Ford Motor Co. is creating a new proving ground for its marketing and engineering managers: motorsports operations.
Ford wants its racing effort not only to produce victories at the track but to train marketers and engineers to work in a fast-paced environment that demands fresh solutions.
Kent Harrison, program manager for Ford's participation NASCAR Craftsman Truck series, typifies the new breed.
In June 1997, Harrison left Ford's large-car vehicle center, where he worked on interior trim for the Ford Mustang, to begin a two-year stint overseeing Ford's participation in the truck-racing series, which began in 1995.
'We are bringing personnel in from our mainstream engineering organization, usually for a two-year period, and then taking the things we learn from this job back to the mainstream,' Harrison says.
'There is a limit to what NASCAR brings back to production from a pure technical standpoint,' he says. 'It is more of a mindset. How you approach problems and achieve solutions, and what kind of time frame do you use.'
Use of motorsports as a training ground is one of the three chief reasons Ford is involved in racing, says Torrey Galida, Ford global motorsports marketing manager. Ford also expects motorsports to enhance its brand image, increase sales and serve as a technology test bed.
'It is an opportunity to train people and to test people in the heat of battle,' Galida says. 'You don't have a long time to come up with a solution. And you get your report card every Sunday.'
Harrison has firsthand experience of the time pressure racing creates.
'I saw a need for an aerodynamic change in our race truck, and NASCAR gave approval for the change fairly late,' he says.
Parts for production vehicles are tooled over many months' time. But the truck-racing schedule demanded that the changes be made within weeks.
'We molded an entire new front fascia and took a complete step out of the process,' Harrison says. 'It was only five weeks from approval of the prototype part to production pieces. I found out things that might help shorten development time when I go back to production.
'The race dates force you to think of different ideas and how to get things done differently,' he says.
Similarly, Harrison is trying to determine if correlations exist between costly, time-consuming aerodynamic tests performed in wind tunnels and those completed more quickly and inexpensively on racing test tracks.