Passino has a moral of his own: "You must remember one thing," he says. "You go to a big football game. Say there are 100,000 people there. But not one of them wants to buy a goddam football. But you go to an automobile race and there they are—all your potential customers."
Not surprisingly, the Racers are rocking Dearborn. Ford has had its best competitive year. It has come to dominate Indy, growing from the two Lotus racers in 1963 to 24 Ford-powered cars out of 33 this year. Ford's English-cousin engine—clipped into Jimmy Clark's new Lotus 49—is cutting a winning swath in Grand Prix racing. In Trans-American sedan racing, over the season Ford's Mustang beat out Ford's Cougar by two points. And in drag racing Ford's unshakable Connie Kalitta won the triple crown for the first time in history. But in stock-car racing—the crown Ford wants to win more than any other—there are still a few problems. At a good many tracks this season, Plymouths and Dodges were, as they say, eating Fords for breakfast.
The 64-day UAW strike cost the company millions and caused a cutback in the 1968 racing budget. Before Walter Reuther threw his switch, Ford had intended to spend close to $14 million going racing around the world next year; now the budget may be cut by as much as half.
Still, one must not weep for the Company Racers. The budget may be cut, but on their good years they spill that much money, and there will always be a factory team out there somewhere.
Not that they have any fun. No, sir. This is a deadly serious business, men. And one must never lose sight of our primary goal, which is to sell, sell, sell. Consider the serious scene not long ago at Ford's styling rotunda, where the new cars are shown to the top brass, and where everyone must wear a visitor's badge and a Rev, Bob Richards look.
There they were: a public-relations vice-president, looking very not-fun at all in company haircut and pin-collar shirt, a few of the Racers, pacing around nervously because Racers never can stand still, and a few nonracing executives who most assuredly were serious. It was 9:25 a.m. and they had been assembled at 9 to witness Henry Ford II posing for a formal portrait with his family of hot lacing cars.
"Yes, indeed." one of them was saying, "this is a grim game. Here we are, risking our reputation on every race. It's serious. How can anybody believe we ever have any...."
At that moment a guard stuck his head in the door. "Now." he hissed. Everyone in the room came to attention with no other prompting, and in walked Henry Ford II.
"I'm ready," he said.
He was wearing his Le Mans mechanic's jacket—a blue padded parka with the word " Ford" on one pocket. There was a moment of shocked silence. Ford looked around.