When NASCAR driver Aric Almirola took pole at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday before the Cup series race, he brought a lot of attention to a new sponsor in the sport.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is part of Ford’s racing program and as such, the brand uses its sponsorship to occasionally showcase Ford products or services. However, Almirola’s sponsor for the Bristol night race was an unusual one, not a Ford product or service, but a place.
It’s no secret that the auto industry is moving into the more environmentally friendly world of electrification. That transition has accelerated this year, largely due to higher oil and gas prices. In the first quarter of 2022, Ford reported a 139% increase in electric vehicle sales. That growth was attributed to the Mustang Mach-E and E-Transit vehicles, currently the only two EVs in the inventory. The company began shipping its F-150 Lightning pickup over the following months as growth shows no signs of slowing down.
So it should come as no surprise that Ford is working on the infrastructure to support the growth of EVs in the coming years. One of the latest investments is BlueOval City, a 3,600-acre campus spanning six square miles that will produce the new electric truck and batteries for future Ford and Lincoln vehicles when it opens in 2025.
So why advertise BlueOval City through a NASCAR race car at a Bristol race? BlueOval City is being built in Stanton, a city in western Tennessee less than 500 miles from the track. Ford’s $5.6 billion investment in BlueOval will make it one of the largest manufacturing campuses in US history and create some 6,000 jobs.
Because the Bristol night race has traditionally been one of the most attended races on the NASCAR circuit, it gave Ford the opportunity to showcase BlueOval City to thousands of fans, many of whom live in the area.
“We know how much Tennesseans love motorsports,” said Kel Kearns, electric vehicle factory manager at BlueOval City. “To be in Aric’s car this weekend for one of the most popular events of the season is a great way to spread the word about who we are and the arrival of BlueOval City.”
In total, Ford is investing in total together with its Korean battery partner SK innovation $11.4 billion in BlueOval City and two battery plants in Glendale, Kentucky.
Almirola has been with Ford for much of his 11-year career, driving full-time in NASCAR’s Cup series and seeing how the brand has progressed when it comes to EVs.
“It was so nice for me to be able to see behind the curtain,” said Almirola. “Here’s another opportunity to be involved in the future of Ford Motor Company and to spotlight BlueOval City and what a phenomenal place they’re going to build there. They are going to create 11,000 new American jobs between there and BlueOval. It’s just unbelievable and it was a lot of fun to ride the whole trip.”
While it may seem odd to showcase the future of an electric vehicle at a NASCAR race, electrification isn’t something NASCAR shy away from. Their Next Gen race car, which made its competition debut this season, is designed with an architecture that will support a hybrid system in the future. In fact, the sport has already done some testing with the new system and there is talk of a hybrid race car that could be demonstrated in the coming years.
And NASCAR’s drivers are already on board with EVs.
“I’ve driven the Mach-E quite a bit,” said Almirola. “The folks at Ford were kind enough to give me one for a week and the kids loved it. We raced every person we could from a traffic light in Mooresville, Cornelius and Kannapolis, North Carolina. Everyone who was willing to race with us from a traffic light, we drove, at least up to the speed limit. So zero to 45 or zero to 55. I don’t think we lost a race, so we had a lot of fun with that.”
Almirola sees the transition to electrification in the automotive sector as a development as natural as in earlier times.
“I feel like we’re living in one of those eras where you’re getting ready to see something spectacular and getting ready to live through it,” Almirola said. “You think back to when we went from those big heavy muscle cars to lighter weight, more aerodynamic, more refinement, more electronics, electronic fuel injection and all that stuff. My father and grandfather had to go through that transition, so here we are getting ready to go through the transition to see more electrification and what the possibilities are. ”
As a professional racer, all Almirola cares about is what goes on behind the wheel. And he says what’s under the hood isn’t all that important.
“I think that’s the most impressive part from my point of view, that a guy who likes to hold the wheel and hit the accelerator wants it to be an exciting experience,” he said. “You want to enjoy driving and I’m just amazed and fascinated by the vehicles Ford has released with electrification.”
Almirola led the field to the green in Bristol on Saturday night, showing off Ford’s BlueOval City to the NASCAR world. And it probably won’t be the last time the car’s electrification is shown to NASCAR and its fans.
“It’s a great opportunity to showcase what’s happening at BlueOval City in Tennessee in Bristol and to partner with us on a great event with NASCAR and Aric and his Ford Mustang,” said Kearns.
“Electrification is the future. It’s the next generation. It’s exciting new technology, but that doesn’t change what Ford is. Ford is about Ford Performance and racing is part of our DNA, so that’s what we’re going to show this weekend as we move forward and showcase BlueOval City at number 10 this weekend.”