Horse Sense: As much fun as it is driving the Miller Mustangs, we wish we'd had some time to take the company's Kart School. It's impressive in itself, featuring a full shop, three tracks, and a store with all the gear you need. They even offer fun laps for a reasonable cost. It really looked like too much fun.
Miller Motorsports Park and Ford Racing have proudly joined forces in a symbiotic relation
Perhaps you saw the impressive photo of Miller Motor-sports Park's fleet of High-Performance Driving School cars a few months ago (5.0 News, Feb. '07, p. 36). It was an impressive lineup of blue-striped white S197s. Did it ever cross your mind that you'd like to drive one, and drive it fast? I bet it did. It certainly crossed mine, but I had no idea they are run at such an impressive venue. Nor did I understand how MMR and Ford Racing Performance Parts were truly working together to the benefit of both-and you-with the Ford Racing School of High-Performance Driving.
It wasn't until I was offered the opportunity to become the first member of the automotive media to visit the Miller Motorsports Park (www.millermotorsportspark.com) and drive a few of the cars. After driving a half-hour from the Salt Lake City, Utah, airport, the facility rises up out of the picturesque Utah desert valley as an incredible motorsports oasis. The facility in question is a 500-acre fantasyland featuring a 4.5-mile road course, a 0.9-mile go-cart track, and much more. In all, it's an $80 million playground the likes of which you've never seen. For you drag racers, think of it as the Route 66 of road-racing tracks.
Who would build such a facility, and how did Ford Racing (www.fordracingparts.com) get involved? As it turns out, Miller Motorsports Park is the stuff of Larry Miller's dreams. Larry owns, among other things, the Utah Jazz NBA team and several car dealerships. But he's a car guy-and more importantly, a Ford guy. As the track was coming together, one of his former employees told the Ford Racing team about the track and suggested they get involved. A few phone calls later, Ford Racing was supplying MMP the gear to build a fleet of Mustangs for its high-performance driving school. In return, Ford Racing gets the opportunity to test its parts in the severe environs of repeated high-speed laps in the desert.
In the foreground is the standard school car, and in the background is a Miller Mustang Ch
Once on the facility, I met with a staff that exuded the excitement that comes with being on the ground floor of something exciting. Soon thereafter, I met with one of the primary architects of this dream land, Alan Wilson, a noted racetrack designer who had managed several tracks in the UK. He's now the chief executive officer at MMP. It's obviously his baby, as he proudly gave us the full tour from the $5 million clubhouse to the go-cart track. The road course is his true love, and he takes pride in the views available to spectators. The track is his design-he has 25 or so on his rsum-and is set up to run in four different configurations, including two autonomous tracks-East and West.
While the East track is a tighter number meant for cars with great handling and modest power, I spent my time learning the West track, which is designed with powerful cars in mind. The other two configurations include running the outside of the track only-which would make for fast fun-or running the entire track inside and out-something I tried at the end of my day. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Before I could hit the track, I met the driving school director, Dan McKeever. Dan gave me a quick lesson covering the basics of driving and some rules to follow. He also asked about my experience. I shared that I have a lot of driving experience, but I still "stunk." Such honesty elicited a laugh, and he must not have believed me because I was soon strapping on a helmet and hitting the track with Dan Davis, director of Ford Racing technology, and Jamie Allison, Ford Racing Performance group manager.
The school car is a stock S197 Mustang fortified by a rollcage; an FRPP racing seat; and F
The Ford Racing guys were quicker than me, but with my instructor, James Burke, I gained a fairly quick knowledge of the track. Only the Demon, Devil, and Diablo trilogy of turns-they all have clever names-gave me continued fits. More time on-track would have brought more confidence, but the West course was a blast to drive.
Of course, the MMP school cars inspire a lot of confidence of their own. Probably because they're stock S197s with FRPP parts to make them even better, the cars are familiar and fun. The power and gearing improvements keep the fun up at any part of the track and lead to speeds above 120 mph on the front straight. In the turns, the Handling Pack makes the car tossable and light on its hooves. It's still biased toward understeer, which keeps things safe when guys like me are behind the wheel. The FR500C brakes also impressed. They performed with a fade-free personality even when I leaned on the ABS too much.
At the end of the day, after working my way up through three levels of Mustangs on the West track, we moved to running the full track in the school cars. At 4.5 miles, the full course is a physically and mentally challenging path. Even though we were just following Instructor Kenny Johnson, I began to lose focus after several laps. I needed more time on the East course, which is designed to give you fits if you screw up a corner. It haunts you for several corners thereafter. It certainly haunted me a few times, but only because of my limitations.
Learning to drive faster is what the Ford Racing School of High-Performance Driving is all about. I only wish I had another day or two to spend there and improve my skills. Such is the case with most ways you can drive a Mustang with your foot to the floor. Once you do it a little, you want to do it a lot. If driving fast around corners is in the cards for your Mustang, the things you can learn at a driving school are invaluable. If you want to do it in a Mustang similar to yours, there's only one school with the Ford Racing seal of approval. Salt Lake City is only an airplane ride away, and I'm certain you won't be disappointed.
I didn't stop at the Challenge car. I was only at Miller for a day, but I did get to progress up through all the Mustangs on hand. The school has some Ford GTs as well, but driving one of those wasn't in the cards on this trip. How could I be disappointed when I actually got behind the wheel of a Boy Racer, one of the Mustangs purpose-built for Grand Am Cup racing. Set apart from the Challenge car by a seam-welded chassis, a 5.0 Cammer, a T56 six-speed, and a locking differential, among other things, the Boy Racer offers a more visceral experience. Rawer, louder, and faster, it was more car than my modest skills could handle, but I saw how the real drivers can fly in these cars. The interesting thing about it was the high-strung power made the car easy to exit the corners with a smooth transition into power.
The High Life
If you've been to more than a few race tracks, as I have, you begin to appreciate the nice ones. My jaw dropped just driving into Miller Motorsports Park. This is hands-down the most impressive motorsports facility I've experienced in the continental U.S. It's a veritable motorsports playground with a 4.5-mile road course, a 0.9-mile go-cart track, and a Supermoto track, where motocross dirt bikes run on asphalt and dirt.
Other than the overall upscale nature of the facility, the most impressive part is the unprecedented spectator views available from the grandstands and the VIP clubhouse. The track was designed with a nearly unobstructed view of the entire track. It's a facility that makes watching a road race nearly as fun for the spectators as it is for the drivers.
While the facility has innumerable niceties-a playground, spectator Oases for picnicking, and the inevitable gift shop-one part of Mr. Miller's personal playground you don't want to miss is the MMP museum, featuring a fraction of his collection in the form of vintage GT 40 race cars, Shelby GT 350s, and much more. It's worth checking out, and in many cases you can even pick up a die-cast model of one of the cars in the museum. I'm sure the Shelby and SVT fans and the SAAC and SVOTA annual events held at Miller enjoyed the hardware in the musem.
Take the Challenge
Having had an absolute blast getting to know the West Course in the MMP school car, it was time to sneak in a few laps in the Mustang Challenge racer. What separates the Challenge racer from its school-car brethren is a 340-pound diet that primarily consists of a gutted interior and BFGoodrich g-Force R1 DOT race tires. If you ever doubted that extra weight was holding back the performance of your 'Stang, this car proves it is. In addition to the diet and tires, these cars feature Torsen Racing Differentials, AIM data systems, Sparco fire suppression systems and removable steering wheels, and Steeda racing front splitters and rear wings.
When coupled with the sticky tires, the lighter Challenge car took on a new personality-and it was a great one. The extra go and grip magnified what was already good about the school car. Easy to drive and balanced with the right racy demeanor, it's the kind of open-track ride I'd love to own, as the power never overwhelms the chassis. That makes for a safe, fun driving experience.
If you get the chance to drive one, I'm sure you'll have the same reaction, and you might wish you could race it. Well, it turns out you can-even if you don't own one. MMP has put together something called the Mustang Challenge-a seven-weekend, 14-race series. Each weekend gets you two qualifying rounds and two races. To run the series, you must complete the licensing school, which will run $3,700. Once that's under your belt, you can buy a Challenge car for $55,000, lease one for the season, or rent for $3,500 for the weekend. It sounds expensive, but if you aren't buying the car, you just pay, show up, and race. No headaches, no race trailers, no working on the car. Just racing fun. Now $3,500 sounds really affordable, doesn't it?
|5.0 TECH SPECS MMP School Car|
|ENGINE AND DRIVETRAIN||SUSPENSION AND CHASSIS|
|281 ci|| Control Arms|
|Cylinder Heads|| Stock|
|Stock 3-valve|| Wheels|
|Intake Manifold|| BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDWS|
| Stock||REAR SUSPENSION|
|Mass Air|| Springs|
|Fuel System|| Control Arms|
|Exhaust|| Panhard Bar|
| FRPP short-tube headers and axle-back||Stock|
|Transmission|| Sway bar|
| Stock 5-speed w/FRPP shifter||Stock|
| Stock 8.8 w/3.73 gears||Stock|
|Engine Management|| Tires|
| Stock w/FRPP tune||BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDWS|
|Ignition|| Chassis Stiffening|
| Stock ||Rollcage and FRPP struttower brace|
| Stock |