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Up Close & Personal With Brian Wolfe - Right Man For The Job - Brian Wolfe Interview
For Former Mustang Drag Racer Brian Wolfe, Doing The Right Things At The Right Places At The Right Times Led Him To His New Pos
I met Brian Wolfe in September of 1989 during a trip to Dearborn while working at Super Ford magazine. Hank Dertian, an engineer at what was then known as Ford Motorsport, now Ford Racing, invited me out to a Wednesday afternoon test session at Milan Dragway for a sneak peek at his new GT-40 hardware for 5.0-liter Mustangs. He convinced me to drive out to Milan by promising that he'd bring prototypes of the GT-40 heads and intake for photography, along with offering the opportunity to drive a car with the GT-40 equipment installed. They would be using Hank's 5.0 coupe and an '86 GT owned by a young Ford engineer named Brian Wolfe.
Little did I know then that Brian was on the fast-track at Ford. Obviously knowledgeable and a darn-good driver, he was also friendly yet unassuming. Last year, less than two decades after our meeting at Milan, he had climbed the ranks and was named director of Ford Racing to replace the retiring Dan Davis.
Brian happened to be in the right places at the right times doing the right things with both his career and his '86 GT. Shortly after getting his driver's license at the age of 15, he followed his older brother into drag racing by purchasing a '68 Cobra Jet Fairlane. Later, he bought a new Mustang GT at the end of the '86 model year as a treat to himself for completing his master's degree in Mechanical Engineering. His racing activities led him to Ford Motorsport's Hank Dertian, who asked if Brian would be interested in testing the new GT-40 heads and intake. Brian was amazed when his GT-40 equipped Mustang ran quicker than his CJ Fairlane. Soon, he would find himself in the middle of the Pro 5.0 wars as a naturally-aspirated hold-out while most of the sport moved into nitrous, supercharging, and turbocharging. His Mustang would become recognized as the first to run in the 11s, 10s, and nines without a power-adder.
On the career side, Brian joined Ford in 1982 and held various positions with the powertrain development area, including a stint as manager of the Advanced Engine Group for North America. In his job before moving to Ford Racing, he had global responsibility for all powertrain computer control software and calibration. Not bad for a Mustang drag racer. When he replaced Dan Davis as director of Ford Racing during the summer of 2008, he was able to combine his profession and his passion. "It's nice to understand corporate and how all that works," Brian told us. "But if you don't truly have a passion yourself, it's hard to relate and understand."
We talked with Brian back in April as he was preparing his keynote speech for the Mustang 45th Anniversary Celebration banquet in Birmingham, Alabama.
MM: You grew up in a Ford family. Tell us about that.
Wolfe: It was a Ford family like many others. My Dad never worked for Ford. He was born in 1912, so he was kind of growing up as Ford Motor Company grew up. He was raised on a farm in mid Michigan, outside Rose City. Henry Ford was a farmer and he put America on wheels, so my Dad remembers all that. As a kid growing up, I'd hear the stories about the great cars Ford built. That was the only car I ever wanted to own because of my Dad. My brother raced a 427 Fairlane in the 1960s so of course I wanted one of those. I always thought I was born 10 years too late because I turned 16 in 1976, so the musclecars were falling off a bit. I tried to get a '66 Fairlane but couldn't find one. So I found a '69 428 Cobra Jet Fairlane. I bought that when I was 15. Everything is history from there.
MM: In another way, you grew up at the right time because those old musclecars were cheap then.
Wolfe: Yeah, that's a cool point. I bought that 428 Cobra Jet Fairlane for $375. I still own it. It had 41,000 miles on it when I bought it and only has 43,000 on it now. But when the 5.0-liter Mustangs started to get popular, that's when I bought the '86 Mustang. I was 26. I had been out of school a few years and had a little bit of disposable income so I could start playing with my hobby.