This is one of the things I was looking forward to most of all. Driving a race prepped Mustang on Nola‘s amazing road course.
The official name is the Mustang FR500S. Originally made for the Miller Cup by Ford themselves, totted as Ford’s first official production racer in history. This was back in 2008. The FR500S was slotted in-between the SCCA Touring 2-style Mustang and the FR500C Grand Am car. Taking tidbits from GT500 as well as the FR500C. The engine is sealed from the factory with the only modifications being long tube headers, an x pipe, and fresh air intake. All engines are the 4.6L V8 and tuned for 325 HP. Miller Motorsports Park was the brain child behind it all. Since the end of the Mustang Challenge and the Miller Cup, the cars have been either sold to various people or totaled over the remaining years, which brings us to present day. Nola Motorsports Park purchased seven of these and put together a program called the Mustang Experience
The premise behind the Mustang Experience was to give people a chance to get behind the wheel of a purpose built race car. To see what its like to drive a rear race car on a real road course. The whole thing takes place over the course of three hours including classroom instruction, driver briefing, and a lot of seat time. Below I will give you my impression on the whole experience.
The day started off a little wet as the sunshine crested the horizon. The track workers were working diligently to remove any standing water from the previous night’s rainfall. Kevin Waterman took me out on course in his daily driver, a retired white police car. He showed me the layout of the course with a few laps and I picked out some spots to take some photos before class started.
After dropping me off on track, Kevin returned to the paddocks to meet up with Scott Foremaster, Kevin’s boss and Chief Driving Instructor. (Although Kevin might say differently. There seems to be some confusion as to who can officially claim that as their title)
I hear the rumble as the pair of FR500S race cars come to life and come on track. I radio to them my instructions and they proceed to perform a few laps for photos.
Not a bad way to start the day.
After I get the shots I need, the cars are parked back in the paddock area. Kevin does a once over on the cars being used for todays class while Scott heads up to the classroom to finish preparations.
The classroom is pretty standard stuff and Scott makes sure all questions are answered to your satisfaction. All and all, it is roughly 30 minutes. After Kevin finishes up with the cars in the paddock, he joins Scott in the classroom.
There is a fair amount of rib jabbing and overall good banter between the two. Kevin, as many of you may know by now, has a General Lee.
Yes. That one. The car from the Dukes of Hazzard.
One of the ongoing jokes is whenever Scott is talking to the class, he tries to make a point and NOT use the term ‘generally’ when addressing the students as this is usually the outcome. And Scott can’t stand it.
Scott “… so at this point in the day we generally like to…”
“General Lee?!?!” Kevin exclaims loudly.
“Ah, God Dammit Kevin…” Scott says as he shakes his head
I burst out laughing at the whole ordeal.
After the classroom, we are fitted for helmets and make our way down to the cars. The car’s safety equipment and general operations are gone over, as well as the instrumentation. The design of the instruction is a lead-follow style. Meaning the instructor is in the lead car and the students are in their own car following behind.
The first of three driving sessions is to familiarize yourself with the car and the track, as well as for the instructor to determine each student’s ability. One nice thing about this kind of instruction style is everyone gets a chance to be behind the instructor. Talking with Scott on this later, he said if they have a large group and the driving skills or comfort levels vary too much, they will generally split up the group into two separate groups of similar skill/comfort level. One with each instructor. This eliminates the stress of both groups, making it enjoyable for everyone. I thought that was a nice touch.
Luckily there was no need for that with today’s class. We suit up and get into our respective race cars, make our adjustments, and we’re off. At this point my heartbeat is building in crescendo. I have been waiting for this moment ever since it was first suggested back in April.
Needless to say as we exit pit lane, my smile only gets wider as I get deeper into the throttle. Now the first 20 minute session we are only driving at 40-50%. This may vary in how quickly or slowly we progress dependent upon the student’s skill level or prior experience. Both Kevin and Scott are very good at reading the student skill levels and adjusting accordingly.
As we get through the first session we head back into pit lane to change instructors and do a quick driver briefing. Everyone is excited and gives the thumbs up to start the next session.
Things start to pick up in tempo now and you really get a sense of the cars. The acceleration is great and sounds even better. The brakes are phenomenal as well. What really surprised me though was the handling. I expected the ass end to be dancing around a lot more being a solid rear axle. I have to say, Ford did an excellent job with the suspension. There are some rough, bumpy patches in the track’s braking area just before turn one, which will make the car dance a little bit under hard braking, but nothing uncontrollable. In the turns, it doesn’t push or give you snap oversteer. The chassis is very predictable and intuitive. Needless to say, I was very pleasantly surprised.
After the second session, we come in pit lane and exit the cars. By this time, the heat is radiating from the floorboards and firewall quite a bit. The ambient outside temp and humidity don’t help this. We pound some bottles of water and powerade to rehydrate. We talk about what to expect in the third and final session.
After everyone is cooled off and refreshed, we suit back up and get back in for our final session. Now this session is the fastest of the day. Its combining all we have learned about the cars, track, and our own ability in the 2 sessions prior.
This time, exiting pit lane, we step it up… a lot. We dive in turn one and the car just holds. Really impressive considering it’s a street tire (they run these cars in the dry or wet). I’m following closely behind the instructor. Following his line and enjoying the hell out of this. Lap after lap, I can feel myself improving. I learn from others where they are faster and try to exploit where I do better. Its not a race but the feeling of it all is nothing short of sublime.
I get it into 5th on the main straight pushing it well past 120 mph before braking hard into turn one. I know I could push it more and brake later but I don’t want to get into trouble. The speed is fun and I have been in faster cars, but where this race car really excels is, surprisingly, in the corners. A Ford Mustang being this fun on a twisty track is not what I was expecting.
The fun factor is hard to describe. I have missed this so much! If you are a car enthusiasts of any kind, you simply need to give this a try. You will not be disappointed.
The track at Nola is another Alan Wilson design. Where there is a nice blend of technical turns and just plain fun, smooth driving lines. My personal favorite is the back esses. It is the more technical part of the track for keeping your speed up, because if you don’t get your entry point correct it can be difficult to get back on the preferred driver’s line and still maintain a good speed. Bouncing off the curbing as you hit the apex of each curve is really rather rewarding.
After the end of the third session, the icing on the cake is the hot laps. This is where the instructors take the students out in the race cars and show them what they can really do. It is quite fun and I compiled a video to show you.
Nola Motorsports Park is a first class Gearhead’s retreat. They offer a little bit of something for everyone, all at a state of the art facility for you to enjoy.
Later that day, after Kevin wrapped up his affairs for the track, we ended the day with some go karts. Now at first glance, I thought to myself this has to be the largest karting track I have ever seen. Sure enough it is. Its the largest in America to date. They actually have two separate tracks. One for rentals and another for sanctioned racing.
There is always something going on at the track, with new events being added all the time. I can not recommend these fine people enough. They have always been very courteous, friendly, and outgoing. The staff runs a tip-top facility. The logistics of everything going on in the background, to make sure your visit is stellar each and every time, is very well executed. To the point where most people take it for granted and are none the wiser. That’s how seamless it all is.
The best way to keep up to date with Nola is to check our their website nolamotor.com or follow them on Facebook.
Thank you again to Kevin Waterman and Scott Foremaster for making this all happen. It’s an experience I will not soon forget and I am happy to share it with others. I would love to see the next progressive step for the Mustang Experience. For someone like myself who thoroughly enjoyed the experience and wants something more. You have rekindled my love of driving with the Mustang Experience and I have gotten the itch to do more racing!