Tag Archives: Cars

Spinning My Wheels

Spinning My Wheels

Ford’s public-relations department reduces a Mustang test drive to a pony ride.

September 21, 2006 

The invitation arrived the week before September 1: The Shelby GT500 will be in Birmingham next week . . . as part of a 16-city tour. We’d love to get you behind the wheel of the vehicle while we’re in town. Right now, we’re in the process of securing some track time for members of the media to drive the vehicle at Barber Motorsports Park. If you can’t make it out there, we’d be happy to bring the car to you.

I couldn’t wait. The chance to drive a 2007 GT500, promoted as “the boldest, most powerful factory-built Ford Mustang ever,” was a dream come true. As I would soon learn, my first mistake was trusting Ford’s public relations spiel.

Arriving 20 minutes before my scheduled 10 a.m. drive, my Ford contact called to say that his crew would be late returning to the track from an appearance at a local television station. It would be 10:45 before I would get to hop in the car. To kill time, I wandered among some 1,000 vintage and modern Mustangs that were on hand for the 30th Anniversary Mustang Stampede, an event sponsored by a Mustang enthusiast club. Proud owners wiped fingerprint smudges off their cars while boasting of the engines under their respective hoods. Some spoke of automotive design legend Carroll Shelby, who began designing cars for Ford with the Cobra in 1962 and Mustangs in 1965. Shelby, a Texas chicken farmer who won the 1959 Le Mans (in overalls and cowboy boots, no less), recently reunited with Ford to update the GT500 and other Shelby Mustangs of the 1960s.

Auto designer Carroll Shelby in 1963. (click for larger version)


As my time neared, my Ford contact approached me apologetically with bad news: my drive in the GT500 would now be delayed until 11:40. Apparently the track time Ford had promised was being shared with Mustang club members taking their cars out for a spin. Skepticism prompted me to ask, “I will get to drive, right?” My contact muttered back, “I think so.” So at 11:35, when a Ford test driver handed me a helmet as he directed me to the passenger seat, I knew I’d been had. My test drive was now a test ride. But since I would be in a GT500 on an honest-to-God racetrack, at race speeds (the Shelby GT500 has a top speed of 150 mph), I anticipated a thrill.

I was wrong. The “test driver” was actually a Ford spokesman who had been feverishly promoting the Mustang GT all morning as though he were a sweaty, desperate car salesman. He continued the sales pitch as we buckled up. After being forced to return to the driver-certification tent twice because the now-irritated Ford rep had not secured the proper wristbands (color-coded for driver or rider), we finally zoomed onto the track. The rep apologized profusely through his helmet for the endless delays, though I could barely hear him. Telling me I would feel the G-force pushing on my sternum, he whipped us through a couple of turns before spotting a caution flag for a spunout 1966 Mustang. Slowing down, the test driver apologized for not being able to get up to speed as I wondered where the G-forces were hiding. We ran one more lap, but the track remained under caution; I felt silly wearing a racing helmet while traveling 60 mph, and was so bored I had my arm resting outside the car window. The Ford rep reached over and angrily snatched it back inside.

“Roaring” back into the pit area, the GT500 came to an abrupt halt and the Ford rep revved the engine as if to prove a point. He apologized again for the lame ride. I said that was OK and walked toward the parking lot, feeling like a sucker. My grandfather would have laughed. He always hated Fords. He used to laugh that children getting pony rides at the state fair got a bigger thrill than those poor souls who drove Fords. My family has owned nothing but GM and Chrysler vehicles for as long as I can remember. I never would have guessed that my biggest thrill that morning would be hitting 110 mph in my seven-year-old Dodge Stratus while driving back to Birmingham—without wearing a helmet. &


The Fine Art of Maneuvering


July 14, 2005

he Porsche 250, the mid-season stop in the Grand American Road Racing series, returns to the Barber Motorsports Park July 29 through 31. The race features different classifications of sports cars—futuristic Daytona Prototypes and GT sports cars such as Porsches and Corvettes—competing at the same time over the Barber road course’s 2.3 miles of 16 twisting turns. This year’s race takes place during an off weekend for NASCAR, and rumor has it that a few NASCAR stars may join some of the multi-driver teams for a few laps.


Daytona Prototypes battle for position at the Barber track.




The Barber Motorsports Park boasts one of the most challenging (and lushly gorgeous) road circuits in America. Landing an event as prestigious as a Grand American series race has put Birmingham on the map as a destination point for sports-car enthusiasts—a culture that appreciates the fine art of maneuvering an automobile at breathtaking speeds through a maze of turns, alternately braking before flooring the accelerator. Fans brag that it’s much more of a sweet science than NASCAR’s flat-out but often-boring round–and round predictability. It’s kind of like comparing boxing to wrestling.

The Daytona Prototypes are quite a sight. Resembling a variation on Hollywood’s designs of the Batmobile, the sleek cars are like nothing the average stock car fan has seen. Despite their high-tech appearance, the Prototypes are not above banging fenders as they spin one another off the track, which ought to give local NASCAR fans a thrill. For more information, visit www.barbermotorsports.com or call 1-800-240-2300.