DEARBORN -- It has been one of the most commonly asked questions of Ford Racing over the last 15 years. When is Ford going to return to Pro Stock?
Not since the mid-1990s heyday of the legendary Bob Glidden in the Motorcraft Thunderbird has "The Blue Oval” approached a season of NHRA Pro Stock competition ready to battle in the most competitive class of racing in NHRA drag racing – Pro Stock - where the entire field is usually separated by a fraction of a second.
Technically, the answer to the question is 2009, when Ford Racing ran a yearlong testing and developmental program with Jim Cunningham Racing aimed at the creation of a new Pro Stock engine and a new Pro Stock Mustang body. While Jim Cunningham and Erica Enders ran the chassis and engine combo at the NHRA Finals at Pomona last November, the engine was still in full development and thus the outing was little more than a high visibility test.
In reality, the “official return” is this weekend when, after a fervid 14-month journey, the polished combination of Ford Racing’s new Ford 500 Pro Stock engine and the 2010 Mustang Pro Stock body will take to the famed quarter-mile at the 50th NHRA Winternationals in a pair of Larry Morgan Racing Lucas Oil Summit Racing entries.
“I’m so excited, I almost can’t hardly stand it, just to get there,” said Morgan a 10-time Pro Stock winner who is switching to Ford after years of running a Dodge Stratus. “It’s incredible. We ran real well in testing, both times we were out. We’re just so excited for Ford to get the Ford Mustang out there and show off what Mose [Nowland] has been working on for months.”
Morgan and his teammate John Nobile will be the only Ford Mustangs in the field of 22 cars at Pomona this weekend. Cunningham Racing is expected to make its 2010 Pro Stock debut at Gainesville, Fla. in mid-March.
The evolution of the new Ford 500 and the 2010 Mustang Pro Stock body has come under the watchful eye of Mose Nowland, Ford Racing’s engine engineer who has been involved with successful high profile Ford Racing programs dating back to the legendary Le Mans program in the 1960s. Nowland was charged in late 2008, by then Ford Racing director Brian Wolfe, to chart a course for a Ford return to Pro Stock. The difference was Ford would be returning to Pro Stock not as a factory program, but as part of a larger NHRA strategy that embraced sportsman racing, added performance parts offerings, and included activating Ford as Official Vehicle of NHRA.
“We’ve made considerable progress with our engine and we’re very excited about it,” said Nowland. “We’ve had several test trips and we’ve done extensive dynamometer testing. The development work has been on the top end basically, the manifold and induction system and so on. We were excited about the performance of this thing. We actually met our goal the first time out on the dynamometer. In fact, we eclipsed our goal, our expected goal, and that has really set the excitement high. We’re very grateful for our two participating teams, the Morgan team and the Cunningham team, they’ve been great contributors.
“Certainly, since we left Pro Stock racing, about the time Bob Glidden retired, there’s been a lot of breakthroughs on alloy, compositions, strength and methods of valve train dynamics, “ said Nowland. “It was very delightful for me to have spent so much time on NASCAR projects that there’s a lot of things we learned there that we applied to this engine. We just have learned over the years what works and what doesn’t work. Our goal was to get out there pretty quick with an engine that would stand a good chance to qualify and keep the price down. I believe we’ve met the challenge pretty good.”
The Ford return to Pro Stock is coordinated with the launch of a variety of racer friendly or grassroots initiatives. Ford Racing diversified its NHRA program with an expansion of teams in Funny Car, with entrance as a customer supplier into Pro Stock and with a recommitment to sportsman racing with the re-introduction of the 2008 and 2010 Mustang Cobra Jet. As a result, there will be an increased Ford presence at NHRA events in coming years both on and off the track.
Now the challenge of racing in the most competitive class in NHRA now becomes a reality for Nowland, Cunningham and Morgan and the fledgling Ford Pro Stock program.
“My expectations are running high right now,” said Nowland. “We realize our competition is tough and we’ve got the Mike Edwards, Jeg Coughlin and the Johnson’s and others out there. I know they weren’t sitting on their laurels over the winter. We’ve been working real hard and we’re certainly going to have a qualifying car, there’s no doubt in my mind, unless some unforeseen thing pops up. From what we see and feel right now, we’re going to be in that ladder somewhere.”
Morgan is a proven winner throughout his career and he knows what it takes to visit the Winner’s Circle. “You can’t get in there enough, I can tell you that right now. It’s quite a thrill. More than anything, my next race win is going to be in a Ford Mustang and I can’t wait. Hopefully, that will be Sunday night.