Mark Houlahan
Brand Manager, Mustang Monthly
January 1, 2005

For the most part, when we speak about the racing season within these pages, we're typically referring to quarter-mile drag racing, which is a straight run to the finish line in the shortest time possible. Drag racing is a lot of fun, but there are just as many people who prefer turning corners on road courses or maneuvering through cone gates in a big parking lot. This is why we editorialize suspension and other handling improvements, and why we cover events such as the NASA series.

Of course, each group thinks its way of racing is the best. It's rare to run into someone who enjoys doing both types of racing, which is a shame. I've drag raced a lot through the years-maybe not as much lately with family, mortgage, and less personal time-but the first time I got behind the wheel of a Mustang and went road racing (through a Track Time driving school), I had the most fun I've ever had on four wheels. Learning how to drive through corners, passing other cars, learning the basics of vehicle handling and weight, and what the four tires can and cannot do are all things I took away from the course and still use today in my everyday driving. I'm not suggesting you give up drag racing-there's definitely fun to be had there-but do yourself a favor and head out to a driving school, an SCCA event, or an open-track event to give yourself a treat.

These days, no matter which type of racing I find time to do, it's usually limited to the latest game on my PC or my son's PS2. It's cheap, fun, and on the more simulation-type games, you can actually learn a thing or two. Hey, if the NASCAR guys play video games to hone their driving skills and drag racers use practice Trees, why can't Gran Turismo 3 or Ford Racing 2 teach you a better driving line?

Of course, for those with the income to do it (not that it's overly expensive-it's just that I'm always broke), taking your real car out on the road course can lead to sensory overload. That's where the SVT Owners Association [(866) 377-8862; www.svtoa.com] can help. Each year the organization works with its local chapters to put on several SVTOA ONTRACK driving experiences.

For this story, the main chapter organizing the event was the SVTOA of Tampa Bay, Florida, [www.tampabay- svtoa.com] along with help from surrounding SVTOA Florida chapters and even one from Atlanta. These events allow you to learn how your car handles and behaves at its limits through classroom instruction and time on a road course, autocross setup, and skidpad testing.

One of our favorite SVTOA events is the Sebring Sensation at Sebring International Raceway in Florida, co-sponsored for the second year by Steeda Autosports [(954) 960-0774; www.steeda.com]. This year, Ford sent its SVT/Team Ford Racing trailer to the event for display. When the big truck doors swung open, out came an '04 Cobra wearing Competition Orange along with some Ford Racing Performance Parts goodies, an '04 SVT Lightning, and an '04 SVT Focus. On hand for discussions and driving time were Scott Whitehead, '05 Mustang Three-Valve 4.6 engineer; Dean Martin, SVT chassis engineer (and Grand Am driver of the No. 52 Rehagen SVT Cobra); and Tom Scarpello, SVT sales and marketing manager, who was also Saturday evening's keynote speaker. We spent the weekend listening to the '03 Cobra blowers whine, watching the Steeda race cars fly past, and enjoying the wet-car handling spinouts.

It was pure torture to just watch and photograph all this fun and not get any seat time. Next year, I'll bring someone along to hold the camera. Right, Johnson?