The tires were howling, the engine was roaring, and the vehicle was leaned way over. There was the smell of toasted tires and brakes. Fortunately we were all wearing our fire suits. Were we on fire? No, but the seven of us trapped inside were either laughing, crying or praying. We were trapped inside the 10 passenger van with Mark the Merciless at the wheel.
Our class of 14 students was split into two groups, and Mark was taking half of us for a ride around the track . He was stopping at different sections, and we would get out to take a look at the track. Mark would explain the lines we should be using, braking points, and how far to look ahead from that point. It seemed so simple at the time. After our slow tour of the track, Mark gave us the "here's how you really do it" tour. I did not know a van could go so fast. It was the beginning of my two days at the Ford High Performance Driving School at Miller Motorsport Park (MMP). MMP is located near Tooele, Utah, about 40 minutes driving time West of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Ford Motor Company paid for the first day of school, the Boss Track Attack School. Ford paid for class because my wife and I bought a new Boss 302. Months later, our checkbook was still smoldering.
After reading some articles and talking to people at the school, I decided to pay for a second day of the School. You do have to pay for your own transportation, hotels, car rentals, etc. It seemed to me, that after spending that much money to get there and back, one day of driving was insufficient.
Monday night, starting at 6pm, was a reception for all the students. The fourteen of us driving and their guest meet in the museum. It has about 30 cars in it, all Fords: Cobras, GT40's, a Daytona Coupe, Mustangs, etc. Our tour guide made it much more interesting by telling us some stories about the cars.
The #1 GT40 Mark IV car was my favorite car and it was probably the best sports racing car of its time. Designed and built in the United States, it is one of only ten built. The significance of this model is its aluminum honey comb chassis and its mid-ships mounted 427 cid engine. Ford used their Aeronutronic Division to refine the vehicles high speed aerodynamics. In 1967 this car was capable of 230mph, more than 20 miles per hour faster than any other car of the time. It only raced twice, at Sebring and the 24 hours of Le Mans, winning both. The Ford factory withdrew from racing after those wins. I would have loved to hear that car start up.
After the tour, and bless their souls, they fed us dinner . Most of us had traveled all day to get there, and we were all hungry. The long distance award went to the two guys from Brazil. OK, so my trip from the East Coast wasn't that long after all. Each of us introduced ourselves and gave a short story of how and why we bought a Boss. Like me, most of the people in class had no racing or high performance driving experience. We were just a bunch of car nuts. The museum tour, dinner and the meeting lasted about two hours. MMP is about 4500' in altitude. We were warned that it is common for people to become dehydrated. There was always free bottles of Dasani water available. Alcoholic drinks were not advised.
The folks at MMP recommended the Hyatt in Salt Lake City and most of our class stayed there. It is a nice hotel, free breakfast, and a discounted rate for MMP students. There is a shuttle that runs back and forth to the airport, about ten minutes away.
For all of us driving, day 1 is the Boss Track Attack School. We met at 7:30am in the classroom next to the museum. There were notebooks for us to use, ID tags to wear and releases for us to sign. The Instructors introduced themselves and gave us a brief overview of the day to come. We spent most of the classroom time discussing racing lines, apexes, how important vision is and an occasional reminder to not ride the clutch. We were then fitted for fire suits and open face helmets, which are mandatory for all driving sessions. Getting in and out of a fire suit may require some yoga type body positions.
After the class session, we loaded ourselves into the vans and were driven, at a modest pace, over to the garage area where the cars were. It was a nice touch that each Boss had the name of the student on the windshield. My Boss was the Blue #1. They were all 2012 Boss 302 Laguna Seca's, the ones with the larger spoilers front and back and the back seat replaced with a chassis cross brace. All the Boss's are six speed manual transmissions. Each was fitted with a roll cage, a four point harness on the Recaro seats and upgraded free floating calipers on the brake disks. While the doors open to get in the car, one of the roll cage supports went across the side of the door and the roof part of the roll cage is in a place where you had to watch your head. You have to slide your way in and out of the seat, and the first time you fasten the belts you can use a little help.
On command, we fired them up, and with the Red Key. They are a little bit noisier with the quad exhausts open, but not annoyingly so. You do not need ear plugs even though the windows were always down. We did a lead and follow for the first track session. Keeping a reasonable gap between the cars, we took turns following our instructor. When he did a "Point By", a hand out the window, that car would pull to the inside line and let all the other cars by, then fall in at the end. There is no radio communication. The idea was to have everyone see the correct driving lines. While they did their best to show us those lines in class and on the track, all of us were amazingly good at finding our own lines later in the day. The pace of the first session was surprisingly quick and it set the tone for the rest of the school.
The rest of the day alternated between classroom and track time. In class, we always drank water then reviewed what was going well and not so well on the track. We always discussed how to improve our driving skills. In one track session, we were flagged into pit lane. There we belted ourselves into a car with the instructor driving. The instructors did not hold back. If I had not been in the car, I would not have believed how fast Bosses are through the corners. Reading about it or watching a video is not the same thing as being belted into one. When we drove back into the garage, there was the smell of hot tires and brakes.
Not only were the instructors very helpful in the classroom, but it turns out they were very brave also. Anytime you wished a "ride along", an instructor would strap himself into the passenger seat of your car, and with prayer beads clenched in hand, he would let you show him what a terrific driver you were. I'm sure the instructors have many funny stories to tell. After a lap, they would make suggestions on how to drive quicker; perhaps turn a little sooner, brake a little later, look further ahead, remember to breathe, and try not to run over the cones. Perhaps the biggest problems for most of us was that we are not used to driving at these speeds. For example, if you are driving just over a hundred miles an hour, you are covering a football field in two seconds. You have to look and drive far ahead.
The MMP track is over four miles long for the full course. It is laid out in such a manner that it can be used as two separate tracks. We used the East track on our first day and the West track on the second day. There is a great variety of increasing and decreasing radius turns, positive and negative camber turns, elevation changes and a combination of all built into the track. The short straights gave us a moment to catch our breath. While the track changes keep you busy, the variety is great as a learning experience.
Our first day ended in the classroom. Each driver got a Boss Track Attack T-shirt, a Diploma, some decals and a trophy made out of a real Boss 302 rod and piston. It was mounted on a plate that read "Ford Racing Boss Track Attack Miller Motorsport Park" with your name and date of the class on it. Very cool. We also received, at no charge, a flash drive with about five hundred pictures on it of our days' adventures. The on track photos were shot by Joe Salas www.4theriders.com. The instructors asked how many of us would be back the next day, as it is common for many people to do so. Somewhat to their surprise, all of us raised our hands. We were a pretty racy group.
Day two started off with a different mindset than day one. Mark explained in the classroom how day one was an "experience". We drove a race prepped Boss Mustang, drove on a race track, learned about lines, apexes, flags, braking points, shift points (fortunately the cars have rev limiters), passing and being passed. At the end of day one we were a pretty happy and tired group. Day two, he said, starts out where day one left off. Today we were going to "tighten up the belts and go fast". There was a moment of silence after that statement.
Day two also alternated between the classroom and track. Our Bosses were put away and we used Mustang GT's, prepped very similarly to the Bosses. The #24 was mine for the day. FR500's are available for an extra charge. We got another ride with an instructor, except we got to hold the prayer beads this time. We spent less time in the classroom and more time on the track this day. Except for a little bit of time when they served lunch, there is no free time on either day. Your days are tightly scheduled.
A couple of new things to do in addition to the track time. Early in the day we drove the skid car. It was a Ford Fusion and underneath it were outriggers. The outriggers elevated the car slightly so that it had very little traction. Something like driving on ice. We had to negotiate a parking lot with little orange cones in it. If you enjoy driving sideways, backwards and doing loops, you will really like this car. Also very educational, as later in our "go faster" day, some of us would be on the track going sideways, backwards and doing loops.
On another part of the facility we did "heal and toe" practice. We would get the car up to speed, then while braking, blip the throttle to match the rear wheel speed and then downshift. Not doing so is hard on the transmission and differential, and of course if you do it really wrong, you can watch the back end of the car pass you by. The harder you brake, the easier it is to do because the brake pedal is pushed down closer to the throttle. Fortunately, my big feet made this easier to do this with one side of my foot on the brake and the other side on the gas. It takes practice.
Since we were using the Red Key, we got to try the Launch Control Track Application. With the RPM set at 3500, you pushed the throttle to the floor, then quickly released the clutch. It works well.
We were encouraged to push it a little bit, and as we drove better, the cars worked better. The instructors would do a ride along with you this day also. There was a certain amount of irony involved in my last track session. I asked for a ride along, and Andy strapped himself into my car. I did a lap, then on the next lap he started making suggestions on how to drive the track better. There I am, driving a hundred miles an hour or so, breaking hard and pushing the car thru the corners as fast as I can and we were having a normal toned conversation on how to go faster.
At the end of the second day we received a Ford Racing School T-shirt, a diploma and a nice clear plastic frame with a picture of a Mustang in it with your name and date on it. It was also engraved stating you were a graduate of the Ford High Performance Racing School. Everyone got a round of applause as they received their swag. Then the class gave the Instructors a round of applause for being so helpful and positive in helping us. Mark commented that he was surprised that all of us finished the second day of class. Normally, one or two people will not finish because they are physically and/or mentally exhausted.
I don't know how many miles or laps we drove. In two days I never looked at the speedometer so I don't know how fast we went. I do know that after the end of the second day it was enough. My arms, shoulders and neck were sore for the next couple of days and I exercise regularly. My adrenalin level was on empty. The second day of school was really worth it. Ford and MMP have done a very nice job together in presenting this school and are to be commended for it. MMP also has a Raptor truck school and a Yamaha motorcycle school. You can look them up at www.millermotorsportspark.com.
Most trips have a point where you can say, "my vacation is over". For me, it happened the next morning. On the airplane to go home, I put on my seat belt, then reached for the shoulder belts. I had a really good time.