by Larry Roberts
February 27, 1998
The Ford Motor Company is the second oldest ongoing auto maker in the U.S. and since its very earliest days, the name has been involved in racing. Henry Ford himself held the world's Land Speed Record for a short time in a car he built himself and drove in many "match" races. .
Later, the company entered Ford-powered Millers at Indianapolis in the '30s and in the '60s, grandson Henry II blasted the company into the forefront of the motorsports world by putting the Ford logo in the winner's circle at the Indy 500 as well as at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Today Ford is in motorsports more than ever. The company has the most comprehensive program of any of the auto makers in this country and for the upcoming year, it's plunging headlong into the fray. These are the motorsports venues in which Ford is (or was in '97) a major player:
NASCAR WINSTON CUP - Nowhere is the Battle of The Titans more closely contested than on the multi-faceted tracks of the Winston Cup races put on by the National Association for Stock Car Racing. The cars being based on current American sedans, a win for a Ford at Daytona Beach, Talladega or Rockingham means a boost in sales the following week. Ford was locked in battle with Chevrolet last year and Ford driver Dale Jarrett wound up just 14 points short in the point standing behind the winning Chevy of Jeff Gordon. For '98, Ford faces the challenge of making a first-year winner out of its new Taurus look-alike race car.
NASCAR CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES - The newest jewel in the NASCAR crown is the three-year old Craftsman Truck Series. It features vehicles that are ostensibly the same as the specially-built V8 powered Winston Cup sedans but wrapped in fiberglass replicas of American pickup trucks. Last year Ford driver Joe Ruttman finished third in the standing and for '98, Ford has lined up several new teams to try to knock off the strong field of Chevrolet and Dodge contenders. Again, wins for a NASCAR ersatz Ford F-150 pickup on Sunday will mean additional sales on Monday.
CART CHAMPIONSHIP CARS - The Championship Auto Racing Teams races are arguably the most prestigious in the U.S. but the year 1997 was unkind to the Reynard, Swift and Lola drivers who used Ford-Cosworth powerplants. Michael Andretti and Scott Pruett finished a dismal eighth and ninth in Ford-powered cars. Pruett has a new primary sponsor in the form of Visteon, a Ford subsidiary that is aiming for a bigger piece of the auto supply business world-wide. Pruett lobbied long and hard for substantial Ford sponsorship money and got it but in going against cars with the extremely strong Mercedes-Benz and Honda engines, Andretti, Pruett and the other Ford drivers have their work cut out for them.
NHRA DRAG RACING - Drag racing is an extremely popular spectator sport with American youth so it's not surprising that Ford's "official" team in National Hot Rod Association pro drag racing is comprised of Mustang Funny Cars. Ex-national champ John Force lost out in '97 for the first time in many years and for '98, his Mustang will be carrying the colors of Elvis Presley Enterprises as well as the Ford Blue Oval.
SCCA TRANS AM - The Sports Car Club of America's Trans Am series for production-based "pony cars" like the Mustang and the Camaro is the oldest ongoing road race series in this country. Unfortunately it is showing its age in technology as well as direction. The Mustang of Tom Kendall won the first 11 Trans Am races in '97 and fellow Mustang pilot Mike Borkowski won the last two. An impressive record but following the withdraw of Chevrolet Trans Am support the previous year, Ford elected to withdraw "official" sponsorship and support for the '98 season. Like its Mustang championship win in the SCCA World Challenge Championship, Ford found that there's no glory (or showroom activity) associated with winning all the marbles if there's no competition - or spectators.
Ford products are in several other motorsports venues: Ford-powered USRRC and PSCR World Sports Car racers; factory-backed off-road truck racing teams; Ford-powered Formula FF 2000 "training" cars. If devotion and enthusiasm count for anything, Ford should be a winner in '98.