Ford CEO Jim Farley on Turning Pro in a race car


Andy Hendrik

It’s not every day you see a 60-year-old man embark on a career as a professional athlete. It’s also not every day that the CEO of one of the most famous companies in history joins the fray in a professional auto race. But that’s exactly what you’ll see this weekend at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the opener of the IMSA season. Ford Motor Company CEO Jim Farley will debut as a professional driver in two 45-minute sprint races in the VP Racing SportsCar Challenge – one on Saturday and one on Sunday. He will drive the #98 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang GT4, not as a factory Ford driver but as a privateer. In an exclusive interview, Farley opened up about his racing history and why he’s willing to put his reputation on the line.

“I call it my yoga,” he says. “Before a race I am very nervous. I get very stressed. I want to do a good job. I know I can’t take the same risks as other people. But when I look back after that, I can’t remember very much. But when I’m done, I feel like I’ve never been happier or more relaxed.”

Jim Farley

Andy Hendrik

Let’s not bury the difficult question. Was there any opposition from the company to his decision to turn pro? A lot of people rely on Jim Farley, and things can happen in wheel-to-wheel motorsport. “I think about it a lot,” he says. “You can’t take all the risk. I probably drive differently than if I didn’t have my job. I choose the tracks carefully. But I think I think about it more as a father than as a CEO.”

Farley’s history as a driver dates back some 15 years when he rose through the ranks at Toyota. He used to buy and sell Cobras to make extra money. One day he found an FIA Cobra that had been crashed by Ken Miles at Elkhart Lake in the ’60s. The owner thought it would be good karma if Farley took the car back to Elkhart Lake and raced there again. So Farley bought the car, restored it, got his competition license and off we went.

ford imsa daytona

Jim Farley on a Multimatic simulator preparing for this weekend’s racing at Daytona International Speedway

Photo by Andi Hedrick

After the race he saw John Lamm and Peter Egan, the famous road & track journalists. “You gave me this beautiful trophy road & track‘ Farley recalled. “Of all the cars that have raced, my Cobra was the one they wanted to race. Or any cool criteria like this. Getting that award was a big deal for me.” Farley began to think. “Could I do that more often?” The answer was yes.

Soon after, he worked for Ford of Europe. “The classic car racing scene is very different over there,” he says. “Everyone crashes into each other. Half the field are ex-professionals. I got a 2 liter car and started racing pretty much every other weekend. We would go to Monza and Spa – all those great circuits I used to read about.” He’s moved from the back of the pack to the front over time. “It was a great way for my family to see Europe,” he says. “And I got really competitive.”

He’s been racing ever since. He was on the podium at last year’s Le Mans Classic and points out that driving modern cars professionally is much safer than driving 205mph on the Mulsanne in his old GT40. Last year Farley drove his first race in a modern Mustang with no ABS or traction control. “I had such a good time,” he says. “Then I started winning most of my historic races. I started out as a rider with Flatline. And I was like, no. I want to reach the next level.” That’s how he decided to go racing professionally.

He gives all the reasons why he thinks motorsport makes him better at his job. “I’m more relevant to our designers and our engineers. I’m not an isolated CEO. I’ve been talking about cars all weekend. Being around car people keeps me fresh. I’m not at a country club to play golf. I’m with my people. The most intensive users. That helps me in my role. I feel like I’m a better leader because I go through the same process that our professional drivers go through when preparing for a race. I think I’m a better thought partner for our team when it comes to how we race and why we race. I will have more in common with our professional drivers than with a cigar-chewing, aloof manager. We are a unique industry. We have an endemic sport in our industry. It doesn’t matter if we drive electric or digital; It’s human nature to see how good we can be with these devices.”

Jim Farley

Andy Hendrik

Farley isn’t the only auto CEO racing. Akio Toyoda ran the 24 Hours of Nurburgring – no small feat – and even under a degree of secrecy. Although Toyoda’s racing is now the subject of PR campaigns and openly published tests, he began his career by running under the pseudonym “Morizo”.

The Roar Before the Rolex 24 features a full racing weekend, and Farley’s two sprint races are the first of a new series – the VP Racing SportsCar Challenge. Both will be held at the 3.6-mile Daytona street course with individual drivers (rather than teams) with two classes – LMP3 prototypes and GT4 cars including Farley’s Mustang, BMW M4, Aston Martin Vantages and Porsche 718 RS CS. A Mercedes AMG GT and a Camaro GT4.R are on the entry list. “This is an excellent new step up the IMSA series ladder,” said IMSA President John Doonan. “By bringing prototypes and GT maps to the track together, we enable participants to gain valuable experience in multi-class racing.”

Farley’s expectations? “I just want to be competitive,” he says. “That’s all. And it’s fantastic for me to just be able to talk to people about cars at the weekend. Thank god I didn’t fall in love with soap or shampoo or anything. Cars fascinate.”

Jim Farley

Andy Hendrik

He also points out what an extraordinary time it is to be a car enthusiast and racer. “I really believe that motorsport is at a complete turning point,” he says. “We will look back in 20 years and see that these 10 years of motorsport will change a lot. So I really believe that participating in racing, as I do in general, pushes me to make wise decisions with my team. For us, we’ve shrunk our company down to our iconic vehicles. And as you do that, really think about delighted customers. This is going to be a really great marketing tool for us, but not like it used to be. We are creating a new Total Performance, a modern version.”

Total Performance is of course the name of the racing and marketing campaign Ford ran in the 1960s when Ford beat Ferrari and the Mustang was new. As Ford race director Jacque Passino said at the time, “You go to a football game. Suppose there are 100,000 people there. But nobody wants to buy a goddamn football. You go to a car race and there they are – all your potential customers.”

Jim Farley

Andy Hendrik

“I really wanted to explore this as a marketing machine,” says Farley. “That’s how it all came together. I thought: I should do this. It made all the sense in the world to me.”

Both of Farley’s sprint races will be broadcast live. Turn on Peacock.



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