Frank H. Cicerale
March 1, 2009
Steve Lewis was the other competitor in Adam's class, ironically in another Mustang, that being his black '04 Mach 1. Steve's car showcases a host of Steeda and Maximum Motorsports suspension components, along with an MRT catted H pipe and an SLP Loudmouth exhaust. Steve's Mach 1 is his daily driver, and he has also competed in the Silver State Classic with the SN-95.

Whenever family members or friends come into the New York metro area, there are certain things you tell them to go see and/or do. Whether it is eating "real" pizza, taking a look at the Statue of Liberty, or catching a Broadway show, there are certain landmarks, historical and food finds, that are must-sees when it comes to the New York metropolitan area.

While getting to the top of the Empire State Building is a definite for anyone who is visiting the Big Apple, for the first or the umpteenth time, there is a grand old structure with an address of 30 Rockefeller Center that is just as nice. That structure is the 70-story Rockefeller Building with an observation deck at the top called the Top of the Rock.

For Adam Sampson, knowing the sights and sounds of the New York metro area is a way of life. For the Keansburg, New Jersey, native, though, he visits a different rock, each time he ventures to nearby Pennsylvania to compete in hill climb events with his '03 Mach 1 Mustang.

Yes, you read right-we said hillclimb. While an image of a Mustang with Super Swamper tires may come to mind, by hillclimb we mean Adam's participation in the events put on by the Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association (PHA). The PHA was founded in 1963, and holds events where drivers show fast they can climb a paved road on an uphill grade, usually over the course of one mile or so.

The PHA is a part of the Sports Car Club of America, better known by its acronym, the SCCA. To participate, a willing contestant must join both the PHA and the SCCA. To do so, you need a valid state driver's license, the SCCA membership, and a willingness to earn an SCCA time trials Novice license (either before, or at, your first event). After that, you pick up the required safety gear, such as a helmet, firesuit, Nomex socks, fire retardant shoes, and gloves, pick the class in which your car will fit-of which there are 11-and cruise on out to the next event. It's that simple.

When we chatted with Adam at a recent tech install at Crazy Horse Racing, he told us all about the hillclimb racing he does with his Mach 1. We were eager to tag along for an event and see not only how big of a following hillclimb racing has, but also check out what goes into preparing a car for this type of racing. We also wanted to know why someone who lives in an area rich in drag racing history would choose to turn left and right up a hill with trees and other foliage a mere foot or two from either side of his precious Pony. With cameras in hand, we met with Adam at the last PHA event of '08, the Weatherly Hill Climb.

"I have been into Mustangs ever since I was 14 years old," the 31-year-old explains about the beginning of this interesting journey. "It started when me and a couple of my friends were on our bikes hanging out and we checked out a friend's older brother's Mustang. We all swore that when we got our driver's licenses, we would own one. Some of us bought one, some of us didn't. I picked up a black '85 GT with a five-speed at 18 while I was in the service. The thing was, I bought it without knowing how to drive a stick!"

Being from central New Jersey, it was a given that Adam would spend his spare time on Wednesday and Friday nights banging gears with the rest of the Ford faithful and Mustang maniacs at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey. Eventually, though, Adam tired of the quarter-mile strip, and started searching for a different venue in which to fill his need for speed. "Years later, I picked up the Mach, and I realized I needed to stop drag racing when I tried making the turn for the return road at Englishtown faster and faster," Adam says. "Drag racing was getting boring very quickly due to the amount of cars that would go. You'd make a pass and then sit for hours on end."

Chris Winter of Crazy Horse Racing was doing the wrenching on Adam's '03 Mustang Mach 1, and while at the shop one day, the duo had an in-depth conversation regarding another form of racing. "After talking with Chris, my fianc Jenna and I attended a PDA/HPDE event at Pocono Raceway. I went along with him for a five-lap ride, and right then and there I said that was it, no more drag racing for me."

So, with his sights set on doing the left and right thing, Adam decided to find a style and class before he started modifying the Mach 1 for track duty. "I spent a lot of time searching the Internet looking for exactly what I wanted to do when I came across a video on the Mach 1 Registry website of Steve Lewis and his '04 Mach 1 doing the hillclimb," Adam explains. "I saw it and thought it looked like something I would like to do. I often hit the roads in northern New Jersey and upstate New York for some spirited driving, and this looked like a legal way to go even faster. Jenna and I drove to the Fall '07 Weatherly race, met Steve and his wife, Nancy, and that day set a goal of making the '08 season opener."

With that goal in mind, Adam picked his class, and enlisted the help of Winter to get the car ready for the upcoming season. According to the rules, Adam's Mach 1 would fit into the E/Street Prepared category (E/SP). Ironically, this is the same class that Adam's new friend, Steve Lewis, ran his black Mach 1 in. The Street Prepared classes follow SCCA's Solo 2 rules, and allow for most suspension and drivetrain related bolt-on parts. No major modifications are allowed, though, meaning a supercharger, turbocharger, or porting and polishing of the heads and intake are a big no-no. Additionally, the cars have to be street appearing, meaning the head and taillights must work, as well as the interior needing to be retained, minus the addition of the appropriate safety equipment. With the rulebook in his hand, Adam set about performing the upgrades to get his Mach 1 (which is still his daily driver) ready for competition.

Adam didn't want to have his car down for an extended period of time with a complete overhaul of the naturally aspirated Four-Valve, so he went the bolt-on route with the Azure Blue New Edge. The motor retains its stock bore and stroke, as well as the rotating assembly, cams, cylinder heads, and induction system, with the still-cool Shaker hoodscoop. Improving the induction side of things is a C&L intake elbow, a K&N filter, and a 3/8-inch intake spacer. A switch over to NGK plugs brings a bigger jolt to the party in the combustion chamber, and exhausting the burnt fossil fuel is the stock exhaust manifolds and mufflers that now dump into an IRS-style FR500 cat-back system. Throw in a custom tune from Winter uploaded into the ECM via an SCT tuner, and the Mach 1 pumps out 305 hp and 327 ft-lb of torque at the rear tires.

Hiding underneath the car and lying in wait behind the engine is the stock Tremec five-speed transmission. Inside of the bellhousing resides the stock clutch, though an aluminum Spec flywheel was installed to allow the motor to rev quicker. Adam makes each gear change via an MGW shifter.

It's an ironic twist of fate when it comes to the Mach 1's rearend choice. While most of the Terminator Cobra contingent leans toward swapping out the Snake's IRS rear setup for the Mach 1 or Mustang GT's solid-rear configuration, Adam went the opposite route. "The rules allow for the addition of the production IRS setup found on the Cobra, and Winter agreed that going to the IRS would be extremely beneficial when it came to handling in the corners," Adam explains. "I found a guy on one of the forums with a Cobra looking for a solid rear setup, and I got in touch with him. He agreed to swap his IRS for my solid rear."

Winter performed the swap in the South Amboy, New Jersey, shop, gutting the Mach of all of the stock rear components and replacing them with the IRS parts and pieces. The hind end of Adam's Pony now showcases a Cobra IRS. The stock springs were also bolted in, but gone were the stock shocks, as they were replaced with a set of Bilsteins. Crazy Horse full-length sub-frame connectors with a seat support coincide with an x brace off of an '03 Mustang GT convertible to stiffen up the frame, while Maximum Motorsports IRS differential bushings were installed for longevity. As for the front, the stock springs and Tokico struts handle the weight of the Four-Valve, and work in tandem with Maximum Motorsports caster/camber plates, rack bushings, a solid steering shaft, and urethane front control arm bushings, sway bar bushings, and sway bar endlinks to take corners with authority. The stock 17x8 inch Mach 1 wheels still reside on all four corners, though the footprint of the car is enhanced with the rims being shod in Nitto 555 shoes. With handling comes braking, and to that end, Adam had a set of cross-drilled and slotted rotors put on, sized 13 inches up front and 11.7 inches out back, along with Hawk HPS pads and a Russell braided brake line.

With the drivetrain now up to snuff, Adam moved into the interior of the car to make it legal for competition. A Maximum Motorsports four-point rollbar was installed, and the bar, complete with the diagonal option and a 2.5 pound fire extinguisher, was given the stamp of approval by the SCCA tech inspection. The stock seats remain, though both Adam and passenger are fastened securely with G-Force five-point harnesses. A Speed of Sound pillar gauge pod containing Ford Racing water temp and oil pressure gauges was installed next, along with a Raptor LED shift light that illuminates brightly when the time comes to make the gear change. Before Adam fires the Mach 1 up for a high-speed blast up the hill, he dons a G-Force two-piece firesuit, gloves, and shoes, and then straps on the G-Force full-face skid lid.

When all was said and done, Adam's car was ready for the opening race of the season at Weatherly. While he didn't make all of the races during the season, he did make the final event, also at Weatherly, where we caught up with him. According to Adam and the rest of the drivers, the Weatherly course, which is one mile in length, features six turns and an elevation change of 340 feet, making it one of the more technical ones on the circuit. Two of the more interesting turns on the Weatherly course is a hairpin turn called "the Wall", which has a bank to it that is reminiscent of one seen at a NASCAR track. A little further up the course is "the Jump," which follows a hard righthand turn. This is where a lot of spectators like to go, as the cars will literally fly over the crest of the hill, pulling two, or in some cases all four, tires off of the ground.

While rain hampered the first couple of runs Adam made, the sun came out, the road dried, and he was able to put the hammer down. While only he and Steve Lewis' Mach 1 were running in the E/SP class, Adam was able to knock time off on each successive run up the hill, resulting in a best lap of 69.202 seconds, placing him Second in class. According to Adam, the quicker, more specialized cars can make it up the hill in a minute or less, so his 69-second lap in a street-driven Mach 1 Mustang with bolt-on parts is pretty darn impressive.

If you are looking for an interesting form of racing, then check out the PHA hillclimb events. Information for the PHA can be found online at www.pahillclimb.org, and don't forget to check out the Muscle Mustangs website, as we strapped our video camera into Adam's car for a couple of blasts up the hill.

Who knows-maybe one day you and your Mustang can get to the top of the rock. According to Adam Sampson, it sure is fun trying!