Spectators at the Heluva Good 400 this year got to see one of the most interesting pace cars in NASCAR history. Instead of the usual muscle cars like the Mustang or the Camaro, Ford rolled out its economy vehicle, the Ford Focus, driven by Mark Fields, a high-level Ford executive.
Considering the kind of racing NASCAR runs, seeing a Focus out on the track, even if it was just a pace car, is more than a little surprising. The purpose was to display the Focus’ 40mpg fuel economy: while most pace cars have to stop for a little fuel five or six times in the course of a race, the Focus went the entire race without needing to refill. Fields stated that he wanted to bring the Focus to a wider market than just people looking for an economy car, although somehow we don’t think the pit crews will be buying one any time soon.
If that gas mileage sounds a little too good to be true, it’s worth noting that the Focus is 28mpg city, 40 highway. No, it’s not a hybrid: it just tends to sip fuel as opposed to guzzling it. That can be quite a money-saver, in addition to the reasonable car insurance rates that most Focus owners benefit from.
It may not get raced much here, the Focus is actually a popular car on the worldwide rally racing circuit. Rally racing is different from stock-car racing: instead of on a track, it’s on public or private roads, and the drivers have to hit waypoints. So, obviously, those races have far different demands and need different cars than your typical NASCAR race. In fact, the Focus recently replaced the tough, venerable and beloved Ford Escort on the tracks.
Yes, the car your mother probably drove because it was so safe, but the Escort used to be the vehicle of choice for rally racing. It brought in two wins its first year on the track, 1999, and won Ford the coveted Manufacturer’s Cup eight years later, a title it successfully defended the next year.
The Focus has actually won the title twice in the TC 2000 Championship, a racing event featuring touring cars that forbids anti-lock brakes and traction control.
In fact, the U.S. is pretty much the only country in which the Ford Focus hasn’t acquitted itself well as a racer; and that’s only because it’s never gotten a chance. Hence the Focus on display at this year’s Heluva Good 400.
We say this to NASCAR: Next time, let the little guy actually drive. Sure, he’s runty and only has 160 horsepower, but he’s a winner elsewhere, let him try and be a winner here.
Or maybe we should just invite over some of those rally racers. That seems like a better idea.