For most of us, the concept of turning 40 is not something we really want to celebrate. Needing more than 39 candles is reason enough to send us into denial. For Mustang fans, it's quite the opposite. They've gleefully celebrated other reluctant milestones such as 30 and 35 with aplomb. Cars, unlike people, seem to get better and better with age, so we had big expectations for the Mustang's 40th Anniversary celebration, but we had no idea just how big it would be.
On opening day, Ford Motor Company flew in such luminaries as Edsel Ford, Carroll Shelby, John Force, Steve Lyons (president, Ford Division), and a host of former and current Mustang designers to kick off the party. Ford racing guru and high-performance Mustang builder Jack Roush flew over Nashville Superspeedway in his P-51 Mustang-and that was all before lunch. There were celebrity interviews and autograph sessions. Thursday and Friday had a solid turnout, which reminded us of the crowds and cars at the prior anniversary shows.
Then Saturday hit and the show swelled. After weeks of hype, show announcements on morning news programs and in national newspapers, approximately 110,000 spectators were inspired to head through the gates to check out 3,300 Mustangs. Three hundred cars were in the ultra-stock, high-end concours area, while the other 3,000 held court in the judge's-choice area. Vintage cars were on one side of the grandstand, late-models were on the other side, and the concours cars were in the middle under the shade of the grandstand. There were so many Mustangs attempting to enter the show, some were turned away. Many of those added their own informal rows to the official show.
By Sunday the big noise had passed, and the Mustang Club of America was already looking ahead to the 45th Anniversary Show. Mark your calendars for April 17, 2009. By the looks of 40, 45 is looking better than ever.
Track StarsA highlight of Saturday afternoon was the late-model celebrity race. Some of the drivers were big in the Mustang industry, but just as many were hot shoes in sponsored rides. There was everything from Tommy Kendall's undefeated Trans Am car to NASA American Iron racers on the track. It didn't really matter, though, because the individual battles between the similar cars made it really entertaining to watch.
Two battles in particular kept our camera shutter clicking. First was the battle between Steeda's latest 20 car and Kenny Brown's 5.0 car. These cars were running bumper to bumper through the turns, and there was just a little rubbing to go with that racing pitting Steeda's blown Two-Valve versus Kenny Brown's naturally aspirated Four-Valve in the Production class. Meanwhile, a pair of NASA American Iron cars, the Steeda-sponsored 21 car and the Latemodel Restoration Supply-sponsored 23 car, were running neck-and-neck the entire time. The LRS car driven by John George won the B class.
Apparently, the crowds were as intrigued by the road racing as we were, as the grandstands were crowded for the vintage and late-model sessions.