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Ford Racing boss making best of bearish economy

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[March 13, 2009]  NEW YORK (AP) -- Brian Wolfe has learned to live with less and, hopefully, make it work

RestaurantThe director of Ford's North American motor sports program since the middle of 2008 came from the company's powertrain unit, where he says budget and personnel cuts were a way of life long before the economy began crashing down around everyone's heads.

"There's no easy jobs at the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers)," Wolfe said Thursday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I've been at Ford for 27 years now in a variety of leadership positions and you learn to focus on what's really critical to be successful.

"And being successful means I have to have a winning platform and championship-capable teams and I have to be improving the favorable opinion of Ford to drive showroom traffic and sell some vehicles," he added. "That's what is important to us."


Like his competitors at General Motors, Chrysler and Toyota, all of whom compete against Ford in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series, Wolfe has had to be creative this year.

The Ford Racing budgets were cut by more than 30 percent across the board and Wolfe's staff was reduced before the season by 10 percent.

That has forced Wolfe and Ford to make some hard choices.

"In NASCAR, it made us focus on Cup and Cup exclusively," Wolfe said. "In the truck series and the Nationwide series, we backed away from a lot of our, if not all of our financial backing, although we're still offering technical assistance to insure the cars perform as well as they can on the track, and a contingency program where we reward some people for that."

Unlike GM and Chrysler, its traditional competitors from Detroit, Ford has not had to ask the government for financial help. Wolfe credits Ford CEO Alan Mullally for keeping the company and the motor sports program viable by coming up with a conservative approach over the past several years to future sales and the amount of money to be spent on marketing, which includes motor sports.

When the bottom fell out last year, Ford was prepared.

"It wasn't like it was unforeseen and we had to tear up our plan and start over," Wolfe said. "That's why we were putting our focus in NASCAR on the Cup Series and (why) we're staying in the NHRA, primarily focused on the Funny Cars and the sportsman racers who work with us so well and do so much for us."

But NASCAR is Ford Racing's biggest stage.

"I couldn't be happier with the performance of our teams this year," Wolfe said. "We don't have as many teams (as other manufacturers), but I've learned long ago it's the quality of the teams you have and the qualify of the guys you've got working for you that make a big difference.

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"Right before I came to the motor sports job, I had between 800 and 900 people working for me in powertrain. Sometimes, you're a lot better off with a smaller, highly talented crew than an average group. I think I've got the best concentration of talent within Cup."

Wolfe said a key for Ford's NASCAR Cup program is that all three of its teams -- Roush Fenway Racing, Yates Racing and part-time competitor Wood Brothers Racing -- use engines built by the Roush-Yates alliance.

"Instead of each team, like with some of the other OEMs that have three or four teams developing a Chevy engine or Dodge or whatever, we've got all that engine development focused in one shop," Wolfe explained. "So we don't have two different people learning the same thing independently. That basically costs teams twice as much money to do that.

"So that focus of all that effort working with Doug Yates and Roush Yates engines has given us, I think, a significant advantage. I can assure you I'm not lacking for power and I'm not lacking for fuel economy on the engine side."

Heading into the first idle weekend of the 2009 season, things look pretty good for Ford on track. Roush Fenway's Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle are all in the top 10 in points.

And, while there is the possibility that at least one of Ford's biggest competitors could face bankruptcy or even go out of business this year, Wolfe isn't wishing anyone ill.

"It's no fun when you're only racing against yourself," he said. "Competition is great and I really hope that all three of our competitors continue to be out there on the track. If it turns into a single manufacturer series, I think the fans lose and I think the OEM's lose a great marketing opportunity as well."

[Associated Press; By MIKE HARRIS]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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