Lawrence Ferracci, Larry to his friends, is the Fast by Ferracci data acquisition engineer and racing team manger. Born just ten days after Eraldo Ferracci arrived in America, Larry has been at his father's side nearly all his life, first as a go-fer on the shop and later as a mechanic and parts person when the team was involved in professional drag racing. He graduated from Drexel University with a BS in Accounting with a minor in finance.
The safe and de-contaminated white collar world of business didn't hold his attention long. After some time with a large accounting firm Larry quit to travel with his father to Europe on the first WSC excursion.
At Fast by Ferracci, the Superbike team, it is Larry's task to insure that the team has a roof over its head, money in the bank and that rider contracts are buttoned up. And if the team is short-handed, to do a Sunday morning engine change as well. His specialty is crunching numbers and computers, the graphics in the beautiful Ferracci catalog are of Larry's design. With his fascination and talent with computers it was a natural from Larry to command the FBF data acquisition undertaking, he is now one of the most knowledgeable Pi users in the paddock, and you'll see other teams lining up to ask Larry questions before calling Pi. Responsibility is not new burden, Larry has been a Vice President in the FBF corporation since his fourteenth birthday.
To know the Fast by Ferracci racing team is to know one of the great racing families in Superbike competition. With a small truck and a smaller budget, the Ducati Superbike team, based in Willow Grove, just outside of Philadelphia, has shown up the Japanese Superbike teams many times in the past, winning the World Superbike title twice and the American title twice as well. After winning the title in 1993 with Doug Polen they bounced back to win the championship again in 1994 with Troy Corser.
Success looked to be in the cards as well in 95 when Freddie Spencer and Mike Smith joined the team. Smitty led races but never the last lap; Spencer had inconsistent performance as well, but he put the Ferracci bike in the winners circle once, at Laguna in the rain. One win and a Ferracci bike being passed on the last lap? Is this the same team that dominated championships for so many years?
That success was with one rider Texan Doug Polen. After a brief conversation with Eraldo at Road Atlanta in 1990, he joined forces with Ferracci and together they went on to rule the world. It was magical time for both Polen and Ferracci and it helped establish both entities as bona fide winners. Yet, in the middle of their last two year contract, after winning Ducati and Ferracci their first American title, Doug left Fast by Ferracci for the Honda WSC team.
The Ferracci clan have always been noticeably silent on the subject of Doug Polen abandoning their team, Eraldo would shake his head and say with his thick central Italian accent, "I don'ta wanna talk about it."
Here, now, for the first time Larry Ferracci talks about Polen and that agonizing winter when the rider they built their reputation on pulled up stakes.
I spoke with Larry Ferracci at the (1995) Michelin tire test at Daytona. Question thrown at him were fairly pointed and Larry did his best to explain from his perspective. With his voice echoing off the cement block garage walls, and his father occasionally yelling to him to hurry up as they had work to do, the interview began.
Q. 1995 certainly wasn't a dream season for FBF after winning the AMA championship for two seasons and WSC titles prior. Your thoughts?
A. It's inevitable that somebody who wins all the time is going to lose one time or another. 1995 was a season in which our team expanded its size, more so in riders than in crew, so there was a lot more work for us to do during the season. New bikes, new riders ? I think we had a little bit more than what we could handle. We needed a little bit more crew.
The new bikes were good but the year was tough on the riders because we had a lot of gremlins with the suspension and set up that we had to take care of. For the first couple of races they had a tough time, especially at Daytona. During the middle part of the season everything was straightening out, Mike seemed comfortable on the bike, the tires seemed like they were working. There could have been more development and we see now that the factory has new swing arms and set up for the suspension. Troy Corser tried some of those things at Daytona (Michelin test) and said they were good.
Hopefully next year, we'll understand more about the suspension and the handling of the bike. The crew is a little bit more comfortable with the bike and they will get a lot better feedback when somebody tells them what its doing they'll have a little bit better understanding.
Mike Smith did a good job. Smith was our rider, we had picked Smith and I think if you talked to my father in the early part of last year, he thought we were probably going to run one man, one rider. And it ended up getting into a political thing and then Sohwa came along and then Spencer and then all of a sudden a one man team becomes a three man team. We banked on Mike picking up the Ducati riding style faster than anybody else and I think he showed that he's a good rider. No doubt about it.
Unfortunately ... I know that Mike was in the lead in at least five races, and on the last five or six laps he was snookered. Tire? I think if the tire was going away that bad we would have noticed it a little more. I think Mike is a good person in combat, but Honda seemed to have a lot of power when they needed it.
We told Mike a couple of times, 'Hey, look, stay back in second, don't even run up front'. But he wanted to run up front and I think a lot of times he could have made a better decision just running in second and letting the other riders dice, maybe that would slow them all down and save a little bit of tires. Then race for the last two or three laps, then we maybe would have seen something more along the lines of something we're looking for -- a win. But a lot of the time, DuHamel got the better end of the stick and I think he used his head a little bit more towards the end of the races.
Q. Do you see it as a question of desire? Do you think Miguel wanted to win more then Mike Smith?
A. No. Anybody at that level, pushing the bike that hard, wants to win. Mike was really pushing hard on the bike ? in comparison to Tiger and in comparison to Freddie. He was going into the corners hard and he was lifting the front wheel up to get the bike turned and he was doing as much as he could to get that bike up there in front. And even when he was having problems in certain spots, he was really trying to push the bike at its limit. It wasn't anything that had anything to do with desire. I would like to hope that our bike was as competitive, maybe it wasn't. I would have to say that when it came down to crunch time, it was in my best interest to have somebody in the hunt. But even up until the last race he was always trying to go in front. I told him to play with the guys, don't let them follow your lines and don't give them what your advantage would be then they'll know if they can reel you in or not. I think that had a little bit of an effect, but of course, DuHamel was on fire. The guy wanted to win and wanted to show what he could do.
Q. How does the support situation work with Ducati? How does Promoter Ducati buying much of their equipment affect your level of support from Ducati?
A. I think (Promoter team owner Alfred) Inzinger has a good program. He's trying to bring in sponsors to the business, he saw that there is a need. A few years back he was helping Andy Meklau through his sports marketing companies and he found that it was difficult to get sponsors. So he took the standpoint that if he spent his own money and showed it can be done, maybe others would follow.
I have not noticed any hints that (Promoter) would harm my relationship with Ducati. For Ducati, maybe it will save them some money. From somebody like him who is in there, spending the money and not worrying about it, they can just go to Misano every weekend and test instead of traveling all over the world.
It might be better to give him the opportunity to carry the flag which he seems like he can do effectively: he's got money, which is a biggie. As you can see from our team, money is not a big thing; this guy can fly to Malaysia and do tire testing and come to Daytona and bring fifteen crew members for two guys. I think he has shown he is going to have the support structure that they (Ducati) would be looking for. And if Ducati can just keep the development thing going, going to local tracks and testing equipment, I think it could be a plus for everybody.
Q. What exactly is your relationship with Ducati? Are you fully supported by Ducati, do you get partial support and buy the rest or ...
A. We have a very special relationship with Ducati because several years ago we were able to work with them very well. And we have a very good reputation with them; they stayed behind us even this year. Just because somebody has a bad year, Ducati doesn't end their program. They are staying behind us and they want us to win again next year.
We are supplied bikes and a certain allocation of parts. And then we supply the rest of the parts at our own expense. Promoter is under a similar situation as well. If you're asking where there is more of a benefit for him, or more of a benefit for me, I don't know. I think he works with some key players at Ducati whereas we work with (the whole of) Ducati. I don't know if I can explain that any better.
I'm not afraid of this situation with Promoter and Ducati. We have a really good relationship with Ducati, my father especially. I think we can help Promoter and I think he can help us in showing Ducati different avenues of success. Between the two of us I think we can do a good job. We can cover all the bases for Ducati. Changing components on the motorcycle, developing parts, finding new riders if you have forty people doing those jobs at the factory it can take some time. But if you have us right down here in the trenches, we can do it fast and do it well. Somebody who has money, he (Promoter) can do the same (laughs). He doesn't have to be quick and dirty. But he can find somebody for the right price (more laughter). Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki, they are spending big cash because they want to catch up in WSC. And it wasn't like they were that far behind. It's just that the equipment wasn't here. Every time (in the past) you saw a World Superbike race with AMA bikes, the American bikes were well back, except for this year. This year you saw the Honda guys up front at Laguna Seca. That shows me that I should respect racing against Honda. I think they did what they should have done a long time ago: instead of complaining, they put some money where their mouth is, you know, and got the f***ing thing running.
Q. Fast by Ferracci won the World Superbike championship twice a few years back, do you anticipate going back someday to compete for the world championship again?
A. (Sighs) Right now, no. Because Ducati's base is pretty covered over there and also because it is a very expensive program. You're talking a difference between, I don't know how much Honda pays over here, but I would say (ours is a) six or seven hundred thousand dollar program. Maybe a million for the other teams here in the states. To do it right in WSC you'll need at least a three quarters of a million dollars to a million dollars. Yeah, you can do it for six hundred grand -- I did it. But, I drove around in a rental truck and ... (laughs) I was paying it off for a long time.
Really, looking back on it, it is kind of funny we were so successful. But now, the level of the game (is so high) you have to have some serious cash. And I think with Honda stepping up you'll see them spend a lot more money. It's never going to get cheaper.
Plus, when you get into that level it is always a lot of politics. But to my father it is always racing. No matter what happens, if he is there racing he's happy. Plus for us to be home after so many years in Europe ? we don't look at European travel like most people do. Traveling to thirty countries a year is not fun. We were quite tired of it to be honest with you.
Q. With the mention of Polen it begs the question, how did that whole thing happen when he left your team to ride for Honda? Did you cash a big check from Honda to let him out of his contract?
A. No. Polen's contract was with us and then it was turned over directly to (Ducati). And to explain this, I have to explain two things: first of all, if somebody can keep a hold on you, say they lease your apartment but they don't like you or they don't like the apartment, they treat it like dirt. Why would you want to keep somebody like that in your apartment? Okay?
Polen was looking at money and he was thinking early retirement. And I can't blame somebody for doing that, but I do think that he was short-sighted at a point in his life where he could have made a much better situation for himself. Because with Ducati, Doug didn't have to prove anything to anybody anymore. He could have continued to race for Ducati and when he was done with racing he could have continued on as team manager, like (Marco) Lucchinelli, which is not a good example because of his situation, but he's always on the payroll, he's always doing promotional things for Ducati. Polen could have been that next person. I think Freddie Spencer would like to be something like that but he didn't have the success that Polen did. Actually I think Freddie wanted to be that for Honda (laughs) more so than anybody!
I think Polen made a grave mistake for a little bit of extra cash. When people get a little too greedy that happens to them; I like Doug a lot, he did great things for us and we did great things for him. As a team we worked together really good. My father, Doug and our two guys was our team with Ducati; and I think the Castiglioni brothers were really behind him then.
He said to me straight out 'I have always wanted to ride for Honda'. Maybe (Polen had) visions of GP racing or something, I have no idea, but my gut feeling is that he went for a couple more digits on his paycheck. And Honda needed the name and they needed the number one and that's what they got. We let him out of his contract. I remember when all that bullshit was going on. I remember the Castiglioni brothers saying, "Let the guy go, we don't want anything from him. If he wants to do this kind of thing ... let him." People think we should have gotten some money out of the deal, but you know, the Castiglioni brothers they said, 'We don't care. That guy without us ain't shit.' But we really can't say that because the guy has talent, everybody knows that.
Ducati is a family, you know? We work as a family. And things are handled like a family would handle them: you go to Italy, you go out eat with the brothers, you stay in their home or in their hotel or their villa. You go down to the factory and hang out with their kids. It's you talk to me -- I talk to you. You don't go to Japan and eat with Mr. Honda or Mr. Kawasaki. In Japan you never know what's happening because you're always talking to some guy who is waiting for word from his boss and his bosses boss before you can do anything. Not at Ducati, you sit at a table with the Castiglioni brothers and you say, look, we want to do this race and I think we have a good chance of winning or doing well. And they say, well, how much? And you tell em and they say, okay, do it.
Ducati was a little disappointed, no, they were a little offended by what Polen did, to be truthful. But in the end they didn't say, 'Tell Polen we want a hundred grand to let him out of his contract,' they just said, "Forget him, he's gone. Tell him he has our regards and to have a nice life."
And now you see that he is looking for a ride. And people come up and say, why doesn't Ducati give him a bike? I don't know, (laughs) if he did that to your family, would you? When somebody leaves land mines behind, when they turn around there is no road back. People say to us, what about Polen, he can get on the bike and go fast. Hmmm. Do you really think if we put Polen on the bike he is going to go any faster than Mike Smith? No, not at all. I think that even after Polen finished his championship here in America in 1993, you could see that he didn't have that hunger, he didn't have the fifteen second advantage anymore.
Q. Polen, when he was winning, showed more confidence as a rider than any I've ever seen.
A. Doug is a very confident guy, for good reason. I have to explain to you that in the early days in Europe, in the final qualifying session, he would come to us and say, 'Hey, what do we need, another second? We'd say, yeah, we need another second and it's just not in the bike. He'd pull his helmet down and go boom, another second faster. That's the way it was those first two years. I've never seen anything like it since, not in any rider we have had riding for us. Troy (Corser) is good and he'll say, 'Yeah, I can go a little bit faster' and he'll go a little bit faster. Doug used to come up and say, 'What do we need, a second?' My dad would say, we need a second and a half. He'd say, I'll give you two.
And he'd do it. The guy was a magician ... somehow he was a magician. And now he's at a point where ... I think he's going to have a little kid soon, so he's got to think about other things. And I think he was starting to think about those other things when he left us. I think it's a big problem with some people, when they start to make a lot of money and start getting on in life, the hunger is gone.
Q. Lets move on. What is the future of the Cagiva Superbike?
A. I was supposed to go see the bike the last time I was (in Italy) but unfortunately I was with some DynoJet people and it was tough to get in. My father saw it and it is still being developed and I think we'll see something within six or seven months. If the bike is made available, we're going to do our best to get the bike homologated for everything, including AMA. I know for a fact that Ducati is behind on the project; but they had a tough time producing enough bikes for the market in 1995. Buyers were demanding a lot of 916s and Cagiva is doing a lot of restructuring of the factory with all new assembly lines. So that was a lot of cash flow going out the door, and there was a lot of people crying that they wanted some of that cash.
If somebody had gone there two years ago and would go there now to see the facility, it would be completely different. They put in new assembly lines like they have had at Cagiva for some times, and new paint facilities. The production capabilities are much more advanced. But the suppliers are slow to get in the groove now because they were being paid slowly; even now when Ducati has the production capability they can't build the bikes because they don't have the parts.
I think the Cagiva will be a good bike when it comes out. My father has talked many times with the engineers and they are putting all state of the art equipment on it and when it comes out it will be a trick piece. I think it'll be like when the first 916 came out, everybody saw that you could adjust the neck and they thought that was the greatest thing. It'll have some nice little detail pieces like the 916 did, a lot of GP technology. They need to make sure that it is going to be right when it comes out or else they won't look good.
Q. Did Cagiva bailing out of GP racing improve your lot as a Ducati supported race team?
A. It really didn't affect us at all. I think they used those funds in other ways, most of the people went from the Cagiva GP program to the Cagiva four cylinder Superbike program.
Q. This is almost alternative universe stuff, but can you conceive a day when FBF is running a Cagiva four cylinder and Honda debuts their rumored twin in Superbike?
A. In another six to eight months, twins probably won't even be legal in AMA, so who knows (laughs). The way the rules keep changing .. we'll have to see.
The way I look at the situation is this: if Cagiva comes out with a four cylinder and it is competitive, there is a big problem. I think if everybody could step back a couple of years and saw that Cagiva had the balls to build a four cylinder, they wouldn't have done so much to the twins. Because if Cagiva comes out with a four cylinder and it goes fast, what's everybody going to say? They'll see that Italy builds the best motorcycle: they build a twin: it wins. Build a four cylinder: it wins. What are these guys going to do then? The AMA doesn't want a Ducati twin to win, so we'll build a four cylinder and it wins. Then what?
Of course, it might be the worst four cylinder in the world, we don't know yet. (laughs)