News and Analysis

Ford Motor Co. Could be Done with Professional Drag Racing

From all indications the Ford Motor Company may once again have decided that drag racing, and specifically the National Hot Rod Association, just doesn’t help their company sell cars, and they could be cutting back or terminating all of their drag racing programs.

My sources indicate that the cutbacks will including John Force Racing, Tasca Racing, their Cobra-Jet factory Stock/Super Stock program and their “Official” status with the NHRA.

According to several well-placed racing industry sources, who asked not to be named since they weren’t authorized to discuss the situation, Ford is either going to sever their ties completely with John Force Racing or scale back their sponsorship drastically.

The sources also have said that the Tasca family fuel Funny Car team and any support for the Pro Stock class would be ended.

If the Ford Motor Company has decided that drag racing simply isn’t cost-effective or able to sell its brand to the public, it would not be the first time Ford has come to that conclusion. Many years ago when FoMoCo was still sponsoring the Candies & Hughes nitro teams and Bob Glidden’s Pro Stock, a Ford executive told me that when those teams retired from drag racing there would be no Ford money for other teams. Simply put, when Bob Glidden and Paul Candies were done with drag racing, so was Ford.

That is exactly what happened and Ford was basically out of the NHRA drag racing business for a decade or so until a new regime at the company saw value in the JFR brand, sponsored Ford family friend Bob Tasca’s grandson in Funny Car and Pro Stock racer Larry Morgan, and even tried to revive the Cobra Jet Mustang with factory-built Stock and Super Stock Mustangs -- at no small expense.

But apparently NHRA drag racing (or any other drag racing body for that matter) has been unable to deliver what Ford executives would consider a reasonable return on their investment. After all, their bottom line is how many Ford vehicles they sell.

It probably hasn’t helped matters that both the number of NHRA fans attending races and the TV ratings have either been flat or declined significantly in the last five year despite the very best efforts of NHRA president Tom Compton’s management team.

It also didn’t help that the very expensive Cobra Jet Stock/Super Stock program simply didn’t get any significant attention from the NHRA. That program was never heavily promoted by the sanctioning body. Those cars weren’t and aren’t part of the Pro Show, nor did they get any significant time on NHRA’s professional class race broadcasts which have the highest ratings for the NHRA.  

Despite Ford’s possible departure, evidently GM, Chrysler and Toyota still see value in the NHRA program. Chrysler continues to sponsor the Mile High Nationals at Denver and support Allen Johnson’s Pro Stock team, and GM’s Chevy division recently signed a long-term deal to be the presenting sponsor of the iconic U.S. Nationals. Toyota still is involved with several nitro teams and supplies them with support vehicles and Funny Car bodies through Alan Johnson.

But despite those car companies’ continued support, if Ford does leave, as it now appears they will, it will be a blow to the NHRA both financially and from a public relations point of view. It could also mean that NHRA could possibly lose a couple of Funny Car teams. If Ford drops their sponsorship of both the JFR and Tasca teams, will both of those teams be able to replace that money and find other sponsors? For John Force with three Funny Car teams that could be very problematic, and, with his family history, I cannot see Bob Tasca III ever driving anything but a Ford.

So the question is, if not drag racing, where will Ford spend its money? The best bets are that Ford will either increase their presence in NASCAR -- which has already allowed the Mustang body to race in the Nationwide Series and regularly has a Nielsen rating for their races five times as large as the NHRA race broadcast -- or they will invest in the rally style youth-driven cars (Ford Focus) seen in the X-Games and other venues.

If ever the Tom Compton management team has received a signal that tells them they need a drastic reorganization of their Big Show, this is it. One of the things that drives GM, Chrysler and to a lesser extent Toyota to be involved in NHRA drag racing is the head-to-head competition with rivals. If suddenly there are no more Ford-bodied Funny Cars for Mopar and Toyota to race against or there are no factory-backed Stock and Super Stock Cobra Jets for the GM and Mopar equivalent to race against, will those companies be content to race each other and still invest in race teams and cars?

If Ford does leave NHRA racing after the 2013 season it won’t be a death blow to the NHRA - they’ve recovered from worse - but it certainly says that the patient is ailing and needs some strong medicine to fix it.