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Old 06-16-2006, 08:59 PM   #1
Dr Jekyll on the street, Mr Hyde on the track
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By John Fossen, FCN (Ford Cable News)

With 75 million U.S. fans driving strong TV ratings and race attendance, auto racing is even more important to Ford Motor Company today than it was more than 100 years ago.

Even as he welcomed the Ford team of NASCAR Nextel Cup Fusion drivers and team owners to a festive racing pep rally at Ford World Headquarters, Chairman and CEO Bill Ford couldn't help reflecting on the company's long history in America's most popular spectator sport.

"It was our very first bold move," he told the audience of employees and media. "My great grandfather challenged the reigning champion of the time in the car you see behind me -- the Sweepstakes car -- and the rest is history."

With Nextel Cup Fusion drivers Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Elliott Sadler, and Ken Schrader beside him on stage, as well as team owners Jack Roush, Robert Yates and the Wood Brothers, Ford reminded the audience that the business case for racing is stronger than ever.

"Fifty-four percent of Ford owners are race fans. That's why we put this Ford Fusion on the track," he said. "By the way, Fusion had its best sales month ever in May."

Six Ford NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers also participated in the rally. All of the drivers will compete this weekend in races at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.

In its NASCAR debut season, the Fusion has helped two Ford drivers rank among the top-10 in the Nextel Cup standings. Kenseth, the 2003 champion, currently holds down second place, just 48 points off the lead. Martin, a Roush Racing teammate, is in third.

Kenseth says Ford's extensive development work on the new Fusion race car has contributed to his success this season. And he definitely notices the strong connection racing fans have to the various automotive brands.

"Race fans are very loyal and they really pay attention to the brand," said the Wisconsin native. "We're racing the product -- the cars -- and they get behind the cars as much as they get behind the drivers."

During the rally, owner Jack Roush received the Spirit of Ford Award from Edsel B. Ford II, a member of the automaker's board of directors. The award, given for lifetime achievement both on and off the track, is Ford Motor Company's highest racing honor.

Roush Racing drivers have won four NASCAR championships, three titles in drag racing and 24 road racing crowns, including 10 consecutive wins in the 24 Hours of Daytona.

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