DEARBORN - As Ford celebrates 110 years of racing, @Ford Online sat down with Jamie Allison, director, North America Motorsports, to discuss the importance of racing to Ford, the famous race of 1901 and Allison's own passion for the sport.
Q. How have you taken the legacy of racing that began with Henry Ford in 1901 and continued to let it thrive?
A. It is a truly rich legacy that we care for and respect. We race today for the same reason he raced back then: To prove out our products and showcase our great cars, trucks and technologies to our loving fan base.
When you race for 110 years, you endear yourself to loving and loyal fans and we see that in our research. When we win on Sunday, we sell on Monday. It is true because we are rich in tradition and our legacy of just being there for many generations.
What you see here is an exemplification of what we do today. We race in three forms of motorsports that we support, but we touch millions of people who race Ford vehicles every weekend.
Q. Can you give us a brief history of how the program started and how it has expanded over the years?
A. The 1960s in the United States were the glorious '60s of total performance. Every manufacturer was trying to one up the other. It was a war of power, horsepower and bigger claims. In 1970, Parnelli Jones won the Trans Am Championship. The four auto manufacturers, including AMC, were involved every weekend for the rightful claim to say that you had the best car, the most power and the winning performance.
What's cool about the '60s is that the series required Ford to build cars that were homologated for the series. We built cars that we raced. People loved to see that. You’d see a Mustang on the track and know when you went back; you could buy a Mustang that was in the spirit of the vehicle from the track.
From there, drag racing came into play and NASCAR. All of these forms of racing really grew in the '60s. We also raced and won at LeMans.
In the 1970s, with the oil shock, there was a withdrawal from performance and a focus on fuel economy because of the shortage of oil. There was a dip in the mid-70s and then it re-escalated in the '80s, '90s and 2000s to what we see today.
Ford is involved officially in three forms of sponsored motorsports – NASCAR, NHRA and Rally. Millions of people race Ford vehicles every weekend in grassroots racing whether it’s SCCA, Nassau, World Challenge, GranAm or Open Wheel Racing. Ford is not involved today in Open Wheel Racing but we have a rich history with that, whether it’s Formula One or Indy. It’s a very expensive form of people’s expression and their love for cars.
Q. When Henry Ford participated in the 1901 race, he wanted to receive recognition for himself in order to get investors to back the company. If he was alive today to see how racing has evolved over the years, what do you think his reaction would be?
A. When you’re a parent and you look at a child, you see pieces of yourself in that child. The DNA of Ford Motor Company is filled with his passion to go out and prove out the products on the track, as well as tell people about Ford Motor Company. That DNA has been with us for 110 years.
When you look at the new products that we are putting on the track – Mustang Challenge, Cobra Jet, FR500C and the Boss 302R – they are all directly linked to the products we are selling. We take great pride in continuing the production-based legacy that Ford started.
But there are all forms of interest in all forms of motorsports. NASCAR, although it has evolved from its original roots of production-based cars that start with the showroom stock, the fans still loves it. We are involved in NASCAR because there are 100 million fans and almost a third of them love Ford. We have a very loyal fan base.
NHRA is our most visceral, our most loyal, the most Ford-loving fans that we can find anywhere. We have the “Elvis” of NHRA in John Force the 50-time champion. It’s important when you’re affiliated and you’re involved in racing as Ford was that you have a winning team. You have winning drivers and you’re showcasing your technology. That’s also greatly exemplified in this case the Focus when it raced in World Rally a two-time champion a few years ago. You can see that we continue to participate and reach out to fans who absolutely love all types of racing, which is what Ford started.
Q. You have a great passion for racing. Where did the passion come from for you?
A. You don’t grow up in Dearborn without having a little bit of Ford in you. I went to Fordson High School where our mascot was the tractor. The school is off Ford Road. Ford is a part of me. That’s how I grew up. I always wanted to work at Ford because I loved Mustangs.
When I was in high school – I’ll always remember this – the quarterback had a street Boss 302, yellow with the stripes and he was a cool guy. I was just a nerdy guy. When he would get into his car, I would think to myself one day I want to get a Boss because I want to be cool too.
We all have these formative moments in our years and my formative moments for cars started because my dad drove a little fast on the road so I had an interest in going fast, but also in high school when I saw the Boss 302.
I joined Ford and have been very blessed and very fortunate to have great experiences over my 20 years of working in places like Vehicle Development – going to the track and proving out our products – and touching products through Product Marketing and Product Planning. You work at Ford, touch products and live products. It’s a part of me. I’m very lucky.
Q. What’s the most memorable race you’ve attended and why?
A. The most memorable race happens to be one of the most recent races I attended, and I’m holding the coin. I sleep with the coin. It’s this year's Daytona 500. Edsel and his family were there. Our executives Ken Czubay and Lewis Booth were there. The product and brand teams were there.
It was the first race of the year and a young kid, Trevor Bayne, was driving for the oldest Ford team in NASCAR – 60 years of uninterrupted support for Ford –sponsored by Motorcraft. This was an unbelievable Cinderella story, the greatest race and coming off a very difficult season last year.
We were all there and then there's that moment, Trevor Bayne winning in a Motorcraft #21 achieving our 600th win with everyone there. On top of that, we finished the race 1-2-3. You couldn’t have scripted a better story. I get goose bumps when I tell it because it takes me back, it makes me proud. The outpouring love came in texts, emails and phone calls from people who just love Ford when it happened. My email was littered with an outreach of support. It made me feel like we’re continuing the legacy of Henry Ford because people love Ford and when you win in a moment like that, it deepens their love for Ford. That’s why this will always be my fondest moment, you can’t repeat it.
Q. How is racing making an impact on the company?
A. We do a lot of research. We race because it it’s in our blood. It’s in our DNA. I can tell you unequivocally – our management knows because we review it regularly – when we win on Sunday, we sell on Monday. It is an old adage, but it’s true. Our research shows that roughly 40 percent of those who intend to buy a car in the U.S. are motorsports fans. Fifty percent of those who intend to buy a car in Europe are motorsports fans. It’s not a U.S. phenomenon. It is a global phenomenon.
Roughly 40 to 50 percent of those who intend to buy a car say they love motorsports and then we ask what form of motorsports do you follow. In the U.S., we know we’re in the right place: NASCAR and NHRA is what they love. And in Europe, they love Formula One. They also love Rally and other forms of racing.
We then look at the attributes – brand affinity, love for the company – among fans and nonfans. Fans have a two to three times higher affinity for Ford. They consider Ford at a higher rate. They shop and buy Ford at a higher rate. They just love Ford. We know all we have to do is endear ourselves to more fans because the more fans we get we know that we’re helping Ford’s bottom line by selling more cars and trucks.
Q. What message do you want people to take from the 110th anniversary?
A. For employees the message is we race because it’s good business. It’s a lot of fun when we win. But it’s a lot of hard work too. Races are on the weekend, we work during the week and on the weekends. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s very fulfilling when we succeed. Racing is good for the business. It supports the company and the data shows that we’re in it because it supports the business.
For our fans and those who are just casual observers of milestone moments, not many things persist in life for 110 years. We’re lucky as a company to be able to reflect back on something Henry Ford started and is still here because of the support of our management and everybody has for Ford. Celebrate with us a milestone moment and we’ll be here for the next 110 years.