Tom Wilson
May 20, 2010

Regular readers know we have a nearly rotten soft spot for American Iron racing. It's road racing, it's stuffed to bursting with Mustangs, and the action is big-bore all the way. There's American Iron that's accessible to us regular Joes, and a fire-breathing unlimited American Iron Extreme class for Joes with a serious speed bent.

Last fall we finally made it to Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, where the National Auto Sport Association was holding it's national championship races, including the AI and AIX contests. It was a great event at a fabulous facility with two fitting champions crowned: Ross Murray in AI and Chris Griswold in AIX.

Of course, getting those champions decided involved the usual drama. Everyone was a long way from home and learning a new track, previous champions stood around with broken parts and no way of getting spares to the track, and last-lap crashes figured largely in the outcomes. Even the weather offered a spot of light rain toward the end of the combined AI/AIX race-but not enough to affect the outcome as it turned out.

On the positive side there was no carping among the racers, the over 3,000-foot-long front straight let power-mad AIX cars stretch out to 200 mph, and no one got hurt, although there was some more-than-casual wallet-crushing against the Miller barriers. A civilized contest, in other words.

NASA is returning its national championships to Miller this year on September 16-19. If you're a West Coast fan, this is the year to catch the action, as the NASA nationals are migrating back to Mid-Ohio in 2011. Miller is always a bit of trek to reach but a great place to spectate. You won't find a nicer facility, there are no crowds, easy parking, walk-up access to the race cars and drivers along with good sightlines to all the on-track daring-do. There's an impressively stocked museum inside the race paddock, linens, and real food at the trackside restaurant, and plenty of affordable accommodations nearby. See you there!

What a gorgeous car Dean Martin brought to Miller with serious intent of winning the American Iron championship. But racing can be an incredibly cruel sport, especially when you consider these two photos were taken about four hours apart. The wreckage resulted from Dean's last-lap, last-corner crash while leading the AI race after Patrick Lindsey retired. Dean is the major-domo shop manager at Rehagen Racing and an accomplished semi-pro driver. With a good Midwest AI season behind him, he brought this new car to Miller for the big race. Mechanically one of several Rehagen Racing AI Mustangs, it's a clone of Rusty Ferguson's car, for example, and stuffed full of Ford Racing parts. The artfully decorated S197 is powered by a stroker Three-Valve displacing 5.0 liters and weighs in the mid 3,500-pound range. All the best gear, such as big 14-inch brakes, are found throughout. Unfortunately Dean got no rest in the AI championship race, as he was chasing Pat Lindsey in the beginning and under huge pressure from Ross Murray at the end. Dean is a racer, however, so look for him in the Midwest region again this year.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Ross Murray is one of the best drivers we've ever seen, and he drove an intelligent, mature race to win the '09 American Iron championship. A pro fabricator and driving coach, the transplanted Kiwi approached his '09 AI season casually, running a modestly equipped S197 that was far outpaced by those taking the title seriously, but in his hands, it was a likely podium finisher. Sure enough, Ross was third at the start, lost a few spots in the inevitable first-turn fracas, but ran them all down to spend the majority of the race in third. A late-race full-course caution allowed his over-heating brakes to cool, and he got second place on the restart. Concentrating hard on the final lap, he reeled in Dean Martin in first place, who made a rare mistake over-driving into the gravel, then a tank-slapper, and ultimately the wall. Ross says he'll definitely return with "a lot more car next year." He'll have to overcome his penchant for procrastination (he admits he likely wouldn't have made it to the nationals if Paul Brown hadn't come by his shop and towed his car to Miller) and find the time to work on his race car. "It's tough from a standpoint that it's way down on the priority list. You work to enjoy life, but you can't go race because that clashes with the way I make money. ... There are four weekends a month and I work for three race teams. That's been frustrating." Ross will no doubt upgrade his brakes (they're customer take-off parts) and look for more front-end grip with his own A-arm suspension, along with different gear ratios. We don't expect he'll change his stone-stock Ford Racing 347SR carbureted engine. It's been bulletproof, and FR's customer service is excellent, he says. In fact, his only change to it was to bolt on a dual-plane to build torque and kill horsepower. At Miller, it was rated at 340 hp and 349 lb-ft of torque to match his light-for-an-S197's 3,230 pounds. Ross is a real championship threat. He's got the brains and experience to build an excellent car, plus he's a deadly smooth driver and canny racer, so don't be surprised if he decides to repeat as AI champion in 2010.