Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
June 26, 2012

Track Car Build

While restomods and daily drivers are certainly popular, and just about any car that passes safety inspection can make a pass down the 1,320 (or the 1/8-mile if that's all you have at your local dragstrip), it takes a much more dedicated and prepared car to have fun on a road course. Even the late-model guys will tell you that the stock suspension and brakes on their cars can only take them so far, and their stuff is worlds above what a vintage Mustang or Ford came with when it passed through the factory doors. Reaching out to someone with track car experience for this segment was an easy choice for us. We've known Paul Faessler and his Paul's Automotive Engineering for nearly 20 years. Paul's shop has put some of the hardest running vintage track cars out there and their cars have won six consecutive American Iron/American Iron Extreme National Championships! So Paul and his crew certainly have the credentials to help us help you with a track car budget build and where best to put your money.

"First thing for a track car is safety, which includes proper belts (at least four-point), a bolt-in rollbar (four point attachment minimum) with a horizontal bar to properly wrap the shoulder harnesses to. I always recommend the same safety equipment for the passenger seat, as beginners will normally have an instructor. Any beginner should always try to get an instructor every time they go on track," Paul's first comments were to us. Something else Paul couldn't stress enough of is another facet of safety--to bring a properly maintained car to the track. This includes at least new brake pads, fresh brake fluid, (Ford DOT 3 High Performance is a very good fluid), check all suspension mounting points and fasteners, and more.

"Reliability is the key to having fun and wanting to come back again," Paul added. This means having good prep, quality parts, and lots of seat time.

Cooling is very important for a track car. An oversized radiator with a properly sized fan will go a long way towards having a fun weekend at the track versus strapping a wounded track car back onto your trailer after your first session.

"The last thing I would worry about, and which is usually the first thing people spend money on, is more power. You will ultimately go faster by learning to brake late, and carry speed through the corners than flying down the straights and then over braking (usually too early)," Paul cautioned.

For a budget build of $5,000, Paul recommends leaving the trick coilovers and rack-and-pinion upgrades on the shelf.

"The stock suspension design's main weakness is the compliance in the control arm/strut rod/ spring perch/rear spring bushings. We use Cobra Automotive's components to remedy this," Paul explained. Paul recommends a nice budget brake cooling duct solution by using '67-'68 front parking light body bezels to make a nice air inlet for a 3-inch hose that can be routed to the center of the front brake rotor. "Weld in subframe connectors (we never install bolt-on subframe connectors), are a big help as well," Paul stated.

As the budget level increases, Paul starts recommending a good set of matching track wheels and race compound tires, and bigger brakes.

"Most people throw on a set of wheels and tires without considering the front brakes, and when they put on the big brakes, they have to get new wheels to fit the brakes," Paul cautioned. When you start getting serious about your track excursions, your brakes will be where you will spend the most money. However, it's where you will get the best value as well. Paul's shop uses Brembo race brakes on all of its American Iron cars. These packages start around $4,000. "That has been the best money we have spent on our race cars," Paul said.

At the higher budget levels, you can also start concentrating on a track-ready engine package, better rearend, and more. These upgrades are more for reliability than all out power. As stated earlier, the key to a good track car is suspension, brakes, safety, and ultimately your driving ability. We've seen plenty of 300hp cars run circles around 600hp cars because the 300hp car has a better suspension setup, better brakes, and/or a better driver. There's a lot of truth in the statement, "a road race is won in the corners."

"Everyone has seen the guys with a lot of power fly down the straights, but have a train of cars behind them when they get to the corners. Learn to drive the car deep into the corners and carry max speed through the corners, and it will surprise you how your low-horsepower/reliable combination will out run the high powered cars," Paul stated.

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28 Throwing a built 9-inch under your car is on everyone's wish list, but if you're talking a daily driver or a track car with less than 300 horsepower, you can easily get away with an 8-inch unit with a nicely built center section and new gears.