Boss Track Attack Program - School Daze
Ford's Boss Track Attack program is a great perk for '12-'13 Boss 302 owners.
The sun is barely peeking over Utah's Oquirrh Mountains as nearly a dozen '12 Boss 302 owners--plus one wife, a son, and a lone journalist--file into the Miller Motorsports Park museum to begin their Boss Track Attack adventure. For the next 10 hours, we'll be immersed in track driving instruction, both in the classroom and on the track, all the better to enjoy the capabilities of Ford's new Boss 302 Mustang.
Ford's Boss Track Attack program, a full-day driving school offered free to owners of '12-'13 Boss 302s (with the option of bringing along a family member or friend at a cost), was conceived right along with the car, which was designed from the start as a track-ready machine with a license plate. Over two years ago, before the new Boss 302 was even introduced, Ford car marketing manager Steve Ling tipped me off about the program in an interview for my book, Mustang Boss 302: From Racing Legend to Modern Musclecar: "We're giving everyone a full day of driving instructions, in Bosses, at Miller Motorsports Park to help owners appreciate the full capability of their cars. I want people to enjoy driving them. And for those who aren't to the level of this car, they will have a chance to learn and, for some, that will inspire them to become a better driver and use this car safely at its limits. I don't want these cars in museums!"
Each Track Attack program kicks off the night before with a welcoming dinner at the Larry H. Miller Total Performance Museum. For Ford fans, especially of the Shelby persuasion, the museum is a must-see, even without the driving school. Larry Miller was a die-hard Shelby fan, and after achieving business success (among them, ownership of the Utah Jazz professional basketball team), he started collecting Shelby American milestone cars, including the first competition Cobra, Ken Miles' Le Mans GT40, and Dan Gurney's Daytona Coupe that won Le Mans in 1964. There's also a nice collection of early Shelby Mustangs and memorabilia to go along with all of it.
Our class was greeted inside the museum by instructor Bill Rhinehart, who gave us a brief history of Miller Motorsports Park and a tour of the museum cars. That was followed by dinner, with tables placed between a Bud Moore '70 Trans-Am Boss 302 and a black/red '12 Laguna Seca. During the student introductions, I learned that Track Attack participants come from around the country with a variety of reasons for buying a Boss 302. We even had a BMW convert. And I was glad to see a familiar face--Mustang collector Monty Seawright, whose '78 King Cobra was featured in our October 2010 issue.
Bright and early the next morning, our group convened in a classroom to begin our Boss 302 track immersion. After a short introduction film, instructor Brian Smith introduced himself and the other five instructors before running through 45 minutes of basic driving instructions, including how to choose the correct cornering line, braking and heel-toe technique, hand signals, and using your eyes to look through a turn, something I would find myself concentrating on later. Smith assures us that we'll be "pushed," while also noting that no one is expected to go beyond their comfort level. He notes that the desert track offers plenty of run-off, but it also throws up plenty of dust to alert the instructors if anyone makes an off-track excursion. We knew the fun was about to begin when we were issued helmets and driving suits (note to self: next time, wear shorts and a t-shirt) before loading into vans for the trip to the garage and our introduction to the school's Boss 302s.
Awaiting us are a dozen Boss 302s in various colors, which instructors attempt to match to the owner's Boss 302 at home. They're stock '12 Boss 302s, with TracKey, open quad exhaust, roll cage, safety harnesses for the Recaro seats, upgraded brakes (more for durability than performance, I'm told), and a slightly modified grille for cooling. Each car has the driver's name on the windshield; I'm in the red #25 with black stripes.
We're divided into groups of three for our first foray onto the track for follow-the-instructor laps to get us familiar with the course lay-out, which has orange cones in the corners to help with turn-in points and apexes. The Boss Track Attack program uses Miller's 2.2-mile East track, a technically challenging course with 14 turns with appropriate names like "Agony," "Ecstasy," and "Maybe Y'll Make It." Later, our instructor will take us back out and stop at the most challenging turns so he can talk and walk us through.
But before getting up to speed on-track, we're herded off-track for a couple of exercises. I've done heel-toe before, but it didn't hurt to practice in the Boss 302 on a short, triangular course. With instructors standing at each corner and walkie-talkies for communication, we received instant feedback. From there, we headed to the skid car, a Fusion Sport fitted with four hydraulically-controlled wheels that the instructor can control to increase or decrease traction. By navigating an autocross course at slow speed, the skid car helps you to recognize and control oversteer, which is great to know before attacking the road course at speed.
After lunch while viewing a video of vintage Mustang TV commercials, it's back to the track, once again following an instructor. This time, we pick up the pace, along with practicing hand-signals for passes on the straight-aways, which also gives everyone a chance to move directly behind the instructor for a few laps. By this time, we've learned the course pretty well, realizing too that the new Boss 302 Mustang is an awesome track machine. As fellow student Dave Hoste exclaimed, "I had no idea my car was this fast!" Between sessions, we retreat to an air-conditioned classroom where the instructors ramp up our knowledge and insist that we drink water to stay hydrated. Driving cars fast is a lot of work!
For the day's third on-track session, an instructor hops in the passenger seat to oversee our first solo laps. This is where the Boss Track Attack instruction really pays off, as I learn when Brian Smith keeps reminding me to turn my head to look past the turn's apex. It's harder than it sounds because, at speed, it's difficult to take your eyes off the pavement or car directly in front. But it works. By glancing at the course ahead, I find that I'm able to drive through the apexes and out of the turns quicker.
We're told that the Boss 302 has enough torque to lap the entire course in Fourth gear, but it's lot more fun to shift because the Boss version of the 5.0L Coyote engine also has enough rpm range to run the track in Third, which provides more torque and acceleration coming out of the turns. With upshifts to Fourth needed only at the ends of the straight-aways, this also provides two opportunities per lap to practice heel-toe while down-shifting back into Third. When I miss a couple of down-shifts, Brian quickly realizes that the culprit is my left foot resting on the clutch pedal, just enough to heat up the clutch. With everything coming so fast and so much to remember--braking, turn-in, heel-toe, the next corner, look ahead!--I'm absent-mindedly forgetting to remove my foot from the clutch, something I never do in normal street driving.
For the fourth and final session of the day, we get to put our education to use for solo laps, although I elect to keep my instructor on-board because I find his input helpful. If I take the wrong line through a turn, Brian quickly tells me what I did wrong and how to correct it on the next lap. I must have been having a great time because the checkered flag was soon waving on the 30-minute session.
And just as we're beginning to feel good about our driving abilities, it's time for the instructors to show how it's really done. I climb into the passenger seat of my Boss 302 with instructor Jon Capps, who started racing go-karts when he was 12 and has competed in everything from USAC and SCCA to NHRA Funny Car. Within a couple of laps with Jon, I realize that I could have been diving in deeper, braking later, and coming out of the turns faster, all perfectly within the capabilities of the stock Boss 302. It's a good thing the instructor drive was saved for last. There would have been a lot of off-road Bosses if the students had tried to drive that fast.
The day ends with a “graduation” ceremony, with students receiving a certificate and one of the coolest trophies you'll ever see--a real Boss 302 rod and piston. Even better, a photographer has been following us around all day and everyone gets a Boss 302-shaped thumb drive loaded with photos to document their Boss Track Attack experience.
If you haven't purchased a Boss 302, the Boss Track Attack program gives you another reason to run down to your Ford dealership to pick up your own '13 model.
To expand on the driving skills learned during the single-day Boss Track Attack, participants are offered a second day of instruction and driving in either a Mustang GT school car or a Ford Racing FR500S. After all, once you've committed to the trip to Salt Lake City, you might as well stick around to gain even more on-track experience.
Although similar to the Track Attack, the second day ratchets everything up a notch, especially if you opt for the FR500S. Ford Racing's Mustang race car is just that--a race car--with race seat, BFGoodrich racing slicks, window net, and 350 pounds of weight savings, so it feels, sounds, and drives like a race car. It's a blast, and the extra instruction and seat time is well worth the cost, which runs $995 for the Mustang GT and $1,395 for the FR500S.