Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
February 21, 2012
Photos By: Jerry Heasley

Optima Challenge

Ever since its inception four years ago, Gateway Classic Mustang has participated in the Optima Ultimate Street Car Challenge, an annual competition held in Pahrump, Nevada, that pits the best restomods in the country against each other in timed competition, including autocross, open track, and braking. To prove their street worthiness, competitors must drive their cars from Las Vegas to Pahrump.

Last November, the Gateway gang bravely entered their Coyote-powered ’69 Mustang, even though the just-completed car had never turned a tire on the road. Immediately following its debut at the SEMA Show, the Mustang was on its way to serious competition.

“We had a lot of faith in the car,” Jason said. That’s an understatement.

With Jason at the wheel, the Coyote-powered ’69 Mustang finished 38th out of 52 cars, many of them built specifically for the Optima Challenge. Still, Jason was pleased. “We didn’t have time to dial in the car for that type of competition,” he said. “We made every segment, and the car didn’t break!”

Alliance Of Auto Artisans

In addition to satisfying’s desire for a video and serving as a prototype for Gateway Classic’s Coyote-into-Mustang swap, the ’69 Mustang build also assisted a couple of young people who are trying to get into the vintage auto restoration industry. Jason and Lonny’s father, Dale Childress, is the founder and president of the Alliance for Auto Artisans, a student mentoring program for the car building industry. Two students from the program, Cody Benham and Dawn Weber, both seniors at Bourbon High School in Gateway’s hometown of Bourbon, Missouri, assisted with the Mustang’s restoration and build.

“Cody and Dawn came in everyday after school, on weekends, and their entire summer vacation to help with the Mustang,” says Jason. “They got to see and do a lot of things that other high school shop students don’t get to experience. Cody even made the trip to Las Vegas with us for the SEMA Show and the Optima Challenge (Editor’s note: That’s Cody in the passenger seat of our cover photo). Now he’s working for us part-time after school. Dawn initially wanted to turn wrenches, but she enjoyed the sheetmetal work so much that now she plans to attend school for body work and paint.”

According to the website at, the organization’s mission is “to recruit and identify candidates who possess a strong passion for classic cars and demonstrate understanding of their significance. Our training is structured to attract students from technical and vocational schools, along with military men and women, who want to enhance their knowledge through a hands-on training program.”

Proceeds from the sale of the Mustang will go to the Alliance of Auto Artisans to provide assistance for students like Dawn and Cody.

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