- Apr 13, 2014
Photos courtesy Tracy Peltier
When I found myself staring down the arrangement of orange cones that makeup the autocross course from behind the wheel of a '96 Mustang Cobra Convertible, I must admit, I was slightly unsure. I had never driven that autocross track before (or any autocross track for that matter), I've driven a few mustangs, but never a Cobra and certainly not in such an aggressive manner. Most of the cars I have ever driven fast in were either FWD or AWD, so I wondered, would all the time I have spent behind my G25 be enough to teach me to properly control such a car on edge, and to heel-toe a real car?
First, let me tell you how this all came about.
Cruise for a Cause is a Mustang oriented cruise, car show, auction and autocross event for which all proceeds are put towards cancer research. It takes place in Wisconsin each fall and has grown into one of the largest Mustang shows in the United States, if not the world. Best of all, it all started with one man's love for Mustangs... and of course his wife.
Dan Neve is what you would call a Mustang enthusiast. He has had and has many different types of Mustangs throughout his life, and in 2010 he finally got his dream machine - the Mustang's rebellious offspring, the Shelby GT500. Shortly after, Dan's wife, Linda, was diagnosed with breast cancer. The good news - it is treatable. The bad news - treatment is incredibly expensive. Dan knew he needed a way to pay for the treatment, that didn't put them in crippling debt.
Many would say, "Well, I suppose I should sell the Shelby." Dan, however, had a much better idea. He had the Shelby done up with a massive arrangement of pink stripes, which resembled the pink breast cancer ribbon. The whole car was accented to show support for breast cancer research, and I must say, it looked fantastic. He then took the car across the United States to every auto show he could get into, selling T shirts and taking donations. Over the course of that year, doing so by himself, he successfully raised over $10,000 to put towards his wife's treatment. Dan and Linda realized this is capable of helping more people; if they could do that alone in one year, imagine what could be done with help on an annual basis.
And so, Cruise for a Cause was formed. He gathered all the fellow Mustang lovers he could, and went for a cruise to rally together donations towards cancer research. Today, it has grown to be a massive show with big name sponsors such as Ford, SVT, Roush, and of course, Shelby. Dan updated the graphics as well as much of the car, after being provided performance parts from Shelby and others. Today the car stands as an all out tribute to breast and prostate cancer research with everything down to the headrests and brake rotors labeled with pink ribbons and "Hope".
For the Neve's and so many others facing cancer, the car truly does represent hope, which is the first message Cruise for a Cause aims to deliver. However, there is another message.
Cruise for a Cause is now a three day event, the first of which consisting of a cruise, of course, a round of golf, and a night at the local oval track. This is where the second message really becomes obvious: these cars are meant to be driven. Participants are allowed to take their cars onto the track, and get a bit of a fix for their need for speed. The second day is the car show, which features a Mustang DJ booth, displays and merchandise from vendors such as Ford, SVT, and Roush. The car show is followed by a very beautiful hour long cruise through the hills and fall colors of Wisconsin.
That evening is the banquet dinner and auction, which features some astonishing items. Items such as a hood from a 2015 Mustang, signed by every person who was a part of the decision making process on the 2015 Mustang. This is not something a person could get if they wanted, regardless of budget. These items are worth thousands of dollars, if not tens of thousands, and are donated to the cruise so the entire price collected is put to breast cancer research. Many of these items are one of a kind, and all of them focus around Mustangs.
The third and final day is when the second message takes over completely and it becomes all about having fun and putting your car on edge. They set up an autocross course in a large empty parking lot, and let everyone have at it. You can bring your own car, which doesn't have to be a mustang, or you can ride with the pro's from Gateway Mustang.
Gateway Mustang is a company which produces performance parts for mustangs of all generations. Their specialty is taking the 60's Mustangs and making them perform just as well as a new Shelby, which is considerably better than previous years. Some of you may be familiar with Jason and Lonnie Childress. They had a show on Speed channel called "So You Think You're Faster Than a Redneck" and Jason was previously a driver of the popular monster truck "Gravedigger". They had a 2013 Mustang or a 1968 (I believe) Mustang you could ride with them in, both of which were tuned to the highest levels of performance with everything from semi-slick tyres to roll cages.
I however, was offered a go in Dan's other Mustang, the 1996 Mustang Cobra Convertible. This is a special Mustang created by Ford SVT dedicated to Shelby. It had a better suspension, bigger tyres and more power, around 350 bhp at the rear wheels. May not seem like much by today's standards but in the 90's the Mustangs suspensions were rather simple and the car over all was less balanced. It still had a sense of muscle car to it.
The track was a dizzying arrangement of cones which involved slaloms, chicanes, a hairpin and a stop box. Miss the stop box, and your time doesn't count. This alone was a bit intimidating upon pulling up to the starting line, coupled with the fact that I had never driven a car such as this anywhere near the limit, aside from sim racing of course. So while I waited for the signal to go, I wondered, "Am I in over my head here?"
So, I did the smart thing and took a nice slow lap to learn the course. No problem. Looking at it from afar it is all very confusing, just a mess of orange cones, but once you get going it becomes a clear path, which is really quite easy to keep track of. Now I know my way around, so how about going fast?
After the next lap I was brimming with confidence. I skidded away from the start with a bit of wheel spin, cut through the slalom as close to the cones as I could, shifted up into second gear, pinned the throttle through the chicane, then hard on the brakes and heel-toe shift back to first into the hairpin. Getting back on the gas coming out of the hairpin put the back-end slightly outwards, this was my favorite part. I instinctively knew how to handle the power slide, so I held it through the next corner, got hard on the throttle down the short straight, now nearly reaching third gear, then back on the brakes for the last chicane. Hard on the throttle again coming out of the apex and on the brakes into the stop box, coming to rest perfectly inside it.
Not at all a perfect run, but it was righteously fast and more importantly I knew exactly how and where I could improve. Over the course of the day I cut my time down by nearly a second per lap, and I was putting down times that were considerably faster than anyone else with a similar car.
The whole experience was amazing, it showed me that sim racing truly does teach you how to control a car on the limit, to heel-toe, and properly control a slide. As a sim racer, it doesn't get much more gratifying than that. But possibly more important, it showed me how a car which people are passionate about can do so much more than just provide a bit of fun behind the wheel; it can provide hope. I have come away from it with a new perspective of racing, sim racing, Mustangs and the passion which cars can inspire.
In the coming months I will be working to put together RaceDeparment's very own Cruise For a Cause, it may not have everything this one does, but it's sure to be a load of fun in support of cancer research. Be sure to keep an eye on the club forums for more info when the time comes.
To sum up, I will leave you with a question:
What car are you passionate about, and how substantially has your passion for the car affected your life?