July 23, 2012

The electrified passion at Ford is unrivaled, and it shows in the entire Mustang line-up, television commercials, print ads, and in the attitude of the engineering and PR team. The "Mustang for everyone" mentality is spot on.

Being handed the keys to your new V-6, 5.0L GT, or fire-breathing GT500 gives you the perfect tool to gallop on windy roads, a certified circuit, or to terminate the competition from stoplight to stoplight. But when it comes to faultless handling, the Boss 302 is the primo Pony.

From the rowdy 444hp Boss mill to the race-inspired seats and suspension, the Boss has the sounds, stamina, and style that's suited to contemporary or retro fans.

Being the Boss has it's privileges, and '12-'13 Boss owners are offered a complimentary admission into an intense one-day driving experience: The Ford Racing Track Attack driving program. It's designed to safely teach you the capabilities and limits of the Boss 302.

Owners have up to one year after purchase to attend this unique program at the challenging Miller Motorsports Park road course in Tooele, Utah (just 30 minutes from Salt Lake City). The facility is a true beauty with the majestic scenery of Mustangs and mountains--it is truly breathtaking.

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To better understand the program, we spent two days at MMP--the first in the Track Attack program, the second driving the FR500S racer as a part of the optional two-day driving school.

"The design of the [Track Attack] program was a collaboration between Ford and Miller Motorsports Park," said Mickey Matus, Ford Racing marketing communication manager. "The program is exclusive to '12 and '13 Boss 302 owners, however, the owners can bring a guest, who for a fee, can participate in all elements of the program--both on and off the track. And obviously the Ford Racing High Performance Driving School is available for any, and all, fans of fast driving," he added. MMP offers a variety of options, from a basic beginner's class, to the four-day race licensing course.

Upon our arrival, we attended the welcome reception in the Larry H. Miller Total Performance Auto Museum. The museum houses what can best be described as a collection of Ford's storied performance history, which is represented with historic machines, amazing artwork, and loads of memorabilia. We indulged in a buffet dinner and a private tour of those awe-inspiring Ford racing cars.

This included the '66 LeMans-winning Ford GT Mark II, the '67 Sebring-winning GT-40, a rare '70 Boss 302, over 20 Shelby Cobra, and even a rare Dragonsnake. There was a Thunderbolt, a Dan Gurney-driven Trans Am Cougar, and one of six Shelby Daytonas. Did I forget to mention the row of ‘65-'66 GT-350 Mustangs?

"Boss owners are now part of this glorious history," said Matus, "Entering the classroom the next day, they transition from yesterday to today, where they learn the unique features and attributes of the Boss--all in a fun, exciting, controlled, high-speed driving experience. While the fundamentals of the classroom and on-track instruction are common with those taught in the Ford Racing High Performance Driving School, they are amplified with the Boss 302."

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Track Attack

As my group filed in, I could feel the energy in the air. The day began with lead instructor James Burke guiding us through a discussion of road course driving basics. Shortly thereafter, we were fitted with a helmet and driving suit (of course, you can bring your own). And next, we headed to the garage housing the beautiful stable of Boss 302 Mustangs, decked out with racing numbers, cages, and a harness system--our names were even placed on each car. Yes, each student gets his or her own Boss for the day.

"We want the owners to appreciate the cars they have, so we have been careful not to stray too far from the production nature of the cars used in the Boss Track Attack program, which include Boss 302s and Laguna Secas," said Matus.

During the first on-track session, we practiced the finer points of heal-toe downshifting, braking, cornering, and accelerating through corner exit. We also participated in a lead-and-follow exercise to learn the track and the racing line. Going fast requires refined car-control skills, which is the foundation for performance driving. The morning ended with a nice lunch and more classroom discussions, taking our brains to the next level and preparing us to go faster.

With full stomachs, we were back on track, this time with more confidence and a better feel for the Boss 302. The program provided a nice mix of education and track time. It is educational for drivers with varied backgrounds, too, as some Boss owners had never been on track, while others were seasoned track dawgs.

"The [Track Attack] idea basically popped up during a Boss immersion with Jim Farley, the group vice-president of Global Marketing and Sales and Service at Ford, in June 2008," explained Matus. "After a discussion of the Boss brand, its racing history, and the thoughts regarding the opportunity to execute a contemporary Boss 302, Farley, who also owns a vintage Shelby GT-350, mentioned we should offer owners the chance to drive this special car the way it was designed to be driven. That evolved into the Boss Track Attack program, which I had the privilege to build and launch with the guys in Utah. That's the genesis of the Boss Track Attack," added Matus.

Throughout the program, I absorbed all the instructors had to offer. They provided a serious education, divulging driving tips, and solutions to problems. And since there were only 16 students per class and as many as four instructors, there was ample one-on-one instruction.

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It's important to drive with smooth, controlled inputs for the throttle, steering, clutch, and brakes. Speed comes from having a proper corner entry, then a proper corner exit line, which gives you the ability to roll the throttle on quickly. "Think about the throttle as a volume knob, not a light switch," said one instructor. Meaning to roll on the power smoothly to maintain control during corner exit.

Tips such as this were employed, and our group excelled by showing better speed on track as we progressed.

Each session was followed with a classroom discussion where the instructors offered us positive reinforcement and helped us work individually on our techniques.

Ultimately, we came away with a better understanding of the Boss 302, of racing techniques, and personally, I feel my skill set has improved.

"Finally, all graduates are sent home with several mementoes to remind them of the experience they have had. Most significant is the Boss 302 piston/connecting rod assembly. This specific assembly was chosen since it is believed to best define a Boss 302," said Matus.

"The Boss owners who have participated in the program have been over the moon with their reaction. Without exception, all have been impressed with the capabilities of the Boss 302, the professionalism and approachability of the instructors, and the facilities themselves. The strong reception of the Boss owners to this program has been overwhelming, and the thought to provide similar experiences to owners of other appropriate nameplates is definitely on our minds. And while not a Mustang derivative, we are also exploring a desert experience featuring the Raptor."

We agree, the Track Attack is a wonderful complement to any Boss purchase and being able to push a Boss to the limit of our abilities was an honest treat.

All have been impressed with the capabilities of the Boss 302, the professionalism and approachability of the instructors, and the facilities themselves.

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Stepping Up Our Speed

As if we didn't attack the track in combat fashion the first day, we rocked on the second day behind the wheel of the school's ultra-grippy FR500S racer.

Adding a second (or third or fourth) day to the Track Attack is available to all students, and provides an increased level of instruction and of course more track time. Spending four days at Miller Motorsports Park can net you an actual competition racing license, too.

The FR500S is a real-deal racer with amazing grip, braking and handling. Powered by a tweaked 325hp Three-Valve engine, the S197 scoots with cat-like reflexes, thanks to a serious weight reduction and fully enhanced suspension.

Like day one, we began with a classroom discussion, and once we progressed to the garage area, we were fitted to the seat and oriented with the Mustangs and its systems. The FR500S is straightforward-- featuring a gutted interior that's filled with a rollcage, Sparco seat, and the usual gaggle of switches and gauges. Once we had the seat adjusted and the window net up, we felt like a bonafide racecar driver and were cautiously excited to take on the faster West track.

At 2.2 miles, the West course is made up of sweeping turns connected by some nice straights. With turns named Scream, Demon, and Devil, you can bet it was challenging and very fast. Session by session I gained confidence--and speed as well. There were a few sections that gave me trouble, but with some instruction, I backed up my braking point, slowed my entry, and was able to turn in sooner and thus drove a better line and carried much more speed on exit.

I ended the event running wheel-to-wheel with my new pal, Ron Patrick, an F-16 fighter pilot by day, and we captured some amazing video that you can check out at www.musclemustangfastfords.com. After two days at MMP, I can honestly say I was ready for two more days. The entire staff is accommodating and the facility is top shelf. I came away with the experience of the lifetime and will hopefully return in the future.

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