5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
Jamie Allison Interview - Leading The Race
Meet Jamie Allison, The New Boss At Ford Racing
He's one of those driven souls who practically glow with boundless energy-like a 120-volt light bulb drawing juice from a 240-volt circuit-and, as Ford's new director of North America Motorsports, Jamie Allison is certainly in a position to put that over-revving enthusiasm to good use. Despite the job title, his responsibilities include overseeing not just the company's continental race efforts, but also the Ford Racing Performance Parts business that is so familiar and important to all who read this magazine.
Having been with Ford Racing since 2003, Jamie's ascent to the division's top seat came in January of this year, taking over the role from Brian Wolfe (who moved on to another posting in FoMoCo's corporate universe). Over that 7-year span, Jamie has been instrumental in bringing to market such programs as Ford Racing's turn-key racecars (FR500S, FR500C, Cobra Jet, Boss 302R, and so on), and the FRPP catalog's cost-effective, bundled S197 Handling, Power, and Super Packs.
Looking back, the course of Jamie's life is living proof of the American Dream. Born in Lebanon, his family managed to escape that country's civil wars in the late '70s and immigrated to Dearborn, Michigan, where he already had three uncles in the employ of Detroit's Big Three. Always a "car guy" and indelibly influenced by a fast-driving father, Jamie earned his electrical engineering degree from the University of Michigan and set his sights on the automotive business.
Says Jamie: "You can't grow up in Dearborn and not have your life shaped by Ford." In January of 1987, at 24 years of age, he signed on with the company under the Ford College Graduate program and immediately ordered his first new car-a Mustang GT convertible. Regrettably, ownership of that Fox ragtop was cut short after it suffered the bad luck of getting caught in a flash flood-with Jamie stuck behind the wheel.
But the bad luck surrounding the earlier purchase of his first car-a '70 Barracuda that he bought from a neighbor of his parents as soon as he turned 16-had been entirely self-inflicted.
"My mom always knew that I lived kinda on the ragged edge of recklessness in terms of driving," says Jamie, "and she didn't want me to buy that car. I bought it anyway for 50 bucks, but in order to drive it on the street, I needed a [license] plate. So my mom watched as I went across the street and took a plate off a van. I put it on my car, went for a drive-when I came back, the cops were waiting for me."
Yup, his own mother had turned him in. The Barracuda was impounded; the fine to get it back was $250-which Jamie couldn't afford-so he sold it to a friend and that was the end of his first car.
That brush with the law didn't deter him, and Jamie's career at Ford began on the engineering side, yet he professes to have always had a knack for business and so decided to supplement his original degree with an MBA. That business degree opened even more doors inside the company, and Jamie gradually worked his way through positions on both the product and marketing sides of Ford's corporate ladder-quite unusual as most automotive careers are normally spent wholly within one discipline or the other.
Those parallel paths ultimately converged in 2003 when he got a call about an position for which the ideal candidate would have both product and marketing experience. That position involved overseeing the performance parts side of Ford Racing, and because of his uniquely varied corporate background, Jamie turned out to be that ideal candidate.
When he arrived at FRPP, Jamie noticed that the parts catalog of the day was dominated by pushrod race hardware. "There was something missing," he says, "and that was a connection to stuff we sell today." So he prioritized development and engineering of the now-familiar Handling and Power Packs for the then-new S197 Mustangs, which proved popular not only with FRPP dealers and enthusiasts, but also with certain folks in Las Vegas, who used them in creating the '06 GT-H and other Shelby models.
Taking a cue from Porsche, he also saw a market for turnkey race cars, the result was the road-race FR500C, FR500S, FR500GT, and new Boss 302R models, along with the '08 and '10 versions of the drag-race Cobra Jets (FR500CJ), all of which have done well, both on track and on the corporate ledger sheets. Another recent program that bears Jamie's fingerprint is the Ford Performance Group website, an umbrella site helping to bring together various existing Ford/Mercury/Shelby enthusiast clubs.
Everyone has his own management style, and Jamie's seems to be lead by enthusiasm. We sat down with him for a quick Q&A session just a few days after taking delivery of his latest Mustang, an '11 GT convertible that, given the man's itchy-trigger right foot, will be a great testbed for FRPP's '11 parts and calibrations.
5.0&SF: What are your primary duties now at Ford Racing?
Jamie Allison: I oversee all things related to Ford Racing. There are three primary elements: the parts business, the marketing of our motorsports program, and the operation of our motorsports program, primarily around supporting our sponsored teams, which are in NASCAR, NHRA, Rally, and Grand-Am.
5.0&SF: Have you seen the corporate role of Ford Racing evolve during your time with the division?
Jamie Allison: You know, the role of motorsports within a big company ebbs and flows with key strategic initiatives or personalities within the company. Ford's going through a transformation from a company that once only made great trucks and Mustangs to a company that also has to build exciting fun-to-drive, cool, fuel-efficient small cars. It is so clear to me-and I get a lot of support from senior management. They all understand the role of motorsports in its connection to the history of the company, and its ability to reach enthusiasts and compel them to see how much fun our new products are. Racing, when done right and done prudently, can indeed help companies, especially in this business.
We are very fortunate when it comes to the NHRA to have the sport's king [John Force] to showcase our product; Ken Block is now doing the same thing with Fiesta. We're taking a car whose roots are European and showing American consumers through Ken that this car is fun to drive. So, yeah, motorsports now is fully entrenched at Ford as a formal and acknowledged and appreciated role to help the company showcase its exciting, fun-to-drive brand image, and to help sell cars and trucks to people who either love Ford or want to be affiliated with Ford.
It works. Look at Mustang. Look what we did with Mustang in the '60s: Put it in the hands of Carroll [Shelby] and look what it became. History is paved with examples of the effective use of motorsport, and my job is to make sure that we continue to support the company in this mission.
5.0&SF: Does the relatively new sport of drifting [in which Ford Racing sponsors Vaughn Gittin Jr.] seem to have an effect on the demographic of Mustang buyers, or is that chartable at this point?
Jamie Allison: We don't do anything at Ford Racing that isn't measured or tracked as to effectiveness. Ford goes out and samples and collects data every quarter from the buying public. "Are you a motorsports fan?" is one of the questions we ask, and about 40 percent of all new vehicle intenders are motorsports fans. We can't pinpoint drifting, but a car like Mustang that appeals to different people at different life stages, whether women or men, young or old, in all these pockets, you'll find that they have interest in different motorsports, so to us, Mustang is America's musclecar, and to make it America's musclecar, you gotta make sure that it competes in all forms of motorsports-drifting, road-racing, drag racing, and pretty soon, NASCAR...
5.0&SF: Have you the time or the inclination to do hands-on wrenching of your own?
Jamie Allison: I have a lot of inclination; I don't have the time. Because we sponsor four different series, every weekend I'm either at an NHRA, NASCAR, Rally, or Grand-Am race.
5.0&SF: Have you ever done any racing of your own?
Jamie Allison: I did a little bit-SCCA autocross in a Probe-and found out that I have a lot of desire but not much skill. It's something you hone, but I didn't have the time or patience to hone it. I have a notorious bad habit whenever I go on a track-I am fast in [to the corner], meaning I'm slow out. I don't do anything slow, so I can't do slow in... But there is one racing discipline where you can be fast in-rallying. Because of our participation in the sport, I went to a rally school. In autocross, you have to slow down, brake in a straight line, and take the turn. Not so in rally, where you go in full out, crank it, and then put the car in oversteer by putting on the e-brake, then come out full blast. Oh, I love rally!
5.0&SF: The new 5.0-liter GT is a great package right from the factory. Does this make power-related bolt-ons for that car a particular challenge for Ford Racing?
Jamie Allison: You know, I'm a Double-E [electrical engineer] and it couldn't have been more perfect timing. Yes, in the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s it took hardware change to impact performance. But the progression of technology-of electronic-based functions-is now enabling the performance modification without having to change hardware, all through calibration.
On the '11, [the factory] left two things that really need attention for the enthusiast driver like me: the transmission calibration's aggressive skip-shift [First to Fourth] intervention, and the torque-based dashpot modeling [which will temporarily keep the car from decelerating when you lift off the throttle]. I had my car for three days and had these recalibrated to disable the skip-shift function and to change the dashpot function to throttle-based response...
5.0&SF: So what else do you have planned for the 5.0?
Jamie Allison: Well, power adders will never go out of style. A 5.0 supercharger is obviously right around the corner to get you about 100 more horsepower. In addition, as we've done over the past five years, we'll offer a Power Pack-a recalibration, exhaust, and filter change-and then we'll have a short-throw shifter, and a Handling Pack that lowers the car and tunes the suspension for spirited driving.
5.0&SF: As we sit here talking, your own '11 5.0 convertible is being striped and decaled up to resemble this year's Daytona 500 pace car. Why?
Jamie Allison: Around the time we were asking ourselves how we were going to have NASCAR help us launch the '11 Mustang, I got looking at a colleague's '79 and '94 Indy pace-car edition Mustangs. I realized there wasn't a Daytona version. Here's the "great American race" and America's car... So we came up with the '11 Daytona pace car, only 50 numbered examples of which will be sold through Ford dealers. This is basically a graphics and trim package, but buyers will also be made aware of the Power and Handling Packs available through Ford Racing. We will also make the pace car graphics package available separately through the catalog, so my car will wear the graphics as well as the Handling and Power Packs.
5.0&SF: What changes, if any, can we expect at Ford Racing?
Jamie Allison: Well, One Ford [the company's new global-vehicle approach] is a powerful philosophy. One Ford presents an opportunity to provide a global alignment around the role of motorsports, because our cars are going global. For example, now for the new Fiesta and Focus, the parts we develop for the catalog will be applicable and for sale around the world, not just in America. So we're increasingly working with Ford of Europe and its tuners, who have developed modifications for Fiesta and Focus, so we won't have to reinvent them from scratch, which will pay dividends both to the business and to enthusiasts.
On the Mustang side, we at Ford Racing sell turnkey race cars worldwide. As an example, Mustang has won the European FIA GT4 championship in 2007 and 2008, and we have them in FIA GT3. We have interest in Brazil from people who want to buy [race] Mustangs and create a series there. So Mustang racing is global, and Ford Racing is the global provider of those racing Mustangs.
5.0&SF: How would you like to be remembered at Ford Racing? What would you like to be your legacy?
Jamie Allison: You know, Ford is about the American dream, and one could say that I'm living that dream. Here's a young boy that came from a foreign land, just happened to land in Dearborn-the home of Henry Ford-and was able to live out his dream. I never thought back in the days when I was going to school or when I bought my first Mustang that I would have a hand in affecting a generation of enthusiasts who love Mustang and potentially could be Ford employees of the future or just Ford fans of the future. So, how would I like to be remembered? I think as someone who came in, poured his heart out, was very passionate about something Ford created, and created something for a future generation.