50th anniversary: PIR, Ford Mustang

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Posted 26 Mar 2014 in Uncategorized

Fifty years is the theme and Ford Mustang and Phoenix International Raceway are on the team for Phoenix Automotive Press Association’s March meeting at Octane Raceway in Scottsdale.

Member Sam Haymart led off the program with a preview of the Mustangs Across America drive that will hit Phoenix April 10.

Like PIR, this is the pony car’s 50th anniversary so events take on special significance. More than 500 Mustangs – new and old -will take part in a rally starting April 9 from the headquarters of Saleen Automotive, a Corona, Calif., company that’s been delivering after-market power boosts for 30 years.

April 10 will be the day for Mustang watching in Phoenix with an overnight stop and evening visit to Rawhide. The run will end in North Carolina April 16, the day before Mustang Club of America’s 50th birthday celebration at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Back in Phoenix at PIR, there are special events as well. Communications Manager Jennifer Jepson showed clips from the first race in 1964 and winner A.J. Foyt as she ticked off timeline highlights. The first NASCAR-sanctioned race didn’t come until 1977, and the first cup race not until 1988.

Foyt, no doubt, will be among PIR’s Storied Legends, a countdown of the track’s 50 biggest influencers that started last November and will end this November. Check out the list at http://www.phoenixraceway.com/Vanity-Pages/2013/Storied-Legends.aspx. Anniversary merchandise also is for sale including a limited edition book, “Phoenix at 50: A Half-Century of Racing.”

But there’s more to the anniversary celebration than products and Internet links. “We really wanted to bring the 50th anniversary to the track,” Jepson said.

To that end, PIR created an exhibit called “Memory Lane.” The display features historic cars, memorabilia and driver appearances from Rusty Wallace to Foyt. Its debut came at the March NASCAR race and will return for the November race, free to ticketholders.

Jepson said there also might be an opportunity for a PAPA preview in the fall.

But back to the Mustangs and Haymart, also the force behind TestDriven.TV. He not only is chief organizer for the 50th anniversary Mustangs Across America, but created the event, which makes a cross-country trek every five years.

Haymart was living in Sacramento, Calif., in 1993 when he got a call from a friend on the East Coast.

“Sam, they’re doing this big show here in Charlotte for the Mustang’s 30th anniversary,” his friend said.

Haymart’s immediate thought was to drive his Mustang to the event. He searched for a rally drive like he’d heard about for the 25th anniversary, but found nothing.

So he sent out flyers, found about 150 interested drivers and launched his first Mustangs Across America. Imagine, he said, hotel parking lots full of Mustangs, traffic jams as the caravan rolls through small towns.

“This whole thing started because I wanted to drive my Mustang across the country to see my buddy,” Haymart said.

Obviously he wasn’t alone in the desire for a road trip.

“These are some of the most passionate car freaks you’ll ever meet,” he said. Participants come from all walks of life, married with kids, business owners, young singles, retired folks, and even a few bringing their Mustangs from overseas, he said.

About two-thirds of the Mustangs are 2005 or newer, according to Haymart, but there also are some original-buyers with the famed 1964½ model.

To lead the pack, Haymart has restored his 1995 Mustang GT, complete with American flag wrap, to serve as the pace car.

Haymart is doing a video documentary of the event, maybe we’ll get a peek at that as well.

For more on the Mustang trip go to http://mustangsacrossamerica.com.

Not to be left out of the anniversary theme, our venue for the evening, Octane Raceway just finished up its 10th year. The indoor/outdoor kart facility caters to corporate events and private parties in addition to individuals.

Other activities include rock climbing, billiards, arcade games and a track-side bar and grille.

Octane has hosted the Indoor Kart Championship and visitors might even run into a celeb or two – from Kyle Busch to Kurt Warner and Toby Keith. For more: octaneraceway.com.