Ford Scaling Back NHRA Involvement

Ford will end its sponsorship of teams competing in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series following the 2014 season, including John Force Racing. (Rhonda Hogue McCole Photo)
Ford will end its sponsorship of teams competing in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series following the 2014 season, including John Force Racing. (Rhonda Hogue McCole Photo)

SONOMA, Calif. — Ford Motor Co. plans to scale back its involvement in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series beginning in 2015.

After rumors circulated that the company was withdrawing from professional drag racing, Ford Racing issued a statement in an effort to help head off the distribution of inaccurate information.

In essence, Ford will end its sponsorship of teams competing in the series at the end of the 2014 campaign.

“Ford is not getting out of drag racing. We are fully committed to continue our support of grassroots sportsman drag racing with our Mustang Cobra Jet, parts support and contingency programs. Enthusiasts and production-based racing is at the heart of what we do,” the statement read. “We have, however, made a business decision to conclude our team sponsorships and support in the NHRA Mello Yello Series at the end of the 2014 season. This decision was based on an ongoing assessment of our motorsport programs’ effectiveness and the strategic alignment with our company objectives globally.”

The announcement primarily hampers the NHRA Funny Car efforts of John Force Racing, Tasca Racing and Tim Wilkerson Racing.

Force addressed the issue Sunday morning at Sonoma Raceway.

“We’re proud of what we’ve done on the track,” Force said. “But I’m more proud of what we did off the track.  With Ford’s help, we completely redesigned a Funny Car chassis that hadn’t changed in 25 years and we helped make the sport better for everyone, not just the Ford teams.

“Ford made a decision and I respect that decision,” said the 2012 inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.  “They’re a lot smarter than me.  I have a year-and-a-half left with Ford and, honestly, at my age a year is a lifetime.

“When I signed with Wendy’s and Jolly Rancher (JFR sponsors from the 1980s), they would only give me one-year deals,” Force laughed.  “I still have a job to do and I never count on just one sponsor to make JFR a success.  (The Ford people) were a big help with the chassis program and I can never thank them enough for all the safety help, but I have to look at the big financial picture.

“I have two options moving forward,” Force said.  “I can start selling chassis, motors and paint to other race teams, which I have the capability of doing right now, or I have to find a new manufacturer – and that door could be open any day.  I have made some changes to my team to put us in position to win for the future and with these young drivers and crew chiefs we can adapt so this is an exciting time. There will always be bumps in the road.  It’s a challenge and I love challenges.”

Tasca and Wilkerson also issued statements.

“For Ford to make a decision to pull out of professional drag racing, I truly believe they have underestimated the passion and loyalty of the NHRA fans,” said Tasca. “It is a sad day for all Ford drag racing fans. Tasca Racing has no plans on leaving the sport. I have already begun working on sponsorships for the 2015 season and beyond. Expect a big announcement from Tasca Racing sometime next season. Until that time, I look forward to a successful 2013 and 2014 season with Ford, Motorcraft and Quick Lane.”

“While there’s definitely some disappointment, I just want to say how thankful and proud we’ve been to be a part of the Ford Racing family in the Funny Car class,” Wilkerson said. “We’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and we’re proud of how we represented the company since we came on board in 2009. We also appreciate Ford giving us this much advance notice so we can adjust and make our future plans over a good length of time. For now, we’re just going to look forward to having a strong finish here in 2013 and then on to a great 2014 with Ford. It’s been an honor to be associated with them.”
—Susan Wade contributed to this report.
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