Photos by Keplinger Designs Photos and the author.
The Mustang Club of America has hosted celebrations to honor the 30th Anniversary, 35th in 1999, 40th in 2004, and the 45th Mustang Anniversary Celebration this year. The first two events were held at Lowes Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina, these events marked the first time the MCA and Ford Motor Company worked together on any event. In addition to being the major sponsor of the events, Ford arranged for Team Mustang, Ford Division, Ford Racing, and Ford Special Vehicle Operations to have product displays, seminars and many public activities, as well as television and national media coverage. Ford invited the President of the United States (Bill Clinton), who surprised everyone by accepting the invitation and attending the 30th Mustang Anniversary Celebration. Both the 1994 and 1999 celebrations were hugely successful, attracting over 90,000 enthusiasts and over 4,500 Mustangs from all over the world.
The 40th Anniversary celebration was held in Nashville, Tennessee, at the Nashville Superspeedway. For the first time Carroll Shelby and Edsel B. Ford II attended the celebration along with a number of the engineers, designers and marketing people responsible for the successful launch and sales success of the Mustang. Ford Division brought a number of 2005 prototypes for everyone to see. It also marked the first time a cruise was held. Over 2,000 Mustangs cruised from the Opryland Hotel to downtown Nashville, far exceeding the estimates by the event committee. Surveys show that Mustangers like to cruise, and this cruise proved that point. Like the 30th and 35th, the 40th was a big success with over 4,700 Mustangs and 100,000 Mustang enthusiasts attending the four-day event.
When the committee for the 45th anniversary celebration was considering the location for this year’s event, they remembered that the MCA 30th Anniversary Stampede was very successful and one of the reasons for its success was the location…Barber Motorsports Park outside Birmingham, Alabama. The park met all criteria.
Since its opening in 2003, Barber Motorsports Park, built by George W. Barber, owner of Barber Dairies, has been one of the most beautiful facilities in the country. In 1988, Barber built a motorsports museum to house his collection of race cars from around the world. Work continued until the 2.38-mile road course and support facilities were finished in 2003. Barber Motor Sports Park is like a state park with a racetrack in the middle. The park would have ample display space for all the Mustangs as well as the Manufacturers Midway and vendor displays. The race course would be perfect for the open track portion of the celebration as it gave seasoned veterans a challenging course, but would still be fun for less experienced Mustang owners.
The town of Homewood was a great cruise destination with lots of shops and places to eat. The main street offered a great place for Mustangs to park and the rolling landscape provided excellent photo opportunities as well as room for a street party with live music.
Hotel accommodations were plentiful in close proximity to the track, with the Birmingham Marriott selected as the host hotel.
In spite of all the negative news from the mainstream media, sponsors signed up at a rapid rate. Ford became the primary sponsor right from the first hour. Thanks to people like Robert Parker, Ford Lincoln/Mercury Product Communications Manager, who in addition to being an excellent marketer, is also a Mustang enthusiast. Robert has worked hard to build the MCA/Ford marketing partnership. Same goes for Fritz Wilke, Ford Division Performance and Enthusiast Manager. The MCA has had the pleasure of working with Robert and Fritz on a number of events and programs and enjoyed working with them on the Mustang 45th Anniversary Celebration.
Ford Racing has been very supportive of the MCA. Working with Jamie Allison, Performance Parts Manager, has produced good results for both Ford Racing and the MCA. Mickey Matus was great to work with. Mickey did a great job of merchandising the revival of Ford’s racing programs after an absence of 13 years. Ford Racing Program Manager, Andy Slankard, was enjoyable to work with as he was when he headed up the Ford SVT F-150 Lightning and SVT Programs a few years ago. Brian Wolfe, Ford Racing Director is a hands-on engineer who helped develop a number of the 5.0 liter engine performance parts, including the GT40 heads when he raced his Pro 5.0 Mustang in the late ’90s. His red Fox-body set the standard for the class in terms of horsepower. The successful 2008 Cobra Jet Ford Racing NHRA Program is testament to his many talents.
MCA President Steven McCarley, worked with Jamie Allison, and Lynda Randall, Mustang Challenge Series Director, to make the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge Series a new element to the Mustang 45th Anniversary Celebration. The series showcases drivers in identically prepared Mustangs powered by 4.6L three-valve engines like the ones in the street version of the Mustang. The engines are sealed and processors checked and exchanged with other Mustangs so no one can have a “demon tweak” advantage. The Mustangs feature Ford Racing parts and were built at the Mustang assembly plant in Flat Rock, Michigan. They are shipped to Miller Motorsports Park in Utah for final race preparation. Only Ford Motor Company and Ford Racing offer a program where you can purchase a race car, built on an assembly line, then go and race it in a series. None of the domestic or import manufacturers offer a program like the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge Series.
The event was a huge success and Mustang enthusiasts are already looking forward to the 50th Anniversary Celebration.
The sold out open track action began early Thursday morning with tech inspection. Tech was administered by Jim Chism, the 40th Director along with members of the Magic City Mustang MCA regional club of Nashville. After they went through tech, the race track was filled with Mustangs of every vintage.
Bill Dillard, an MCA veteran who has worked just about all the Mustang Anniversary Celebrations, did a masterful job of running the open track event. His son, Brandon, enjoyed working the event and getting track time in his 1999 Mustang GT. MCA Board of Director and former road racer Ed Hockaday provided all kinds of assistance during the event.
New to the open track this year was Vaughn Gittin Jr. and his Ford Racing sponsored drift Mustang. Vaughn had just returned from a very successful winning tour of Japan where his Mustang literally “smoked” all of the Japanese competitors. Gittin put on quite a show each day of the open track with his Ford Racing Performance Parts equipped Mustang, much to the delight of everyone.
For the Mustang Celebration, MCA decided not to have strict judging rules. Recent studies show that only nine percent of all Mustang owners want concours judged shows. The MCA responded to the data with modified judging at Barber. The judging would be limited to 250 Mustangs and the class was sold out soon after the celebration was announced. The casual judging was headed up by MCA Board Member Shorty Brown.
All car show participants received a plaque created specially for the Mustang 45th Anniversary Celebration. The variety and condition of the Mustangs on display was outstanding. As were many other Mustangs parked around the park whose owners came for the fun and excitement of the event.
Thursday evening over 600 Mustangs lined up outside the park for the cruise sponsored by Kicker Audio to the Paxton/Vortech street party in downtown Homewood. The sights and sounds of all these Mustangs and Shelbys was unbelievable, so were the variety of the license plates from just about every state in the country. Once we got to Homewood, everyone had a good time enjoying the Alabama Southern Hospitality.
The excitement for Friday was the arrival of Alan Mulally, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ford Motor Company, to celebrate the 45th birthday of the Mustang. My wife has family in Seattle who work for Boeing, the company Alan turned around and made competitive in the global aircraft industry. When Mulally hired in at Ford, they called and said he would rebuild Ford Motor Company. Our relatives were correct, since taking over, cleaning house where needed and recruiting talent marketing and product people who are also “Car guys.” People like Jim Farley, Mike Crowley, and Robert Parker to name a few.
After meeting Alan Mulally at lunch it was easy to see why Ford did not take any government money and why the company’s product line-up is fast becoming top shelf. The man is personable and enjoyed talking with participants, sponsors and racers. There is a reason Ford Motor Company is gaining market share and it all starts with this man.
The Manufacturers’ Midway and vendor area came alive on Friday. New from Ford Racing this year was the “Mustang Garage” part of the Ford Racing display where participants could have any number of parts installed. The garage was manned by talented techs and proved to be very helpful to any number of people, including Tim Hahn of Houston, Texas, whose shifter went out of adjustment in his Shelby GT500 40th Edition. One trip to the Mustang garage and the shifter was adjusted and Tim was good to go.
On Saturday the Manufacturers’ Midway was packed, the car show was in full swing and the open track action was continuous. The Ford Racing Mustang Challenge race began after the field got the call to start their engines from Grand Marshall Tommy Kendall, former SCCA Trans-Am Champion driving a Roush Mustang.
Series leader, Andrew Caddell, jumped into the lead closely followed by Ted Anthony Jr. Caddell got caught up in traffic and Anthony Jr. got by him, and after some great driving by both racers, held Caddell off for the win, by only .671 seconds. The Ford Racing Mustang Challenge is a fun series to watch with any number of good drivers that race hard and provide exciting action.
In celebration of Drake Automotive Group’s 30th Anniversary and the 45th Anniversary of the Mustang, Scott Drake and the Mustang Club of America created the Pay It Forward Program. The program was designed to give regional clubs an opportunity to restore a 1966 Mustang convertible project car with $10,000 in parts donated by Scott Drake. Kicker Audio donated a complete car audio system, while Quantum Performance will provide a 289 cubic inch engine. A C4 automatic transmission will be donated by Performance Automatic. The restored Mustang will be showcased in the Scott Drake booth during the 2009 SEMA Show and later sold at auction. Proceeds will go to a charity selected by the club.
The MCA regional clubs responded extremely well. After an extensive selection process by Scott Drake, Christina Brisneo, and Mary Jean Wesche, MCA Mustang Times Editor, Millicent Moye, MCA Board of Directors member, and myself, the winner of the Pay it Forward Program was announced at the Scott Drake display on Saturday afternoon. The very active, Mustangs of East Texas won the Mustang. Their presentation was superb, very detailed, and professional. The following day the project Mustang was on its way to Tyler, Texas.
The Saturday night banquet, named “An Evening with Ford” was exactly that. Jim Owens, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Shelby Automobiles, was the first speaker and his Shelby presentation was enjoyed by everyone. Jim had some great action video featuring Carroll Shelby that delighted everyone. His overview of Shelby Automobiles was interesting as well as entertaining.
Brian Wolfe, Ford Racing Director, brought the audience up-to-date with all that is transpiring in the wide world of Ford Racing. A long time Mustang enthusiast, Brian is a veteran racer who pioneered the Ford presence in the Pro 5.0 drag racing class in the late ’90s. His presentation was very educational and provided everyone with solid information on the various Ford Racing programs.
The final Ford portion of the evening showcased Rick Titus, former SCCA Endurance Series Champion, and now a spokesperson for Ford Motor Company. Titus’ quick wit and funny comments were enjoyed by all. He introduced Tommy Kendall and Scott Pruett, former IMSA Champion in a Mustang. Together their panel discussion made for lively conversation and great Mustang racing stories.
MCA President Steven McCarley closed the evening with a short presentation and an appreciative thank you to everyone.
The Mustang 45th Anniversary Celebration concluded on Sunday with more excitement on the race track. At noon Mustang Racing Technologies Late Model Exhibition was exciting with all kinds of well prepared late model Mustangs, Fox-bodies to the latest edition. Scott Hoag, President of MRT does a great job organizing and administering the event here and at the Mid-America Ford Performance and Team Shelby Nationals.
The Ford Racing Mustang Challenge race was another fun event as Ted Anthony Jr. made it a near perfect weekend when he scored his second win. For the second race in a row, series leader Andrew Caddell finished second with Joe Lee Middlebrooks, a local racer, finishing third.
“All race weekends are good, but this one as part of the 45th Anniversary was something very special,” said Mustang Series Director Lynda Randall. “To have guys like Scott Pruett, Tommy Kendall, Mr. Mulally and the guys from Ford Racing with all of us in our paddock was just fantastic.”
It was indeed a fantastic weekend, due to the hard work of the event committee led by Director Steve Prewitt and his wife Beverly. Randy Cunningham and Doug McGraw were key members of the team as were Rick and Bo Lawless, plus a host of hard working MCA members. Their efforts resulted in an event to remember, one that gave us all memories we will carry for a lifetime.