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The Brian Wolfe Interview: A Dream Come True
The new Director of Ford Racing Technology gives us a brief history
Step By Step
On August 1, 2008, Brian Wolfe was appointed the new Director of Ford Racing Technology, taking over from Dan Davis who had served in the role for over a decade.
For Wolfe it was a dream come true. A car guy and especially a Ford guy since an early age, Brian knew that his destiny lay with the Blue Oval. Recently Modified Mustangs & Fords got a chance to chat with the man himself and ask him about how he got started in this industry, some of his most memorable experiences and now that he is in the driving seat, how he views Ford Racing and what we might expect from the division in the future. And, before we get started, if you think this article is some regurgitated press release - think again - you haven't seen this before.
MMF Brian, it's a real pleasure being able to talk to you today and congratulations on the position. Has the fact you've been appointed the new Director of FRT actually worn off yet, even though it's now been just over a month?
BW When the announcement was made, it was like a dream come true for me. I've been into racing since before I could drive and building race cars and going to the track has always been fun and in many cases rewarding. I was pinching myself as I could hardly believe that here I was, getting paid to develop new Ford Racing cars and parts programs - it's something I've always wanted to do. Having said that, now I've been here for almost a month, we've got a lot of work to do but I'm excited as we've got a great team working here and some very passionate and dedicated people who want to make things happen.
MMF Backtracking a little bit, how did you originally get into Fords? Was it a family influence?
BW Actually it was. My dad was always into Fords and as the youngest of three brothers I kind of followed in their footsteps. In particular it was my middle brother Al who probably influenced me the most when I was growing up. He had this 1961 Starliner fastback with a 390 that he raced a lot at Detroit Dragway and then he got a 427 Fairlane - a '66 in Wimbledon White. He used to race in Stock and later Super Stock classes. Going to the track and watching him run got me hooked on drag racing.
MMF So it's probably fair to say that you were itching to race as soon as you could?
BW Absolutely. Although the muscle car era had passed by the time I got my driver's license in the mid-1970s, I still wanted a car with big cubes and I wanted to go to the track. I ended up buying a 1968 Cobra Jet Fairlane for $750. It was a low mileage car and I took it to the track the first chance I got. I've been racing ever since.
MMF From what we understand, you still own that car - correct?
BW Yes I do. It's now got 42,000 miles on it and has a place in my garage. I don't think I'll ever sell it, as I have a long history with that car and it's part of the family.
MMF Tell us a bit about your early years with Ford Motor Company?
BW I always wanted to be an engineer. I went to college and got hired by Ford in 1982. I decided to complete my master's degree a few years later and upon graduating in 1986, I bought my first brand new car, a 1986 Mustang GT.
MMF And that was the car that helped start the whole 5.0 thing wasn't it?
BW, Yes, I guess it was. When I first bought it, that [Mustang] was a street car, but it got me involved in the Motorsports side of Ford Motor Company. It was unofficial at first, but I became friends with Wally Beeber, a guy who worked in the Powertrain group on the 5.0-liter engine, he got in touch with Hank Dertain who worked in the SVO Motorsport division. We became good friends and this was the time that Ford was developing the [now famous] GT40 cylinder heads. I mentioned that they could use my Mustang as a testbed, so we threw on the heads and installed a 9-inch rear and went racing. Compared to my old Fairlane I was amazed at just how fast this car was, with just 302 cubic inches. I was also amazed by how easy to work on that Mustang was too. A lot of guys at that time didn't understand fuel injection and would buy these cars and rip off the manifolds and install carburetors. Even though I was racing in an unofficial capacity we were able to start showing people that this new fuel injection stuff really worked. My ['86] would run consistent 11.6s at over 115 mph in the quartermile and it became the first fuel-injected late-model, normally aspirated Mustang to run low 11s. I knew we were onto something and Hank and Wally were instrumental in helping push the 5-liter parts program, we ended up installing just about every part from the SVO catalog on that car and every time we installed a new part, the faster it seemed to go.
MMF That's some very cool stuff. By the mid-1990s the whole 5.0 movement was in full swing and you were right there, in the thick of the action. Tell us a little about those times?
BW The market just exploded. I remember that Super Ford magazine did an article on my car in 1990 and they were big proponents of the new performance market. My car was getting faster all the time and I ended up going 10s and then hitting 9-second e.t.s - still naturally aspirated, then I put nitrous on it and it went 8s. By 1993, late-model Mustang drag racing was really taking off and there were events all over the place. I became a contender in the Pro 5.0 class and ran against the likes of Jim Wohlford, Jimmy LaRocca, Stormin' Norman Gray, Gene Deputy and Joe Da Silva.
MMF There's one race that stands out isn't there and perhaps not for obvious reasons?
BW Yes, I guess you could say it's a personal anecdote. It was during the 1994 season and I was racing Pro 5.0 at Maple Grove Raceway, Pennsylvania. In this round I was running against Stormin' Norman Gray's convertible with long time racer Dave Lyall driving it. I got off to a good start and was leading by almost three car lengths at half-track, but then my engine started spluttering and he passed me, almost right at the finish line. It turned out that my inline fuel filter had clogged up, causing my engine to lean out and I lost the race. It taught me a valuable lesson - that you can never be too prepared, but still it was a great experience and those Pro 5.0 days were some of the best I've ever had racing.
MMF Getting back to the present, tell us a little about where you see the performance market headed and Ford Racing's role, as we look to the future.
BW As an old saying goes, you've got to know where you've come from to see where you're going. Henry Ford was a racer and his grandson (HF II) gave the approval for the company to really push the 'Total Performance' campaign back in the 1960s. Winning Le Mans is perhaps the most famous example of Ford's dominance in motorsport, but really if you think about it, the company has made a huge impact in just about every aspect of auto racing you can think of. Whether it's Pro Stock or Funny Cars in drag racing, NASCAR, road racing - SCCA, IMSA and touring car racing, rallying and open wheel formula racing, at home and abroad, - Fords have been in the winner's circle countless times. Dan Davis has done an excellent job during his time as Director and I've got some very big shoes to fill, but I'm excited about everything we have done at Ford Racing and everything we can do. As the world becomes increasingly global and technology improves, we're able to realize new opportunities that weren't there in the past. Because Ford already has a huge presence on the global motorsport and performance stage, we're in a very good position in terms of being competitive and staying ahead of the curve.
MMF As time moves on and with the current economic and environmental conditions, do you see more of a global approach when it comes to building and selling performance parts and vehicles? Do you think the impending CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards are going to accelerate the process?
BW That's a very interesting question. Right now, in North America, we're dealing with $4 per gallon for fuel and that is having an effect on people's buying habits when it comes to vehicles, but it's also giving us an opportunity to explore the possibility of new markets and new cars for different buyers. In Europe, consumers have had to deal with high fuel prices for years, but Ford has made some iconic small cars that have attracted legions of fans over there, cars like the Lotus Cortina, Ford Capri RS, Sierra and Escort Cosworths and the Focus RS. Now we have the opportunity to bring some of that excitement here, building cars that are more efficient than in the past but still have that DNA which makes them exciting to drive -cars people want to own. For example, we'll be bringing over the European Focus in 2010 and are already developing parts for it. We've got our new EcoBoost line of engines arriving over the next few years and we'll be developing performance parts for them as well, so you'll likely see a lot of emphasis on the smaller B and C-class vehicles moving forward.
As for CAFE, the subject is controversial so I won't go into too much detail here, but I think it will play a part in vehicle purchases, but perhaps less in terms of performance modifications. Fuel efficiency is a worthy goal and although we'll be seeing more efficient cars down the road as a result of the new regulations, unlike the '70s I don't think that efficient has to mean dull. Ford's reputation in Europe in the performance market is living proof of that.
MMF One thing we wanted to ask you; was about rallying. It's huge elsewhere in the world, but in North America is still virtually unknown, yet I think due to its tremendous history with the sport, Ford can do a lot to promote rallying in this part of the world. What are your thoughts?
BW Rallying is one sport that definitely interests me, but right now at home our biggest audience is NASCAR - over 70 million people. Stock Car racing isn't as popular in Europe for example whereas with rallying over there, it's the reverse, so I think it's a bit of a cultural thing, yet the demographics are changing. Although it is still small, interest in Rallying is growing in North America and Ford definitely has the right products to be able to push the sport in this part of the world. I think the Focus in particular thanks to its dominance in the WRC over the last few years is a great example. For North American audiences I think something like stadium rally cross, similar to two-wheeled motor cross would be a great way to introduce people to the sport. Motorcross has been hugely popular over here and if you can do it with two wheels then why not four?
MMF I guess one question we have to ask you, as a car enthusiast and racer, which are your favorite automobiles, race track and drivers and why.
BW Starting with cars, that's a difficult one. Fords of course - but if I were to pick out a selection, it would probably go like this - Shelby 427 Cobra S/C. 1966-67 Fairlane 427, 1969 Mustang 428 SCJ and the 1982 Mustang GT. The last one is significant for me, because I'd just started working at Ford when that car came out. Although it doesn't seem like much now, that car really helped to get performance going again. It was a ray of sunshine in a dark era and it led to the rebirth of the performance industry, which we still enjoy today. I also want to include the current Mustang, as it has really invigorated the brand and there is a level excitement that surrounds it today, much like the '82 did a quarter of a century ago.
As for my favorite driver, with my drag racing background and interest in Super Stock and then Pro Stock, it has to be Bob Glidden. In the 1970s and 1980s he flew the flag for Ford and was really competitive, it was great to see him win a race. As far as my favorite track, I'd have to say that it's London Motorsports Park (now St. Thomas Dragway) in Ontario, Canada. It has a real family atmosphere and was always well prepped. When Joe Da Silva used to put on his races - the J&P Shootouts I'd go up there and run every year. I really like Joe - he's a great ambassador to the 5.0-movement and I liked the track owner John Fletcher. I always used to look forward to running there.
MMF Are there any other personal, pet projects on the go at the moment?
BW I've been working on a project car, which is technically for my wife. It's a 2008 Mustang GT and we've supercharged it. It's gone from making 270 hp to the wheels to 500 and she drive's it daily - it's a huge amount of fun. I'm simply amazed at how far we've come. Not even 10 years ago, 500 hp from a street car was a big deal, now it's routine. The modular Ford V-8s are incredible engines with amazing performance potential and great reliability. It's exciting to be able to work on them and witness their capability first hand. We've come a long way since the days of big block FE engines like that in my '68 Fairlane.
MMF I guess your wife really like's her Mustang then? How about during the winter?
BW When the weather goes bad during the winter and I'm sure you know how that goes, the Mustang stays in the garage. We've got a 2001 Focus which I bought for my wife. It's got 100,000 miles on it but makes for a great winter beater.
BW All the more reason to look forward to spring when it comes around?