DEARBORN - If you’re looking for Ford Performance NASCAR supervisor Pat DiMarco on any given race weekend, the first place should be inside the manufacturer’s infield tech trailer. That’s where you will likely find him either huddled with a group of engineers or perched in front of his computer dissecting the latest data that could land a Blue Oval driver in Victory Lane.
But it hasn’t always been this way.
As a seven-year-old kid, DiMarco could often be found skating around the rinks of Cleveland, Ohio shooting pucks, scoring goals and getting into the occasional altercation that is normal for competitive boys wanting to one day hoist the Stanley Cup.
When he turned 11, however, that dream became clouded when he experienced the pumping adrenaline that is associated with one of the world’s most famous races – the Indianapolis 500.
From that point on his love for both sports only grew, creating a dilemma of sorts when it came time to choose a career path.
“I could have gone to play Division II or Division III or junior hockey in Canada. I had opportunities to do both,” recalled DiMarco, who ultimately enrolled at The Ohio State University, where he played for the club team after being one of the final varsity cuts his freshman year. “My dad and I have the discussion all the time over whether it was the right decision for him to make me go to college at Ohio State to get a degree, instead of go play hockey. We laugh about it now, but it’s kind of an ongoing debate.”
DiMarco is quick to point out that he’s more than happy with the way things have turned out, and that’s because as he enters his 23rd year being associated with Ford Performance and its NASCAR program, he’s got the best of both worlds.
“I went to my first Indy 500 in 1982 when Gordon Johncock beat Rick Mears at the line,” said DiMarco. “Sitting in the stands there, I said to myself, ‘I want to be one of those guys down in the pits.’ I went to every Indy 500 until I graduated from Ohio State with my graduate degree in 1995.”
During his time in Columbus, DiMarco was heavily involved in the Formula SAE program and participated in other hands-on projects that made up the motorsports curriculum, including the university’s solar car team.
He joined Ford Motor Co. immediately after earning his master’s in engineering as part of the Ford College Grad rotational program and spent his first year working on data acquisition and ride-handling development. From there, an opportunity was offered to work at SVO in a rotation centered on what is now known as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
“I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” said DiMarco. “When I got to Ford I didn’t really know if it would happen, but it was something that I had dreamed of and then the opportunity presented itself to go to SVO and it was a, ‘Hell, yes.’”
The year-long rotation only strengthened his love for the sport and while the rules of the FCG program required him to return to his original position, it was only a matter of months before the racing program expanded and he moved there full-time.
Except for a brief stay working on simulation for Team Rahal in CHAMP car in 2000, DiMarco’s primary focus has been in NASCAR, working with teams on chassis design projects, simulation tools and other technological advancements.
“The gains of speed in fractions of seconds have gone from picking up a quarter-of-a-second to looking for a half-a-tenth to a tenth-of-a-second. That’s really where we’ve gotten to because technology has gotten everybody closer and closer,” said DiMarco. “The gains are harder and harder to come by, so you look at the smaller ones. Before, if you found a half-a-tenth gain, it really wasn’t worth anything because you were looking for a quarter-second, but now you’re looking for that half-a-tenth or tenth that’s separating the top 10 or top 15 in the field.”
Part of that technological growth includes the Ford Performance Technical Center in Concord, NC, which opened in May 2014, and a sprawling tech trailer that travels to every race and serves as headquarters for data acquisition and real-time communication with race teams.
“He’s really taken on a role as a technological partner from data analysis, what data you need to have and those things that in the last few years have really taken hold and become beneficial to the teams, but aren’t necessarily areas that the teams are experts in yet,” said Travis Geisler, Team Penske competition director. “He meets with us as a group to discuss what the trends are that we’re seeing and what areas are challenges for everybody. Then, he’ll try to tailor support for each team, so I think that’s been a great addition as far as somebody that can kind of think about your program or that you can run ideas by that’s not in it. Sometimes you need a couple feet of separation to be able to see something and he kind of provides that for us.
“Pat’s the guy that is six to 12 months or a little farther out, so you’ve got these different ranges and he fits that role for us,” continued Geisler. “He’s not worried about what tire pressure or camber we’re going to run, but he is worried about the systems that are going to be available a year or two from now to make those decisions and starts to figure out how to put them together.”
During his Ford Performance tenure, DiMarco has enjoyed celebrating some of Ford’s greatest stock car triumphs, including Cup Series championships by Dale Jarrett (1999), Matt Kenseth (2003) and Kurt Busch (2004), and six Daytona 500 victories.
Mixed in with all of that success was a 22-month assignment (July 2014-April 2016) working for Ford in Germany, along with his wife, Jackie, who currently serves as powertrain integration chief engineer with the company. The two started dating six months before graduating from OSU and landing at Ford. They married in 2000 and had twin daughters, Nicole and Sydney, four years later.
They enjoyed living abroad and embraced their new surroundings by going on such adventures as scuba diving in the Indian Ocean, touring the Louvre Museum in Paris, and going on a safari in South Africa.
And while all of that was nice, it turned out to be no substitute for German ice hockey arenas named Eissporthalle Troisdorf and Eisstadion im Sahnpark, where the girls played in organized leagues and tournaments. They even spent a week in Prague participating in an ice hockey camp.
“My kids have picked up the passion for hockey,” said DiMarco, who transforms the backyard of his Michigan home into an ice rink every winter. “They follow women’s hockey on social media and had the opportunity to skate with the Lamoureux sisters (Jocelyne and Monique) at an event featuring some Olympic athletes. They met Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings) when he was on the U.S.A. development team out of Ann Arbor, so they’ve really grown to enjoy the sport. It took some time for them to get it, but they’ve got it and the passion is there now.”
It’s the same kind of passion DiMarco has displayed his entire life and something that drives him to make Ford the best manufacturer in the NASCAR garage.
“I see that unique Pat chuckle and laugh a lot when we’re having every day conversation, but it’s a different smile seeing him in Victory Lane,” said Kevin Harvick, who knew DiMarco on a personal level before Stewart-Haas Racing switched to Ford before the 2017 season. “You can see the thrill that he gets from the amount of effort that is put in to all of the Ford racing programs and to see him in Victory Lane is very gratifying for me because I know how much work he puts into it.”
DiMarco will deflect any praise he gets to his team of engineers and contractors that are all focused on the same goal of winning this year’s driver and manufacturer championship.
“We want to win races on a regular basis, but what satisfies me the most is being a leader in technology, whatever it might be,” said DiMarco. “Whether it’s a role we play with the teams from a data and analytics perspective or the driving simulator, our goal is to do it quicker and better than anyone else. It’s great to have the success on the race track, but it’s more fulfilling to see the team grow.”
He could just as easily say the same thing about the recreational ice hockey team he still plays on, but the ultimate goal there is much different than when he was younger. Instead of one day wanting to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup, he’s quite content now to pour Miller’s Lite into a chilled mug and celebrate good times with friends and family.