The Blue Oval will shine brightly once again this year in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series with the return of the Ford Motor Company and Bob Tasca III to full-time racing in the Funny Car category with a multiyear sponsorship.

While Ford has maintained its presence in NHRA through support of various Sportsman teams, it withdrew support of professional nitro racing when it discontinued sponsorships after the 2013 season for Tasca, John Force Racing and Tim Wilkerson 

“There was a lot going on in (NHRA) that wasn’t positive,” said Tasca, 42, citing declining television viewership on ESPN and crowd attendance. “As much as I believed (Ford’s) decision was wrong I thought maybe they saw something I didn’t.”

He began collecting data on television ratings after NHRA switched to FOX and FOX Sports 1 for the 2016 season that provided steady, earlier time slots for telecasts and increased live coverage including some broadcasts on the national FOX network.

NHRA also has reported an uptick in attendance.

“I wanted to understand what the sport was doing from the standpoint of fans, TV and market share. The ratings were going through the roof (for NHRA on Fox), attendance was up and so was the market share. 

“Clearly, the FOX deal was a huge boon.

“It came to the point where (Ford) had to either get into the sport with me or file a restraining order to prevent me from going back to Dearborn,” he joked about the need to ban him from returning to Ford’s headquarters in Michigan to make his pitch.

“There were many days I never thought I’d get back to driving a Funny Car full time. The Ford fans always have been optimistic that I’d be back. I wondered if they knew something I didn’t.”

Obviously, the man who owns four NHRA nitro titles and excels as a car salesman also is adept at closing deals in board rooms.

“Ford is coming back to dominate. They’re all-in, but it’s not instant pudding. We’ve built a veteran team in a short time.

“We’re not going to the first six or seven races just trying to dial-in the car. We’re coming out swinging. We’re coming out from the start to hurt some feelings, that’s for sure.”

Thanks to Tasca’s persistent lobbying, Ford announced late last year it would bring its Oval and the Tasca “family tradition” back to where it began in the 1960s when grandfather and Ford dealer Bob Tasca Sr. changed the course of Ford’s role in NHRA drag racing.

Tasca III was not about to be the last chapter of Tasca Racing that his grandfather started in 1962.

The late Tasca, who died at 83 in 2010, convinced Ford to introduce the Cobra Jet 428 into drag racing and he helped to develop the Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt drag racing program.

The motorsports icon also created the phrase “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” that has continued as racing’s sponsorship mantra for more than 50 years.

“My grandfather will be smiling down on us this year,” said Tasca, who lives in Hope, Rhode Island, with his wife and four sons. The Tasca family owns Ford and other dealerships in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. This year is the 75th anniversary for the Tasca Automotive Group (Tasca.com).

Tasca said his multiyear agreement calls for Ford to be the primary sponsor for 16 of 24 Mello Yello races this year and a major associate for the other eight in which he expects to secure additional primary sponsors. Tasca Racing latest edition will be unveiled later this month during testing near Phoenix when he said Ford is expected to announce which products and/or services will be branded on his Mustang.

Ford is investing greatly in aerodynamic research and technology that could result in a 2018 Shelby Mustang Funny Car body that will replace the model with which he will begin the season.

After a disappointing introductory independent season in 2014 when his best finishes were two semifinals, he competed in only five NHRA events over the next two seasons before returning for eight last year.

The main reason he was able to return as an independent team the past three years, he says, was involvement with Don Schumacher Motorsports, which is the parts and technology supplier for Don Schumacher Racing that fields four nitro Funny Cars and three Top Fuel Dragsters.

“At the end of the day, Don is going to run his race teams and I’m going to run mine.

“I wouldn’t have been able to compete at all the last three years were it not for Don Schumacher’s help,” he said. “I have a great relationship with him. He helped me when no one else would and I didn’t have enough funding for the race team.”

Tasca’s ties to Schumacher will be through Schumacher’s parts manufacturing divison as a customer and he insists his team will be a fully independent. He is renting a four-bay garage at the DSR complex in Brownsburg, Ind., that had formerly had been used by Bob Vandergriff Racing.

In addition to continue purchasing considerable high-performance parts from DSM, Tasca has hired Eric Lane to be his crew chief. Lane spent the past four seasons as assistant to crew chief Rahn Tobler on DSR’s 2016 world championship NAPA Dodge driven by Ron Capps. Before that, Lane worked at John Force Racing under Austin Coil and Jimmy Prock, each of whom along with Tobler are destined for drag racing halls of-fame.

“I loved working with Eric the past couple years when we started to use DSM parts,” Tasca said. “We hired Eric after the last season and I’ve been blown away with his level of detail and knowledge. We talk about four times a day.

“It would be hard to find anyone with the pedigree of working with Austin Coil, Jimmy Prock and Rahn Tobler. Lane won 11 titles as car chief with JFR and 16 as Prock’s assistant with Hight. Lane added 17 more titles with Tobler at DSR.

“I believe he will be an absolute superstar,” Tasca said of Lane, a native of Southern California who lives in Avon, Indiana, with his wife and daughter.

Lane’s assistant will be veteran Nick Casertano with John Boyce serving as car chief.