engine guy there is. Now, we’ve brought Penske on. It sounds pretty good to me.”

Ford also has a potential superstar on its hands with Trevor Bayne, who won the 2011 Daytona 500 for the Wood Brothers team. The 22-year-old from Knoxville has proven to be both talented and charsimatic.

Due to economic conditions, however, Bayne only raced a limited number of times last season. This year, he will run a full Nationwide Series schedule for Roush-Fenway, which Ford believes will help him reach his full potential.

“One of the things Eddie and Len Wood and I talked about was that Trevor needed a full-time program,” Ford said. “Last year and the year before, there wasn’t anything for him. Now that Jack has got him in a full-time Nationwide car, that’s going to be the best thing for him. He will be driving every single weekend and it will prepare him for the Cup ride. Frankly, I think Trevor Bayne will be in a good place.”

He is one of several young stars which has Ford excited about the future. Ford mentioned a quartet of them whom he feels will carry the company banner for the next several years.

“Look at the average age of our drivers, it’s incredible,” he said. “Brad and Joey (Logano) are in their 20s. Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) is 26. Trevor is 22. We might have the youngest drivers on average of all the manufacturers.”

It’s not just NASCAR which Ford is involved.

Ford is a force on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series led by the efforts of John Force Racing in the Funny Car ranks. While a Funny Car hardly resembles a street car, Allison said the use of technology, tools and simulation translates into making better cars for consumers.

Ford added that Force and his daughters bring a whole different element to his company’s racing program.

“I think he brings everything to the table for us,” Ford said. “When we went back in NHRA, we hadn’t been in drag racing in a long time. We approached John Force and he was at the right time in his life where changing over to Ford was a good idea. Frankly, we’ve gone from strength to strength as all those girls drive. It’s an absolutely fantastic relationship. When we had that terrible accident, our engineers worked with his people to develop better cage systems, better safety protection. It’s been a great relationship with John Force.”

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