CONCORD, N.C. — Ford and NASCAR have promised to put the stock back into stock car racing.
The manufacturer debuted both its 2013 Ford Fusion street car and race car Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Featuring a sleek new silhouette, the Sprint Cup car was made to closer resemble the car driven on the street.
“We wanted Fusion to be the car that helped return ‘stock car’ to NASCAR,” said Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing. “I think fans, when they see the car, are going to smile. It is going to re-engage them with the sport and make the sport better because there is just something natural about seeing race cars that look like cars in their driveways.”
Richard Petty, NASCAR’s all-time winningest driver, said the connection between street cars and race cars started eroding years ago.
“You go back to the ’70 (Plymouth) Superbird and it started getting away from us way back then,” he said. “Over a period of time, it got competely away from NASCAR. This isn’t going to get us all the way back, but it gets us back on track where we need to be.”
Petty was one of four NASCAR Sprint Cup team owners on hand for the unveiling, along with drivers from both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series, and top officials from NASCAR.
Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., drivers for Roush-Fenway Racing, took two of the new race cars to the track for an exhibition run. One of the current Ford Fushions, driven by Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne, was also on display nearby on pit road.
Plans are for the sport’s other three manufacturers — Chevrolet, Dodge and Toyota — to debut new cars over the next few months.
It was important to bring brand identification back to the sport, according to NASCAR president Mike Helton, who added that Ford worked with the nearby NASCAR Research and Development Center to design the new car.
“We understand that NASCAR fans are car enthusiasts,” Helton said. “Fans pull for the car second only to their favorite driver.”
Petty echoed those comments, saying a common-bodied race car was one of the most repeated complaints from the fans.
“When it started, it was stock cars and we got away from that,” the seven-time champion said. “We got that complaint all the time. The guy sitting in the grandstand will now know if it’s a Ford, Chevrolet or whatever.”
Allison added it was such an important project that all four of the manufacturers worked with each other as well as NASCAR to develop new cars.
This marks the third time Ford simultaneously launched production and NASCAR versions of a new model. The first dual launch came in 1968, with the fastback Torino, which David Pearson drove to back-to-back NASCAR championships in 1968-69. The second time came in 2006, when the newly introduced Fusion appeared.
During that time, however, longtime team owner Leonard Wood said NASCAR and the car makers really got off track.
“Even in the 1980s, you had cars like the Thunderbirds and the down-sized cars,” Wood said. “They still looked like stock cars. When it changed is when they went to one template where they all had to be the same shape.”
The Ford Design Center staff spent the past year doing the early development, freeing up their race teams to concentrate on their NASCAR schedule.
“This is a seminal moment in the sport where we had a chance to get it right and make sure the race cars are race versions of street cars. I am proud because I believe we have accomplished just that,” Allison said. “The 2013 Fusion is a stunning car and the 2013 NASCAR Fusion is even more stunning. I can’t wait to see it connect with race fans.”