First Drive: 2007 Ford Harley-Davidson F-150 and 2008 Ford F-150 Lariat Limited Edition
Photos and Words: Mike Levine Posted: 07-20-07 02:30 PT
© 2007

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When even diesel drivers sometimes have to listen twice to make sure their quiet new engines are running, it’s good to know the true truckers inside Ford Motor Company still love to crank up the volume for performance enthusiasts and buyers.

At the highest level of truck performance, Ford Racing is going strong in this year's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Two Blue Oval drivers, Travis Kvapil and Rick Crawford, are currently ranked in the CTS top five – matching the number of slots Toyota's racers also occupy.

Toyota driver Mike Skinner owns the pole position in the CTS points race but Kvapil has picked up two wins this year in the #6 Roush Racing K&N Filters Ford F-150. And Kvapil just took second place behind Skinner this past weekend in Kentucky at the 'Built Ford Tough 225'.

NASCAR’s pickup truck racing league started in 1995 and since that time it has grown steadily in popularity, following the rocket trajectory growth of the “Cup” cars.

But while many stock car racing traditionalists - racers and fans alike - have taken a jaundiced eye towards NASCAR’s new “Car of Tomorrow” debuting this season, the 2007 Craftsman Truck Series remains firmly connected to the earlier days of stock car racing.

NASCAR’s roots date back to the late 1940s, when Bill France Sr. founded the organization to standardize rules between the tracks where southern moonshine runners used to race each other for bragging rights in their customized, law-evading street cars. France’s rules codified that the race cars could only be modified versions of actual ‘stock’ cars sold by the manufacturers.

Soon enough the OEMs began to notice increased sales of models that won NASCAR’s contests. To capitalize on this new trend they started producing race parts and limited edition, high performance versions of popular street cars to encourage even more wins and to drive more sales.

In the 1950s, engines like Ford’s famous FE V8 were created specifically to take the checkered flag while powering everyday cars and pickups. The concept of “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” was born. Even as late as the early 1970s it was possible for racing fans to walk onto a showroom floor and drive off the lot with cars that were near identical to what their NASCAR idols were running on the oval.

The modern era of NASCAR began in the mid-1970s, when the one-two punch of the 1970 Clean Air Act and 1973 Arab Oil Embargo caused the federal government to impose tough new emissions and corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) laws on the manufacturers selling cars in the US. The regulations, coupled with lower demand for fuel sucking street racers, forever changed consumer powertrain technology and negatively impacted engine performance in everyday cars for the next twenty-five-plus years. Fuel injection, overhead cams, front-wheel-drive, and catalytic converters all became commonplace – a long way from the basic mechanicals under the hoods of the old moonshine runners.

In response to the new government regulations, NASCAR also revised its rules to retain its racing heritage and identity under the shadow of dramatically changed consumer market conditions.

NASCAR went an entirely different direction from mass-produced autos, standardizing all race cars around a single set of specs regardless of factory origin. Engines could still be built and supplied by the auto manufacturers, but the motors had to be no larger than a fixed displacement, they could only use carburetors and pushrod architectures, and the cars had to be rear-wheel-drive.

Race car bodies also changed from sheetmetal to composite materials. The plastic and fiberglass skins initially retained distinct styling cues shared with production cars but slowly over time the universal laws of aerodynamics turned all the cars into similar sleek shapes resembling warped versions of their real-world counterparts.

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