After three seasons, the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge will run its final round Sept. 12 at the course that started it all, Miller Motorsports Park. The park announced earlier this week that the series, created in partnership with Ford Racing and sponsored by BFGoodrich Tires, would not continue past this season.
“We are disappointed to not continue what we started with the Mustang Challenge,” said series director Lynda Randall. “But we should hold our heads high, as this was a tremendously successful program and we were fortunate to get to be a part of what really became a family.
“Our drivers raced hard during the day and tended to laugh hard -- together -- when they were out of the cars. We will miss the great mixture of competition and camaraderie, as well as the great racing, that we came to love in Mustang Challenge. This was not the decision that we wanted to have to make, but we wanted to let our racers know what the future held and we want to close the year out with some very big races at Autobahn and, of course, at Miller.”
The Mustang Challenge was first announced at the SEMA show in November 2007, introduced as the first national race series to be run by a track as Miller Motorsports Park developed and managed the program under the leadership of Randall. Sanctioned by Grand-AM from the outset, Mustang Challenge visited classic tracks across the continent from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to Watkins Glen to Mosport to Lime Rock Park.
With racers of almost every age, Mustang Challenge helped foster the careers of young racers -- thanks in part to coaching and advice from Ford Racing High Performance Driving School during the race weekends -- and attracted established racing names including Jack Roush, Jr., Andy Lally, Bucky Lasek, and Vaughn Gittin, Jr.
It also proved to be an ideal competitive outlet for drivers like George Winkler, Pete Crosby, and Steve Phillips, who had little racing experience before joining the series in 2008. More experienced drivers including Pratt Cole, Dan Aweida, Tony Buffomante, and Jim Click also found the racing to be both fun and competitive as the championship grew from eight rounds in 2008 to eleven races in 2010.
Running on the same tracks with the same rule structure saw several drivers take the experience they gained with them to move up the Grand-AM ladder, with Andrew Caddell, Ted Anthony Jr., Zach Lutz, Brad Adams, Steve Phillips, and Andrew Hendricks just a few of the drivers to make that progression.
After Trans-Am Champion Dorsey Schroeder flew the first green flag at Road Atlanta for the series debut race in May 2008, a clear contender for the championship emerged in the form of Andrew Caddell, who was the only driver to be personally handed the Miller Cup by Larry H. Miller before Miller’s untimely passing in February 2009. Caddell returned to the series in 2009 and emerged from a season-long battle with Ted Anthony Jr., to score his second Mustang Challenge title.
The series dedicated all charity efforts toward the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer starting in late 2008, and through the efforts of the teams and drivers raised over $100,000 in goods and service for the cause to date. That number will be further boosted by efforts set to take place through the close of the season, as well as with the auction of the custom-built Hurst Ford Racing Mustang Pace Car that has been the only thing to run in front of the Mustang Challenge pack this season and will go across the blocks at Barrett-Jackson in January.
The 2010 season finale will not be the last that the series will be heard from. Far from it, as the Ford Racing Championship Package will once again see the winner of the Championship take on the high banks of Daytona in the season-opening Grand-AM Sports Car Challenge race as part of the championship prize.
In addition, the Ford Mustang FR500S, which made Ford history as the first-ever production vehicle to go straight to the track, will continue to be eligible for competition in a variety of series. The end of its signature series might mean a few Mustang racers out there available for less than the $75,000 original price.
Drivers and teams were sad to hear of the decision to close the series out at the conclusion of the 2010 racing season.
“It is with mixed emotions that we announce the end of the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge,” offered Miller group president Greg Miller. “On a personal level it has been fun and exhilarating for me to have been a part of this series from the time of the earliest discussions between Ford Racing and MMP. I have enjoyed watching the series develop over the years. I have developed many valuable friendships as a result of this series. I am grateful to all the participants and their families, the sponsors and those who administered the series for their support.”
“I relished being involved with the process of the birth of this exciting series and watching it develop and grow through the three years,“ said Jamie Allison, Ford North America Motorsports director. “For me, the highlight wasn’t as much anything in particular I saw on the track or a specific race. It was a combination of watching these great Mustangs perform on the track and seeing the incredible feeling of community that developed in the series among the competitors and organizers. I’m personally sad about this, but will carry fond memories of the series.“
“The Ford Racing Mustang Challenge has been an excellent partner for Grand-AM, so we are naturally disappointed that 2010 will be the last season of operation for the series,” said David Spitzer, Grand-AM vice president of competition. “Thank you to the Miller family, Ford, and the entire Miller Motorsports Park organization for what they have been able to accomplish since the inception of the Mustang Challenge. The Mustang Challenge events were a fantastic added feature for our fans during many of our race weekends, and we were so happy to met and get to work with everyone involved in the Mustang Challenge family. It was an honor to be a part of the program and we are working hard to create opportunities for these racers to continue to race in the Grand-AM family in the future.”
The Mustang Challenge will return to action with one race weekend ahead of the Miller finale as the series returns to Autobahn Raceway outside of Chicago for the penultimate race weekend of the championship as Tony Buffomante and Jason von Kluge take the championship battle to the Midwest.