Last month, I traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah as a guest of the Ford Motor Company. The Detroit automaker wanted to show off the newest, sportiest version of its premier sports car, the Mustang (est. 1964 ½), and the best way to do that was to give me and a few other “lifestyle” journalists a few words of instruction before tossing us the keys to a fleet of 2013 Mustang BOSS 302‘s and letting us loose on a test track. Not surprisingly, the whole experience was a blast, but screwing on my journalist cap for a while, I’ll chronicle my takeaway as objectively as possible.
The 2013 Ford BOSS Mustang 302 is one bad-ass car, and it made me feel like a big man. The right car can do wonders for your confidence. I’m a New Yorker and don’t drive very often, so when I emerged from the hotel to see eight colorful new Mustangs parked in front, just for us, it was thrilling. I picked a blue one and headed to the track. It growled like a beast, handled like a dream, and got all kinds of looks as I cruised down the streets of Salt Lake City on the way to Miller Motorsports Park. It didn’t take long to convince myself that this car suits me perfectly, and that I shouldn’t be forced to give it back. I tried my hardest to stick to the speed limit on the highway, but this car is a powerful drug – it’s hard not to abuse it.
It’s not just a bad-ass car because it’s hellishly quick (444 horsepower, 0-60 in 4.2 seconds) and corners like it’s on rails. It’s a bad-ass car because it does these things without costing a fortune like the Ferraris and Lamborghinis that it can damn near keep up with. You could be driving one of these babies for $42,000, and whatever you lack in quarter-mile time against some Italian supercar (probably measured in tenths of a second), you more than make up for in the patriotism that comes with purchasing real American steel. This is a mass market car, not some elite toy for the otherwise idle rich that you have to polish with a diaper. It’s perfect for the great American road trip.
People drive too fast on public roads, and too slowly on the track. Everybody who buys a BOSS 302 gets a day of track time at Miller Motorsports Park, and, according to our instructors, while they haul ass on the highway, they tend to be quite meek on the track. It was certainly true for me at first. While I may or may not have hit triple digits on the highway coming to the place, I was afraid to push it too hard on the track in our roll cage-equipped 302’s. I didn’t want to crash the car, spin out, or otherwise embarrass myself. But the fact is that you can throw these cars into corners way faster than you’d think without losing traction, and if you apply some of the tips they give you about cornering and skid control, you can recover from almost anything but total insanity. In other words, this car can easily handle what you put it through. As one of our hosts said, "You’ll run out of talent long before you run out of car."
Heel-and-toe downshifting doesn’t really involve the heel and toe. Instead it’s more of a right side of the foot/left side of the foot technique that got its name because of some old trucks that had pedals really far apart. It’s a technique to keep your RPM’s up high while you downshift through a corner so you maximize your exit speed. And it’s tricky to get right. RRRROOOOWRRRRR, CHUNK CHUNK, ERP ERP ERP, RRRROOOOOWWWWRRR, CRUNK, KACHUNK, AHHHH shit … Pull around and try it again.
Driving go karts can boost your confidence in real cars. At Miller Park, they had go karts that could go 50 mph on a special track, and you’re something like an inch from the pavement, and even though there’s no roll cage or any steel around you, it’s somehow easier to take corners really aggressively. After a few laps in the karts, the BOSS 302 is a whole new beast. I was way tougher on it after that.
Try the red key. It’s the “TracKey.” The display on the dash will say “Track Use Only” and you will smile at that. Using the TracKey gives the engine a nice rough baritone sound, the result of more than 200 tweaks that give the car a complete race car calibration.
Go ahead and get cocky, but know that the instructors can drive circles around you.
At the end of the day, we were given an opportunity to do a ride-along with the instructors, and I got in the passenger’s seat next to Ty Hamill
. He hauled ass around that track, demonstrating heel-toe shifting and making small talk all the while. “So you’re from Virginia?” SCREEEE, RRRRRAAAAARWWWRRR, GRRRRRRRR. “Me too. Whereabouts?”
The whole thing was the ultimate men’s fantasy camp.
In addition to the car racing, the kart racing, the skid-pad testing, and the heel-toe shifting, there were many other manly things on the agenda. My favorite: a ride-along with an expert driver in a 2013 Ford F-150 Raptor
, their gnarliest off-road 4×4 truck, on Miller Park’s “Raptor Assault” off-road course. It was the dustiest, bounciest ride I’ve ever been on, and it was amazing. Dirt was cascading down the windows like the foam from a freshly-poured pint of Guinness. Add to that the steak dinner and post-racing beers at a nearby brewery, and I think Ford provided everything they (legally) could to raise our collective testosterone levels. Who feels like head-butting?
Salt Lake City seems like an awfully nice place. We didn’t spend any time sightseeing, but everybody I spoke to was friendly and helpful, and nobody talked about religion. The guy at the front desk at the Hotel Monaco had a stylish haircut.
Whoever said you can’t get a proper drink in Salt Lake City is full of it. But it can be weird. On our first afternoon, I took a stroll down Main Street to pick up a six pack to drink in the room while I caught up on the work I left behind in New York. There was a normal-looking deli with a neon sign advertising cold beer. I entered the deli, made a loop through the place, found no beer, and went to the checkout. I asked the man, Where’s the beer? He pointed to a staircase. I went down the staircase and found myself in a head shop. Yes, a head shop, as in a store with bongs, bowls, rolling papers, and the various accoutrements necessary for getting in touch with your cousin Buddy Green. Also, there was beer, which I purchased.
My colleagues at VIBE should check out Raven Artenian, the Salt Lake City battle rapper.
He worked at the head shop/beer shop and we chatted for a while, and he whipped out his phone to show me a YouTube video of his latest rap attack
. “I’ll bring it to you harder than an asthmatic in a straightjacket.” Not bad!
About the Mustang: I want one.