Ford Racing Mustang Challenge Racer Spotlight: George Winkler May 19, 2010--This season marks George Winkler's third full season of racing in the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge, and he shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. Winkler, part of the...
Ford Racing Mustang Challenge Racer Spotlight: George Winkler
May 19, 2010--This season marks George Winkler's third full season of racing in the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge, and he shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. Winkler, part of the original class when the Series first ran in 2008, he has risen from a relative novice road racer to front-runner. The 2010 season is shaping up to be his breakout year, and he started on the right foot as he made his debut Mustang Challenge podium appearance at Homestead.
Like many racers and auto enthusiasts, Winkler credits his father, who worked on vintage jeeps, for sparking his passion. He was enraptured with anything that had a motor and the thirst for competition came early. Beginning with motocross, he went on to have a 26 year affair with drag racing. There, he ran everything from stock to dragsters in NHRA National Divisional events.
Now 52 years of age, it wasn't until 2007 that he truly discovered road racing, which came a bit fortuitously.
After buying a new Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, his wife, Kelli, found an ad in an enthusiast publication for the "Great American Run," sometimes referred to as the "Cannonball Run," from New York City to Santa Monica, California. They ended up finishing 11th out of 122 cars entered; however, the eye-opening moment came when they had a chance to do laps at Willow Springs Raceway. After going round enough to sip through four tanks of gas, Winkler decided it was time to go road racing.
After starting by getting as much time as he could at three different tracks during the open track day events, Winkler began competing, and winning, in NASA-sanctioned events.
"I never realized how relatively easy it was to go road racing," recalled Winkler.
A year later, when the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge was announced at SEMA, the Frederick, Maryland resident saw it as the opportunity to graduate from the amateur to pro-level racing. He signed on for the first season and hasn't looked back.
"This is such a fun series. The people are wonderful, and I've made friends here in a way I couldn't have imagined. We compete hard on the track, but away from it, we share glasses of wine and go on trips together," says Winkler. "And, the Series itself is geared toward making the competition fair, cost effective and open to drivers still developing their skills," he goes on to say.
After three seasons, he claims he's still learning, but that he has come a long way since that first race at Road Atlanta in May of 2008. Citing an improved focus and ability to cope with mistakes, Winkler now feels more in control of the race car, leading to better performance on and off of the race track.
For 2010, Winkler made a significant change in his approach to race weekends. His crew is now comprised of his sons and wife. Together they work on the car, a nuts and bolts, hands on approach that suits Winkler fine. Winkler concedes that the Mustang Challenge family is a close one, and that they are always available to lend a hand when needed, as he would do for them.
Away from the track, Winkler Automotive Service Center in Gaithersburg, Maryland, has been the cornerstone of Winkler's success for over 28 years. The center services domestic as well as Asian and German imports. He prides himself in having his business continue to flourish despite the misnomer common among new car owners that the dealership is their only recourse when it comes to maintaining their car.
"Even if we lose a customer after they've purchased a new car, they always end up coming back when the warranty expires or even earlier when they realize that we offer better service at better prices without voiding any warranty," he says with confidence.
You get the sense very quickly that Winkler is not a man prone to sitting around and watching life pass by. If he's not at his business, or racing, he's buying, selling and tinkering with hot rods, muscle cars or riding his Harley. He and Kelli, have ridden in all lower 48 states. And, as if to say that racing in the Mustang Challenge Series was not enough of an affinity for the marque, the Winkler family are the proud owners of six Mustangs among them.
He may still be seeking his first win, but Winkler confides that satisfaction comes as the result of having run the best race he could have on the day.
"I'm definitely my own worst critic," he says. "But, when I know that performed at my best, bringing home a clean car, I can rest easy. There are some younger guys in the Series who are really fast, but I know a win isn't far off. In general I feel like each race was better than the last one, regardless of the finishing position because it's just that much more knowledge that I've gained."
That in a nutshell offers the measure of the man. He doesn't begrudge anyone their success; he works hard at earning his, and he's always looking forward to the next race.
Winkler's VIR race weekend hit a rough spot as a run to an encore podium was thwarted by an off-course excursion at the Oak Tree. After the race, WInkler was able to not just diagnose what was going to need to be fixed on the car, but with three years of turning left and right under his belt, he was also able to analyze exactly what had happened... "I got a wheel off, and just kept my foot in it...even though I KNEW better! We'll get them next time..."
That attitude, which saw him score recognition from his peers at the close of the inaugural season as he was selected to receive the "Setting the Standard Award" after showing teamwork, sportsmanship, and a strong measure of both camaraderie and competitiveness throughout the season, will see Winkler back at Lime Rock Park in two weeks time looking for another run to the podium as he checks off another new accomplishment in the Mustang Challenge.