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Full Throttle – Penske may build Dodge engines while running Fords

Full Throttle – Penske may build Dodge engines while running Fords

At the beginning of March, Penske Racing announced that the team was switching from Dodge to Ford cars for the 2013 racing season. Since that announcement, there has been quite a bit of discussion about whether Penske will build their own engines or get their power plants from Roush Yates as the other Ford teams do. The engine shop at Penske Racing employs 70 people and the organization’s owner, Roger Penske, has vowed that they will be unaffected by the switch to Ford. While the dedication to his employees is admirable, it seems like it would be a difficult marriage to have members of a team that races Fords building engines for teams that run Dodges. When the rubber meets the road, especially during the final 10 races of the season, it would seem that the potential for a conflict of interest would be rather intense.

The initial thought that crossed people’s minds when Penske made the announcement about the switch to Ford was that the horsepower battle between longtime Ford engine builders Roush Yates and Penske could be a fabulous subplot to the 2013 season. Unfortunately, after taking a step back and examining the situation a little more closely, it became a little more obvious that Penske would be starting out at a deficit to Roush Yates and would probably spend quite some time catching up. If the people from Penske want to start off 2013 in competitive fashion, they’re most likely going to have to acquire their race engines from Roush, at least initially. That would mean that the 70 employees in the engine shop would be out of work.

That leads to the latest option that is being discussed, which is for Penske’s engine shop to continue building Dodge engines. While there has not been an announcement yet about which team or teams will be running Dodge name plates in 2013, the auto manufacturer seems to be committed to continuing their presence in NASCAR. “Our motorsports involvement isn’t limited to NASCAR,” said Ralph Gilles, President and CEO. “We do value our NASCAR program and will be evaluating the opportunities available moving forward. As those opportunities materialize, we’ll reveal our 2013 plans, not only in NASCAR but in other forms of motorsports.” With Penske being the primary source of Sprint Cup level Dodge race engines, the need for a manufacturer to take over their role as the engine provider for the Dodge camp is obvious. The other engine builders who do assemble Dodge engines do not have the infrastructure to churn out the volume of engines that will be demanded by a major race team or multiple teams. That void is most likely why Penske is thinking about having his engine department continue to make Dodge engines.

Should Penske continue making Dodge power plants, that will ensure that the employees in the engine department remain employed. However, it will also immediately lead to debate about what information is being shared with the engine department and the race teams. With Roush Yates spending millions of dollars to squeeze every last horse power out of their engines, they are not going to be too eager to share that information with teams competing in the Dodge camp. The legal paperwork that is going to be involved to try and protect each side from stealing information from the other is going to be voluminous.

On top of the potential for knowledge and information leaking from one engine shop to the other, the potential for a conflict of interest, especially at the end of the season, is going to be very real. Imagine if a team is running Dodges and the title race comes down to the final race of the season with that team and one of Penske’s teams dueling it out for the championship. If an engine failure befalls the Dodge team, the cries of “foul” will be heard from the highest of mountain tops. At the same time, should the Dodge team actually beat the Penske Ford, how awkward would life in the Penske shops be during the off-season?

While the odds are minimal that a team that chooses to make the jump to Dodge is going to be a championship-caliber team, the possibility of a conflict still exists. If Penske does make the decision to go with Roush Yates engines, there is going to have to be a very clear delineation between the Penske Cup teams and the Penske engine shop. Without that distinct separation between the two operations, the whispering and rumors will be endless and will undermine anything that either group is able to accomplish on their own.

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