Ford Mustang Races On at 50

Mustang

The Ford Mustang is in its fourth full season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The production car turned 50 years old on April 17, 2014. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

MustangThe Ford Mustang is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month and since its debut, the "pony car" has had racing in its DNA.

The Mustang has been a part of motor sports since Ford unveiled the first one on April 17, 1964, at the New York World’s Fair.  As part of the historic moment, Ford constructed and displayed a Mustang on the observation deck of the Empire State Building and then once again last week - with the upcoming 2015 model - to mark the 50th year.

The golden anniversary was so big that events were held this past weekend at a number of locations Mustangincluding two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tracks - Charlotte Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

With victories in a number of series such as the NASCAR Nationwide Series, NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and the Trans-Am Series, the Mustang has gone to Victory Lane with a long list of drivers ... the most recent being in the Nationwide Series with Brad Keselowski at Las Vegas.

"My favorite Mustang story is when the Nationwide Series went to the Mustang, we went to Michigan and the Mustangs were there, and they were the first cars to have the decals on the side that made it look like the production car," Keselowski said.  "That was really cool.  When the Mustang came into the Nationwide Series, it beefed it up and made it look like a real racecar.  It's such an iconic part of car history and racing history.  To have Mustang come to the Nationwide Series and to have it look like a Mustang was a big deal."

MustangKeselowski's recent win was the 36th for the Mustang since it entered the Nationwide Series full-time in 2011.  Carl Edwards, who gave the Mustang its first victory in the Nationwide Series at Texas Motor Speedway, had a Mustang as one of his first personal cars.

"The first neat car I had was a 1985 Mustang GT with a T-top and it was great," Edwards said.  "We put a clutch in it.  A guy named Bobby Williams, my dad and I worked on it and painted it; and my buddy, Ray Owen, helped me work on it.  He was a big Mustang guy.  I was, like, 19 years old.  It was neat.  I had a lot of fun in that car."

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Edwards' Roush Fenway Racing teammate, won the first NASCAR titles for Mustang - taking back-to-back Nationwide championships in 2011 and 2012.

Mustang"One of my favorite memories is, obviously, being able to win the two Nationwide Series championships in a Mustang," Stenhouse said.  "That's something I'll always remember because up to now, it's my biggest accomplishment in racing.  When I was growing up, my Dad - he builds engines for a living - and a friend of his had a Mustang Mach 1.  I was young, about seven or eight, so I don’t remember the exact year of the car.  I believe it was a 1969.  He took me for a ride in it one day and we got sideways.  We were staring right at the back of a big truck and at the last second he turned it, we spun around the other way and kept going.  That was so much fun.  I loved it.  That was probably when I fell in love with the Mustang."

Roush Fenway team owner Jack Roush has been involved with the Mustang since its beginning.  Roush's love for the car started in 1964, when he purchased one after graduating from Berea College in Kentucky.  Shortly after, Roush went to work for the Ford Motor Company in the Dearborn Assembly Plant, where he worked on quality problems with components that vendors were sending in.

"As I was graduating, I went down to the local Ford dealer - who had sold his allocation - and he communicated with a dealer in Cincinnati.  A month after I went to work for the Ford Motor Company in Detroit, I came back to Cincinnati and picked up my '64-and-a-half Mustang," Roush said.

While at Ford, he grew more interested in motor sports and his pursuit of going fast.  Roush took that enthusiasm and kicked off his racing career in drag racing.

"When I started racing, the Mustang power train was what I used in my Falcon and then very quickly, I got into racing full-bodied Mustangs, NHRA-legal stock cars," Roush said.  "From that, I went to Super Stock cars then to Pro Stock cars."

Roush's only final-round appearance as a drag racer came in the 1974 Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway driving a Gapp and Roush Mustang II.  In that event, Roush posted the quickest time and fastest speed before finishing in second place.  After a successful run in drag racing with a group known as "The Fastbacks" and a partnership with Wayne Gapp, Roush turned to road racing.

Mustang"Starting in 1984, we raced Mustang road-race cars," Roush said.  "We raced for 16 years; competed in the 24 Hours at Daytona 10 times and won all 10 times in our class.  We won 48% of the races we entered in those 16 years.  The last year was celebrated with Tommy Kendall winning 10 out of 12 Trans-Am races."

The 1995 Rolex 24 victory was a special one because Roush fielded a Mustang that became famous.  The car celebrated Paul Newman's movie "Nobody's Fool" and Newman was one of the four drivers that included Kendall, Mark Martin and Mike Brockman who piloted the car.  The win was also special because it came as Newman was celebrating his 70th birthday.

Roush has kept the road racing dream alive by helping his son, Jack Jr., field a Mustang in the Continental Tires Series under the GRAND-AM banner before moving this season to the Pirelli World Challenge Championships with a Ford Mustang Boss 302R.  The team, which was renamed Roush Road Racing last season, has scored 10 wins dating back to its first in 2009 at Miller Motorsports Park.

MustangAs part of the 50th celebration, Ford ranked the top 50 "Mustang Racing Moments" on social media and a road racing Mustang took home top honors with Parnelli Jones, who piloted a yellow Bud Moore-prepared Boss 302 to the Trans-Am title in 1970.

The Mustang has seen its share of success in the NHRA, most notably with John Force capturing 10 of his 16 championships driving a Mustang.

"I've owned a number of Mustangs over the years," Force said.  "It's a great car.  It can be a family car, or it can be a cruising car or a hot rod.  My favorite that I have now is a 1965 red convertible '289' automatic.  It's in my museum in Yorba Linda, California.  I love that car and it was the first collector car I ever bought."

Von Gittin Jr. captured the first Formula Drift championship for Mustang in 2010 and his memories with the "pony car" go back to when he was six or seven years old.Mustang

"My father was a wholesaler and he brought a 1970 Mach 1 home on his tow truck," Gittin said.  "He let me sit in the driver’s seat on the short trip to his shop.  I remember standing on the seat and moving the wheel back and forth, making noises like I was driving it.  It was the coolest thing ever, at the time.  My dad was pretty awesome for letting me do that.  You would probably go to jail today for letting your kid do that.  I always reflect on that and wonder if that was the subconscious beginning of my love of the Ford Mustang."

MustangDating back to 1964, when it paced the Indianapolis 500, the Mustang has led the field in a number of races ... the most recent being in the Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, one that was powered by a 500-horsepower Ford Racing Aluminator XS crate engine.  The pace car for last season's Sprint Cup finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway was the custom Mustang GT that was featured in the movie "Need for Speed."  The car was auctioned off this past weekend at Barrett-Jackson in West Palm Beach, Fla., where it brought $300,000 to benefit Henry Ford Health Systems.

Photos: 1,2,7 (Autostock),8,9 - Ford Media; 3,4 - Getty Images; 5,6 - ISC Archives

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