5.0 Mustang & Super FordsFeatured Vehicles
Brian Wolfe - The Natural
Pioneering Pro 5.0 Racer And Celebrated Ford Engineer Brian Wolfe Is Now In Charge Of Ford Racing
Horse Sense: Back in the day, Brian demonstrated his new Pro-shifted five-speed tranny by letting us take an easy run down the strip in his blue car. Sitting in the right seat, he said, "Yeah, it's so easy you can't miss a shift." Naturally that was our cue to immediately miss the next shift. Diplomatic as ever, Brian waved our faux pas aside, remarking on the difficulty of no-rhythm, slow runs such as the one we were on. A genuine gentleman, we've always appreciated Brian's accommodating manner and optimistic attitude.
From a business suit on the company plane, PDA in hand, to a plaid shirt in a backstreet machine shop schlepping around his own 302-that's Brian Wolfe, and now he's running Ford Racing. We're a lucky bunch for that turn of events.
We were doubly thrilled to learn Brian has been handed the Ford Racing steering wheel. Not only has Brian been a friend to this magazine for 18 years, starting in its Super Ford guise, but more importantly, Brian brings a rare authenticity to his office as head of Ford Racing Technology. After the variously skilled politicians and administrators who have occasionally had their run at Ford Racing, formerly Ford Special Vehicle Operations, we're excited to report this all-important position is held by someone who's the real deal.
It is important to note that Brian is a Ford man. Yes, it's a quaint notion in today's jaded world of instant e-allegiances, but it's an important indicator of the drive he brings to the job.
Brian grew up in Michigan, youngest of several sons in a household that held Henry Ford in high esteem. Working at Ford was a staple for Wolfe males, and Brian anticipated Blue Oval employment from his earliest thoughts. That employment came immediately out of college and is currently in its 26th uninterrupted year.
Starting in large trucks and moving to Engine Engineering, Brian has been able to track his way through Ford by sticking close to his first love: engines. First as a development and integration engineer and later through management in the electronics-intensive calibration field, his immersion in engine technology is encyclopedic.
To us at the magazine, the corporate side of Brian Wolfe has been the lesser seen part of his life. At the dragstrip, Brian is humble regarding his accomplishments, always one to brush aside any grandeur regarding his day job. He says, "Oh, just tell them I'm a dyno operator or something." Our view of Brian the company man is based on the collateral stuff accumulated by being around the company. Our first clue came when riding on the corporate plane with Brian: He was decked in an unfamiliar (to us) coat and tie, and attending to paper work and a meeting-filled schedule. At the company offices, we wandered past the Aston Martin V-12 in the lobby and through the cubicles in Advanced Engines to find his nearly corner office. We heard of his work in Europe from other Ford employees. Slowly we got the message that Brian was on his way up.
But really, to a magazine editor or a magazine-reading enthusiast in the '90s, Brian was a 5.0-liter pioneer and Pro 5.0 competitor. The first man in the 11s, 10s, and 9s with a naturally-aspirated injected 5.0, and later an 8-second dominator with nitrous in the days of iron cylinder heads, Brian's building, tuning, and driving credentials are solid gold. And yet the truth is, as important a role as Brian has played in Mustang drag racing, it is but a few lines on his still growing list of accomplishments.
Still, he and the electronically fuel-injected, 5.0-liter Mustang grew up together. For Brian, who thought he'd been born too late and missed the great '60s muscle-car era, the 5.0 provided the propulsion to an excitingly unforeseen performance renaissance. Ford-focused, powertrain-oriented, and with high-performance as his passion, Brian had the background, the drive and-through his Ford employment-the access to prototype parts and factory knowledge that helped make him a heavy-hitter in the developing 5.0 Mustang scene.
It was Brian's accomplishments, not his employment, that got him noticed. He drove home from his driver's license test in his first car, a '68 Fairlane with a 428 Cobra Jet engine. It saw plenty of action, but after he started working at Ford, Brian bought a spanking-new, red '86 5.0 hatchback-the first of the fuel-injected Mustangs. This was when traditional techno-challenged enthusiasts were disgustedly selling their fuelie hardware at swap meets to bolt Holley four-barrels in their place, but Brian wanted to develop the new system. Collaborating with Hank Dertain-a riotously over-caffeinated Ford SVO engineer assigned to small-block development, and a rabid enthusiast himself-Brian got a set of Hank's prototype GT-40 cylinder heads, intake, throttle body, and other supporting hardware for his fuelie Mustang. Wolfe would give the soon-to-be SVO parts a real-world evaluation.
The results were spectacular. In 1989, no one could get the new fuel-injected Mustang to run a few tenths better than stock. Electronics were from the devil and the fuel-injected Mustang seen as evil by the hard-core, but Brian's GT-40 combination turned heads.
"The first time I went out in that car with those parts on it, and a few other suspension modifications I had made, it turned 12.40s, which was faster than my 428 Cobra Jet had ever gone," he recalls. "I was thinking, Wow, this is pretty cool, and it's a lot easier to work on than my Cobra Jet. From there, that Mustang became the first fuel-injected, naturally aspirated 5.0-liter to run 11s, 10s, and 9s in the quarter-mile. I competed in Pro 5.0 with it on nitrous, and the car went 8.30s before I backed away from that program when I got an assignment in Europe."
In fact, it was by way of Hank, Brian, and his '86 hatchback that Super Ford magazine presented the GT-40 parts in a January '90 feature. The 5.0 was on its way, and Brian was in the vanguard. Always testing and improving his combination, he regularly called the magazine with testing results; on our trips to Dearborn, a side visit to Brian was often on the schedule.
It was during those after-hour get-togethers that we came to appreciate his two-headed existence. Tough as it was to get him to say anything about his importance inside Ford, meeting Brian at his Advanced Engines office made it obvious that this was not just some tech with a knack for tuning, but rather an up-and-coming star in Ford powertrain. Then Brian would ditch the tie and we'd head down to a sleepy, little machine shop to work on his Mustang's race motor. At that point, we were with another Ford enthusiast, and it was a revelation to see just how hands-on a white-collar Ford man could get.
With his transfer to Europe in the later '90s, Brian's direct participation in Mustang racing ended. With his return as director of Ford Racing, a new generation of enthusiasts will benefit from his passion for moving Fords forward.
Brian's duties at Ford Racing are twofold. The familiar parts program is charged with developing go-fast gear for performance Fords, as seen in the Ford Racing Performance Parts catalog. The engineers and business managers developing those parts answer directly to Brian. But many enthusiasts overlook the fact that Ford Racing is also the keeper of Ford's money and engineering assets in pro racing. That means Brian is the gatekeeper to Ford's involvement in NASCAR, NHRA, IndyCar, Formula One, World Rallying Championship, sedan and off-road racing, and wherever else pro racers and television cameras congregate.
With a heads-up sportsman drag racer such as Brian at the wheel, we expect Ford Racing's support of this long-neglected but sizeable market to strengthen. Though developed mainly during Dan Davis' tenure, the recently announced Cobra Jet Mustang factory racers are but one example. Look, too, for spin-off parts and parts packages to support grassroots racers.
We also forecast a general sensitivity to as many areas of amateur motorsports as feasible. Though engines and drag racing are his personal passion, Brian the professional will be equally happy to see Ford circle-track and road-racing fans excel along with legions of happy street fans.
Rejoice brother, one of us has his foot on the Ford Racing throttle in Dearborn. What follows is our first conversation with Brian in this capacity. With any luck, it will be the first of many.
5.0&SF: We didn't know your father was such a Henry Ford fan. Tell us more about that.
Brian Wolfe: My dad was born in 1912 and grew up in a small town called Lufton. He was a farmer; he knew Henry Ford as the guy who was putting the world on wheels, make it easier on the farmers. My dad, liking cars in very rural Michigan, saw Henry Ford doubling wages to $5 a day just because he thought it was the right thing to do, and putting factories in all parts of the country to employ people. These were the stories my dad used to tell me. He was always just intrigued by them.
5.0&SF: Do you have any conscious memory of deciding to go to work at Ford?
BW: Oh, definitely. That was my whole goal as a kid. That's what I wanted to do: go to work for Ford. When I was in high school, my brothers were draftsman-die designers, progressive die, stamping machines-and my dad was a die-maker. They met one of their buddies on Gratiot in the '60s, a guy named Coletti. My brother said, "You aren't going to get into Ford as a draftsman, they just aren't hiring like that. You need to get an engineering degree like Coletti did." And I was like, 'Ugh.' I was already a junior in high school, but as luck would have it, I liked math, so I was taking advanced math classes and I liked the physics, so my background wasn't too far away. But I was also taking vocational drafting classes as my plan was to become a draftsman, follow the family tradition. But I thought, You know, if I have to go to college, I guess I'll try it.
Now, my parents-my dad, a die maker with six kids-couldn't foot the bill for college. I was working as a draftsman in high school, and I applied to Wayne State, Lawrence Tech, and the University of Michigan at Dearborn. I remember Michigan was on semesters, so you had to pay two times a year-I had to pay my own way, remember-and Wayne State and Lawrence Tech were on trimesters, so you had to pay three times a year. One semester at Michigan was cheaper than one trimester at the other schools, so I reasoned it had a better reputation anyway and it wasn't going to cost me as much, so I'd try that. I went to school full time and worked part time for the first year and that went pretty good, so I kept going. I graduated from the University of Michigan, located in Dearborn, so it all seemed to make sense to me. It all came together.
Once I became an engineer, I didn't have career aspirations, like a supervisor or a management person. I didn't know enough about that. I didn't know how the inner part of a company operated. I just thought, Okay, I'm going to be an engineer, that's cool. That's all I wanted to do.
5.0&SF: Run us through the highlights of your employment at Ford.
BW: I was hired into Heavy Truck Engineering, and I went through what they call the Ford College Graduate Training Program. When you get out of school, you know a lot about the theoretical stuff, [but] how to operate as an engineer within Ford, you don't know that. Ford has a great program where over two years they give you multiple assignments to teach you how to really apply the engineering you learned. My passion was always engines, and after about three years at Ford, I went to work in Engine Engineering; then the job I really loved the most, doing base engine development-actually doing the test and development program of the engine. I was working on combustion systems, lubrication systems at the dyno lab, figuring out the right cam events, intake runner lengths, combustion chamber characteristics, oil pump sizing, lubrication passages, and so on. I learned a lot.
As you can probably appreciate yourself, coming up with cars and rebuilding your first engine when you were 15 years old, you thought you knew something about engines. When I got that job, I found out I didn't know #$*@-I knew nothing! It was really good. I learned so much, and it was like I couldn't separate work from play. I mean, I couldn't have been happier.
I did that type of work; then became a supervisor in that area, and again, I didn't even think about management. I was nave to all that when I hired in. I became a supervisor, and I remember my boss calling me in the office, Larry Brower, and he said, "You know what? You're going to have to go to work like everyone else and stop having so much fun." So I went through some development programs to learn how engine engineering works and how we get stuff into production.
I worked for Jim Clark in Advanced Engines at a few different points in my career, and he was really a great mentor. We did the V-12 for the Aston Martin. Coming out of there, I had a short stop somewhere else, but then on to Europe as the chief engineer for Inline Gas Engines. That was another dream job. You had a guy who loved engines, and you were kind of in control of those inline gas engines in Product Engineering. That was very enjoyable.
And then I came back to the role I had before this one, which was the director for Global Controls and Calibration. That job really changed in scope significantly from when I took over in 2002 to when I left in 2008. Different accountabilities came in. We were doing the software, powertrain control hardware, and how you calibrate it to emissions and driveability-all those types of things.
5.0&SF: Where were you based in Europe?
BW: I lived in Cologne, Germany, for three years. I worked in Inline Gas, but after 18 months, there was some movement in European management. They asked if I would take a job based in Dutton, England-chief engineer for Powertrain Applications Engineering, which basically did the calibration, the software on all the as-installed bits and pieces: the motor mounts, the cooling systems, air induction, exhaust, and after-treatment for the European products.
I took that job, but I kept my family in Germany because we had just moved and my daughter was getting set in school. I had a few people who worked for me in Germany and a lot of people who worked for me in England, so I went back and forth. I was in England three or four days a week and in Germany one day a week.
5.0&SF: Was the German food was better than the English food?
BW: The German food was awesome. Cologne is a pretty big city and there were a lot of small restaurants. They were all pretty good, and the dollar was strong then. When I left Germany, one euro cost 85; today one euro costs $1.55. So you were really allowed to live a little beyond your normal means, which was kind of nice.
5.0&SF: Has the European experience helped you at Ford Racing?
BW: You know, it definitely has. Particularly going into that second job. I loved the engine stuff and that's where I wanted to stay. But going into that second job, working on all the as-installed stuff and powertrain systems with the vehicle, I really learned an enormous amount about the software, which helped make me ready for my next job back in the U.S. I had the software as well, and the calibration process and driveability interaction.
Of course, in Ford Racing now, the parts that we're doing have to work on fuel-injected cars. We have to have good ties with the Ford Model guys to make sure what we're doing is robust and meets the customer's needs. So it gave me that overall as-installed system perspective as opposed to just worrying about the engine itself. That was a big eye-opener for me.
5.0&SF: Since your background is in engineering, have you had to do anything special for management skills?
BW: You know, it's trial and error. I really haven't had any special training; I didn't go for an MBA. I remember one of my buddies, Tom McCarthy-a really smart guy that works here, the kid's a genius-he was getting his MBA at Michigan, and he said, "You know, when I take my management training classes, everything they tell me not to do, you do." He gave me that helpful coaching that only a friend can give.I think being in management is really no different than life. Tell people the truth. Be honest. Do what you say you're going to do. And always keep the company's best interests in mind, even if that makes your job or your team's job more difficult.
Probably getting an MBA and getting the training would have made me a better manager, but I think the fundamentals are based on some pretty simple stuff.
5.0&SF: Do your duties at Ford Racing leave you enough time to turn a wrench on your own stuff?
BW: Not at this point in time, not really. Remember, I was just informed that Dan [Davis] was going to retire and I was going to be coming to this role at the beginning of July. I was transitioning out of my old job and into this in July.
It's like drinking from two fire hoses. When you're an enthusiast, you know. I didn't know all the teams, I didn't know the people, I didn't know the sanctioning bodies-I wasn't that connected-so [there was] lots to learn real quick. And also, you feel loyalty to your old group, and you have to make sure that job is handed off well. So July was pretty hectic. Now getting into this job full time in August, there's a lot to learn.
I think I'll be able to get back to the point where I have time for my own stuff, but obviously the first few months of the job are the most critical. The few spare minutes you get have to be what the family wants you to do more than what you want to do. For the old job, I'd be in Europe one week a month, but I was home most weekends. Here I'm pretty much in the office five days [a week] and also gone three or four weekends a month. So home time is at a little more of a premium right now. But I do plan on it. I still have the red car-the red car is running, it's ready to go. The blue car turned into a black car, and it's really a sweet piece that I'm trying to get out. It's a street car but a pretty aggressive one.
The best [the red] car did was 8.30s at about 165 mph with nitrous. The exciting thing to me is that I was the guy who thought he was born 10 years too late-I missed the muscle-car era. Then I was fortunate enough to become an engineer, work for Ford, and start making enough money to play right when the fuel-injected Mustangs were coming out. So as it turned out, I couldn't have been born at a better time.
The red car, which was featured in the Jan. '90 issue of Super Ford [Due to its upgrades, it was revisited in Feb. '92.-Ed.], was the first fuel-injected Mustang to run in the 11s, the 10s, and the 9s naturally aspirated. As we started to do heads-up races, you had to go with a power-adder. We went with nitrous, and that's when the car ended up going 8.30s. I still have the car-the nitrous is off because its not really legal for any class-and I take it out to bracket races and have fun with it. It's gone 9.19 on the motor at 151.
5.0&SF: Have you done any other racing since you were active in Pro 5.0?
BW: No, no sanctioned-type racing. Just bracket racing, Open Comp. I always like to go to Joe DaSilva's racing camp in Canada, but mainly for an Open Comp or bracket-racing perspective because, again, the car is not really set up for any of the current heads-up classes. It's back-halved and doesn't have the stock rear suspension.
The black car that we built, which is the old blue car, that one has the stock rear suspension, and if time ever permits, I might race it in the some of those heads-up classes.
5.0&SF: How large is Ford Racing, which you now command?
BW: Well, it's a much smaller group than I had previously. When I was in PD, the job I had before coming here, I had about 900 people globally-engineers, scientists, technicians. This group is closer to the 50 number: some Ford folks, some agency, some contract, and so on. The group is much smaller, but from my personal perspective, its so much more exciting because you can get to know everyone who works for you. I've always tried to get to know everybody, and it's not hard to get day-to-day contact-900 people compared to 40 or 50, so it's a lot smaller group. You know, Ford Racing has always been a pretty efficient operation. Where it goes out is all the team interfaces, the sanctioning bodies, all those folks that you deal with on a day-to-day basis.
5.0&SF: Where does the Ford Racing budget come from inside of Ford Motor Company? Are you an adjunct to marketing...?
BW: Yes, definitely marketing. From my perspective, Ford Racing's main charter is to improve the company's image and increase vehicle sales through motorsports. And, of course, we also have the parts catalog. The idea with the catalog is parts for the production car to make them more attractive. Everything pretty much revolves around selling more cars and trucks, and really trying to enhance the image.
5.0&SF: Dan Davis seemed to have a pretty successful tenure at Ford Racing. By now, you've probably identified some areas you'd like to concentrate on, build on what he's done and put your own stamp on it. What areas are you looking at?
BW: I think a good thing that Dan did was working with NASCAR and the engine programs. Those are solid and we really want to keep them going. The work with the Funny Car safety-which Dan really latched onto because it seemed like part of Ford's DNA-and the Performance Packs for the production car, Handling Pack, and so on, those are all great things.
I think the one area that I'll be looking at is reaching out a bit to the sportsman-type racers. To me, they are some of our strongest advocates and we can use their passion for Ford to sell more cars and trucks. Give them the tools they need so that when someone says, "Yeah, I had a Ford a while ago, but I had some quality problems," the sportsman-type racer can respond: "Well, did you know that Ford is second to none in quality? Maybe you had some problems back then, but it's not a reason not to buy a Ford today. Ford has some of the highest quality products on the road." You know, help them help us try to sell some parts; reach out to them. So we'd really like to get more involved and embrace our sportsman racers. That's one piece of it.
Then there are some professional races that we don't dabble in today, but on the other hand, maybe the folks that are watching that type of racing won't consider a Ford today. So if we can go in there and kick everybody's ass, that would be a cool thing.
5.0&SF: Could you be more specific on which sanctions you're...?
BW: Well, I think some of the SCCA World Speed Challenge, maybe looking at what we can do in American Le Mans early next decade when they start changing things. But, you know, we're not making any commitments. What I'm doing so far in my week and a half here is looking at the areas we aren't playing in and why, and whether there's an opportunity if we do go play there.
5.0&SF: What is the time split between your duties administering Ford's professional racing associations and the performance parts program?
BW: Probably 75 percent on the racing side and 25 percent on the parts side. You know, the parts program is running pretty efficiently; there are lots of things there that have been successful. I want to put just a little of my fingerprint on some of those items as well, based on my background and some of the stuff I bought and liked and used. As a user, a purchaser of some of those parts, [I may have said,] 'Gosh, I wish Ford Racing offered this as opposed to maybe not having it as a Ford Racing part.'
5.0&SF: Previously Ford Racing, or SVO as the case may have been, has been either quick or slow to respond to a new Mustang coming out. We're apparently getting a freshened Mustang in 2010. Will Ford Racing be right there with some parts for that car immediately?
BW: Absolutely. Let me add that we're also going to have a new Focus debuting in 2010, rumor has it. If the rumors are right on that, you can be assured that we're going to have some really cool parts for those cars when they launch as well.
5.0&SF: We went to a WRC rally, Rally Mexico, and after seeing the sport up close, we came away really impressed. The younger generation of enthusiasts, primed by video games, is perhaps more attuned to rallying. Do you see anything like that?
BW: A couple of things. Ford will be ready when the fans and the promoters are ready. With the X Games, which appeals to that sort of base, some promoters may try stadium stuff like motocross, which came from open trails. I think with the right promoter, we would want to definitely play in that area. I'm not saying I could, but I would definitely want to!
5.0&SF: Does Ford Racing work closely with mainstream engineering or do you design most of your parts from scratch?
BW: It's a combination of both. Obviously most of the guys here, the engineers, came out of mainstream. They all have contacts back there. When I had Calibration Controls, I used to interface quite often with Jamie Allison on software calibration items, how to certify, and so on. At Ford Racing, we reach out to all the smart guys at Ford Model, and most of them are pretty receptive to giving us a hand.
5.0&SF: In California, everything has to be smog legal. It's quite a deal to make sure your parts are smog legal. Could we see more of that from Ford Racing, more kits and programs along those lines?
BW: Yeah. Again, I think we are focusing on items that can get an Executive Order [from the California Air Resources Board-Ed.], because then it's 50-state good to go. That's definitely an area where we want to be.
In fact, I received some feedback while at the National Mustang Racers Association race at Atco this last weekend. "You are doing too much of that. Could you do more for the off-road?" "When we get it that way, it costs more than some of your competitors' parts. We like your parts better, but can't afford the extra money because we can't use the calibration because we're using it off road." So, we'll definitely continue to make emission-legal product with Executive Orders, but I may also ask the guys what it would cost if we did a few more off-road parts as well.
5.0&SF: Is Ford Racing interested in a new Trans Am series?
BW: I think from a Ford Racing perspective, we'll try to latch on to what's going on at Ford Model at that time, and if a Trans Am series would come back, whether SCCA or American Le Mans GT2 would be a place for those types of cars to play. I think the rules have to solidify a little bit.
5.0&SF: Is being head of Ford Racing a career capper for you or is there more after this?
BW: I've got to tell you one thing that Jim Farley was insistent upon. He said, 'We don't want this guy to retire out of here. He's got a career back in Powertrain." So my goal is to be here and try and move the needle forward and make progress, but I'd love to get back to Powertrain, maybe in four to five years.
I think that four to five years time is really good because you get to see things, the end product of those things you started. If those are good, you know what works and you can use that to make yourself stronger. Even more importantly, you can definitely learn from your mistakes and make yourself stronger from those that don't work, so that's my plan.