Ford Performance NASCAR: ThorSport Returns to Ford

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
ThorSport Media Call | Thursday, December 15, 2022

ThorSport Racing announced earlier today that the team will be returning to Ford in 2023, competing with a four-truck team that will include drivers Hailie Deegan, Ty Majeski, Ben Rhodes and Matt Crafton. During a call with media, ThorSport team representatives Allison Thorson and Deegan joined Ford Performance Motorsports Global Director Mark Rushbrook to answer questions.

ALLISON THORSON – HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT COMING BACK TO FORD AND HAVING HAILIE AS PART OF THE TEAM? “Obviously, ThorSport announced earlier today that we are returning for the 2023 season with Ford and Ford Performance. We are super excited. We’ve had success with them in the past and we look forward to continuing this relationship in the upcoming season and beyond. We also have some returning drivers as well as a new, exciting driver with our team, so we’ll have Matt Crafton with his crew chief, Shane Wilson, returning. Ben Rhodes with Jariod Prince as his crew chief and we’ll also have Ty Majeski with Joe Shear, Jr., and then, of course, we have Hailie Deegan now with Rich Lushes will be her crew chief. We’re super excited to share some news with everyone in the community today.”

HAILIE DEEGAN – YOUR THOUGHTS ON JOINING THORSPORT? “I really didn’t know what to expect until I got here and it’s really been more than I could have dreamed of – everything that I’ve wanted it’s been more than that, exceeding my expectations. Just to meet everyone here. There are so many great people, just an abundance of quality people working at this place. There are so many people that care and care about your racing, care about your career and your success. They truly care about their driver and I think I just feel that already after being here for 24 hours. I feel so comfortable and so accepted, and I think that’s a great feeling to have as a new driver going anywhere. I think there’s been so much success in the past with Ford and ThorSport’s relationship that bringing them back together, I feel like it’s a good move. There’s a lot of similar qualities as organizations and companies themselves that are on the same level. They give off the same vibes and you kind of get the same feeling from it, so I think Ford and ThorSport being together is a match made in heaven.”

MARK RUSHBROOK – YOUR THOUGHTS ON THORSPORT COMING BACK TO FORD WITH HAILIE ON BOARD? “We’re really excited about rejoining with ThorSport. Racing is part of who we are as a company and to represent us on the track we want to have the best partners, the best teams, the best people and ThorSport has definitely demonstrated that while they were with us and what they’ve done in recent years with the success they’ve had, so we’re excited to be rejoining forces. There are a lot of familiar faces there and we were really happy to have that conversation with Duke to go in this direction and looking forward to what we can do together in 2023. I think it’s a great opportunity with Hailie and seeing her progress these last three years with her and to watch what she’s gonna be able to do with the equipment and people there. We’re really excited to have that in 2023.”

HAILIE DEEGAN CONTINUED – HOW WOULD YOU SUMMARIZE YOUR FIRST COUPLE OF SEASONS IN THE TRUCK SERIES AND CONSIDERING THE ANNOUNCEMENT, IN WHAT WAYS WILL THIS MOVE HELP YOU MOVE TO THE NEXT LEVEL? “I think the last two seasons in trucks I’ve been trying to figure it out and kind of learning the ropes of the Truck Series and I feel like I’ve good a grasp on it now and understand what you need to be successful as a driver, what the team needs to do for their part and the people you need to have around you. There’ just a lot of pieces to the puzzle and I think maybe the last two years it was trying to find those pieces and trying to figure it out and I feel like coming here to ThorSport they obviously always had their pieces to the puzzle figured out and they have a lot of success in racing and in the Truck Series and have for a long time, so I think that coming here is kind of making up those pieces to the puzzle that might have been lacking in the past and I think we’re gonna have a lot more success together.”

WILL YOU STILL BE LOOKING FOR XFINITY OPPORTUNITIES? “Yeah, for sure. I’ll look for opportunities to go do a few Xfinity races. Obviously, nothing full-time is gonna come up, but I think that being able to go and do a few Xfinity races would definitely be awesome. It just depends on funding and sponsors and kind of what’s going on and what comes to the table throughout the year that could decide those Xfinity races.”

WHAT SORT OF TRACKS HAVE YOU FELT MOST COMFORTABLE AT THESE FIRST FEW SEASONS? “I felt like a lot of the tracks where I felt the strongest were the mile-and-a-halves. I feel like the first year in the Truck Series we had some of our best runs on the mile-and-a-halves, whether we got wrecked or something happened throughout the race that took us out of contention for a good top 10 finish, I feel like we were having the strongest runs throughout the year on mile-and-a-halves. That’s something I want to go back to is running good on those. For some reason, we got away from that. Last year, we kind of struggled on the mile-and-a-halves and I don’t know if it’s because we changed some stuff from year to year or what – mechanical stuff – so I think that coming here is kind of just going back to, ‘OK, what can we do to run good on mile-and–a-halves?’ Obviously, they do that already, but I think there’s just gonna be a lot of good things like, ‘We struggled at this track in year’s past. How do you guys feel like you run there?’ I’m like, ‘OK, feeling really good about it.’ And there’s a lot of promising things that have come up.”

DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE HAD THE SPACE TO LEARN AND IMPROVE? “I’ve been used to pressure my whole life. It’s kind of been on me from the start, so at the end of the day there’s pressure for a reason and I feel like if you can’t deal with the pressure, then you probably shouldn’t have that pressure on you. I think going on there and doing the best I possibly can, working as hard as I possibly can for it and just knowing that myself, knowing that I’m putting in the full effort and doing everything that I’m capable of and everyone else sees that, that we’re bound to have more success.”

DGR WAS STILL GROWING WHILE THORSPORT IS MORE ESTABLISHED. DO YOU FEEL THIS YEAR WILL TELL YOU WHETHER YOU CAN DO THIS AT AN ELITE LEVEL AS FAR AS LEADING LAPS AND WINNING RACES? “Yeah, I think this year is gonna be a real good show of that. I believe in myself. I think that I have it and I think that we were just probably missing a few pieces to the puzzle because there are so many pieces to the puzzle. You get to a point in your development where you have to take that next step and I think ThorSport is a very established team and has a very established path of success and still just throughout the years they’ve been so successful consistently even with all the changes in development in the Truck Series and with the trucks themselves, so I think that they’ve been such a good, consistent team that I feel this will be a good year for me.”

THERE HAS BEEN SOME TALK THAT XFINITY WOULD BE BETTER FOR YOUR GROWTH. HOW DO YOU VIEW A THIRD YEAR IN TRUCKS IN RELATION TO THAT? “I think whether the option came up to do Xfinity or Trucks for this being my third year, I would say wherever I ended up I just wanted to be in a quality place. I just wanted to be somewhere where I truly felt I was around the most quality equipment, people and quality of people who care about my racing. I think that’s a huge thing that I’m already feeling here at ThorSport is just accepted. It feels like a family environment. You kind of get that small team, family vibe, but on a big scale of a super successful team, and I’d say that’s the same thing you feel with Ford. They are a massive company with so many different departments, but you do feel like you have that small company family, very close-knit in between that.”

ALLISON THORSON CONTINUED – SOME HAVE WONDERED WHY YOU’RE MAKING THIS SWITCH. CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THE REASONS FOR THIS CHANGE? “For ThorSport, obviously we’ve been in the Series since ‘96. We’ve had a lot of success in general in the Truck Series and that also goes with a lot of other businesses that we have and sister companies with ThorSport. The Ford F-150 is the top-selling truck on the road nowadays, so it really relates for us, especially we’re trying to grow other facets of the business, too, like our T-Sport off-road and actually our upfitting trucks business, so Ford kind of matched that on top of Ford Performance lined up a lot of things of growth that we wanted to do and keep continuing to try to win championships, get poles, wins stages and races. And also to be a part of the Ford driver development program with Hailie. That was a really attractive opportunity and we really feel like not only do we want to continue our success with returning drivers, but we really think we can offer Hailie something that she hasn’t been able to accomplish just yet, and that’s the same goals that we have with our other drivers. All in all, Ford Performance with Hailie being a new member of the family and our returning drivers we are just looking forward to keep evolving, keep growing and keep setting new heights.”

HAILIE DEEGAN CONTINUED – WITH ALL OF THE EXPERIENCE AROUND YOU HOW DOES THAT CHANGE YOUR APPROACH AND MAKE YOU BETTER? “I think it’s huge. I think that’s definitely a big piece to the puzzle getting added to my career and my racing. The quality of teammates and experience these teammates have here is incredible. Just talking and having those conversations and seeing how open and willing they are to help you and making sure you’re as comfortable as possible is awesome, and I think that’s something that’s invaluable. You have to have teammates that are willing to work with you, that are willing to go out of their way to make sure you’re in a good spot and being able to work with you on track and kind of going into races with a game plan and having those conversations beforehand, or if one teammate is running better than the other being able to have that comfortable conversation of asking, ‘Hey, what are you feeling here? What changes did you guys make? What did you like? What did you not like?’ Those are conversations that you have to have at these races in-between practice and qualifying and just being able to break down the races after, having those quality conversations, I think that’s something that plays a huge factor into the development of a driver.”

MARK RUSHBROOK CONTINUED – WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN IN HAILIE IN THE PAST AND HOW DO YOU FORESEE HER TRAJECTORY IN THE FUTURE? “We love watching the development drivers progress and advance on the track and off the track, and watching that maturity of Hailie in terms of how she evaluates a car or a truck on the racetrack, can break it down and articulate it back to her crew chief and team to set the direction the car needs to go, that I think has advanced significantly both on the track and when she’s working in the simulator with the team as well. That’s awesome to see and a really important part of what a race driver needs to develop and then it’s the race craft on the track, which we’re seeing that develop as well and I think this is the next opportunity with a team that’s gonna be around her, the people that are gonna be around her to give her that opportunity to go one more level.”

IS THERE AN OPPORTUNITY TO GET HER MORE SEAT TIME IN XFINITY THIS YEAR? “I think as Hailie answered the question, it’s about having the right equipment, the right people around her and she’s got that at ThorSport and it’s gonna be a great season. As there are opportunities to get more Xfinity experience, that’s absolutely the right thing to do. Hailie did a great job when she ran the Xfinity race in Vegas and to look for opportunities together with Ford, with Hailie and her team and our existing partners to find those opportunities in 2023 we definitely want to take advantage of that and we’ll continue other things with our IMSA Mustang GT4 program. There will be more opportunities to get Hailie as much seat time and experience as possible in different environments. It always makes our drivers better.”

HAILIE DEEGAN CONTINUED – WHAT WILL THE DYNAMIC BE LIKE WITH THE SHOP IN OHIO AND NOT NORTH CAROLINA? “I don’t know if a lot of people know this, but there are quite a few drivers that have been in and out of ThorSport that have been based in North Carolina. Crafton is actually in North Carolina, too. I was actually on the same plane with him on the way here. We didn’t even know. I saw him as I was walking through the plane, so it’s definitely something I feel like gonna hurt or hinder the relationship or any of the development with the team or our performance, so I think that this is something that I feel definitely comfortable around everyone – to fly up whenever I feel and come to the shop and be around the guys and be able to hang out and build those relationships. We’re gonna be on the road obviously a lot throughout the year, but I’m definitely gonna be making a lot of trips up here to Ohio, which I don’t have a problem doing at all. I’m used to traveling, lots of sponsor requirements, lots of going to races. That’s been my life for the last 10 years, so I’m definitely comfortable hopping on a plane and making the effort to come here and build those relationships.”

MARK RUSHBROOK CONTINUED – HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT TO HAVE THIS REUNION AND FILL THE VOID WHEN DGR LEFT? “The Truck Series is important to us, to have a presence there and be competitive and be able to win races and championships. This is a great opportunity for us to have more trucks in the races, more quality trucks, more quality people, so this was the right move for us. We’re really happy with it.”

BRETT MOFFITT IS COMING IN AND SHR IS GOING TO TWO CARS IN THE XFINITY SERIES. HOW IMPORTANT HAS IT BEEN TO EXPAND THE PRESENCE IN THAT SERIES AS WELL? “As you see, we have a relatively small footprint in Xfinity, but it’s the quality of the footprint that ultimately matters, so it’s good to have Brett coming in and it’s good to have Cole Custer back in the Stewart-Haas Xfinity car. It’s gonna be great to see those cars and those drivers with opportunities to win every week.”

ALLISON THORSON CONTINUED – WAS THERE A SPECIFIC MOMENT WHERE YOU SAID YOU REALLY NEEDED TO BRING HAILIE TO THE TEAM? “I keep going back to welcoming and working back with Ford Performance. That was kind of one of the main points of we were also reviewing our driver lineup at the time like many other teams. What are we doing for the next season and stuff like that, and Hailie was ready. That was obviously a top topic to talk about, where is Hailie gonna go? Immediately, I know from our management perspective we had open arms and thought there was a lot of potential. She has a large following and a lot of backing. Obviously, being a female driver she brings a lot to the table, but ThorSport, we kind of welcomed her into the family and we know she’s got a lot of potential and can fulfill it. We really feel like we have those key parts and, like she said, pieces to the puzzle make her meet her goals and exceed her goals and make new goals. The same with Ford Performance. Ford Performance has a good development program and that’s what I would say Hailie represents. She is the face of that and we are happy to help and assist and make that possible for her, for Ford and then also we just get to be a part of it. We’re excited about it.”

HAILIE DEEGAN CONTINUED – WHAT CAN GUYS LIKE MATT AND TY AND BEN HELP YOU WITH THAT YOU’VE BEEN MISSING? “I think just the level and the caliber of teammates that I will have, with the experience that they have throughout the past years and success they’ve had, I really couldn’t ask for better teammates on this team. There’s just so much experience that I’m lacking that they have had over the years. I don’t even have questions yet, but will in the future that they’ll be able to answer. I think there’s just gonna be so many quality conversations and so many quality moments at the track that they’re really gonna help out and be that kind of person who has my back. I can see already that the whole aspect over here and part of it is being close-knit, being like a family-type scenario, and I think that having a team like that who has those relationships is what makes drivers feel comfortable and excel in their career.”

MARK RUSHBROOK CONTINUED – WHAT CAN THORSPORT GIVE YOUR DEVELOPMENT DRIVERS THAT MAYBE SOME OF THE OTHER TEAMS WERE MISSING? “As we’ve hit on, they’ve been in the Truck Series since 1996. They’ve got a great range of drivers in experience that can work with a development driver like Hailie, so to watch Hailie develop alongside Ty and Ben, with the experience of Matt Crafton, a champion, that’s the best environment. We have that balance and that spectrum and then all the people in the shop, the experience that they have, and Duke and Allison and the ThorSport team, they are focused on being a truck team and the best truck team and a championship-caliber team. That’s what we’re looking for and we’re really happy that we’ve partnered with them again.”

ALLISON THORSON CONTINUED – HOW DOES THIS ALSO FIT IN WITH YOUR HORSE BUSINESS? “We like horses and horsepower. Obviously, I’m a daughter. I’ve been around the race team for a long time, but horseback riding and being around horses is one of my passions. For Hailie, she’ll take the other end, but just like race season for my family personally or with the horse shows we’re on the road at least 30 weeks out of the year and often pulling trailers and that usually comes with F-350s or F-450s, and furthering our business, our T-Sport upfitting package that we’re selling, we’re just really excited to partner with Ford and make that more out there and more possible that we can bring to the racing world and we can also bring to my horse world. Often like racing, people like to feel they’re a part of it and when you can bring that to people on the streets and they can drive one themselves, I think it helps Ford, it helps our business and it’s super exciting.”

HAILIE DEEGAN CONTINUED – WHAT DO YOU NEED TO IMPROVE ON THE MOST? “I think that just having a good, solid core group of people around me. I think there are so many things going on in the racing world at all times that you have to have people who have your back 24/7, that believe that you can practically do anything. I think that’s the type of feeling you get when you go into a shop and to be with a team like ThorSport. You hear so many great things about them all around the garage. The garage is a small place. Words travel fast there, so everyone speaks super highly of ThorSport and how they are to be a part of and so I think that this is a quality place that even though they’re in Ohio, it’s a couple of hour drive, not too far, I’m willing to definitely make the effort to come in here and be a part of it.”

IS THERE ANY EXTRA PRESSURE ON YOU COMING TO THIS ORGANIZATION? “I think I look at it a little bit differently. I think the world kind of looks at it as more negative aspect or tries to view it and make it a negative way as, ‘Oh, it’s more pressure. Now the pressure is really on. How are you gonna deal with that?’ But I think when I saw the opportunity to be able to drive for ThorSport and to be able to come over here and be a part of it I was actually really hoping that Rich was gonna be able to be my crew chief, but I was like, ‘They had such a great relationship in the past, him and Ben, like, I doubt I’ll be able to get another crew chief.’ When the opportunity arose first of all to come to ThorSport my eyes lit up and then second of all to be able to have Rich as my crew chief, I think, it just became almost like a dream came true. I was so happy, so excited and just so positive when it came to the outlook about it. If everything is right and all those pieces to the puzzle are right and everything kind of makes up the perfect ideal situation for me, that’s what I want. I don’t want to be looking at it like, ‘Man, I wish I had this. I wish I was able to get this.’ If I have everything that I feel I need, that just motivates me to work harder and really do everything that I possibly can and go out there and try to maximize everything on the track.”

MARK RUSHBROOK CONTINUED – HOW CRITICAL WAS IT TO KEEP HAILIE WITH FORD? “We’re a family company. We like to be committed to the people that are part of our program and give them every opportunity to exceed and to excel and be successful, so we wanted to give Hailie that opportunity with the right team and the right people around her to take that next step, to continue advancing. As I said earlier, she’s shown the potential that we’ve seen in her all along and growth and this is that opportunity to go one more level.”

HOW ARE THINGS DIFFERENT ON THE CUP SIDE WITH GETTING CARS READY FOR THIS SEASON AS OPPOSED TO LAST YEAR? “A lot of times the off-season is more busy than the racing season itself and I don’t know that it’s any different this time. There’s the normal, continual work on advancing your setup, your development, but with the updates to the cars that’s also a lot of work that the industry is working together with the supply chain and with the race shops to get all of that done in time to support the season. There’s a lot of work, for sure, but that’s what racing is. It’s part of the off-season.”

DO YOU THINK TEAMS WILL BE ABLE TO FOCUS MORE ON JUST TRYING TO MAKE CARS GO FASTER RATHER THAN ALSO SPENDING TIME IN DEVELOPMENT ALONG THE WAY? “It’s always a challenge whenever you have a new race car, so 2022 was a huge challenge for the industry, for every single race team, to come to grips with the car itself and how to race it, how to set it up, learning the different sensitivities and that’s still gonna continue in 2023 just because we have one season of racing under our belts. We certainly learned a lot about the car, but there’s still a lot more to learn and refine and continue finding the right setup for all the different tracks and just keep building that notebook. Our teams are working hard. They worked hard all through 2022 and had a lot of success and they’re working hard through this off-season. I’m down here in North Carolina this week and we’ve visited with all the teams and they’re all working hard, both on the cars and on the analytics for it and what they can do better in 2023.”

WERE YOU SURPRISED YOU HAD TO ADD A TEAM TO FIND A PLACE FOR HAILIE AND HOW STRESSFUL HAS IT BEEN THE LAST SIX TO EIGHT WEEKS TO FIND A PLACE FOR HER? “I don’t think we expected the DGR move, but we were able to react to that very quickly and find the right solution. I don’t think it’s been overly stressful. The moment that we sat down with Duke and ThorSport it was very natural, having had a relationship before and went very smoothly because we have a lot in common in terms of who we are as people, as organizations, and what we want out of racing, so it’s actually been a very good process and in that very first discussion Hailie was part of it. It was a question from ThorSport, ‘Can Hailie come to ThorSport?’ They wanted her. They wanted to be part of her continued development, so it wasn’t overly stressful.”

THERE HAVE BEEN SOME REPORTS IN FORD BEING INTERESTED IN F1. HOW MUCH INTEREST DO YOU HAVE AND, IF SO, DO YOU WORK OUT OF ONE BIG POOL OF MONEY? IF SO, IF YOU DID ANYTHING IN THE F1 SPACE WOULD IT IMPACT ANY OF YOUR NASCAR BUDGETS? “Obviously, we’re here to talk about NASCAR and keep our focus on NASCAR. There certainly has been a lot of speculation out there, but nothing that we’re going to comment on.”

ALLISON THORSON CONTINUED – WHAT WAS THE THOUGHT PROCESS ON THE CREW CHIEF LINEUP AND THOSE CHANGES? “Today, we’re just doing an icebreaker with Ford and coming back. We’re super excited with welcoming Hailie and with that we thought that Rich was the best fit for Hailie. He’s had a lot of experience and a lot of success. He’s led Myatt Snider to rookie of the year as well as winning the championship in 2021 with Ben, and like Hailie in her video today was joking around with Ben yesterday about moving some crew chiefs around, but, again, everybody is super supportive including the drivers like Ben. I even noticed some banter and helpful tips from Matt Crafton yesterday in the shop, so I think that will continue, but, with that, Rich was just kind of the right fit, we believe. Like Hailie noted earlier, she looks at it as a confidence boost, a sturdy chair to kind of say, ‘Hey, he’s reached this success, so here you are and we’re gonna help you do that,’ We felt like Rich was the right person who fit that job.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


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