Ford Racing: Polishing The Oval

They race to win. And to learn. And to sell.

When you think "Ford Racing," you probably think "NASCAR." Possibly NHRA.

When you think "Ford Racing," you probably think "NASCAR." Possibly NHRA. But there's Grand-Am. World Rally. USAC Focus Midgets. ARCA. Etc. Or another way to think about "Ford Racing" is in the context of the multitude of Mustangs that are out on the streets . . . racing. Or all of the other Ford models that have been seriously accessorized. Part of Ford Racing includes the ability to buy small block 302-based engines, 351-based engines, big block engines, modular engines, even sealed race engines. You can get superchargers, exhausts and suspension components. All of which is to say that there are several facets of Ford Racing.

Doug Hervey is manager of North American Racing Operations for Ford Racing Technology, a job that he's had for just over one year. Hervey came to this post after having had several years in mainstream engineering with Ford. Prior to Racing, Hervey was the vehicle engineering manager for the 2007 Lincoln Navigator and Ford Expedition. As he surveys what "Ford Racing" means, he points out that a good part of why the company goes racing is because of things like those crate engines and because it allows the company to collect information from people who attend the races so that Ford is able to target market to a crowd that thrives on horsepower.

"The main thing we see ourselves doing," Hervey says, "is putting the fine polish on 'The Oval.' We're taking the brand and making sure that it is polished-superb and championship-capable." Or, drilling down to the team level (in NASCAR, the teams are Roush Fenway Racing, Wood Brothers Racing, and Yates Racing), he says: "Our goal is to make sure our teams our championship-capable." He adds with emphasis in his voice: "We take that very seriously."

On the subject of NASCAR, which is certainly the most visible of the series that Ford participates in, Hervey explains that as an OEM the company supplies blocks, heads, and intake manifolds to the teams. These engines aren't produced in a Ford engine plant. Rather, Ford uses Roush-Yates Engines as the engine-build facility. But Hervey points out that Ford engineers from Dearborn go to Mooresville, NC, where they work with the Roush-Yates team. (In fact, as we talk, Hervey is in North Carolina where he has just reviewed the designs for the '09 engine program.)

In addition to the engines, Ford provides various sheet metal components to the teams, such as the nose, tails, hoods, deck lids, A-, B- and C-pillars, and some B-surface parts. NASCAR has precise specifications for bodies (well, they have precise specs for all aspects) so that there is parity among the various vehicles. Hervey points out that as regards the bodies, a main focus that NASCAR has is on assuring that the drag and down force numbers are the same for the Fusions, Chargers, Impalas, and Camrys.

There is involvement on aero aspects of the cars. "We also provide the race teams with technical expertise for aerodynamics," Hervey says. And they also aid in the setups of the vehicles from week-to-week. Pat DiMarco, Vehicle Dynamics/Chassis Manager for Ford Racing, has spent essentially his entire career working in racing. He says that one of the things that Ford brings to the teams is software that has been developed in-house. He explains that this software not only takes considerable resources to develop, but expertise to operate. "Our teams can't afford to do it. This is not Formula One," he adds, which would be funny if the amounts of money spent by F1 teams weren't so ridiculous. He says that one of the things that tightened regulations has meant is that it is increasingly tough to find competitive advantage in setting up the chassis for the vehicles, which means that factory help is all the more important.

While there has been a significant influx of software-based design and engineering tools into the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, DiMarco says, "There are some things you just can't model with those tools." So they even work with shaker rigs to perform seven-post analysis of the chassis to set them up for racing.

Both Hervey and DiMarco talk about the excitement of racing. They also talk about the hard work that's involved as the teams work to get ready week after week, from the Budweiser Shoot Out that was held on February 9 in Daytona to the last race of the season on November 16 at Homestead-Miami-which just happens to be the Ford 400. "Racing is a tough sport," DiMarco says. "It's not something that a lot of people like to do full time. But it is something I wanted to do since I was little." (He obtained his degrees in Engineering to make this happen.)

Hervey, who holds undergraduate and grad degrees in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and who is the recipient of a Henry Ford Technology Award (the highest technical achievement acknowledgement by Ford Motor), says that while winning is certainly important-"My team is focused on what it takes to win"-he thinks it is very beneficial to see the consequences of the work that they do even if it isn't a podium finish: "If we can see how our computer simulations have helped a team, that's really gratifying to me."