Ford Motor Co.'s F-Series pickups may have outsold Chevrolet Motor Div.'s C/Ks by more than 65,000 units in 1994, but the bowtie folks are exacting revenge on the race track in the new NASCAR Super Truck series.

NASCAR expects the growing popularity of motorsports in general, and pickup trucks in particular, to make the new series an overnight success. Ford, Chevrolet and, to a lesser extent, Dodge look at the series as another way to boost sales, lending credence to the "race on Sunday sell on Monday" adage.

"The real trigger for Chevrolet was when NASCAR got involved and it got the TV package," says John Moss, Chevy's special vehicle engineering manager, referring to the series' deal with TNN, ESPN, ABC and CBS that assures all 20 races in 1995 will be televised live. "If you're Chevrolet, Ford or Dodge you can't afford not to be in it," states Mr. Moss "From a manufacturer's standpoint, (pickups) are where the market's at and where it's going."

Arizona's Firebird International Raceway on the first weekend in February provides the backdrop for Chevrolet's total dominance of the first race in the series' inaugural season. Chevy trucks qualify 1 through 6 and sweep all three positions on race day. Mike Skinner, driving for Winston Cup powerhouse Richard Childress Racing, takes the checkered flag after dueling door handle-to-door handle with NASCAR veteran Terry Labonte for the final two laps of the contest in an impressive show of Chevy power.

"It was a very exciting race, but not a very successful race for Ford," says an exasperated Louis T. Duncan, who contracts to manage Ford's NASCAR Super Truck effort, which according to Ford driver Joe Ruttman is a step behind Chevrolet.

"Ford realized, I think, in the last three days that this was something that needed a lot of attention," says Mr. Ruttman, a Winston Cup veteran who was the top Ford qualifier, seventh on the grid. "Chevrolet has two of the best teams (Childress and Hendrick) and three or four of the best drivers (Labonte, Ken Schrader and Jeff Gordon) from Winston Cup here, so they're taking this series very seriously."

Mr. Duncan admits that the Ford program got a late start in acquiring funding and took a while longer to design the nose for its super truck entfies, but he says the effort is now fully paid for and that teams will have the '96 body work in mid-95. "So next year at this time we won't be perceived as being behind," he adds.

Ford also has some top-notch Winston Cup drivers behind the wheels of its trucks. In addition to Mr. Ruttman, who is driving a Ford owned by sidelined NASCAR pilot Emie Irvan, Goeff Bodine is campaigning his own F-Series racer. Mr. Bodine was the top Ford finisher (fifth) in Phoenix.

Super Trucks are essentially NASCAR chassis with pickup truck body work. Designers made seemingly painstaking efforts to make the entries resemble their production counterparts as much as possible. The three Dodge entries, for example, had Ram hood styling, a Ram badge on the nose and chrome-colored grillwork.