Getting on track couldn't be easier than with Track Guys Performance Driving Events.
The thrill derived from running hard on a road course can best be described as controlling the most fierce rollercoaster you can imagine. Strapped in tight, you're commanding the forces of acceleration, cornering, and braking, and the more skilled you are, the faster you can go. When you do it right, you'll be pushing your Ford well past what would be considered safe speeds on public roads.
Virtually anyone can capture this thrill, as we did during MM&FF's adventure to the Sebring Sensation with Track Guys Performance Driving Event held at the world-famous Sebring International Raceway (Sebring, Florida) this past May. Your humble scribe, along with our novice drivers, associate editor Marc "Corner-Carver" Christ and freelancer Elisa "Boost Chick" Brooks, participated in this amazing on-track driving school and we each came away impressed. It was a first-time experience for Marc and Elisa, and they came away amazed with the education they received. We all fine-tuned our knowledge of vehicle dynamics, car control, threshold braking, and we got a taste of just how far you can push a Mustang if driven properly.
Track Guys, which holds events across the country, offers a spot-on program that gets you on track and up to speed quickly, whether you have little-to-no experience or are fully seasoned. There are four run groups (Beginner, Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced), so there is a place for everyone. Track Guys also provides trained instructors, a supreme classroom education, and enough seat time to exhaust all but professional drivers. At Sebring, that amassed to over two hours on the circuit!-EJS
Marc "Corner-Carver" Christ
Since childhood, Mustangs have captivated me. I would daydream about driving one at speed on a long, curvy highway. I dreamed of being one with the road, feeling the thrill of acceleration, and hearing the exhaust note in my ears.
Though it was probably because my mother always drove one, my infatuation with the Mustang began at a very young age. Heck, I was even driven home from the hospital in my mom's four-cylinder, silver '79 LX coupe with faded paint (even though it was only three years old at the time). I love Mustangs and a good challenge, so when editor Smith invited me to the Track Guys event at Sebring to drive an '11 Steeda Sport Edition, I was excited to say the least. Legends have raced at Sebring, including Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, and Steve McQueen, to name a few.
Having only paced carefully around Gainesville's 1.1-mile road course a few times as my only open-track experience, I signed up for the Beginners group. If there's one thing that will get you hurt on-track, it's pride and ego. I knew I would benefit from starting at the very bottom and keeping my mind as open as possible-which I did.
Upon arriving at SIR, I was greeted by Dell Hughes and Jeff Lacina. These two were just great, from getting me all the paperwork, to pairing me up with the right instructor, I couldn't have asked for a more helpful staff. On the hardware end, I met up with Glen Vitale (a natural-born driver) of Steeda Autosport. He tossed me the keys to the same silver Steeda Sport Edition that was on the May cover of MM&FF. Having already driven this car extensively on the street, I was comfortable with it in my hands. Only now, it sported a Boss intake, as well as the super-sticky Nitto NT01 tires.
In the pits, the camaraderie was second to none. Knowing there was no prize money on the line probably helped, but everyone was more than willing to lend a hand. In fact, there were over 30 instructors who volunteer their time for the entire weekend, essentially risking their lives in the passenger seats with amateur and novice drivers in exchange for a few hours on track in their own cars.
I was introduced to my instructor, Frank Perdomo, who has nerves of steel. It didn't take long for me to learn the course as Frank guided me around, first in the driver's seat, then as my in-car instructor/co-driver. Before long, I was pushing the Coyote far beyond what I imagined I could accomplish in such a short period of time.
With a few hours of classroom instruction from Lacina and an hour or so of on-track experience on Saturday, we broke away for some rest and relaxation at the banquet. Drivers chatted about their day, instructors shared stories about their students, and we all shared laughs courtesy of jester Jeff and guest speaker, our own Evan Smith. Meanwhile, I was driving the course over and over in my mind.
After such an exhausting day, I slept like a rock. But when I woke up (an hour before my alarm was set to go off), I replayed the events of the day before-Jeff holding his model yellow New Edge Mustang and balancing on his fingertip to explain weight transfer; Frank telling me to let the car track out (the art of letting the car drift out to the track's edge on corner exit); making my throttle and brake applications smoother, and waiting later to turn in.
Back on track, it all clicked. My palms weren't as sweaty, I was comfortable with the point-by system (used to motion quicker drivers to pass), I was noticing and acknowledging the flags, and I could hear and feel the NT01s giving me feedback as I pushed them near their limit.
By the end of the day, I didn't want to get out of that car. Frank told me road racing was addictive, but I'll call it a sick obsession. Lap after lap, I honed my skills, and I was making chasing down slower students a sport. I even heard Frank start to say "good" and "great turn." The only thing I've ever done more thrilling was skydiving. But this is different, because I was in control of every single aspect of the activity: the acceleration, deceleration, and turns. All of my senses were finely tuned and adrenaline rushed through my veins. In fact, recalling the experience evokes excitement and causes my adrenaline to kick in.
When the weekend was over, I had made a bunch of new friends, been treated to one of the most exciting weekends of my life, and made the short drive back home with yet another lesson in cars under my belt. It's like I had forecast this as a young boy as those two-door secretaries cars with the running horse on the grille mesmerized me.
Elisa "Boost Chick" Brooks
My mentality toward road course driving has always been that it's only suited for expensive European cars and drivers with names I can't pronounce. Boy, was I wrong! I never realized how narrow-minded I've been toward everything other than full-throttle drag racing. It pains me to think I've been missing out on something even more fun than drag racing for the past decade!
As the sun came up, I entered SIR and pulled down the very long paddock to see all of the vehicles in their respective stalls. This wasn't the dragstrip scene I felt so comfortable in-I was officially out of my element. I expected to see nothing but Mustangs, but instead, tucked away in each stall, was everything from exotic Porsches to an original Shelby GT350H. It was amazing to see all of these different classes of automobiles coming together to participate in an event.
I spotted my weekend chariot, a fully loaded '10 Steeda-Q Mustang GT. It was naturally aspirated with a manual, completely setup for this road course, and equipped with the entire Steeda suspension catalog. I was completely pumped.
Experienced road-course guru Jeff Lacina led our drivers meeting, and showed everyone the flags and their meanings, as well as etiquette and rules. I also met my instructor, Fernando Da Silva, an extraordinary driver and overall super guy from Canada. He drove his road-course-ready Mazda 3 down to Florida from the Great White North. Now, that's dedication.
Being the total novice, Track Guys placed me in Beginners Level, which slightly bruised my boost-powered ego. I didn't let it show, but inside I was screaming that I'm far too good and competitive to start at the bottom. I mean really, the Beginners Level? Oh well. I put a meek smile on my face and sighed all the way to my first class, where I prepared to learn everything I could.
We learned about weight transfer and how to balance, or manipulate, the sprung weight of a car properly by using the throttle, brake and steering, as well as the elements of a turn and the importance of braking in a straight line to stay in control. It was all very interesting and slightly overwhelming.
We went over each turn on a map and it was suggested that I study the layout, which helped immensely. Even though I wanted to hit the fast-forward button and get on track, I was sucking up info like a sponge. Each classroom session helped me to grasp concepts important to performance driving.
Class was finally over and I ran down to my Steeda Mustang and hopped in, suited up in my helmet and gloves, and headed to the grid with Fern in the passenger seat. Surprisingly enough, I wasn't the least bit nervous, but I think it was because I was in a Mustang. Proper communication between driver and student is important, so we hooked up our headsets and were off on my first lap around the track.
Fern took me through each turn step by step at a slow pace under a short caution flag. I've never been more focused while driving in my life. My adrenaline was pumping and my body was tense. I felt like I was doing something completely foreign.
As I grew comfortable, I was able to gradually build speed and I realized just how little I knew about performance driving. Actually, that's an understatement-everything I thought I knew was completely wrong.
Most everyone has a safety instinct that tells them when to brake and turn, but I was literally told to ignore that instinct. Taking care of the braking early, but not turning in too early is the key, and I admit I had a hard time feeling comfortable making such late turn-ins. Lucky for me, my Steeda-Q Mustang was able to handle anything I threw at it. With the combination of spring, Watt's link, control arm, and antiroll bar package, it was neutral and very flat in the turns. The Nitto NT01s also enhanced traction for this rookie. The grip was amazing, though I wasn't anywhere near the limit.
After each lap on day one, I began to catch on more and more. Fern didn't hold back either. The biggest mistake I kept making was going into the throttle too early inside of a turn, which made tracking out tricky. But before I knew it, I was conquering each element of every turn-the approach, the braking zone, the turn in, the apex, and the track out. I had grasped the concept and achieved the goal of making my line as straight as possible, and that's what gives you exit speed for those long straights at Sebring!
I was pushing the Steeda around the track quickly and efficiently, and it was a rush greater than I had ever felt in drag racing. It was amazing just how hard I was able to dive into the brakes and how responsive the car was to the slightest movement of the steering wheel. I had to keep reminding myself that the car could be driven much harder than I had originally thought.
Once I adapted to turning in much later than my brain was telling me to, I gained an incredible amount of control. It was as if the Mustang and I were one entity. It took very little steering motion to navigate through the turns. I had made a nice straight line and avoided over-driving the car by making bad moves.
MM&FF editor Evan Smith (left)...
MM&FF editor Evan Smith (left) and associate editor Marc Christ flank freelancer Elisa Brooks.
Jonathan Blevins, a certified...
Jonathan Blevins, a certified Mustang and Ford fanatic, pointed out the line and got me dialed in with solid turn-in and braking reference points. By the third session I began to learn the track, which is paramount on any course—that is if you want to stay on line and go fast.
Corner-Carver Christ wheeled...
Corner-Carver Christ wheeled this hot ’11 Steeda Sport.
Boost Chick Brooks slipped...
Boost Chick Brooks slipped behind the wheel of this heavily modded ’10 Steeda. It features a Watt’s link, Steeda sport suspension and hopped up Three-Valve 4.6L engine.
Lead instructor Jeff Lacina...
Lead instructor Jeff Lacina held court in the classroom and stayed in command for the on-track activities.
Ripping through a corner is...
Ripping through a corner is James Boden of Spring, Texas, in his tweaked ’99 Cobra.