DEARBORN - It’s Thursday morning when Mark Rushbrook’s voice comes over the speaker to begin a global conference call with members of his Ford Performance Motorsports team.
What makes this 8:30 a.m. meeting a bit different is that he’s not conducting it from a conference room or an office. Instead, he’s riding in the passenger seat of a Ford Explorer that is motoring down Interstate 75 from Dearborn, Mich., to Sandusky, Ohio, for a visit with ThorSport Racing of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
It may not be a traditional way of staying up to speed with what’s going on in the world of motorsports, but when you work for an iconic brand that is a pioneer in the emerging field of mobility like Ford Motor Company, it’s business as usual.
As global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, Rushbrook is responsible for running all of the division’s motorsport efforts, which includes NASCAR, IMSA, NHRA, and Formula Drift in North America and FIA WEC, WRC, and Australia Supercars overseas.
“Ford is a global company and we need to operate our motorsports program just like we do the rest of the company,” said Rushbrook. “The ability to share the same tools and processes across these different global racing series is part of what we need to be doing to be efficient and competitive. Whether it’s for NASCAR, the Ford GT wherever it’s racing around the world, for WRC, or for Australia Supercars the same physics apply, so we can use the same tools and processes to be successful wherever we’re racing.”
Rushbrook, 51, joined Ford Performance in 2014 as an engineering manager for motorsports, a position he held until being promoted late last year to global director.
In that time, he has been part of a group that successfully relaunched the Ford GT into competition, winning the Le Mans 24 in 2016 on the 50th anniversary of its first victory in the prestigious endurance race. In addition, he has played a key role in building the Ford Performance team that has grown from seven at the start to its current size of 43.
“That’s been a huge part of the last four years because everyone has been handpicked. We didn’t just go out on the street and grab the first people that we saw, we’ve spent a lot of time picking the right people,” said Rushbrook, who cites the recent news that Mustang will be going to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and Australia Supercars Championship next year, along with a new body for the NHRA Mello Yellow Funny Car, as an example of the multi-faceted projects his group tackles at any given moment. “I’m very proud of the team in total and every single individual that is with us because they’re all very skilled, very talented and huge contributors.
“We’re looking for people with a very unique skill set that has the passion and attitude of being able to work together as a team,” continued Rushbrook. “That determines our success, so that’s the most important thing I look for because there are a ton of people that may have the skill, the knowledge and the experience, but having that plus the right attitude and people skills is what makes a difference and that’s what we’ve been able to build into this team.”
Rushbrook’s tenure as director, which officially started on Dec. 1, 2017, got off to a solid start as the Ford GT rolled to a dominating victory in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, and an equally impressive victory in the FIA World Rally Championship event in Monte Carlo with the Ford Fiesta. The checkered flags continued a couple of weeks later in NASCAR when Kevin Harvick took Mustang and Fusion to wins on consecutive days at Atlanta Motor Speedway, igniting a three-race winning streak.
“Mark provides all the advice that he can while maintaining the propriety and the secrets that’s expected of the teams with regard to the things that they’re racing with one another against,” said NASCAR team owner Jack Roush. “He does a nice job there and hasn’t broken the faith and created trouble for himself by giving up something he shouldn’t, but by the same token he provides encouragement and provides resources. He’s the contact back to the racing side of Ford Motor Company.”
About the only time you’ll find Rushbrook sitting or standing still is if he’s in a meeting or sifting through his hundreds of daily e-mails. When he’s on the road it’s not uncommon for him to start the day with a 5 a.m. run through the streets of Geneva or pull out his bicycle and go for a 50-mile spin along the back roads of Richmond, Va.
“I keep swim goggles, swim jammers and running shoes in my bag wherever I’m going. I haven’t gone global with my bikes yet, but I do keep a few stashed around the country because it’s important to me,” said Rushbrook, who prefers an early-morning routine regardless of his location. “I feel a lot better when I’m able to get those workouts in because, otherwise, I don’t feel as energetic and feel like I’m able to do the things that I do. But when you’re either swimming, biking, or running, you have the ability to really think things through, and I use that time to prioritize what I’m going to do that day, so it’s good for me physically and mentally.”
The fact Rushbrook is currently leading the motorsports department isn’t a surprise to those who knew his love for math, science and working on cars while growing up in Ligonier, Pa., a town of slightly more than 1,500 people located 50 miles east of Pittsburgh. One of the few people who didn’t see it, however, was the man himself, who enrolled at Penn State and majored in mechanical engineering.
“In hindsight, it’s pretty obvious that this was the right career choice for me being in the automotive industry and eventually motorsports, but I was still trying to figure it out in college. Maybe it was a case of not being able to add two and two together,” recalled Rushbrook. “My parents were both British. They had been born and raised in London and came over to the U.S., so we went to England all the time, but, for some reason, it felt like Michigan and Detroit was an entire world away when, in reality, it was only a five-hour drive from my house.”
It wasn’t until a recruiter for General Motors came on campus with a scholarship and internship opportunity that Rushbrook realized a potential career.
“I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” said Rushbrook. “Even though it may have been obvious to somebody else, it wasn’t to me until that point. I never went to a race in person through high school or even the first part of college, so what I saw on TV was just the driver and the on-track action. I didn’t see the stuff in person with the full race team and all the support behind it, so it never really clicked until then, but I’m glad it did.”
Rushbrook graduated from PSU in 1989 and got his Master’s degree a year later at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He gained his MBA from U-M in 1999 and started at Ford in June of that year in the product development leadership program. He has worked in a number of different areas within the company, including a two-year stint as vehicle development manager for Mustang (2002-04) and five years as the North America vehicle dynamics manager (2005-10).
Prior to arriving in Ford Performance, Rushbrook served as the Noise and Vibration Harshness Manager for all North America programs.
One thing those positions had in common was that on most nights Rushbrook was able to go home and sleep in his own bed. That’s not necessarily the case anymore, which means he now works harder at balancing time at home with wife, Cindy, and son, Evan.
“When I’m home it’s about being focused with my wife and my son because they’re incredibly important to me. They’re very understanding,” said Rushbrook, who shares his experiences and stays connected on the road through technology. “I sent a picture from Richmond while standing inside turn one and two, and my wife sent a reply back saying, ‘I love that you love what you do.’ To me, it’s great that she sees my passion for my job and that she supports me in everything that I do professionally. That means a lot, so when I get home I need to show them my appreciation by being focused with them and on the life that we have.”
That might mean taking the family to Europe for a Premier League matchup featuring Evan’s favorite club, Arsenal. Then again, it may be as simple as a nice, relaxing drive on a scenic two-lane highway with no meetings to conduct or races to run.