Mustang MonthlyNews & Views
Best of Ford Mustang Racing - Need for Speed
The Mustang has made a name for itself in many forms of automotive competition
The names are legendary: Shelby, Holman-Moody, Tasca, Bud Moore, Roush, and Saleen; and those are just the builders. Famous racing names like Jerry Titus, Hubert Platt, Gas Ronda, Parnelli Jones, Tommy Kendall, John Force, and Vaughn Gittin Jr. have all had their names on the roofs of Mustang race cars. Since the first win at a European road rally in 1964, Mustangs have visited victory lane and hoisted championship trophies in road racing, drag racing, drifting, NASCAR oval track, and other forms of competition. Here’s a look at some of Mustang’s greatest moments in racing.
The First Win
With the need to establish a “sports car” reputation in Europe, Ford launched a campaign for the Mustang to compete in European road rallies. England’s Alan Mann Racing was enlisted to build three hardtops with engine help from Holman-Moody. In September 1965, drivers Andrew Cowan and Peter Procter drove their Mustang to victory (eighth place overall) in the Touring class in the Tour de France Automobile rally, a 10-day race through France, marking the first-ever racing victory for Ford’s new Mustang.
Shelby to the Rescue
With Ford and Chrysler tied for the Trans-Am points lead with one race remaining in the inaugural 1966 season, Ford enlisted Shelby American to enter a Group II hardtop to beef up Mustang’s chances. Shelby’s ace driver Jerry Titus drove the number 1 Mustang to victory at Riverside, winning the first Trans-Am championship—one of many to follow for Mustang.
Long-nose Drag Cars
They were wild and funny—hence the nickname “funny cars.” Piloted by top Ford drivers like Gas Ronda, Hubert Platt, Dick Brannan, and Bill Lawton (pictured in his Tasca-sponsored car), the Mustangs built for the NHRA’s new A/FX class were called “long-nose” because of their altered wheelbase. They jumped, bounced, and flew down the quarter-mile as they entertained drag race enthusiasts at match races around the country.
Terlingua Racing Team
The Terlingua Racing Team was little more than a joke between Carroll Shelby and his hard-partying buddies, who often frequented Shelby’s “ghost town” in Terlingua, Texas, for a little R&R. But the team was no joke to other 1967 Trans-Am competitors when the name appeared on a Shelby-built ’67 Mustang hardtop driven by Jerry Titus. Painted in what Shelby described as “God-awful Yellow,” the Terlingua Mustang won four races in 1967 to help nab the Mustang’s second straight Trans-Am championship.
Cobra Jet Wins
Driver Al Joniec was the man of the hour when he won the 1968 NHRA Winternationals Super Stock Eliminator in his ’68 Mustang fastback powered by Ford’s new 428 Cobra Jet engine. It was a great start to a new era of Mustang performance.
Boss of Trans-Am
After a dismal showing in 1968 and an accident-filled 1969, Mustang returned to the top of Trans-Am in 1970 with a dominating performance by Bud Moore’s ’70 Boss 302s. Drivers Parnelli Jones (pictured) and George Follmer won six of the season’s 11 races to nail down a third trans-Am championship for Mustang.
With grassroots drag racing’s increasing popularity at strips around the U.S., Ford took its show on the road with the Ford Drag Team. Using CJ-powered Mustangs and Torinos loaded onto Ford haulers with trailers, the Drag Team consisted of drivers Hubert Platt (pictured) and Randy Payne on the East Coast, with Ed Terry and Dick Wood covering the West Coast. Along the way, they visited Ford dealers to hold drag racing clinics.
Back on Top
After more than 10 years of racing inactivity, the Mustang returned to the top of American road racing in 1985 with an IMSA GTO championship for the Motorcraft-sponsored Mustang driven by Wally Dallenbach, Doc Bundy, and 19 year-old John Jones.
In 1987, Steve Saleen quantified his Saleen Mustangs by winning the Escort Endurance championship with a pair of Saleen Mustangs. One of his drivers was Rick Titus, son of 1960s Shelby driver Jerry Titus.
Roush Takes Over
Ford’s decision to turn its road racing activities over to Jack Roush resulted in a number of championships in the 1980s, including 1989 Trans-Am championship by Dorsey Schroeder in a 25th anniversary Mustang.
From a grassroots drag racing movement, 5.0-liter Mustang drag racing evolved into serious competition, including a Pro 5.0 class that pitted the top cars against each other in heads-up action. Competitors like Gene Deputy built cars in a variety of combinations, from turbocharged to nitrous, to eventually run sub 8-second quarter-mile times.
A Grand Effort
Steeda Autosports’ ’95 Cobra R, driven by Boris Said and Shawn Hendrick, won more IMSA Grand Sport races than all other Cobra Rs combined during 1995 and 1996. Led by the Steeda effort, the Cobra Rs missed the 1996 Grand Sport championship by one point.
Roush Racing Mustangs won all 13 races during the 1997 Trans-Am, including 11 by Tommy Kendall in his All-Sport Mustang Cobra.
May the Force Be With You
Professional Funny Car drive John Force switched from Pontiac to Mustang in 1997 and hasn’t looked back. He’s won nine Funny Car championships in a Mustang body. Well, it sorta looks like a Mustang…
Bringing Home a Championship
Ford put together a valiant effort for the new Boss 302 in the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sport Challenge, but it was Paul Brown who earned a championship for the new Boss when he won the GTS class championship for the 2011 World Challenge.
Forty Years Later
Exactly 40 years after Al Joniec won the 1968 NHRA Winternationals in a ’68 Cobra Jet Mustang John Calvert drove a new Cobra Jet Mustang, based on Ford Racing’s FR500CJ, to victory at the 2008 Winternationals. As a tribute to the original Cobra Jets, the ’08 Mustang, owned by Brent Hajek, was painted and lettered just like Joniec’s car from four decades earlier.
Gittin with the Drift
The Mustang entered the relatively new world of Formula Drift in 2005, but it wasn’t until Vaughn Gittin Jr. took over the reins in 2008 that attitude merged with talent to place the Mustang among drifting’s elite. Gittin Jr. won the 2010 Formula Drift championship and remains one of the most popular drivers on the circuit with his ’14 Mustang.
Nationwide is on Your Side
With NASCAR’s switch to “musclecars” for its second-tier Nationwide series in 2010, the Mustang entered the big-time world of high-profile racing. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., in the number 6 Roush Fenway Racing Mustang, won the Nationwide championship in 2011 and 2012.
Shelby’s Sports Car
The launch of the Mustang in the spring of 1964 was an obvious success, but Ford’s Lee Iacocca desired more. With the introduction of the fastback in the summer of 1964, Iacocca wanted to polish the Mustang’s image as a sports car by competing in road racing. He turned to racer-turned-car-builder Carroll Shelby, who transformed 289 Hi-Po fastbacks into Shelby GT 350s. In January 1965, Shelby sent a crew, including drivers Ken Miles and Bob Bondurant, to Willow Spring Raceway in California to test the first GT 350 competition model.
During 1965, the Shelby “R-Models,” as they became known, dominated the SCCA’s B-Production class, with Shelby team driver Jerry Titus winning the national championship.