When Mike Fiore told Bob Tasca III he was interested in building a new Ford Shelby Mustang Funny Car body, Tasca did most of the talking – mostly trying to talk him out of it, he said.
Fiore, founder and president of Outerlimits Offshore Powerboats, of Bristol, R.I. had come up with the idea on the showroom floor of Tasca Ford, where he was visiting. Sure, the multi-time offshore boating world champion knew about the water – but what could he know about the world’s fastest motorsport?
“He knew my brother and knew we were into racing,” said Tasca, also a Rhode Islander. “I didn’t know him, but he knew a lot about what we were doing (with the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team). As he was walking through the Service Department he saw (the Tasca Funny Car body John Force competed in at Maple Grove Raceway in the 2000s). It was hanging in the Service Department. So when he walked through he saw it and thought it was pretty cool. He had to see one close-up.
“I think he mentioned to my brother, he said ‘You know something? I could build one of those.’”
Fiore remembers the moment a bit differently, saying they seemed to ultimately talk each other into giving it a chance.
“Bob’s definitely a visionary guy. He’s very good at recognizing opportunities,” Fiore said.
This year, three Outerlimits Ford Shelby Mustang bodies will be in circulation on the NHRA Full Throttle Series tour – two for Tasca and one for Wilkerson.
In 2011, the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Shelby Mustang Funny Car team competed with the first body made by Outerlimits from the NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, where Tasca runnered-up in the four-car finals, to the fall Las Vegas test session, where it burned to the ground after a massive explosion.
“That was a fitting story,” Tasca said. “Mike’s engineer was at the test session. They were doing some evaluations on the body and he asked if they could take it back and cut if up to see the cross-sections.
“I said ‘No! You can’t take it back at the end of the season and cut it up – this body has been tremendous.’ It’s a back-up body, it can be an emergency body. I can’t let you do that.’
“He said no problem. Then, 24-hours later I called him back and said ‘OK, you can do whatever you want to it’ because we had that big fire. As soon as we got back from Pomona they sent a truck down and have since evaluated the body and core structure and used that information to build the last four they’ve just built. They’re finishing the fifth right now. Then they’ll get mounted and go on the race cars.”
That Tasca likes to be on the frontlines of everything he touches is undeniable. He works hard to deserve it. At Ford Motor Company, Tasca is one of a select group of Ford dealers design teams rely on to tell them what they can sell. Tasca sees Ford products from beginning to end; from the drawing table to the sales floor.
He’s always plugged in; always looking for the next secret. Fiore had to understand one thing: If he was going to build a Funny Car body, it would have to be the best. Just succeeding at creating the product wouldn’t be enough.
The first time Tasca heard Fiore’s name, Tasca himself was a rookie starting a Funny Car team from the ground-up. Fiore was both persistent and insistent. He could do it, he said.
“(In 2008) I certainly didn’t want to take on any more projects,” Tasca said. “We kept talking about it and talking about it, he kept saying he could build one. I said ‘You know Mike, I don’t have the funding to go and do a tool and all the engineering.’ I said, obviously, if you’re going to build one of these things, we’re going to want to build one better than the one we have and more cost-effective. Because, otherwise, there’s no reason to throw your hat in the ring.”
Fiore refused to give up. He made a gutsy move, offering the car dealer a deal.
“He said if you buy the first body, I will do all the tooling out of my pocket,” Tasca said. “We’re talking a huge check to do all the tooling. That’s when I knew the guy was serious.”
Now, after a lengthy development stage on a body that will continue to evolve, Tasca and Wilkerson will have brand-new Ford Shelby Mustang Funny Car bodies crafted by Fiore and his world-renowned Outerlimits.
If you peel back the layers of the story, you’ll find – of course – a connection to drag racing.
Mike’s wife Shonda Whipple-Fiore is the daughter of Art Whipple, of Whipple Superchargers. Whipple, with driver Ed “the Ace” McCulloch, won the 1970 NHRA U.S. Nationals and the 1971 NHRA Winternationals. In his racing zenith he owned everything from Top Fuel dragsters to Funny Cars to circle track cars to drag boats.
But for Fiore, his connection to drag racing is even deeper than that. His own father raced a 1965 orange Shelby fastback Ford Mustang on an eighth-mile track near the family home in the 1960s, before the family ventured into boat racing.
Fiore talked about his new project with his father-in-law, who told him it was a good idea.
“(Art) knew what our abilities were,” Fiore said. “He said, ‘You know what?’ I think you guys can do that. Absolutely.”
Like Bob Tasca III (and Bob Sr. and Bob Jr.), Fiore is a business bulldog whose ability to “put his money where his mouth is” impressed Tasca, as well as the competitive drive he could sense from a 1,000 feet away.
“We kind of hit it off,” Tasca said. “We really did. I didn’t know Mike before this project started and I consider him a close friend now in working with him over the last year, in learning how he operates.
“What’s most impressive to me…is when he said he’d do all the engineering to do the first body if I bought it, I thought that was pretty ballsy. We had a little bump in the road (with structural damage on the body in Palm Beach in 2011). We didn’t have a massive failure, but we had a failure where it wasn’t good enough to run anymore. At that point a lot of people would have said ‘I’m not spending any more money on this project.’ But he was waiting for us when we got home. He fixed it and had it back to us. That kind of defined his commitment towards this project and the rest is history.”