Tar Heel Tattler - August 2006

NASCAR driver: Don't do as I do, do as I sell
By Frank Maley

Ford Motor Co. executives didn’t try to hide their displeasure after NASCAR driver Dale Jarrett announced he will race Toyotas next year instead of Fords. “We’re obviously not happy,” says Dan Davis, director of Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Racing Technology.

Kirk Stump doesn’t go that far. He’s managing partner and principal owner of Dale Jarrett Automotive Group Inc., which owns Dale Jarrett Ford and Dale Jarrett Suzuki in the Charlotte suburb of Indian Trail. Jarrett is a minority owner. Stump claims that Jarrett “still bleeds Ford blue,” and he’s loath to say he’s disappointed by Jarrett’s move. “Would I love to have him stay with Ford? Absolutely. But winning races is what it’s all about. When he wins a race, obviously he’s on every talk show there is in America, and that’s great P.R.”

Jarrett hasn’t been winning lately. Coming into the 2006 season, he had won only twice in the last three years. His lone championship at NASCAR’s top level came in 1999, the year he bought into the dealership. It capped a four-year stretch when he finished no worse than third in the points standings. Since then, he slipped to fourth, fifth, ninth and then 26th before rebounding the past two seasons to finish 15th twice. Halfway through his lame-duck season with Ford, he was sputtering along in 24th place with no wins and only two top-10 finishes. Meanwhile, other Ford drivers have won the last two season championships.

Jarrett, 49, is wagering that Toyota’s entry into the Nextel Cup Series will be as successful as its foray into NASCAR’s truck series. Midway through its third season, the Japanese automaker holds the first four slots in the standings.

Customers and Ford execs are teasing Stump about selling Fords now that the dealership’s poster boy has announced his defection. But he and the other owners never considered changing the dealership’s name: Dale Jarrett Ford still sounds sexier than, say, Kirk Stump Ford. The dealership had sales of more than $110 million in 2005 and ranked 45th among more than 4,100 Ford dealers in cars sold in June, he says.

But even Stump concedes that there’s a downside to the move. The dealership uses a photograph of Jarrett’s current Nextel Cup ride in its advertising. That won’t work next year. “Obviously, we’ll have to go away from that. We’ll probably just use Dale’s picture.”