My friend Brian Fioritto used to work for Ford, but I first met him on the track at Waterford Hills where he competed in a Fiat 850 Racer like this one. Years later I visited him in SoCal and we had dinner at The Cherry Pit, a dive bar in Orange CA that is so small “it doesn’t even show up on google”. The conversation centered around the high stress atmosphere that sometimes exists in Design Studios. My question was direct, “Aside from a party, what kind of event would be exciting enough to bring the design studios together?“. Golf was immediately discarded as possibility, as was a Spa day. After dinner we traveled around the corner to Dromo1 for a little kart racing, then back to The Cherry Pit, then back to Dromo1. The answer was sitting right in front of us, but it took some time before I asked “Do you think the guys in the <Ford> Studio would enjoy racing karts?”. And so, on March 22nd, 2006, the First Annual Designer Night at the Races™ was held.
Over the next months and years, the event went from an annual occurrence, to semi-annual. As it grew we moved from a single night event, to multiple nights. Along the way, we updated the mantra from Competition and Camaraderie, to include Charity, and we adopted multiple local organizations, starting with animal shelters before we settled on stamping out cancer as our objective. In 2014 we worked with the Karmanos Cancer Center to donate thousands and this year we broke our record as design staff donations for the Fall Detroit events totaled $981. Once AACS match kicked in, last minute pledges were added and the Spring events resulted in $3000 in donations to the Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center. If you would like to add to our total, please donate here.
Oh yeah, aside from the Charity, there was some Camaraderie on display as 40+ design staff from Ford, FCA, GM and Toyota Calty gathered at Kart2Kart for the 50th event.
And lest we forget the Competition part…..
The first race of the night was the D-Main. Before the race we were almost positive Toyota Calty would win as they qualified in the 1st – 7th spots. We could not, however, have predicted who would win as Cody Wedel worked his way his 7th place starting position to win by the largest margin of the night WITHOUT setting the fastest lap. Keisuke Sakamoto started 2nd, dropped all the way to 5th before working his way back up to 2nd by passing two people in the last 2 laps. Ai Keskeny led over half the race from the pole before being caught first by Cody and then by Sakamoto-san. AACS Guest Anna Lee was the most improved driver of the night as she knocked off an unbelievable 14.5 seconds between qualifying and her race.
If the D-Main race had a lot of passing and re-passing, the C-Main was completely the opposite as Jeff Hammound of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles turned his pole position into a top podium finish. James Ardern of Lacks Wheel Trim Systems started third and finished 2nd. But the race of the night was Yusuke Onda of Toyota Calty. After missing qualifying and starting last (twelfth), he managed to pass 2 racers on the 1st lap, another on the 2nd lap, two more on the 3rd, another on the 5th,6th and 7th. On the 12th lap he made a pass for 3rd. By the last lap he had caught James in 3rd and was less than 0.2 seconds behind at the end, easily the most exciting drive of the night.
In the B-Main we had a fight between two brothers as Josh Schott of Fiat Chrysler outqualified his brother Jesse for the pole position. At the start Josh went one direction (to the checkered flag) while his brother went the other (back to 4th place). They were split by Stefano Ranalli of Fiat Chrysler who worked his way up from 6th on the grid to 2nd along with setting the race’s fastest lap at 26.913. Sriram Pakkam of Ford started and finished 3rd.
The A-Main was almost a snooze fest at the front as pole sitter Daiyang Gao led every lap and set the evening’s fastest lap at 26.699 for the win. Eric Ghoukasian of Fiat Chrysler started 3rd but passed for 2nd right at the start to keep that position at the end. Max Sullivan of GM started 5th and passed for the final podium spot on the last lap, then promptly went home for band practice. David McCall had the drive of the race, starting last and working his way all the way up to 5th at the flag.
Once the Lacks Enterprises Individual Heat Races were finished, it came time for the most fun part of the evening, the Plastic Plate Team Enduro. Drivers are split into 4-driver teams to compete for 45 minutes replete with pit stops and driver changes. Fiat Chrysler had 5 teams and Toyota Calty had 4 which left 1 each for Ford and GM. The Ford team started 4th and had moved to the lead by the second lap. Other than about 15 laps during the driver changes, they dominated the field with almost 70 laps led and a 1-lap margin at the end. FCA #4 and FCA #2 battled it out with Calty #1 for the other 2 podium spots. In the end FCA finished 2nd thru 6th.
As this was the 50th event, AACS would also like to thank those who help make Designer Night at the Races™ a success. Specifically, Calty Team Captain Ai Keskeny – who received a signed limited edition copy of Mark Steherenberger’s new book.
Also, we would like to especially call out the design studio heads who come out to the events and support their staff.
After all the racing was done, and the smoke had cleared, points were distributed and the Fiat Chrysler Product Design Office was crowned as the newest and Fastest Design Studio in the East.
So that concludes our coverage from the 2015 Fall Events in Detroit. Check out the other pictures from the event here.