February 29, 2012

As car enthusiasts, we love the rush of adrenaline from planting the throttle and feeling the g-force of acceleration. There's not much better than being in that moment, when you are applying horsepower, pushing the boundaries of cornering, and braking at the limit.

This past fall, Editorial Director Jim Campisano and I spent two glorious days on track, pushing hard at Putman Park Road Course, located about 30 miles outside of Indianapolis, at the Kenny Brown 25th Anniversary Celebration put on by Track Guys Performance Driving Events.

Campy and I were proud to help Kenny Brown celebrate a quarter-century in the business of making Mustangs and other Fords go fast. Over the weekend, we garnered seat time in a variety of Mustangs and reminisced with Kenny and his staff about our early days on track.

"Old Blue was the first real racecar I ever drove on a road course," said Campisano. "Gutted, loud, and purpose-built, it was all you could want in an open-track car. Heck, my name is on the roof, so you better believe I couldn't wait to get back behind the wheel.

"Like throwing on your favorite old T-shirt, Blue still fit me perfectly and was as comfortable as I remembered it. Every sound was the same and I'd not driven it in probably 10 years.

"My first track session wasn't quite what I hoped for. The track was stone-cold and wet, and the tires were older and harder than my head—not exactly the ideal combo when you're trying to attack the track in mind-bending fury. True enough, I was creeping around the track like an old lady in a Grand Marquis and still almost slid off in a couple of corners. But as the track warmed and dried and those ancient tires started coming back to life, so did my aggressiveness.

"In a few minutes I remembered everything I loved about this car. I still wish it had 100 more horsepower because the chassis and brakes are certainly up to it, but if all anyone ever does is keep the tires pumped and the brakes ready, then I'm ready for Old Blue, too," he added.

"The 25th Anniversary event has to be one of the highlights of my 25 year career with Mustangs," said Kenny Brown. "It was both uplifting and very emotional for me to see so many of our friends and Kenny Brown cars that we built and hadn't seen for years."

Kenny's emotions were strong and heartfelt amongst the crowd, as the 62 year-old suspension guru has been battling pulmonary fibrosis and hyper-reacting asthma since 2001—a combination of diseases which nearly took his life.

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"For years the doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong, and we almost lost him in 2005," said his wife, Cari Southworth. "He had multiple cases of pneumonia, but each time he would get out of the hospital and go back to work. Despite his best effort, his extreme illness ultimately caused him to shut the doors at the end of 2005. Doctors said he wouldn't make it," stated Cari, trying to contain her emotions. But Brown channeled his inner fight and persevered. He slowly began to recover.

He never lost the drive to produce parts and build cars. In fact, while not doing any physical building, he admits his mind raced with new ideas. When the time came to return to duty, he formed a strategic alliance with Heidts Hot Rod & Muscle Car Parts to produce Kenny Brown Performance parts. Today, Kenny serves as the director of engineering and new product development for KBP and Heidts.

On this weekend, Kenny was thrilled to be back at the track with his customers and offering his seminars on tires and suspension setup. But perhaps the biggest surprise was when Campisano came rumbling up in Old Blue and handed him the keys to his LX racer. Kenny said he recognized the sound as soon as it fired, but was overcome with emotion as the key passed to his shaking hand.

While Campy and I made the presentation, the true thanks goes to his wife and long-time employee and friend Brad Grissom. Together, they made a deal to get the car back and prepped for the weekend. Amazingly, another friend of Kenny and Cari, who chooses to remain anonymous, passed him the keys to Kermie, Kenny's Green V-6 Mustang.

"Personally, it was both a surprise and an honor in getting two of my very favorite personal track cars back—Old Blue and Kermie. It was priceless," explained Kenny.

"It also meant a lot to me to have both Jim Campisano and Evan Smith be a part of this 'surprise" (presenting Old Blue to me). Both of these professionals played a part in making Kenny Brown Performance what we were, and to have them there as we relaunched the company and celebrated 25 years in the business, that meant a lot to me. Having both Evan and Campy there was something very special, as I remember teaching both of them how to drive on the track and how to get the most out of a car. They both turned out to be really good drivers, but also have become close friends.

"What is really unique is that over the years, we've formed a strong connection with our customers. We often refer to them as our family because that's what they are—to me and everyone at Kenny Brown Performance.

"I'm glad to be back. I have lots of new innovative stuff in the works and even more planned. I can't wait to add even more members to the Kenny Brown family and see what the next 25 years brings!

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