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Ford's fast Farley: Racer on Sunday, CEO on Monday

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Jim Farley is the top dog at Ford – and he’s no slouch at auto racing, either.

Last weekend, Ford Motor Co.’s CEO stood atop the podium at the SVRA Road Atlanta Grand Prix, the winner of his race class in a 1978 Lola T298 sports racer. He also raced his 1967 Shelby Cobra in a separate class, finishing sixth.

A latecomer to racing as an adult, Farley has become an accomplished driver, escaping from the pressure-cooker world of automotive manufacturing to race amateur vintage racing events in the U.S. and Europe.

“He’s one of the best non-pro drivers we’ve ever had race with us,” said Bud Bennett of RM Motorsports in Wixom, which prepares Farley’s Lola. “He has quite a bit of natural ability.”

Farley took over the helm of Ford in October, joining an elite corps of Detroit auto execs with a passion for going fast. General Motors Co. President Mark Reuss and Cruise LLC CEO Dan Amman are both Nürburgring race track-licensed drivers. Toyota boss Akio Toyoda also has a fondness for race tracks.

Farley logged about a half-dozen races in the U.S. this year as well as a few in Europe. When across the pond, he pilots a 1966 Ford GT-40. Naturally, all three race cars are powered by Ford engines.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, middle, stands atop the winner's podium Sunday at the 2020 SVRA Road Atlanta Grand Prix, driving his classic Lola T298.

At Road Atlanta, one of North America’s most challenging circuits with its signature, writhing downhill esses, and long, undulating back straight, Farley won his class in two sprint races. He also placed first in his class in the endurance race, and fourth overall, while staying behind the wheel for all 70 minutes even though Bennett was listed as his co-driver.

Farley lapped Road Atlanta consistently in the 1-minute, 26-second range, recording a fast lap of 1:25.6. By comparison, Joe Blacker, an accomplished sports car driver with decades of racing experience, lapped his similar Lola T298 at 1:28.4 at the same event a few years ago.

“He drives the wheels off that thing,” said Bennett. “We see a lot of famous people in vintage racing, but we treat Jim like everyone else. He doesn’t have a big head.”

Thumbs up from Ford CEO Jim Farley in his Lola T98 sports racer. Farley has become an accomplished racer while also rising to Ford's top job.

In its prime during the late 1970s, the 300-horsepower English-made Lola – powered by a high-revving, 4-cylinder Ford Cosworth – was one of the quickest sports racers in the world, running against other European thoroughbreds like the Chevron B36, March 75 and Toj 206. With its open, two-seat cockpit and big rear wing, the 1,300-pound racer pulls a neck-straining 2-g loads in high-speed turns.

Vintage race series organized by sanctioning bodies like Sportscar Vintage Racing Association and Historic Sportscar Racing have allowed collectors to continue to race these cars just as the pros did in their prime.

Ford CEO Jim Farley was class winner in his Lola T298 at the Road Atlanta Grand Prix sprint race - finishing second overall.

Farley was competitive in his 289-cubic-inch 1966 Shelby Cobra, too, lapping at 1 minute, 40 seconds-flat despite giving up cubic inches to some monster 427-cube Chevy Corvettes.

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday, the saying goes. Farley was back on the job Monday.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News — and a racer himself. He piloted a Lola 90 at the Road Atlanta Historics in October, finishing 4th in class. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.