Episode 10: Hats Off to a Great “Next Step”
Mid-July marked a very sad press announcement from the organizers of the Mustang Challenge series – 2010 will mark the final year of competition for the series.
For those of you that know me, I have been an extremely vociferous advocate for the Mustang Challenge series since its inception three seasons ago. Please excuse the pun, but the series has proven to be an ideal “Next Step” for many a driver and team.
I’ll go one better – I think it provided the absolute best stepping stone between amateur and full-on pro racing in North America. Spec cars, tires, shocks, spring rates, roll bars, driveline and sealed engines kept the racing extremely close and the costs relatively low. It’s a super fun car to drive as well – having driven so many, I can testify that it is an all around great car – it does everything surprisingly well, likes to be sideways, yet needs much discipline to find the final half second!
An eleven-race calendar ensured a new driver would get to race on and learn many staple circuits in North America. The spread of driver talent - from gentleman racers having fun to up-and-coming hot shoes ensured a driver would always have someone to race against – which meant the battles for position went throughout the field and always provided
a great show for spectators!
Run mostly in conjunction with the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, it also allowed drivers to get used to the sights, sounds, pressures and general atmosphere associated with a proper pro race event.
The series brought a big Ford Racing parts truck to each race, meaning that car owners need not spend undue thousands on spares they never use – a wonderful concept. When compared to most pro series, the entry fees were more than reasonable, especially when the generous amount of track time the series afforded at each race was factored in. Overall, it has been a great series, period.
Unfortunately, the slumping North American economy has meant shrinking grids (being felt everywhere) which have left organizers facing the harsh reality that the series is no longer sustainable. And to this point, the small yet impassioned staff deserves utmost respect and applause for doing everything in their power to keep it afloat.
Further to this point, one must recognize the enormous contribution to the series made by its founder, the late Mr. Larry H. Miller (pictured, right), who passed away in February, 2009. It was his vision and investment that brought the series to life. Not to mention his other great contribution to motorsport: the world class Miller Motorsports Park – an enormous raceplex located just outside Salt Lake City, Utah. Mr. Miller was massively proud of his home town and did his best to put it on the international sporting map through his ownership of the Utah Jazz NBA franchise and the creation of a race track that today hosts rounds of the American Le Mans Series, World Challenge, Trans-Am, Grand-Am Rolex Series and the World Superbike Championship. He was a truly passionate patron of our sport, the likes of which we certainly need more of.
It is also important to note what a strong community of friends Mustang Challenge participants has become. Never before in modern pro racing have I witnessed so much good will, friendship and camaraderie amongst drivers and teams. On any given race weekend, it is normal to see half the grid hanging out together, having dinner or sharing a beer and shooting the breeze well after the day is done. Should you ever have a mechanical emergency you will find mechanics from rival teams pitching in to help ensure you make it to the grid!
My favorite story that I think best depicts the essence of the series took place back in early 2009 when Chris Kaufmann (a part-time driver in the 2008 series) went to visit Mr. Miller in the hospital shortly before his passing. During that visit it became clear to Chris just how much the series meant to Mr. Miller and how much he hoped it would continue on. Chris took it to heart and dug deep into his own time and resources and made the commitment to running an up-and-coming driver, Andrew Caddell, for the entire 2009 season. It was a fitting tribute to Mr. Miller when, eight months later, Chris Kaufmann’s team was crowned series champion.
With the 2010 season still going strong, I encourage all race fans to check out the series web site and follow the action at www.mustangchallenge.com
The site provides a really great video recap of each race and race event – not to mention they are running a contest to award an aspiring driver a chance to race in the series finale in September at Miller Motorsports Park. The contest is open to all non-professional drivers, so all you club racers and DE drivers – give it a go!
Support and enjoy this great series while it’s around and let’s all hope something just as good comes our way in the near future.
Hats off to all of the drivers and crew of Mustang Challenge and to Mr. Miller and his staff that made it all possible – excellent work!