Greg Zyla 2014-08-28 14:06:42
Jamie Allison shares Ford’s racing heritage and the company’s approach to motorsports today. This month, we interview Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing. Allison oversees all of Ford’s racing related properties, from road racing to NASCAR and everything in between. Allison initially joined Ford Motor Company in 1987 after graduating from the University of Michigan-Dearborn with an electrical engineering degree. He returned to earn his MBA in marketing from the same university. Allison began his career at Ford in product engineering, and spent the first 10 years working within engineering and product planning. In 1997, Allison made the transition to product marketing, and held a series of marketing jobs within the company before joining Ford Racing Technology in 2003, where he oversaw the Ford Racing Performance Parts business, as well as North America Motorsports Marketing. He became the director of Ford North America Motorsports on January 1, 2010, replacing Brian Wolfe, who was named to a new position in global product development. Under Allison’s leadership, the Ford Racing Performance Parts business was transformed by offering ready-to-race vehicles for production-based racing, Performance Packs, and new vehicle modifications for enthusiasts. The team also partnered with Shelby Autos on the launch of exciting new Shelby performance vehicles, and created the Ford Performance Group as an outreach to Ford Clubs, all of which reinvigorated Ford’s support of performance enthusiasts. Since taking over as director, Allison has helped the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series grow through the addition of Penske Racing in 2013. In addition, he oversaw the development and implementation of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Mustang that debuted full time in 2011, and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Fusion, which brought brand identity back to the sport in 2013. His latest achievement has been Ford’s renewed commitment to sports car racing and the addition of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates in the newly formed TUDOR United SportsCar Championship this year. This follows Ford’s Michael Shank Racing setting a new closed-course speed record at Daytona International Speedway in 2013, when driver Colin Braun turned a lap of 222.971 mph. Sit back and learn how big-time motorsports works in Ford’s overall picture, how Ford utilizes technology from road to race car and back to road car, where “smaller is better” fits in the modern performance puzzle, why Ford’s Mustang plays a major role in the aftermarket industry, and much more. PRI: Jamie, let’s start with the current celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang. Back in the 1960s, if you put a few dollars in your 1968 Cobra Jet, a 12.5-second quarter mile was easy even on “cheater slick” tires. Today, when you look at what’s going on, it is truly mind-boggling when it comes to performance. Allison: And then some. Today, you can go into a Ford dealership and purchase a Cobra Jet Mustang, take it directly to the track and run in the eight-second zone. This Cobra Jet is available at any Ford dealer and, since its inception in 2008, we’re averaging about 50 units per year. It is delivered race ready, comes with no VIN (vehicle identification number), and is ordered as a single performance part at the parts and service desk. Some of our Cobra Jets run in the high sevens, and they can run in several NHRA classes. PRI: OK, we’re talking one of the extreme 50th anniversary Mustangs here, so how about in terms of a smaller budget? Allison: Sure. Back in 1987, when I first started with Ford, I bought a brand-new Mustang GT, and at the time it had a 225-horsepower, 5.0-liter engine. After a few bolt-on aftermarket purchases, I thought it was all I could handle. Here we are today, and that same 5.0-liter Mustang GT is producing 450 horsepower, which is double the output from the same displacement. We are approaching 100 horsepower per liter, which is unimaginable and a long way from the early 302 engines that were putting out less than 200 horses. PRI: It looks like the Ford Mustang is more popular than ever today, especially with performance enthusiasts. Allison: Obviously, there are many different passions, be it daily driver, drag racing, sports car racing, drifting, land speed records, oval racing, you name it. Our ready-to-race Boss 302R is legal in IMSA and the World Challenge road race series in the GTS class. Ford now has a full array of Mustangs and muscle cars to ready-to-race cars, which are all born and raised off our production 5.0-liter Mustang engines. PRI: It was a given years ago that the aftermarket companies produced more parts for the Chevy small block than any other engine ever, including the Chevy big block. Today, however, when I tour the aisles at the PRI Trade Show, I see so many companies producing hardcore race parts for Ford and specifically Mustang applications than I’ve ever seen. Can you tell us the good news about the Mustang when it comes to the aftermarket performance industry nowadays? Allison: I’m so glad you bring this up, as your observations are spot on. We certainly do attribute the success of Ford parts in the aftermarket marketplace mostly to the Mustang. As you correctly mention, there was indeed a time when one could argue that the Chevrolet small block was an aftermarket standard for a variety of reasons. Today, things have changed as the Ford Mustang is now recognized by SEMA as the number one modified vehicle recorded by SEMA’s data. It brings with it generations of interest dating back to Mustang’s inception in 1964 1/2 to where we are today in our 50th year. Right now, we’re on Generation Six of the Mustang and there is still something magical about the car. From day one to the ’70 Boss, the SVOs, the Fox body and all the way up to our modern 5. 0-liter Mustangs, everything is connected. Enthusiasts today are buying modern day crate engines for their dated Mustangs, and the good news is that a modern 302 will fit in your older Mustang without serious surgery. In other areas, people just want to refresh their old 5.0- liter engines, and that’s fine, too, as even more parts will be sold. I must also note that our current 302 blocks are Boss blocks, with all the reinforcements one expects to deliver so much horsepower. It’s love, passion and longevity where our Mustang is concerned. When you throw in our modern day vitality to all things Ford in the aftermarket, we like to think that we’re the nucleus that fuels the passion for Ford, be it aftermarket, grassroots racing or professional racing. PRI: Staying on the Mustang just a bit longer, a good friend is planning to buy a Roush Mustang mainly because he feels the retro-look of the Mustang is so much better than the retro-Camaro. I know this is a Hatfield versus McCoy question, but how about your view? Allison: Let me put it this way. When you first see your newborn in the hospital, you see a little of the mom, the grandparents, dad and so on. The eyes, the nose, the hairline, the ears. The 2015 Mustang pays homage to all the parents, grandparents and great grandparents and so on. I’ll just tell you this new Mustang has some pretty strong bones. So, we all see what we want to see in our object of passion. Obviously, my passion is the Mustang. When I look at the 2015, I see the fastback I loved back in 1967 and at the end of the day, each generation of Mustang is unique. Our designers take pride in the fact they designed something unique, and continue to do so. PRI: Ford has been doing some outstanding work on the twin-turbo, 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost engine. You had a successful debut this year at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Is this an area where Ford is putting extra effort in engine development? Allison: Yes. Our pillar at Ford is to connect the technology in our street driven cars to the technology in what we race, and back and forth. There was a time through your time and mine where racing was utilized to advance the pace of technology. One of the most prominent race technologies back then was the development of ABS (anti-lock braking systems). Today there are more instances where there is more technology in production cars than in some of the racing series. That is why you see Ford pushing actively and proactively on the direct linking of technology from our production cars into a racing application. That didn’t happen in the 1960s, but it does today. So, this is a long way of my introducing the fact that we have literally taken the production block of a 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost engine that is found in a Taurus SHO and F-150 and some other variants and put it in our racing cars. Literally, that same production block and same heads and even some of the valvetrain components are production pieces that we use in our Ford race-ready engine that develops double the horsepower. PRI: On the production 3.5-liter EcoBoost, what is the average horsepower versus the race application? Allison: About 300 horses on the production engine versus the 600 horsepower we’re developing on our race-ready EcoBoost V6. Additionally, when you talk 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring and Six Hours of The Glen, we must succeed at high mileage and high endurance. The reason this is a great application is because when we discuss endurance racing, you need the optimal balance of performance and fuel mileage. That’s our promise of EcoBoost technology as we generate performance through turbocharging while delivering better fuel mileage through a downsizing of engine displacement. Then we combine direct injection with the turbo and smaller displacement theories, and Ford is then able to replace our 5.0-liter engine in our prototypes and replace it with a 3.5-liter EcoBoost effectively. The performance is unchanged and we gain a fuel mileage improvement. This is why we are very excited about it. The summary is turbocharger, direct injection and small displacement. These are the three pillars, and today you can find the EcoBoost technology in almost every vehicle we make and in different EcoBoost displacements from a 1.0-liter, 1.6-liter, 2.0-liter and the aluminum F-150 2.7-liter. The 3.5 EcoBoost is available on the big F-150 and Taurus SHO. I can go through every lineup and even in the Mustang where we just announced a 2.3 EcoBoost. I don’t think we’ve left any decimal points out. PRI: Since all of this technology we’re talking about ends up in the driveways of multi-millions of consumers, much is attributed to Ford’s successful branding methodology. Are you still 100 percent behind all forms of motorsports, be it drag racing a bracket car to NASCAR? I know this is a loaded question, but I seek your feelings on how corporate Ford views racing, from sportsman bracket racers to NASCAR’s top levels. Allison: Here’s a little history. Ford Motor Company was founded on Henry Ford himself racing and winning the only race he ever entered. This was two years before he ever founded Ford Motor Company in 1903. Obviously, when we celebrated our 110th year of Ford Racing in 2013, we were able to trace the fact that Henry Ford himself raced to showcase his technology at the time. His victory was due to his ceramic encapsulated spark plugs that allowed him to withstand the rigors of those times. He knew back then that the publicity of racing would lift his name and product in the time when the people backed certain pioneers. So, to get to your question, which is actually not a loaded question, we race today for the same reasons Henry Ford raced in 1901. We showcase our technology and tell the world about Ford. It’s in our DNA, it’s the lifeblood of our company, and when we hire new employees we make sure they understand there is a link in the spirit of Ford to racing. When a company does racing right, there is a very good payback. PRI: What types of programs are you most into these days? Allison: We have primary and privateer programs. I can tell you on any given weekend, there are many Fords being raced, some at the factory level and many at the privateer level. NASCAR is a spectacle with over 70 million fans, but we also support drag racing and drifting. Then there’s off-road racing, sports car racing, and many more forms. PRI: How do you view Ford’s involvement in modern day motorsports, from company philosophy to individual team effort? Let’s use NASCAR as an example. Allison: When you talk about motorsports, there are two elements. First is sport and second is family. This year in NASCAR, we’ve won five of the first 16 races. All of last year we had a total of six wins. Had that hot dog wrapper not attached itself to Brad Keselowski’s grille this year (at Pocono), we would have six right now. We’d be matching last year’s total by June. (This interview was held the day after Carl Edwards’ win for Roush Fenway Racing at Sonoma.) To win in NASCAR, a lot of things have to come together. Other factors include scale, which is the number of cars competing; brand representation; and a goal at Ford to always win the championship for the company. Ford Racing is the epitome of Ford Motor Company’s family. All of our teams are part of the Ford Racing family. There will be times when one member of the family stands out while another member isn’t. But at the end of the day we succeed as a family and we develop as a family. I always look at how Ford is doing, overall. When a Ford wins in NASCAR, so does the family. We foster sharing between Roush Fenway and Penske, our two big teams, and then also RPM, Front Row and the Wood Brothers. PRI: Let’s end with your crystal ball. Do you feel the green racing with alternative fuels and such will continue to show up on the race course? Allison: I guess I’m a ‘glass half-full’ kind of guy. The opportunity, which is the half-full part of my answer, finds many of us growing up in a time when motorsports and driving a car was a major passion. Today, less than 50 percent of 16-yearolds get their license when they can. This is way different from when we turned 16 or 17. Back then it was 85 percent and more. You couldn’t wait. It was a rite of passage, independence and so on. The challenge before us today is relevancy. Today’s generation is growing up in a time where potentially motorsports as we know it today is not as relevant. The youth today have all these games, social media, iPhones and countless different choices. Their object of affection and interest is not that much the automobile as it was. So, we have to connect with a generation to make motorsports and cars relevant as it once was. That’s why we are involved in the action forms of motorsports. We find it resonates with the younger generation because it’s sharable, shorter, bite size, exciting, and we can tune to their interests. This to me is a frontier where Ford is pressing forward in competition like Global RallyCross, but not necessarily in the form of racing as we knew it. PRI: Are you still as bullish on NASCAR as you are the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship? Allison: Yes, and I think there are bigger opportunities in the scale of NASCAR as we draw more relevancies from the sport. The Gen. 6 cars look more like the cars in your driveway, and the NASCAR engine tech (fuel injection) is coming along, too. We need to see the connection in the cars that consumers see race to the cars they own. We also need to be racing with the current array of technology, which is why we like the IMSA program because of our production-based EcoBoost V6. This is somewhat both answers to the question. Ford Racing looks for the opportunity, the challenge, and are they connected? That’s where our focus is. PRI: Some say NASCAR is in trouble because of the empty grandstand seats at some events. I’ve had some big discussions lately about this, and I’ll admit, I think there was some overbuilding of stadium seats during the huge growth spurt, but the bottom line is that I am more interested in NASCAR today than ever, and I started following the sport in 1958. How do you see this situation, especially considering the interaction of fans “at home” thanks to social media? Allison: Another good point to discuss. The TV networks and NASCAR are currently adapting to what the networks call “two screening,” where people are watching television races but they are also on their iPads, phones, Twitter, PCs, interacting and watching an additional camera view. Then, there is three screening, with the laptop joining the fray and giving the fan three distinct views. Since this is what a new fan is, the networks are adapting the broadcasts to keep these fans engaged. You’ll find lap-by-lap comments on Twitter as the social communities, all with motorsports as their passion, gather together instead of sitting in the living room by themselves and not engaging with fans across the globe as the race unfolds. And it’s going on in IndyCar and other forms, too. It’s a new way to promote our sport. Many times, I have followed the NASCAR races while traveling or being at another event on Twitter for complete up-to-date info. I applaud all racing series that cater to modern fans today that consume motorsports through social media. The bottom line is that racing today is available through social media, and it allows an extension of engagement regardless of whether the fans are at the track or not at the track. It keeps the affinity, the bond, the interest of motorsports alive and well. And it is all sports, not just motorsports. We all have a role, too, from the stars of the sport to the series sanctioning body to the manufacturers. So, I agree that social media will continue to invigorate the fandom of the sport if it is done right, be it NASCAR, NHRA, IMSA or Global RallyCross. PRI: I’m sure Ford discusses IndyCar participation from time to time, and I’m wondering if we’ll see a Ford engine program join Honda and Chevrolet in the near future. Allison: We talked with IndyCar back when they were going through their committee input period (on engines), and we shared our point of view. We believe that an opportunity existed back then when IndyCar was more about pushing the envelope on technology. In today’s time, what is the technology to be pushed? It’s electrification. So, we found there was an opportunity to integrate some of that when we gave our input four years ago. But that was four years ago. I guess this is my long way of saying Ford is now focused on truly production-based technologies and production-based forms of racing. At this time, open wheel racing is not in our scope. PRI: Thanks much, Jamie, for a great chat, and congratulations on Ford’s continued success on the track. Allison: It was really my pleasure to talk with you. PRI plays an important role in the business of racing, and we’re happy to oblige. So, thank you, as we discussed so much in this interview.
Published by Performance Racing Industry. View All Articles.