40 YEARS AFTER BRINGING FORD INTO NHRA FOLD, INFLUENCE STILL CLEAR

Atlanta, Ga. – It’s almost impossible to describe the robust personality and vitality of a man like Bob Tasca Sr.

Beloved, he was bound to his friends and family through the lock-tight devotion that comes from mutual respect. Nothing went unnoticed by Bob Sr.; no detail left undone. He’s the kind of man you’d never want to take on in chess because he’d always be three steps ahead.

Henry Ford II affectionately called Bob Sr. “The Critic.” The nickname was not unearned – Bob Sr. was known for giving Ford unfiltered, direct advice, delivered simply. He was also known for the fearless, dogged way he pursued any goal he set.

One of those goals, four decades ago, was to get Ford Motor Company involved in NHRA Drag
Racing.

He succeeded. Then he swept his family up in the same tide of dedication to the sport, passing on a love so potent that 40 years later, his grandson, Bob Tasca III races professionally in – what else? A Ford Shelby Mustang Funny Car, with a Ford sponsor – Motorcraft/Quick Lane – on the sides.

Tasca III will compete in the 31st annual NHRA Southern Nationals this week at Atlanta Dragway, in Commerce, Ga. Qualifying from the Atlanta-area race airs on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 14, with eliminations to follow at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 15.

It was a letter writing campaign that Bob Sr. used to convince Ford to go racing. Determined to marry two of the things he loved most in the world – Ford and high-performance vehicles – Bob Sr. drafted his plan of attack. It was, of course, uncomplicated and effective, as anyone close to him would expect.

Bob Sr. knew Ford would listen to his customers. He asked anyone willing to write a letter asking Ford to become involved with NHRA, handing out Ford’s mailing address as he went. The result was almost immediate. Overwhelmed by the volume of letters that arrived at his office daily, Ford begged Bob Sr. to call off the campaign. Of course Ford was interested, he said. Of course the company would get involved.

“To the day he died, (Bob Sr.) believed he was the Ford Motor Company. He took personal ownership to a whole other level,” Tasca III said. “Ford, to him, was his. Whether he spoke publicly about Ford, whether he was at a plant, whether it was about product or racing, he held Ford in such high esteem, and the Ford family, to him, was part of our family.

“To this day, we’re very fortunate to share a relationship like that with the Ford family. I think that’s what differentiates Ford from a lot of other companies. It really is a family business. (The Ford family is) very hands-on. When my grandfather pitched Ford, it wasn’t a way to enrich Tasca, it was truly to help the Ford Motor Company. He believed that if Ford wasn’t in the sport of drag racing, they were going to be at a disadvantage to their competition and he didn’t want to see that happen. I think Ford II shared his sense of passion about it.”

In an era saturated with the growth of and fascination in American motorsports, it was inevitable that Bob Sr. would make note of rival manufacturer’s performance on the track, then beat them. It was never a question of if, once Bob Sr. set his mind on something. Only how, and through what method?

“When you look back, it really is a pretty amazing story about what a guy from East Providence, R.I. did in the world of drag racing over his lifetime,” said Tasca III. “It certainly would be a pretty different landscape, from Ford’s standpoint, had he not really pursued the sport. For me, I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for him.”

The stories of how Bob Sr. changed the course of Ford in NHRA Drag Racing are many – so many it’s almost impossible for family members to recount them in one sitting. Bob Jr. tells of how the drag strip was his father’s haven; a place for him to relax. But not even his racing program, one dotted with landmark cars and performances such as Mystery 9-8-7, “Beat the BOSS” and his partnership with Chevrolet convert Billy Lawton, was held separate from his Ford/Lincoln-Mercury dealership.

For Bob Sr., the equation was simple: Winning on the drag strip and research from racing helped build better cars, which, when coupled with a dedication to complete customer satisfaction meant more sales. His “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” approach, a slogan his family still uses, made him famous.

“He was never satisfied with the way a car ran,” said Bob Jr., who vividly remembers cars from Ford II’s personal fleet his father would work on, and the Tasca Bird 1 – a 1964 Candy Apple Red T-Bird with a 427-cubic inch engine under the hood. “He always thought a car could run better, and that’s the way he approached life. The minute you think you’re successful, you start to slip. It’s amazing that, thank God, he lived long enough to see his kids and grandkids carry on the family business and keep on racing.”

Before he died in 2010, Bob Sr. logged an impressive amount of miles traveling around the country, first with his own shows and performance clinics, then with the drivers he brought into the fold – from Lawton in the early days to John Force, whom he brought into the Ford family with one phone call when Force wandered into the Tasca’s dealership in the 1990s.

“Dad was probably all-around, the most knowledgeable person in the automobile industry,” Bob Jr. said. “There are a lot of smart people out there, but he knew the cars, bumper-to-bumper, as good as anyone could know a vehicle. It started when he was a kid. He always wanted to be a Ford dealer. In the career essay he wrote in the seventh or eighth grade, he wrote that someday he wanted to be a Ford dealer. He ended up being a good one, and his kids and grandkids are following in his footsteps.”

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NEXT EVENT, NHRA Full Throttle Series

31st annual NHRA Southern Nationals

Atlanta – May 13-15, 2011

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