Dale Amy
September 1, 2004

Horse Sense:
The modular engine's propensity for trapping air in the cooling system is a concern for daily drivers as well as potential racers. Be wary of this habit any time you change coolant on your street cammers.

If you're tuning in for the first time, the track-happy red racer cavorting about on these pages started off a surprisingly few man-hours ago as a production-line-reject unibody shell-a body-in-white-that would otherwise have been destined for the recycling bin. Using all-new Ford and aftermarket parts made available through the combined efforts of CDC Racing and Mustang Racing Technologies, it's now a competitive-and safe-road-course stormer powered by a factory-fresh, 305hp Mach 1 drivetrain, which basically explains why it's called a Mach 1 Racer. The best news is, you can stick one together yourself-like some full-scale AMT model but without the glue sniffing-for something less than 23,000 greenbacks. Regular readers will already know all that, but this concept offers so much bang for the buck that it was worth repeating (preceding installment in this series ran in Jan. '04 issue, p. 126).

With construction complete, it was time to assault the tarmac to sample the fruits of our labors. In a move that was either daring or foolish, our Racer's track debut was also its overall debut. The first time it really moved any distance under its own power was when it was being loaded on the trailer to head out to GingerMan Raceway in western Michigan, a clockwise 1.88-mile road course that is both challenging and forgiving, with generous runoff areas and little to hit. When sticking a skill-challenged magazine scribe in an untested race car, you want a safe track, no doubt part of the reason why George Huisman-the car's owner and one of the principal masterminds behind the Mach 1 Racer program as owner of CDC Racing-chose GingerMan.

Don't take this to mean that our little project was simply thrown together and put on a trailer. Craig Colden, who essentially built it all himself, spent some quality time back at the CDC shop tweaking the car for lapping duty, with particular attention paid to setting up its Steeda 5-Link rear suspension's Panhard bar height. Still, strange things can-and did-happen on a first outing.

For comparison purposes-and so we could chase each other-we brought along George's other open-track Mustang. It's a gray and green, naturally aspirated, Cobra-powered variant put together a couple years ago at comparatively huge expense, before George, Scott Hoag, and their co-conspirators created the cost-effective Mach 1 Racer program. Providing second-trailer tow duty for our outing, as well as his own unique perspective, was fellow hot-lapping enthusiast and all-round bon vivant Steve Neumaier, who was happy to leave his Porsche open-tracker (that George refers to as "the Volkswagen") at home for the day. Let's see-three drivers, two Mustang race cars, and a whole day at the track. Life doesn't get much better than that, at least until Steve builds his own Mach 1 Racer (right, Steve?).

Our first gremlin reared its head as the car was being tech'd by track officials. The brake lights were working sporadically-not a good thing when someone's a foot off your back bumper at the end of a straightaway with a Second-gear turn looming. The cause was quickly traced to an improperly secured under-dash brake-light switch, and was soon remedied.

The second gremlin was a bit more serious. After some cautious shakedown laps with George at the wheel and yours truly riding shotgun to learn track layout on my first-ever visit to GingerMan, Steve won the luck of the draw and got to take the freshly minted Racer for some hot laps. Meanwhile, George headed out in the gray car, and I grabbed a telephoto lens to start earning my keep. I stopped seeing the red car go by after a few laps, so I headed back to the pits, only to see it arriving on the wrong end of a towrope. Had the Mach 1 Racer succumbed already? Apparently so, because after spewing coolant on-track and being shut off, it wouldn't even crank over, sounding for all the world like it was seized solid. Sitting forlornly in the pits, its coolant and oil-temp gauges were basically off the scale. The unflappable Mr. Huisman began to look a bit concerned, while Steve professed his innocence to anyone who would listen.