JG Online


'Ford's Eighth Grade Mentality'
June 2002

The ire of Chevrolet team owner Richard Childress was recently raised after a story on Ford Racing's website accused RCR driver Kevin Harvick of driving "cheated-up cars" and speculated that Childress had forsaken Harvick in favor of Robby Gordon. The story, written by an unnamed writer, said its proof was that Childress sat atop Gordon's pit box at Pocono after he had been sitting atop Harvick's pit box since the Bakersfield, California native moved into Winston Cup racing following Dale Earnhardt's death in February 2001. The story was eye-catching to say the least after it also claimed Harvick's two victories in 2001 came in "cheated-up cars"-- a claim that is completely unfounded and without merit. The unfortunate by-product of Ford Racing propagating rumors about its competition are the detrimental effects to the image of Ford and its Ford Racing website.

Childress responded to the story at Michigan with surprise that Ford's official racing website would deal in rumor and innuendo. In truth, Childress sat atop Gordon's pit box alongside crew chief Kevin Hamlin as he has done for the past two years. Though Childress should not be surprised by the gossip-type nature of Ford Racing's story. After all, FordRacing.com has long dealt in hearsay and rumor on their website. Instigating rumors against its competition (Chevrolet) while claiming its own teams are superior is nothing new for Ford. It's a tradition.

The Chevrolet Team Monte Carlo website, the Dodge motorsports site, and the Pontiac motorsports site all promote their drivers without dipping into the rumor mill surrounding its competition-- the way a corporate entity should. Yet Ford Racing, with a grand total of three Winston Cup championships since 1970, deems it good business practice to promote various rumors often based on hearsay on its official website.

In September 2000, Jeff Gordon won the Chevrolet 400 at Richmond International Raceway. After the race NASCAR deemed the magnesium-based manifold on Gordon's engine to be illegal. This despite the fact the team had been using the General Motors issued manifold in other events throughout that season. In its post race diatribe on its Ford Racing website, the company added a small twist to the situation:

"Perhaps this is why when Team Ford Racing asked the project manager of GM Motorsports prior to the running of the Monte Carlo 400 who would win, the name Jeff Gordon was offered before the entire question was asked." (Ford Racing-9/11/00)

Or perhaps it was simply a case of the project manager picking a driver who was in the midst of a wicked slump and in need of a strong effort. Perhaps it was simply a case of the project manager picking the GM driver who had won the most races over the past six seasons. Or perhaps it was Ford Racing's attempt to pour flammable liquid on a smoldering flame-- not unlike what the company propagated about Richard Childress Racing two years later.

At times it seems Ford Racing will blatantly disparage General Motors drivers in the hopes of building up its own driving contingent. Here's an item from Ford Racing's web site posted in 2000:

"What did No Bull 5 contestant Marcus Pohlmann and Ford Racing have in common this past weekend? Thatís right, neither of us got to talk to Dale Earnhardt. We might understand why he didnít talk to us-- but Pohlmann was the fan that was 'lucky' enough to be paired with Earnhardt in the popular Winston fan oriented event. It is amazing that Earnhardt appears to have gotten big enough for his britches that he can shun the series sponsor and a fan and not have the sanctioning body land on him harder than they did when they found the questionable rear bumper on his car. Earnhardt, who missed three No Bull Five functions during Speedweeks, spent all of six minutes in the proximity of Marcus and shared approximately that many words with the guy as they stood around during pre-race festivities. If not for the other Dale, Dale Jarrett, the experience that Pohlmann had would have been nothing short of a total snub." (Ford Racing-2/24/00)

In true FordRacing.com fashion, Chevrolet driver Dale Earnhardt was the "bad guy" and their prized statesman Dale Jarrett wore the white hat. Propaganda at its best.

Following Jeremy Mayfield's victory at Pocono in June 2000 when he nudged Earnhardt out of the lead on the final lap, FordRacing.com had a ball. Along with a glowing story on Mayfield's victory, the following paragraph was included:

"It's time to face the facts folks, Mayfield is the real deal and he is the new school. Get used to hearing the name--- and the term Winston Cup champion associated with it in the not too distant future." (Ford Racing-6/22/00)

While there is no denying Mayfield's talent, it is interesting why, after being released from Penske Racing in September 2001, Ford Racing allowed Mayfield to slip from its grasp and sign with Ray Evernham's Dodge team. If he was indeed the "real deal" as Ford proclaimed in June 2000, why did the company not make a better push to keep him in Ford equipment after his release from Penske? That answer will definitely not be found on FordRacing.com.

In discussing Earnhardt's tactic of nudging drivers to take a position on the track, FordRacing.com offered this summary in June 2000:

"The old man is getting sloppy with his bumper work. Just ask Bobby Hamilton the victim at Rockingham while he was still in the STP Pontiac. Or ask Terry Labonte after two separate recent Bristol events. Terry was able to hold on for the win before crashing in '96 but that was not the case in '99 when his car was reduced to a smoking heap sitting on Bristol's back straight after Earnhardt shoved the #5 car out of the way like a bowl of soggy breakfast food." (Ford Racing-6/22/00)

That old man finished second in the series points standings in 2000-- ahead of every single Ford driver. Perhaps it is Ford Racing's reporting that is sloppy. They included the inaccuracy of noting the Bristol incident involving Earnhardt and Labonte in which Labonte won as occurring in 1996-- when it was in fact in August 1995. Inaccuracy on FordRacing.com? Just par for the course.

During the latter half of 2001, this nugget of information was provided by Ford Racing's unnamed "Correspondent":

"We can throw the name Joe Nemechek into the mix as heís talking to someone now. Itís very tempting to believe he might be the new shoe of the Dale Earnhardt Inc. #15 as the performance of that team hovers closer to pathetic than a DEI team should be." (Ford Racing-10/2/01)

While there is no denying that Michael Waltrip struggled in the 2001 season after his breakthrough victory at Daytona, I just don't feel a rival automaker should be the one spreading a rumor about a driver change. Strange how when Waltrip was driving Fords his performance was never assessed on the automaker's motorsports website. It is interesting to say the least how Ford will speculate on Chevrolet driver changes and call a Chevrolet team's performance "pathetic." Yet not a word was mentioned on FordRacing.com about the disappointing performances of Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, and Jeremy Mayfield in 2001. All three drivers drove Fords to victory lane the previous season but suffered through winless seasons in 2001.

With competition between auto makers what it is, a variety of strategies to gain the upper hand are often used. Whereas other manufacturers focus on their own contingent of drivers, Ford Racing deems it appropriate to promote its brand by tearing its competition down-- more with verbal cheap shots than on-track performance. Sure, the other manufacturers can use the same tactics as Ford. But they're above it. Ford's strategy is often befitting an eighth grade gym class rather than one of the world's leading automobile manufacturers.

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