While the popularity of NASCAR has grown exponentially since this schism, today’s race cars have very little in common with modern passenger cars - like a front-wheel-drive, DOHC V6 powered Ford Fusion sedan - aside from vague shaping cues and decals resembling grilles and front headlights. And while the Detroit Three still dominate the fields in the Nextel Cup and Busch Series races, they no longer rule the passenger car sales charts like they did during NASCAR’s golden age.
But NASCAR's Craftsman Series pickups are different.
Like today’s race cars, the race trucks also follow strict engine architecture, displacement, and driveline configuration rules, but unlike passenger cars, consumer pickups remain incredibly close in powertrain and spirit to modern race trucks - and to their original NASCAR race car cousins. Ford may have stopped selling pushrod V8s for its F-Series pickups in the mid-1990s but single-cam-in-block motors are still the primary work engines found in production Chevrolet Silverados and Dodge Rams.
The Chevy, Ford, and Dodge brands also makeup the majority of the CTS racing field, but unlike their cars the trucks remain the best selling consumer vehicles in their segment and over most of the auto industry.
In a very real way, Craftsman Truck Racing is a throwback to the car-buying America of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, which is why Ford, “the official truck of NASCAR”, is so serious about keeping its investment and participation in NASCAR and the Craftsman Truck Series so high.
Ford’s own research reveals that over half of Ford truck owners are racing fans, with 60 percent of these owners specifically following NASCAR racing.
"It’s important for (Ford and its local dealers) to continue to do things like sponsoring the 'Built Ford Tough 225' at Kentucky Speedway", says Todd Eckert, Ford's manager of truck and SUV communications.
Mr. Eckert adds, "Sure, we have trucks in (the race) so people know that Ford and F-150 are involved in the Craftsman Truck Series, but at the same time being able to put 'Built Ford Tough' onto the race itself is something that ultimately helps show that we’re not only participating in the racing but that we’re also helping to bring the racing to local communities, like Kentucky, while working with the grassroots efforts of our dealers, because that’s ultimately where our truck customers live, in grassroots communities. This is an important market for us and Craftsman Truck Racing is am important way that we reach out to our consumers. It’s why we’re renewing our sponsorship (of the 'Built Ford Tough 225') for another three years (through 2010)."
Recent Cincinnati-area Ford F-150 buyers particularly benefited from the Blue Oval’s generous sponsorship. They received two t-shirts, two hats, and two tickets to the race. They were also allowed special access to the garage area at the track, where the customers had an opportunity to personally meet and greet the drivers.
From the nearby Kentucky Truck Plant, where Ford’s heavy duty pickups are made, there was a new 2008 F-250 Super Duty with a 6.4-liter Power Stroke V8 diesel that Ford donated for a contest to help raise funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The crew cab sported a custom American flag paint job and drew a large crowd before the race started.
Kudos also to Ford Truck spokesperson Wes Sherwood, who literally gave the 'Ford Racing' shirt off his back to a current Ford Focus owner and race fan who said they liked the white polo he was wearing. Talk about Ford accommodating the buying public!