BOB TASCA III, DRIVER OF THE MOTORCRAFT/QUICK LANE FORD SHELBY MUSTANG, WON SUNDAY’S 40TH ANNUAL NHRA GATORNATIONALS FUNNY CAR RACE. HE PARTICIPATED IN A TELECONFERENCE ON WEDNESDAY TO DISCUSS HIS FIRST CAREER WIN.
BOB TASCA III – MOTORCRAFT/QUICK LANE FORD SHELBY MUSTANG NITRO FUNNY CAR – WELCOME TO TODAY’S TELECONFERENCE AND CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR VICTORY.
Thank you very much. It’s great to be on. What a win for our program and Ford Motor Company. It certainly was a day that I’ll never forget.
NOW THAT YOU’VE HAD A FEW DAYS TO THINK ABOUT IT, WHAT IS IT THAT STANDS OUT IN YOUR MIND ABOUT THE FIRST WIN?
I think it’s funny, going into the race, there was a reporter that asked me a question. He said, ‘Okay, script your first win.’ And I kind of looked at the guys and said, ‘Well, truthfully, I can’t script it. I’ll let you know after it happens.’ I guess if I could have scripted it, I couldn’t have scripted it any better. To qualify No. 1, on the pole, at one of the biggest races of the year, Gainesville being one of those really big marquee races that you circle on your calendar in the off season. National TV, ESPN, you beat Tim Wilkerson, my teammate, in the second round, which was big for us. We never had a team car, so it was new to pull up next to him, knowing that he wants to beat me as much as I want to beat him. But at the end of the day, we’re both sharing information. Then to beat the 14-time world champion, John Force, who has really been a mentor of mine and certainly is a big reason why I’m driving one of these cars here today. Then to pull into the finals with Tony Pedregon, my best friend, heck, he’s in Disney with me right now. Just to win the way that we did and how we did it and who we beat, just makes it that much more special.”
IN REFERENCE TO THIS COMING ALONG, DID YOU EVER CONSIDER, BECAUSE OF THESE RESULTS, GOING FROM HUNTING FOR POINTS AND WINS TO NOW BEING HUNTED FOR POINTS?
“Right from the very beginning of this program, people asked me, ‘What are your goals?’ I said, ‘Our goals are real simple. We want to win two championships. That’s one on the race track and one off the race track.’ Our program, if you really pull back the onion, and look at what we’ve done, it’s win on Sunday, sell on Monday. Right out of the gate last year we had an off-the-track program that was championship quality from how we targeted the consumers, how we launched our B-to-B side of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane program. But the championship on the race track was really the ball in my court. To build that program, it isn’t instant pudding. It takes time to get the right players in place, and parts and people. But certainly, I give all the credit in the world to Chris Cunningham and my group. The first strategic move that I did was hire Chris Cunningham. The guy has been out in the sport a long time, has won championships on other teams and is a seasoned Top Fuel Funny Car veteran. The second move we made that was very, very significant is Tim Wilkerson. During last season, I realized pretty early on that to win a championship without another car to share information or to work with is pretty difficult. Wilkerson almost did it last year, which was storybook in and of itself. But when you really look at the Pedregon program, again, I’m very close to Tony. Two separate teams but yet, two brothers are very much in alliance when it comes to performance and it’s hard to argue. The last two years the Pedregons have won the championship. For me, it was about finding that right fit because chemistry is everything in this sport. And Tim, both a family man and our family really, really meshed really well together. We decided to take this leap last year and certainly the performance of our race car right now. People don’t realize we ran the wheels off this thing after Pomona last year. We left Pomona, we spent four days in Vegas, went to Palm Beach in the off-season, went to Phoenix. We had a quarter-season of runs before we ever rolled into Phoenix. Am I surprised where we are? I wouldn’t say surprised. I think the expectation level that we hold ourselves to, me and the team and the guys, is to win. To win a championship doesn’t mean you got to win every race, you’ve got rounds. For us, to get the monkey, as you say, off our back and take the pole, take the win, beat the guys that we beat, I think we certainly put a stake in the ground that we’re the real deal. We’re here to race, not to get a sunburn. I think one of the reporters found that funny. They said, ‘Gee, you got the pole,’ and basically that was it. I said, ‘Well, fellas, we didn’t come here to get sunburned, we came here to win. The pole was great, that was yesterday.’ We’re determined to win and I’m just thrilled to be able to deliver this victory to Motorcraft and Quick Lane on our 27th race. These guys have raced an awful long time and never got a Wally, so to deliver this win to the sponsors that believed in me when I had nothing. To number two in the points, to your point, is probably more important right now. You have to be in the top-10 to run for the championship and that’s what we fully expect to do.”
YOU SAID JOHN FORCE IS YOUR MENTOR. DO YOU SEE TRAITS THAT HE HAS THAT YOU FEEL THAT YOU HAVE THAT WILL MAKE YOU A CHAMPION?
“I asked my grandfather, ‘Pop, how do you come to be so successful in the auto industry and know so much about the auto racing?’ He said, ‘It’s a simple philosophy: I’ve asked the right people the right questions and remembered the answers.’ That’s kind of what I’ve done. To be with John from ’97 until today, particularly in the ’90s and early 2000s, really being immersed in his program, just be around a guy like that, his intensity level, his desire, and then again, Tony branching off from his program and going out and winning a championship on his own, those are character traits and personalities that I’ve been blessed to be around. I think I do share some of the stuff that John has. It’s the fire. I think at the end of the day, you’ve got to wake up in the morning and this is all you’ve got to think about. People ask me, ‘What do you think when you’re in the car right before you hit the throttle?’ And I say, ‘I don’t think about living, I don’t think about dying, all I think about is winning. That’s what we do. We get out on this circuit, we chase the trophies, we finish the championship and it really consumes you to a big degree, but I think if you don’t let it consume you, if you don’t really immerse yourself in it, you don’t get that opportunity to win championships, and those are things that John has done over the years, and hopefully that’s rubbed off on me.”
HOW MUCH ARE YOU SURPRISED ABOUT YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH WILKERSON THAT HAS BORN THIS KIND OF FRUIT SO EARLY IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP?
“To a lot of people, they say, ‘That was brilliant. You partnered with Wilkerson and now you’re a winner.’ It’s a very interesting chemistry because we’re so early in our association that we really don’t have a baseline on our two cars. It’s almost comical to a point. Wilkerson kind of chuckles a little bit. He said, ‘Tasca, they think I waved the magic wand.’ The truth is, he’s helped us tremendously in the clutch department. Our motor programs are totally separate right now. We run different heads, different camshafts. What I feel great about, Chris Cunningham and Tim and Marc Denner were able to get together, come together with somewhat of a game plan to come out of the box. Truth be told, until we get a couple more races under our belt, to know the characteristics of the two cars, the tuning information that we’re sharing hasn’t really come to fruition yet, which is a good thing because we’re running this well without having 10 races under our belt to compare notes to. I think it will continue to show improvements both on our car and Tim’s car as the season unfolds.”
YOU’VE COME OUT AS THE BEST SPOKESMAN FOR ANY OF THE CAR MANUFACTURERS, PARTICULARLY SUNDAY. TALK ABOUT HOW YOU CAN SEE WORKING WITH FORD TO HELP AUTO SALES AND HOW YOU CAN HELP OTHER TEAMS HELP THE MANUFACTURERS MARKET THEIR CARS THAT WIN ON SUNDAY AND SELL ON MONDAY.
“A reporter asked me going into the season, ‘It’s a recession, why is Ford racing? Why are they spending money in racing?’ Then I asked the reporter, ‘Why do you think we race?’ The reporter said, ‘Well, I guess to win.’ I said, ‘Let me tell you why we race. The reason why we race is to sell Ford, sell Motorcraft parts and to sell Quick Lane service. The moment that we can’t do that, there’s not point of racing.’ The way that we built this program, to my grandfather’s point back in the ’60s, was win on Sunday, sell on Monday. That’s the only reason why we race. If we can’t sell on Monday, there’s no reason to win races, there is no reason to be out there with a 300-mile-per-hour billboard. When you look at our program, we have three distinct facets to it — one, is our B-to-B element. This goes to the Motorcraft and Quick Lane point, where it’s through contests, awards-based contests. It’s not hospitality. I call it relationship marketing. Where we go out to these distributors, dealers and customers and we create programs that drive business back into their local market. Then the more business that they create, it gives them a chance to come to the race track and experience the race. So, that’s one facet. The other facet is the B-to-C side, that’s where we engage the consumers with the Midway and it’s very dynamic. We gather consumer information in a very interactive way through a holeshot contest to a Quick Lane pit crew challenge and we use that information to market back to the customers on Monday. That’s a very important statistic. One of things we look at is how many names and addresses and hand-raisers do we have leaving a venue. The last element, obviously, is the performance of the car on the race track, and through winning and being competitive you get airtime. How I fit into the dynamic, Al Giombetti, one of the executives at Ford, kind of chuckled, he said, ‘It’s our unfair competitive advantage.’ I am Ford. In Atlanta I said, ‘I’m an all-Ford kid driving an all-Ford hot rod,’ and no truer words have been spoken. My family has represented Ford in Rhode Island and Massachusetts exclusively. We’ve never sold any other car but a Ford Motor Company product since 1965. As a kid coming up, the brands that are on the hot rod are brands that I grew up with, Motorcraft and Ford and Quick Lane. To be able to speak both to their dealers, to their vendors and to the fans, the customers, the credibility factor you can see it. I don’t fake it. It’s what I love. I said something along the lines of, ‘I drive ’em, I sell ’em, I race ’em. I love Ford.’ And that’s the truth, I think, at the end of the day, the win on Sunday, sell on Monday in our program, it’s cars, it’s trucks, it’s service. We took all facets of Ford and all you have to do is look at our race car. I think one of the brand decisions right out of the gate is that Ford could have said that they want half the car. You can go and sell the other half of the car. That’s not what they wanted to do, they said, ‘We want to own this car. We want it to go down the race track. We want people to see it on TV and we want people to know that this is Ford Motor Company on this race car and nobody else.’ That was decided early on and we’ve executed both off the track extremely well and I’m very happy to be executing on the track. I think you’ll see Ford leverage the asset and the asset is our program in a multitude of ways because, one, we proved we can win; two, we’ve proved that we’ve put a championship-caliber program together in a short period of time and people love associating with winner.”
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WHEN YOU CALLED ‘POP’ [GRANDFATHER, BOB TASCA, SR.] AND WERE ABLE TO TELL HIM ABOUT IT?
“It was just incredible. My grandfather is just an amazing man. I’m just fortunate to have someone like that in my life. If someone asks how much has John Force rubbed off on you, the person that has the biggest impact on my life has been my grandfather. The man is so determined. He’s so focused. It’s almost scary. He’s 83 years old now. My first season was just brutal coming home because he didn’t care it was my first season. He doesn’t care I’m a rookie. Why isn’t the car running better? Why didn’t you win? Why did you red light? He’s hard-core, because for him, it’s winning. That’s why he raced. There was no other reason for being there. I kept telling him, ‘Pop, we’re working on it. We’re getting better.’ And I know he wanted me to win so bad. As he’s getting older in his age, I wanted to deliver that trophy to him. I haven’t seen him yet. I can’t wait to give him a hug. He was ecstatic. My grandfather, he even couldn’t hardly talk to me on the phone. It was just real neat knowing that he was watching it. We won the race they way that we wanted it with John and Tony obviously in the fold. I know he’s ecstatic. Needless to say, he’ll have some good things for me this trip home.”
YOU BEAT JOHN FORCE ON SUNDAY. DID YOU TALK TO JOHN FORCE AFTER THE WIN?
“John was one of the first people down at the end of the track when I beat Tony and came up and gave me a hug. He just told me, ‘Kid, it’s a great day, you have no idea what you’ve accomplished in such a short period of time.’ He said, ‘I’m blown away, I’m so happy for you and for Ford.’ I think he called my grandfather before he even saw it on TV, he was so excited. It’s a special relationship, but at the end of the day, John wants to win as bad as I want to win, but, heck, if I can’t win I want to see him win and he feels the same. If he can’t win, he wants to see this Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang win, so it’s a neat relationship.”
WHEN FORCE STARTED, HE HAD THE ONLY FOUR MUSTANGS IN THE SERIES. DO YOU THINK THIS IS A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME? WILL WE SEE MORE MUSTANGS IN THE SERIES?
“Well, obviously, John has four Mustangs, and obviously for years that was pretty much how it was. When our program came down the pike, John could only have four, the NHRA doesn’t allow any more. I think it’s a great thing, at the end of the day teams go out and look for sponsors and not all of them are manufacturers, some of them are Brand X, they want to run a Ford, then they can run a Ford. There have been other Mustangs before John, but he kind of had the market cornered with Ford for a while for no particular reason. I know John is thrilled to have more cars out there. At the end of the day the more Mustangs out there, the more chances, and more exposure out there for Ford Motor Company.”
A YEAR AGO THANKSGIVING, YOU DIDN’T HAVE ANYTHING. WHAT DOES THIS WIN SAY FOR YOUR ORGANIZATION.
“I said to one of the reporters in the press box, this is a national event from scratch. November 1st, I remember the phone call in my pajamas in the bathroom on the phone with Chris Cunningham saying, ‘Hey Chris, I want you to come work for me,’ and he said ‘Why? You don’t have any parts, you don’t have any race cars you don’t have any employees and we got to be in Pomona in two months. You’re crazy.’ ‘Well, I might be a little crazy,’ I said. ‘I’ve heard a lot of good things about you and if you give me a chance I can drive one of these cars.’ And he said, ‘You don’t even have the license to drive one,’ but he believed in me. NHRA put that no testing ban in last year, which really hindered a lot of what we wanted to do in that first year. It just makes it that much sweeter because at the end of the day we really worked for everything we have. Ford believed in me when I had nothing and I told them, I promised them, I said, ‘Fellas, I promise you I can win just give me a chance.’ I think I ended that interview by stating, ‘Motorcraft and Quick Lane, I think we can win.’ I knew we could win, so hopefully this is the first of many to come. I can assure you of one thing, I am determined and focused to win a championship. Whether it’s this year, or next year or the year after, we’re focused on going rounds, and thrilled to have this first win behind us, believe me. We will celebrate right up until Friday at Houston, but at the end of the day it’s going rounds, it’s staying in this top 10 and giving us a chance to run at this championship at the end of this year. I think we got as good a chance as anyone out there right now.”