Ford Racing icons John Force and Jack Roush joined Ford Racing Technology Director Brian Wolfe on Wednesday for a 30-minute teleconference to discuss the start of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NHRA Countdown to 1. Force, a 14-time NHRA...
Ford Racing icons John Force and Jack Roush joined Ford Racing Technology Director Brian Wolfe on Wednesday for a 30-minute teleconference to discuss the start of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NHRA Countdown to 1. Force, a 14-time NHRA Funny Car champion, is one of four Ford drivers from John Force Racing in the title hunt while Roush is going for his third NASCAR Sprint Cup crown with drivers Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle.
BRIAN WOLFE, Director, Ford Racing Technology
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS AS THE COUNTDOWN AND CHASE GET STARTED? "It's an extremely exciting time for myself, being the first time in this position, but from my perspective it's a great place to be because I feel that in both sanctioning bodies we have the two premier teams. Obviously, Jack's record speaks for itself. He's a great team owner and wonderful with the technology and keeping his operation running like a full team is great to see. And John getting all four of his cars into the Countdown just makes it a great place for me to be in this position right now. I'm excited."
JACK ROUSH, Car Owner - Roush Fenway Racing
HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR CHANCES ARE WITH MATT, CARL AND GREG? "We were just talking about that a few minutes ago. Carl has certainly been the strong horse in our group and the Ford camp in looking toward the championship, but Matt has won a championship before. He's got a strong team behind him and is certainly able. Every year he has some portion of the year where he's just spectacular and he hasn't really had that spectacular run so far this year. I think it's in front of him and I expect it in the next 10 races. Greg Biffle, of course, won a Truck championship and a Busch Grand National championship and he's anxious to complete the trifecta, and I'm sure he can. Our technology is great. Our testing program has been productive. We think we're ready to close the deal."
JOHN FORCE - Driver, Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang; Owner, John Force Racing
ON RACING AT THE NEW TRACK AT CHARLOTTE. "You've got to hand it to Bruton Smith. This is state of the art, this new track here in Concord. We had a press deal last night and I'm heading to a press deal today. It's a NASCAR look, and that's what we wanted in the NHRA to grow the sport. The fans, you know they tell you it's sold out on Saturday and almost sold out on Sunday, and we always claim that we're NASCAR's little brother, but we really feel like we've stepped up to the plate here. It's one heck of a place they built. We really owe a lot of thanks to Bruton Smith."
HOW DO YOU ASSESS YOUR CHANCES AND YOUR TEAM'S CHANCES IN THE COUNTDOWN? "Ford Motor Company, at the end of the day, they pay us to win, and that's what we plan on doing. We've got four hot rods in there, right now, four Ford Mustangs, Robert Hight driving one of them, and Mike Neff, myself and my daughter Ashley. My daughter Ashley led the points going into the Shootout at Indy, and Robert Hight, he's right up at the top. Of all my cars, I'm the one who's struggling. We went up to Michigan last week to do some testing, but we're going to be okay. We really focused on the last year and a half, since the loss of Eric Medlen, the crash at Gainesville, and the technology working with Ford Motor Company and their technicians, to build a race car that cannot just win and compete, but a car that would save a man's life. And I give credit to Ford and all of these people, and NHRA, for working together. And at the end of the day Eric Medlen, for my life, because my crash at Dallas, I was saved from the technology that Ford put into those new chassis."
HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO PUT YOUR FINGER ON WHAT LED TO YOUR STRUGGLES THIS YEAR? AND, IF SO, WHAT MADE THE CHANGE? "Well, you're never wanting to make excuses, and there is no excuse. At the end of the day I have financial backing from major corporations like Ford Motor Company to run their Mustangs, so there is no excuse. At the end of the day, we're to win and get exposure and sell cars. And this economy, this market that we have today, we need to do our job. So, no excuse. I made the Countdown. A lot of people thought maybe it was my condition, my health with my broken arms and legs and stuff, but I'm over that. I'm still in the gym every day, but I'm finally out of rehab, so I'm excited I'm getting a second chance to drive these cars, and there's no excuse. We struggled, yeah. Our focus primarily was on safety, and you've got to have your focus on winning, but we learned how to do both and we've got a real good shot with the four Mustangs in this Countdown to win this championship, and that's what we intend to do."
HAVE YOU GUYS FIGURED OUT THE BUMP-STOP TECHNOLOGY? "We think we're competitive with the bump stops. We've worked, with Ford's help, developing new materials from Ford suppliers for production car parts that would help us with that, but all of the teams and all of the manufacturers are standing behind their teams to try to find new technology to bring in, but the car is a challenge. It used to be that a Fusion, which we race now, or we preceded that with the Taurus, but the Fusion, which we're racing today, was able to carry some of the vestiges of the production car that would have been better than their contemporaries. Well, NASCAR has pretty much got those hammered into submission now to the point that all the cars have got the same strengths and the same weaknesses. As we look at what the drivers want and try to come back and find ways to adapt it to this engine, we find that we're limited in ways that really are frustrating, but we've tested a lot. We've made ourselves spend our resources. We've used a lot of computer strength and power from Ford Motor Company's engineering center in Detroit. The computers are hammering up there on all the predictive and analysis things for the race tracks that we're going to in the chase, and we think with their help we'll be able to offset some of the problems, some of the frustrations that the drivers have had that they've come back and blamed on the bump stop. But it really isn't just the bump stop. It's the nature of the whole car being limited in terms of the areas you can work in."
SO ARE THE TEAMS THAT FIGURE OUT THE BUMP STOPS THE ONES DOING THE BEST RIGHT NOW? "It's more than the bump stop. There's a lot of conversation about the bump stop, but the shock absorbers are really important. Ford has got a Ford ride model algorithm that we use for that, but the shock absorbers are really important and, of course, all of the other adjustments you do on the car - the wedge, the track bar and the kinematics of the front suspension. We've got an Adams model that Ford made available to us that we use to analyze the front suspension geometry and it's all a combination. It's real easy to come back and say, 'I'm bottoming my car too hard because my bump stop is not right,' but there are a lot of other things at play and whoever understands the most about the entire combination - it's like looking at three space - you have time and distance and that sort of thing in Newtonian physics and as you add another space, you have another whole dimension of time of things to consider and the bump stop is just one of the things in a continuum of variables."
HOW DOES THE CHASE ALTER THINGS FROM A TEAM PERSPECTIVE IN HOW YOU PREPARE AND HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM BEFORE THE CHASE? "Let me answer the question on the fringes. The teams that didn't make the chase, if they're spending their money and their time wisely, are preparing for 2009 and that's what we'll be doing with the two teams of ours that aren't in the chase. We'll be trying to work out things and move people around for 2009, but as far as the chase is concerned, the first year five years ago when we started the chase format, the last race of the first 26, which was the Richmond, Virginia fall event, was more exciting than any championship that I've been a part of for almost 20 years. So NASCAR has really got it right as far as building a crescendo toward the end of the year. We will struggle to make sure that everything we've learned throughout the year we bring to bear for all of our teams and it's really an exciting thing to feel that now there's not just one or two or three teams that can compete for the chase and for all the excitement and the support of the fans and sponsors, but, realistically, out of the 12, I think there are nine teams that can be a factor in this thing. I don't have the three that won't be, that I think can't be. I'm not specific on who they are, but I think that we'll have a really great competition toward a championship and a wonderful championship in 2008 with NASCAR's oversight and what they've done with the sanctioning body. It's just wonderful."
DOES EACH NEW HURDLE LIKE THE COUNTDOWN PRESENT A SPECIAL CHALLENGE, OR, BECAUSE OF ALL OF YOUR EXPERIENCE, IS EACH RACE AND EACH ROUND ROUTINE? "No, you still live right on the edge. Every day, you're driven to grow your program and you want to win. I've won a lot of championships, but it's never enough. Sometimes you feel a little greedy for your sponsors, and they almost expect it because you've done so well over so many years. But the fight is still the same, but now it's kind of like we're heading to the Super Bowl. We fought all year, and I was just hoping and praying that I'd make it. All of my teams - I've got a new driver, Mike Neff, drives the Old Spice Ford Mustang, a new kid that made the Countdown. We were looking at 30 teams trying to get these spots, and it was really tough. So, when you can put four cars in there, that's a big chunk of the field to have a shot at the title. We've got to stay positive. Trust me, it's not my ego because we've won before, because there's teams that'll just knock you off. You know, Gary Scelzi did it to me a few years back, and Tony Pedregon. So at the end of the day we've got to focus, we've got to be positive and we've got to win with four race cars, and at the end of the day we've got to come out with a win. We worked at all year; it would be terrible to lose now, but we're motivated, we're driven and we're going to keep heading in that direction."
TO WHAT EXTENT IS THE 99 TEAM CLICKING RIGHT NOW? "Well I think that it's absolutely at peak. This is Carl's fifth year with me - fourth year with me, I've maybe lost track - he's peaked and the crew chief has peaked. They're in a position to realize the potential out of all the support we're getting from all of our sponsors and Ford Motor Company and Carl has been faced with enough frustration and enough opportunity and has had missteps and things where he's tripped the light fantastic and done a great job to get the result. He's ready to close the deal and I certainly rate him as high as I could in terms of the likelihood he could be able to win this championship."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HIS RISE OFF THE TRACK AS FAR AS HIS VISIBILITY AND MARKETABILITY? "Carl's got a great moral code. He's a really fierce competitor. He's a young man that you'd like, if you were an adult, a young man you'd like to think your son could grow up and be similar to. He's a young man you'd like to think your daughter would entertain in the courting process, and he's somebody to look up to. He's worked really hard with his family and preparing himself for the public persona that people would rally behind. He's the best gymnast I've ever been involved with. He's quite a guy."
HOW MUCH DOES DRIVER CONTINUITY PLAY INTO THE SUCCESS YOUR TEAM HAS HAD? "I think it takes three years for a crew chief, a driver and a team organization to really build the kind of momentum and continuity that's necessary to race at the highest level to get the most potential out of the hardware and out of the technology and out of the opportunities that the race track competition presents, so continuity is really important. You hear about moving people around. We will make a change within the team from time to time, but if you started to build a team from scratch and you can put together a driver, an engineer, a crew chief and a pit crew combination that works great from the get-go, you're certainly very lucky and it doesn't happen very often. But to be able to carry a sponsor like Ford Motor Company forward from year to year with all the support they bring and to be able to carry great sponsors forward and what that means in the marketplace for the value that the sponsor gets from one year to the next is certainly something we look forward to. To try to rebuild every team and every business relationship every year would certainly limit me to the number of teams that I could undertake at one time."
LAST YEAR, YOUR DAUGHTER ASHLEY WAS 10TH IN POINTS. THIS YEAR SHE WON HER FIRST RACE AND IS IN THE COUNTDOWN. DID YOU EXPECT THIS LEVEL OF SUCCESS FROM HER SO EARLY, AND HAS ANYTHING SHE'S DONE SURPRISED YOU? "I'll be honest, I really didn't expect her to do this well, to lead the points, in the Shootout, over the guys. A woman in this sport, it's really tough - Shirley Muldowney led the way years ago - but putting a woman in a Funny Car was different deal. She won her first race this year at Atlanta, but it was body strength that was a problem. We've had to put her in the gym, get her to exercise, because we tested the different chassis, you know, with the flex front end, what they call the slip tube, that is kind of like having power steering, to make it easier. You've got the car, you could way over-steer it. The kid really had to go through a lot. And then they overloaded her because she's a woman, the overload of the fans, the lines go on and on and on, and how she focuses, I don't have a clue. But, she just keeps coming to the plate. She loves what she does. I look way back years ago and I looked at multi-car teams and I was out there fighting, I looked at Roush, a man that was smart enough to see the future of building multi-car teams, so we could dominate, so I went in that direction. But I never figured a woman would be put into the seat. And, yet, in today's market, she's the best sell I've got. Hard to find sponsorship for the men, but to find the sponsorship with a woman, it's really easy, the endorsements, it's really good. And, you know, a girl putting a hot rod, a Mustang, down the quarter mile at over 300 miles an hour and beating these guys - that was the key. So, now, today, with Brian Wolfe and his group coming in, re-evaluating how we do the fight, it isn't just about, anymore, selling Ford Mustangs or selling Ford Racing, it's all about Ford Motor Company and this market, pitching every brand from the Edge to the Taurus, and doing what we've got to do. But when you've got a woman in that position that can control that race car, keep her nose clean, stay in the fight and can put out those plugs to cover the female side that are in the stands, 50 percent, it's only going to get better. So, I'm proud of her. I always joke: She looks like her mom, I thank God, but she drives like me."
CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE TECHNOLOGY CHANGES AND GROWTH OF ENGINEERING IN THE LAST DECADE IN NASCAR AND NHRA? "Just coming into this position over the last six or seven weeks, to talk about the progression over the last 10 years I'm going to have to defer to Jack for his perspective because he would be a lot more informed than myself, and also John from the NHRA side of it."
"Twenty years ago when I started stock car racing, there was contemporary wisdom among the crew chiefs and the owners and the drivers down there that really led the sport from a technology point of view, and they used engineers pretty much as court jesters. They were fun to have around. Occasionally, they would come up with something that was interesting to talk about, but when they stopped being amused by them, they'd run them off and the teams did just fine that didn't have engineers. Well, today, without Ford Motor Company support, without the computer strength that flows from Detroit with all of the algorithms and the predictive and analysis models that we've got, there's no way to have a competitive race team or a competitive car. A driver cannot make the decisions for what spring he could use, what shock he could use, what the wedge needs to be, what the toe curve needs to be - what all those variables are that affect the performance of the car - he couldn't make those based on changing one variable at a time at the track or even filling in the days where he wasn't at the track for times of testing. You have to use the computer's strength to go back and look at hundreds of thousands of different potential combinations to find the one that will give you the right grip on a track where you've got the right model to tell you what the circumstance for the race car is going to be. So the engineering strength of Ford and the support that the other sponsors give us from a technical point of view stand beside and in front of the teams in terms of giving them direction. It's really a partnership beyond my imagination as I started 21 years ago from a technical side."
"Coming in I think that was the one thing I was really pleased to see was the support in the work relationship between the engineers that Jack has and the engineers within my activity and also, likewise, with John's activity on the safety stuff that was done. Now, how much that has progressed in the last 10 years I wasn't as sure on, but that was one of the things I was very, very pleased to see coming from my engineering background."
YOU INVESTED IN BOTH KYLE BUSCH AND JOEY LOGANO IN THE DEVELOPMENT STAGES. DO YOU LOOK AT THEIR CAREERS AND WONDER WHAT YOU COULD HAVE DONE WITH THEM IN YOUR STABLE IF YOU HAD A PLACE TO PUT THEM? "The jury is still out pretty much on Joey Logano. He certainly shows great potential. I haven't actually had him in one of my race cars. We looked at the potential to involve him in our program early on and we didn't have a spot for him. We didn't have a place that was really what he needed for that point in his career, so we miss Joey. There are so many talented young people coming along and so few rides, even in a big program like mine, that you just can't be in support of every talent that's out there. Joey will do well. There's no question about that. I hope that he has a great moral code that will be embraced by the fans and the sponsors, but time will tell. Kyle Busch, we certainly had a chance to look at Kyle and his brother Kurt for that matter, and the fact is that they are not the kind of personality and they don't have the moral code on the race track that we look for. I wish them well. They're going to win a lot of championships. They're going to do well, but I wouldn't trade any of my rookies that are coming or any of the guys that are mature in the Cup rides for anybody else that I see in the field, including Kyle or Kurt."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT FORD'S COMMITMENT TO RACING IN THESE TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES? "I think like every other auto manufacturer in every other aspect of the business, we are going through how we spend money everywhere. But our commitment to NASCAR and NHRA will continue as we have. We're very excited about that and also the exposure that we get from those products. The other thing that we will be doing is we have a large performance parts business and it's something that I've coined a phrase as being racer friendly for some of the sportsman classes and not the bigger classes, and we just want to make sure that we're giving those guys the support with the sanctioning bodies so that they can race competitively. But, again, we want to try to continue everything that we are doing now with our major teams."
FROM YOUR STANDPOINT, CAN YOU ASSESS JACK ROUSH'S OPERATION? "At the end of the day you just have to look at a man's success, the way that he leads people, the way that he talks, what he's done in the sport, for the sport, what he's done for his sponsors, like Ford Motor Company, and he's delivered. So, when I sit with my people I use Jack Roush a lot. Jack Roush's operation makes parts for us, for our race teams, so at the end of the day I sit with my people and I tell them, 'We have to look at the best, and we have to grow with the best,' and I learned from Jack Roush. It's that simple. I'm just proud - I can't say that we're close friends and that we ever hung out anywhere, but at the end of the day I set my goals and if I can deliver like Roush has done for Ford Motor Company over the years then I can say that I did my job. And I'm proud just to say that I know him."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON JOHN FORCE'S OPERATION? "I started drag racing - I'm pretty much a generation older than John. I started drag racing back in the sixties and spent a decade drag racing, which really formed the foundation of my motorsport knowledge and my judgment as it related to sponsorships and race teams and things. I'd like to think that if I'd stayed in drag racing and grown up, I'd have been able to survive in John Force's shadow. John has certainly been an inspiration to me by maintaining the continuity of his effort for all the decades and all the championships he's won. He's been a great supporter and a great advocate for all the sponsors, including Ford, and I still enjoy keeping track of what John is doing. I've got great empathy and support for him with his family's involvement and the other things. At this first race that we're going to have in Charlotte with the NHRA this weekend, my daughter and my son-in-law will be racing stock cars down there. My daughter is in a Mustang and my son-in-law is in an antique Falcon that I used to race many years ago that I restored. They've both won races and they're both a factor in the National Mustang Drag Racing Association as well as the NHRA, and the involvement that they've got means as much to me as anything else that I've got going on."
-credit: ford racing