Bark's Bites: Attack Of The Killer Mustangs
As some of you may remember, a little over a year ago, I took delivery of what I believe to be the best dollar-for-dollar value in performance-oriented vehicles today–a 2013 Boss 302 Mustang. Over that time, I have put a little over fourteen thousand miles on it, driving it nearly every day. Never has a day gone by that I’ve regretted buying it. Never has a day passed that I’ve wished it to be replaced by something else. I don’t even mind writing the check for the princely sum that Ford Motor Credit requires I pay them every month for the privilege of parking it in my garage. It has been a pure joy to own, but more importantly, it’s been a pure joy to drive.
Ford, in their infinite wisdom, decided early on in the creative stages of the rebirth of this ponycar legend that a day at Miller Motorsports Park would be included with the purchase of a Boss. The intent was, as I understand it, to allow Boss owners to be given the opportunity the see what their cars were truly capable of doing. And lo, the Boss Track Attack was created.
After a couple of failed launches due to my personal and professional schedules, I was finally able to schedule my own Boss Track Attack for a date almost exactly a year after I’d brought my baby home. The good people at Delta were more than happy to help me arrange a flight to their Salt Lake City hub using my infinite pool of SkyMiles. I found the least scary hotel I could find near Tooele, Utah, the home of Miller Motorsports Park. The only thing missing was a good friend to go with me. Luckily, my Changed Mon Motorsports teammate Jadrice Toussaint took my advice and purchased his very own Boss 302 not long after I did–in fact, he even went further than I did and bought a Laguna Seca. We coordinated our BTA dates and promised to wreak havoc on MMP. Oh, and I also invited our esteemed EIC pro tem, for reasons that continue to remain unclear.
Jack and I met at the Salt Lake City International Airport and headed out west to Tooele for the welcome party, which was held at the incredibly impressive Miller Motorsports Park Museum. Larry Miller, the founder of the MMP, was an avid collector of all things Shelby, Ford, and Mustang, and his collection was unbelievable in its breadth and historical significance. Although the building itself was rather unassuming, the collection itself was breathtaking to behold.
We were allowed to meander about for a few minutes as the BTA participants started to make their way into the welcome party, and then we were given an incredibly thorough and interesting tour of the museum by one of its curators. None of the participants were particularly interested in talking to each other. I suspected coming in that I would be the youngest attendee there at the ripe old age of thirty-five, and I was ALMOST right–the average age was somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty, but there was one disgustingly attractive and cool looking couple there who were clearly a tad younger than I. Jadrice was nowhere to be found. After a few texts back and forth, I determined that Jadrice had forgotten to leave his house that morning, er, I mean, had other obligations for that week. Bummer.
Afterward, we were treated to a rather pedestrian buffet (SPOILER: it was the only lame thing about the entire program) and a video from Jim Farley that laid out the history of the Boss 302 and the purpose behind the Boss Track Attack program. This was followed by somewhat of a meet-and-greet with one of the Ford Racing School instructors. He asked us each to share our story about how and why we purchased our Boss, and what color and model year we had.
Nearly every participant, especially those who trended older, had a charming and endearing story about a lifelong dream of owning a Mustang. Buying a Boss had clearly been somewhat of an “I MADE IT” moment for many of them. It was wonderful to hear the emotional connection that each owner had with his car. Also, none of them had any track experience whatsoever, and only one had even done an autocross before.
When it came time for me to tell my story, I told an extremely abbreviated version of the story I related here over a year ago. As I finished, the disgustingly cooler-and-younger gentleman turned and said, “I read that article. It was a big factor in why I bought my Boss.” I gotta admit–that was kinda cool.
After we told our stories, the instructor gave us a rundown on what would be happening the following day. We were told about the setup of the cars we would be driving; they were all Laguna Seca models with larger radiators (due to the extreme heat of the Utah desert) and BF Goodrich tires. I asked a couple questions about suspension setup and traction control, neither of which were particularly welcomed. I think it was at that point that I was labeled a “potential troublemaker.”
We were told that there would be some classroom instruction to start the day, followed by some lead-follow sessions, some car control instruction in a skid car, a heel-toe braking exercise, some track time with an instructor and, maybe, just maybe, if we were good enough, some solo track time. Most importantly, we were advised to make sure that we got plenty of sleep and plenty of water that night, as none of us were used to the heat and altitude that we would all be experiencing the following day.
As we walked out to our rental Captiva (link to earlier story), I caught up with the younger couple. They introduced themselves as Tony and Jenna from Tampa. Turns out that Jenna had talked Tony into buying his Boss–she was a GT California Special owner, herself. Tony had previously owned a Camaro SS before he made the switch. Neither of them had any track time under their belts, but I could tell that Tony was ready to test his personal mettle on the wide open Miller Motorsports Park course. Jenna wouldn’t be driving, but she was going to be present for all of the classroom sessions as well as the instructor-driven “hot laps” at the end of the day.
After a ridiculously filling meal at a downtown Brazilian steakhouse (my token was green allllll night), we retired back to the SpringHill Suites near the airport. For my money, there’s not a better mid-line hotel than the SpringHill–much better than Hilton Garden Inn or Aloft. This one wasn’t one of the recent redesigns, but it was acceptable for two totally tired out midwesterners who were ready to drive Miller Motorsports Park for the first time the next day.
Morning definitely came early, and we had a long drive back to Tooele. Upon arrival, we had a very mediocre breakfast (can you guess what I complained about on the evaluation forms) and settled in for our first classroom sessions.
Our first instructor for the day was a young man with a bit of a Napoleon complex who was severely lacking in social graces. He did, however, appear to know his racecraft. He walked us through some of the different types of corners one might encounter on a race track and the various types of apexes required to enter and exit each one. He talked about the relationship between the amount of turning that could be dialed in versus the amount of throttle that could be applied. He covered shuffle steering, although there wasn’t really a single corner on Miller East that required it, which made me wonder if there would be disastrous results later in the day.
We were then given our faded red racesuits and white helmets (thankfully I brought my own, because only open face helmets were offered), loaded into vans, and driven out to the garages where our chariots awaited us. When I walked into the garage, I was greeted by a 2012 Boss 302 Laguna Seca in yellow–they had done their best to match us with a Boss that was the same color as we had at home. Not quite the same as my School Bus Yellow 2013, but close enough to make for some very cool photos. AND IT HAD MY NAME ON THE WINDSHIELD. I’m a grown man. I don’t often get excited about things. I was excited.
And just like that, we were on the track. We got into our respective rides and followed the instructors around the track in single file line at about twenty percent of speed. It was borderline torture to have 444 HP at the ready but not be able to use any of it. I tried to focus on learning the track and visualizing the fastest line around it. As the vast majority of my motorsports experience is autocross-related, I was really trying to focus on looking ahead and moving my hands deliberately. I was beginning to get a sense of what speeds might be possible-top of third in the kink, top of fourth on the straights. Miller Motorsports has several different possible course configurations. There are two separate courses, East and West, as well as the Full Course (both courses combined), and a Perimeter course (just the outside loop). We drove on the East course, a slower but technical course that would certainly help us learn some of the finer points of car control. We stopped at two separate corners and got out of the car to discuss them with the instructor–one being the vexingly difficult, decreasing radius Turn 1, and the other being the descending esses in the back of the course. In both cases, I was pleasantly surprised that my Evolution School Phase One instruction that I had taken about five years previously was still applicable to road course driving. Keep your eyes up, find the apex, look ahead.
After several laps, we returned to the garage. We were then split into groups of three. Jack and I were put together in a group with a wonderful gentleman named Mr. Hernandez. His Boss purchase story had been particularly cool–he had driven Ford trucks his whole life, and finally, upon retirement, his wife gave him the green light to buy the Mustang of his dreams. He had brought his grandson along as an observer, which easily made him the coolest grandpa on Earth, in my opinion.
We alternated between classroom sessions and car control sessions. The classroom sessions focused on more driving theory, while the car control sessions were split into two segments. One segment consisted of driving the “skid car,” which was a Ford Five Hundred with a complex hydraulic system that simulated oversteer at low speeds around an autocross course (roughly fifteen miles per hour). I am terribly glad that there was no video of this. I was the first of the three of us to attempt to drive the skid car, and I failed miserably–or as Jack put it so eloquently, “National trophy-winning autocrosser fails to autocross successfully. Film at eleven.” I’d like to think that instructor made it easier for Mr. Hernandez and Jack to control the car when he reset the hydraulics after my runs, but that’s probably wishful thinking.
The other session consisted of heel-toe braking practice around a small oval. We were given the opportunity to rehearse heel-toe for about twenty minutes, accelerating up to about seventy miles an hour in third, then braking and downshifting to second. We received coaching and feedback from instructors outside the car as they observed us drive around the oval. I have NEVER been any good at heel-toeing, but this session gave me the necessary practice time to achieve it quite successfully. I was eager to translate this ability to the track later in the day.
Next up, we got to do a passenger van ride around Miller East with one of the instructors driving the van and about six of us in each van. Our van driver and instructor was a pleasant young British man with many bon mots to share about each corner of the track. One particularly helpful bit of instruction came between Turns 5 and 6, which was “No driving required here!”
Finally, it was time for instructor lead-follow sessions at about eighty percent of speed. Jack, Mr. Hernandez, and I headed out onto the track in our various shades of Boss. We were to take turns at the front of the student group and then fall back in line on each lap. Needless to say, with Jack at the front, me in second, and Mr. Hernandez in third, it didn’t take long for “eighty percent of speed” to become “glued to the car in front of you driving all out” on our first lap. Poor Mr. Hernandez faded from my rear view mirror by Turn 4 as our instructor tried desperately to shake Jack from his rear bumper as I held on for dear life to keep up with Jack. When we got back to the straightaway, it was then my turn to lead the pack. It took all of my skill and then some to keep up with the instructor–I think he was out to prove a point. Again, Mr. Hernandez faded into oblivion as we hustled around the East course. Finally, on our third lap, Mr. Hernandez took his turn leading the group, which led to a much, much saner pace for my first time ever driving with other cars on course.
In Part 2, I’ll tell the story of how I passed everybody (almost everybody — JB) and killed my Mustang stone dead on-track…
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Just ran this last week, what a blast. Second day in the FR500S was amazing too. I had the same car as Mark it seems. I kept getting a blinking CEL in the afternoon, I guess they did not apply to oring fix for the crank sensor.
Yikes! I forgot to write Part 2. :) Coming up shortly...