Ford Thrashes on Taurus at Talladega
18 December 1997
TALLADEGA, AL -- For the past few days Talladega Superspeedway is a site that that is as secure as many government installations. Why the lock-down on the longest and fastest track that NASCAR visits? Well, Ford Motor Company and their Winston Cup racers are down working on the new Taurus race car in preparation for the 1998 racing season. Though specific details are hard to come by, we have learned that things aren't going as well as Ford probably had hoped. Every team that runs a Ford is on site and is represented in the testing that was described by a Ford spokesman as, "Unprecedented information sharing between a manufacturer's teams." NASCAR is also on site with a team of 10 to 20 folks supervising the testing process that is on going at this time. An estimate of 260 folks are on-hand thrashing on Ford's newest race car. The teams that are on-site, with cars, include Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd, Brett Bodine, The new Elliott/Marino team, Ted Musgrave, Michael Waltrip, Jimmy Spencer, Jeremy Mayfield, Rick Mast, Dale Jarrett and Dick Trickle. The remainder of the Ford teams have sent 'squads' that range from three to eight members - all trying to get some speed out of Taurus. The testing, that includes both the outdated Thunderbird as well as the new Taurus, is being performed in logical steps in an effort to build a knowledge base as fast as possible. But one person talking about the first day of testing said, "Things didn't go very well." This was later backed up by another source that said "Taurus is about 5 miles per hour slower than our old cars." A Ford spokesman, talking about the testing said, "They are working their proverbial rear-ends off. We're testing all combinations of both cars in both qualifying and race setups." When asked if NASCAR has finalized the templates the spokesman said, "Template resolution on a new model is pretty fluid. That is to be expected. They (NASCAR) are trying to settle that down. The teams also need some stability in configuration." An interesting point that came of our investigation was Ford's softening of position on what car the teams may bring to Daytona. It was at Atlanta that the company line was - "We'd be extremely disappointed if some teams brought the Thunderbird to Daytona." The new line is, "Their first obligations are to themselves and to their sponsors. That is part of what we are doing at Talladega. We're trying to demonstrate that the Taurus is a viable race car." Just last week several noted crew chiefs indicated that they are keeping their superspeedway Thunderbirds ready for battle as the Taurus is just too much of an unknown for Daytona. One of the Bowtie (Chevrolet) brigade joked, "What do they want? I mean they built a high downforce - high drag car. That's what they need for all but Daytona and Talladega. Now with Daytona coming up they are screaming for help. It's like building a house next to an airport and then complaining about the noise." This isn't new territory for Ford, who for the last few seasons has had two sets of templates - one set for Talladega and Daytona and a set for the rest of the tracks. On short and intermediate length tracks the Thunderbird enjoyed a lowered rear roof line to get more air to the rear spoiler. This gave the Thunderbird more downforce. At Daytona and Talladega the rear of the roof is higher thus keeping the air off the rear spoiler more. Earnhardt described it as the top hat or no top hat rule. Whatever the results out of Talladega the Ford teams will have to hustle to be ready for the Daytona 500 - two very short months from now.