July 9, 2004

The 40th MCA's anniversary Mustang bash at Nashville Superspeedway in April was a gala spectacle, the likes of which have rarely been seen before. As expected, there were rows and rows and rows and rows of Mustangs, but the quality of other Fords was downright unbelievable. Each and every year of Mustang was well represented and this included all the special Shelby, SVT and "ringer" models. This event was all about America's favorite (and only surviving) ponycar and along with the overwhelming show area were dozens of displays set up by Ford, Ford SVT and let's not forget a monster manufacturers midway featuring most of the top aftermarket players. And as if the "big show" wasn't enough, there were three days of open track playtime on Nashville's 10-turn road course and plenty of seminars to hold your interest.

The unofficial attendance was about 140,000, there were about 200 vendors and over 50 major sponsors. The event was hosted by the Mustang Club of America and the title sponsor was Ford Motor Company.

As an added bonus fans got to watch three specialty races, one for vintage Mustangs of the '64-66 era, one for '69-71 Trans-Am Mustangs and another for late-model Mustangs that were built to compete in (modern) Trans-Am, Grand Am Cup and NASA American Iron.

We arrived early on Thursday for the opening ceremonies and got a glimpse of the hot 40th Anniversary GT, the '04 Cobra and the soon-to-be-released '05 model. Ford dignitaries and racing legends were on hand to get the show moving, but we really got fired up when Jack Roush made a fly-by in his famous "Old Crow" P-51 Mustang.

The Nashville sky was colored Ford blue and the Mustangs just kept on coming. Event officials worked hard to keep the endless flow of Stangs moving into the two show areas and they certainly had their hands full. One side of the grandstand was slated for the early cars, while the opposite one held the late-models. Volunteer officials even parked cars under the grandstand. Quite frankly, the joint was packed, but it didn't prevent us from getting up close with many of the cars and most of the manufacturers. In addition to the thousands of participant cars, Ford brought out just about every cool Mustang it has built. The list included the '93 Cobra R, '95 R, '00 R, the Super Stallion, the orange Boss with the Shotgun hemi, a new SVT Lightning, SVT Focus, and many more. Along with Ford Motor Company, companies like Roush and Saleen brought trailers of vehicles.

Off in the show area we found lines of Bullitts, Mach 1s and Mustang cop cars from about every state that had one. The feeling one got from walking the rows was hard to describe because we've never seen so many Mustangs in one place at one time. It was more than an eyeful. And the evenings were filled with plenty of family fun, including a 2,100-car cruise, a party hosted by Saleen and a cruise aboard the General Jackson showboat. After three days in the sun we couldn't help but want more. More Mustangs, more parts, and more racing. Thankfully, we'll see the '05 pretty soon and the blue blood will keep on flowing from Dearborn. And we'll be back in five years to have a blast at the 45th birthday bash. We hope to see you there.

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The paddock was filled with plenty of cool Mustangs.
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We found a ton of Mustang-based companies on the huge manufacturer's midway.
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On display were about five old-school Stock and Super Stock 428 Mustangs.
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The girls from girlscantoo.com had a booth to promote their Website.
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Scott T. Hoag (left) was at the 40th to promote his company, Mustang Racing Technologies (MRT), and to allow the author to drive his American Iron Extreme entry in the Late-Model Mustang race.
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Ford celebrities like Jack Roush (shown), Steve Saleen, John Force and more were on hand to chat with the fans and sign autographs.
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Kelly Sparks of Georgia wheeled her Mach 1 to Nashville then headed over to the Fun Ford Weekend race in Commerce, Georgia, to compete in the True Street shootout.
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John George posses with his 50Resto-backed AI Coupe. George won his class in the Late-Model race.
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Ford's Boss Mustang put on quite a show during the burnout contest.
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Ford's proud racing heritage was brought to life with Parnelli Jones' '69 Trans-Am Mustang. Fans got to see it run hard on the track.
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Check out this line-up of Bullitt Mustangs.
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Like the 5.0 cop cars? There was one from just about every state.
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Show cars ranged from stock to not.
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We found lots of action in the paddock. This group changed engines after finding a blown head gasket. That's hardcore.
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This is Scott Hoag's MRT Mach 1 Racer that the author drove in the Late-Model race on Saturday.
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Behold! This basic looking Mustang is none other than the original prototype '93 Cobra R.
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SVT brought out its arsenal of iron.
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I think we all know the Super Stallion.
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Naturally, the '05 Mustang was a big hit.
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Most of the big names like Kenny Brown, Sean Hyland and Steeda brought out Mustangs.
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There were about five or six original '95 R cars in the house (and on the track).
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The racing was red hot as all types of Mustangs mixed it up on the ten-turn road course at Nashville.
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Here's a look at a prototype '05 three-valve 4.6 V-8.
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The gang at Latemodel Restoration Supply/5.0Resto.com displayed this '84 1/2 GT 350 that packed an '03 Cobra engine and transmission.
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We also found this Fox Mach in the 5.0Resto booth.com. It belonged to Myra Kyle.
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This display showed the difference between the current and the '05 Mustang (left) front suspension.

Have You Ever? No I've Never.

Author at the wheel just before the cars rolled off.

One of the highlights of my trip to the 40th Mustang Bash was to compete in my first-ever road race. I did so behind the wheel of Scott Hoag's Mach 1 Racer, which is built to NASA's American Iron Extreme rules.

Admittedly, I've been to a few performance driving schools and have turned hot laps around some of the best tracks in the country. I've been 8.30 in the quarter, have wheeled a Nextel Cup Stock Car, and generally feel comfortable behind the wheel of a racecar. And, while drag racing is really my thing, I do enjoy running the wheels off a car on a circuit-type track, because you get way more seat time and it's just plain fun to push the envelope of cornering, acceleration and braking--especially in someone else's car. The thing is, I've never actually gone wheel-to-wheel in competition with unregulated passing, and I was a bit nervous.

Author makes a pass down low on the banking. We ran about 140 mph through the tri-oval.

Until this weekend my experience was limited to driving schools where you can drive at the limit, but here you "point-to-pass," meaning you basically tell the person behind you that it's okay to pass and you point them by. This, my friends, was different, as you had to find the line, then protect it.

With the help of Hoag and competitors, John George and Mark Wilson, I learned the rules of passing cleanly and then took five practice sessions in the Mach 1 Racer. I seemed to be holding my own, but the real test would come on race day. There were about 15 cars in our race and they were separated into two classes--one for Trans-Am and Grand Am cars, the other for the AI cars. I started in the middle of the second pack.

We came to the green flag side by side and nose to tail and when the green flag dropped I nailed it and fought for position. By the second turn I had lost two spots and this was due to my inexperience. But shortly thereafter I calmed down and it was "game on." I drove hard and smooth and worked my way through the pack, passing three cars in about eight laps to move into third. I learned that it's one thing to drive fast, and another to run as hard as you can in a pack of cars.

The first tough section of the track consisted of two hairpin turns, and then we were slung on to the back straight, which allowed me to reach speeds around 100 mph. Then we whipped through a tight chicane, around a long sweeping left and that's when you drove foot to the floor onto the banking. I ran flat out through third and forth gears and tipped the needle past the 140-mph mark (and held it there) before finally slowing for turn one. Driving at these speeds lap after lap provided quite the rush. The feeling of passing and driving at the limit is something I wish all my drag racing friends could experience. I'm hooked and now know from first-hand experience that the American Iron class is one that's affordable and the competition is real.

The race lasted 15 laps (about a half hour) and I was working very hard mentally and physically to maintain my pace. John George and Robin Burnett battled just ahead of this scribe and I tried to catch up, but time ran out on me. When the checkered flag dropped I completed the race in third. George got the victory, however, I considered it a win for me--because I was in a borrowed car and completed the race without putting a scratch on the bodywork.

I want to thank Hoag, the Lubbert family for their hospitality, and George and Wilson for guidance. Driving a racecar in competition is serious stuff and I appreciate that those guys were willing to let me run wheel-to-wheel considering my limited experience. It was great fun and, um, what do you think about a MM&FF American Iron project car?--E.J.S.