February 1, 2013

Track Out
The brave soul who handed me the wheel to his A/Sedans is championship driver Tom Ellis, a 58-year-old trucking company owner from Florida who competes and wins regularly on the SCCA circuit. "In my college days I raced motorcross and then stopped to start a family, and I got away from racing," he stated. "In my late 40s I got back into racing bikes, but I realized I was too old, I needed a seat," admitted Ellis.

"I actually started in a Camaro and then met Dario. We were getting certified for flying together at the same school and he got me into racing Mustangs. In 2004 I got the No. 51 car from Robin Burnett. Steeda put the five-link in it and we changed to Tokico D-spec dampers and we ran SCCA A/Sedan in the Southeast National division, which is the top non-professional series in SCCA," stated Ellis.

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Amazingly, Ellis captured the Southeast division championship in '05—in fact he won it every year from 2005 to 2010! "I then switched to an '06 body-in-white chassis in 2011, which I bought, but I spent most of the season sorting out the new combination." The season was filled with struggles, but he made it click the following year and captured the 2012 championship. His best finish at the coveted SCCA Runoffs was third place (in 2009), and over time he's had a hat trick of top 5 finishes.

"It's a fun class because they are difficult cars to drive, they make lots of torque and we run on 16-inch wheels and small 275R16 tires." Ellis stated.

I can attest to the difficulty, as I lapped Sebring in his pair of Mustangs. While I pushed the A/S cars hard, there was no reward for me, so I was certain to bring his race machines home in one piece. I found the SN-95 chassis to be nimble, but I could see that it was important to carry lots of momentum to maintain speed and score fast lap times. The class requires stock lower control arms and basically a stock-type suspension, and because of that, the Stang had a touch of wallow compared to newer Mustangs I've driven.

His SCCA Mustangs run identical class-legal 313 ci 5.0 engines and are carbureted, have Ford aluminum heads, 0.500-inch lift cams, 0.040-inch overbores, feature roughly 10:1 compression, and can be revved to 8,400 rpm. They weigh 3,300 pounds with the driver and are crazy fun to drive.

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Dawson Motosrports out of Sebring prepares the Stangs for competition. The father-and-son team of Chuck and Chas were as laidback as any crew guys I've ever met—but oh-so serious. They got me strapped in tight and made sure each car was fueled and track ready.

I was timid during my first session and I took a bit of time before I really pressed hard. I found that the Mustang liked being driven hard, but it needed precision inputs.

With little rest between sessions, I hopped in the No. 57 Mustang. For some unknown reason, I felt more comfortable in this car, perhaps because I had an idea of what to expect. While they shared similar engines and Tremec TKO transmissions with stock gear ratios, they felt totally different in my hands.

The shorter wheelbase of the SN-95 made for a slightly nervous ride, especially under braking. It had super-quick turn-in and great overall bite, but comparably, the longer S-197 was more stable. The S-197 was a touch looser on corner exit, which I liked, but I'd still say it had a neutral balance overall. I'd like to offer my gratitude to Tom Ellis and Dawson Motorsports for allowing me to turn laps. I can't wait to catch up with them as they take on the 2013 SCCA season at Sebring, Homestead, Robeling Road, Daytona, Carolina Motorsports, Road Atlanta, and VIR in search of their next championship.