Tom Wilson
December 1, 2002

Amazingly, it all came off with minimal mayhem. A cozy 61 cars answered the call at Spring Mountain Raceway in Pahrump, where we learned American GT was a party of two, the other machine being fielded by Paul Mashouf and Bruce Griggs of Griggs Racing. Never one to bring a knife to a gunfight, Griggs had prepped Mr. Mashouf's '94 Mustang GT with everything short of a Gatling gun in anticipation of knocking off Unlimited cars with Paul's 351-powered, six-speed, GR-40-equipped Mustang. Unless Paul's car pulled one of its massive muscles, there would be no mystery in who was going to prevail in American GT.

In the end, Paul and Bruce had a nearly trouble-free run, as did we, so it was as it should be-just for fun. And brother, it was a blast. Consider the Open Track Challenge packs a year's worth of lapping into a concentrated week, and besides the obvious speed orgy, unforeseen benefits crop up. Most importantly, our rusty driving skills were approaching respectability after a week of continuous practice, and the camaraderie of seemingly endless track time and traveling together in between was palatable.

NASA, true to its laid-back reputation, didn't play the school marm. Brief drivers' meetings started each day. The scoring magically appeared within hours and without shouting. And the lectures against turning expensive sporting machinery into highly inefficient but spectacularly visual agricultural implements were administered without riding crop or threat of license revocation. We had to report to the pits to have a nice, long talk about the weather only once, and that was after dirt tracking with all four tires around the outside of two entire turns at Las Vegas, so we might have even deserved it.

The B side of reconstituting an entire can of Open Tracking Concentrate is the mechanical wear and wallet excoriation. After four opening days of textbook lapping, the funny stuff began failing throughout the paddock on Thursday. Our contributions were alternator seizure, several rounds of weird sparkplug failures, and plug-boot blow-offs (really-go figure). Ready money and a couple of Pep Boys alternators ultimately yielded an alternator that would live near redline for several days, while a new set of spark plugs helped immensely for one day. After that, mental sloth allowed us to admit we would rather find the pesky misfire in the comfort of our home garage than under the Las Vegas sun, allowing us to ignore our misfiring engine on the final Saturday. There was, after all, nothing to win, and-hey-it was hot.

Expense-wise, everyone gave up counting as soon as the lapping started. The entry fee was $1,750 or $2,000, depending on how early you signed up, followed by however many hotel rooms and meals you thought your tire and fuel budget could spare. Man, can a Mustang guzzle fuel on a road-racing track. Making but 220 or so rear-wheel horsepower, we went through a tank of fuel on each track, and at least another hopping to the next venue.

And tires? Had we been in a stock-suspended, nose-plowing Mustang, The Tire Rack would have run dry supplying us with fronts. However, with our superbly balanced Maximum Motorsports suspension, we were pleasantly surprised to go four days on one set of Nitto-supplied 555R2 rubber, then oversteer to the finish as we could find but two fresh tires on the front. Seems the nationwide supply of 555R2 Nittos dried up just before the OTC, so our second set of tires didn't arrive until the last day of the event. Jack Hidley bought what must have been the last two Nittos before we took off, so those were what we put on Thursday. On the final day, we traded Bruce Griggs the use of some tools from Maximum's burgeoning chest (Maximum chased the entire event with a service truck, while Griggs relied solely on the credit-card method) for the use of two tires, and that helped immensely.