Six Contestants of the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge Shootout Reflect on Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience TOOELE, Utah, 15 September, 2010 - It's not often that an organization flies six-people, all expenses paid, to a racetrack so they can ...
Six Contestants of the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge Shootout Reflect on Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience
TOOELE, Utah, 15 September, 2010 - It's not often that an organization flies six-people, all expenses paid, to a racetrack so they can drive race cars for free under the watchful eyes of the some of the most respected instructors in the business. That assertion is not disingenuous corporate-speak, but rather the sincere words of Michael Maduske one of the participants in the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge shootout, a collaboration between BFGoodrich Tires, the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge, and the Ford Racing HIgh Performance Driving School.
The other five included eventual grand prize winner Dean Thomas, along with the aforementioned Maduske and Chris Neria, Eddie Nakato, Sean Johnston and Pat Wilmot.
Having participated in two intensive days of driver training and lapping at the Ford Racing High Performance Driving Training Center in which they had to earn the vote of the Mustang Challenge judging panel for the prize of a drive in the series finale at Miller Motorsports Park, the six drivers were still walking on a cloud. Each driver came with the aspiration of earning a break to embark on a career into professional racing.
Maduske, Nakato and Thomas all have established careers, yet the dream of racing professionally hasn't waned, but rather, grown stronger. Johnston, Neria and Wilmot land on the other end of the scale, each still young enough to have not embarked on a life path in order to remain focused on their vocation of choice. Beyond the track time, coaching, and enjoying a stay in White Lodging Marriott locations, each of of the six shootout contestants earned a prize for their outstanding participation. Thomas, of course, earned a start in both of the season finale races at Miller Motorsports Park as his grand prize, and showed extremely well in both races.
Johnston and Wilmot were awarded a race weekend in a Spring of 2011 Miller Park Racing Association event behind the wheel of a Miller Mustang. Maduske, Nakato and Neria each earned a set of BF Goodrich tires.
On Friday afternoon, after the group enjoyed a special tire technology seminar hosted by BF Goodrich, we sat down to get their impressions of the experience:
Mustang Challenge: What did you do to prepare when you learned you had been selected for the Shootout?
Eddie Nakato: I think my preparation was likely a little different from the others. I own and run my own auto service center so I had to make sure that everything would be in place so that I could leave for almost a week to do this. I checked in with them this morning and the place hasn't burned down, so I guess it worked out.
Michael Maduske: I watched a lot of in-car video since I've never been to Miller Motorsports Park. I was also able to drive laps using a simulation program which further helped get familiar with the track.
Pat Wilmot: I watched a lot of video too, especially in-car video from (two-time Mustang Challenge champion) Andrew Caddell. It's also only my second year in a car, so I did a lot of studying of vehicle dynamic and particularly learning about compression and rebound. There were many late nights.
Sean Johnston: It's my first time in a sedan, so I talked to as many people as I could about what to expect and how to drive the Mustang and the track. Otherwise, I stepped up my fitness training to make sure I wasn't going to fatigue in a 45-minute or longer session and, lastly, I focussed on my mental preparation. I knew that once we got here it was going to be flat out, and I didn't want to let the pressure get the better of me.
Chris Neria: Miller is my home track so I was comfortable with the track and the surroundings right away. I've spent the last year really focussing on karting, so I had to go back and relearn the dynamics of driving a bigger car.
Dean Thomas: I talked to as many people as I could - judges, participants, coaches - who have experience in shoot-outs like this, including Andrew Caddell's father Roger. It helped me to understand what the goals are from the Mustang Challenge's perspective. I also talked to people about the Mustang and the track and just generally tried to learn as much as I could about every part of the challenge and what the Series is looking for.
Mustang Challenge: What did you agonize over more, making your application video, or driving in the Shootout?
Maduske: I was most apprehensive about the media interview portion of the shootout. I'm very comfortable speaking in front of audiences or for business, and I'm also building a career as a voice-over artist, but for some reason, the interview portion had me the most worked up.
Wilmot: The driving for sure.
Nakato: Yeah the driving for me as well. I know I did well in the media interview, but the driving was what it all came down to. The video wasn't a big deal.
Mustang Challenge: Yes, but you're whole entry hinged on the video. Without a good video, you wouldn't be here to start with.
Nakato: That's true, but still for me it was still the driving.
Thomas: We had weeks to agonize over the video, but the driving was just a few sessions over two days. That's a limited amount of time to perform. For me the most anxiety came when we finally got to see times and know how fast the other guys were going.
Johnston: I wasn't as anxious about the driving as I was the car.
Neria: Yeah, it was the car for me as well, again, only because it's been a while since I drove one on the track and it's a huge change from the handling characteristics of a kart.
Mustang Challenge: How would you sum up your experience?
Neria: Having the facility together with school, instructors and cars at our disposal was super impressive as well as the level of all the guys in the competion. The program made sense from start to finish.
Nakato: Fantastic from start to finish. From the whole concept right down to the execution, everything has been great.
Johnston: I feel like I'm a better driver than when I got here. And, the contacts I've made just through doing this I hope will serve me well down the road as I try to make a name for myself in this sport.
Maduske: It was an education both on the track and off of it. You can't put a price on stuff like this.
Thomas: Incredible. I've been an amateur racer for 6 years and never had any formal training. Having that opportunity to learn from instructors like Joe Foster and Dan McKeever was something I'd never have gotten if not for this. I believe that even if I hadn't of won, I'd have left this experience all the better for it.
Mustang Challenge: Last question specifically goes to Dean. As the winner, how do you expect this to change your trajectory in racing?
Thomas: Let's see how I do this weekend. The real test is today and tomorrow. If I can make a good showing, then may be this could be something to leverage for the future.