Tom Wilson
March 1, 2008
Photos By: Courtesy Of UTI

Horse Sense: UTI's Sacramento campus surprised us with its size and generous volumes of up-to-date equipment. Recalling our own shade-tree automotive schooling, we felt like country rubes wandering the hallways, peering into computer-filled classrooms and service bays filled with power tools.

When our sister publication Hot Rod and trade school Universal Technical Institute got together last year to form the Q Challenge, we thought it was a good idea. The two paired UTI students and faculty with five Factory Five Cobra kits to see which of the selected UTI campuses could build the best all-around Cobra. Once we heard this year's competition would be built around Fox and SN-95 Mustangs, we thought the Q Challenge had gone from good idea to a great one-great enough to get involved and not let Hot Rod have all the fun, anyway.

As a competition, the Q Challenge is simple enough to understand. Five used-up Mustangs are procured, the sheetmetal is given a body and paint makeover, and new powertrains are supplied. A line of credit is established for speed parts and a tally is kept of how much the teams spend to prepare their Mustangs for competition. To test the cars, they're brought together on the same day and tested on a chassis dyno, 60-0 braking, a slalom, and three shots at the quarter-mile. Subjective ratings are figured in, leading to the winner.

The long and the short of it is that the teams had a big job when it came to making our two drivers comfortable and safe. This is especially difficult with racing seats and harnesses because they attach in so many places. Evan Smith (left) drove the quarter-mile and survived the nitrous backfire (right photo); Tom Wilson (right) pedaled the fleet through the braking and slalom tests.

Actually, there are hundreds and hundreds of winners, because the whole exercise is about giving UTI students a chance at creating a competitive car within budget and on deadline. If that doesn't foster learning and team building, we're not sure what does. It's a fabulous event for the participants.

UTI has 10 campuses around the U.S., each with several hundred-if not more than a thousand-students. Corporate headquarters in Phoenix chooses which campuses are involved. This year brought back last year's winner, Houston, Texas, along with Norwich, Massachusetts; Orlando, Florida; Sacramento, California; and Rancho Cucamonga, California. This year, the testing was held at the Sacramento UTI campus and local dragstrip, Sacramento Raceway.

AMP Performance supplied the cars-and they were a motley bunch of tired Fox hatches and convertibles, as well as a single SN-95. Typical of high-mileage fender-bender wrecks, the cars were doled out to the campuses on a cross between "Who wants what?" and "This is what you get." As it turned out, everyone seemed to get what they wanted; notably, Rancho Cucamonga was happy to score the SN-95 coupe with its more rigid body shell and five-lug brakes.

The event sponsors supplied a long list of cool parts. Ford Racing Performance Parts donated an M-6007-Z347 engine, complete with Z-304DA aluminum cylinder heads, while Zoom supplied the clutches and Tremec T-3550 transmissions. Comp Cams followed with a complete valvetrain, lifters to valvesprings, and allowed each team allowed the bumpstick of their choice. Other contributions included Nitto NT 555R tires on Wheel Vintiques rims of the school's choice.

Furthermore, as not all UTI campuses have body and fender facilities, all five body shells were repaired and painted with Planet Color metal-flake hues by a contract body shop, so that part of the build wasn't a worry to the teams. As much help as all this was, it wasn't enough to build an entire car, so Lincoln Electric helped with shop-welding equipment, and Summit Racing Equipment stepped in with a $10,000 line of credit for each team.

Talk about a Christmas list: The Summit parts sponsorship program was one of the more intriguing aspects of the event. Each team could order anything in the Summit catalog until it exhausted the $10,000 limit, and if the team strayed over that, there were penalty points. Furthermore, all parts had to come from Summit, so if it wasn't in that fat catalog, the teams couldn't use it.