Stockton Takes Checkered Flag at Ford Test Track
by Jack Berry
Big time tournament golf is about keeping the players happy and, just as importantly, it's keeping the players' wives happy.
The Ford Motor Company has found one way to the hearts of the players and their wives is a spin around the company test track, by themselves in timed runs and as passengers for "hot laps" in cars driven by Indy Car and Formula I drivers like Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart and Lyn St. James.
There's a tournament every week on the PGA and Senior PGA Tour and only a handful of ironmen play each week. So tournament directors try to outdo each other in providing the little things that make players pencil them in each year.
When a player sets his schedule for the year he picks courses that suit his game, that have a comfortable lockerroom with good (and it's free) food, and a good practice facility. He picks tournaments that have his favorite brand of motel nearby, towns with good restaurants, towns that have some major league sports going on -- say a baseball or basketball game at night. He likes tournaments that provide free courtesy cars for the week.
The Ford Senior Players Championship is one of the best in making players and their wives happy. It's convenient to the airport, hotels and restaurants, has an excellent practice facility and there's a new courtesy car for every player -- and it has something none of the others have: the Ford test track, located on the other side of the Southfield Freeway from the 15th tee of the Tournament Players Club of Michigan.
In the days of the Ford Trimotor airplane, the land inside the tall hedge was Ford's airfield. Now the company's prototypes are put through their paces before they're put into production.
When Ford became the title sponsor of the Senior Players Championship it looked for ways to entertain the players early in the week, before the flag went up for the championship itself.
Ford didn't have to think long or hard before deciding on the test track. It was an immediate hit and now the wives are on board.
Tournaments usually provide fashion shows, trips to museums, home tours and places of local interest for the wives. But no one does a test track.
"I'd never done anything like that," said Kathy Stockton, wife of two-time Ford Senior Players champion Dave Stockton. "But I've always been competitive and I just went for it."
Mrs. Stockton and the wives took turns behind the wheel of a Taurus on a serpentine course lined with orange pylons. The local chapter of the Sports Car Club of America set up the course and timed the drivers. Hitting a pylon adds a one second penalty to the driver's time so it takes adroit handling and quick reflexes.
"We had helmets on, the whole deal," Mrs. Stockton said. "I've always been a good driver -- I've only had one ticket.
"We had a practice run first and I took my time, my hands at 9 (o'clock) and 3 on the wheel.
"I did the timed run in 17:33 (seconds) without hitting a cone. My heart never pumped so fast; it was a surge of adrenaline."
Mrs. Stockton, who teamed with Betty Sigel, wife of Jay Sigel, had the fastest run and said "It was one of the most fun things I've done. I keep telling Dave I've found my new calling."
Maybe Ford should change its Quality is Job One slogan during the Senior Players week to Entertainment is Job One.
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