Stephen Cox: Road Racing – The Ugly Pumpkin Must Die
“Turn the air conditioner off.”
“The air conditioner,” Jim repeated. “Turn it off.”
Yeah. Whatever. I know what I’m doing and I won’t forget. I’m more concerned with the fact that my street-legal Roush 360R race car has a quarter tank of fuel remaining. But I’m told not to worry. We won’t run out. It’s a short session.
Jim Wright of Roush Performance had invited me to Hallett Motor Racing Circuit’s Ford festival to test their pride and joy… a steroid-enhanced Mustang GT laden with go-fast gizmos and re-dubbed the Roush 360R.
So here I was, sitting smack in the driver’s seat, looking remarkably impressive in my jet-black Simpson helmet, ready tackle Tulsa’s 1.8 mile road course with two dozen other outrageously gorgeous Mustangs of every imaginable type. A wreath and a bottle of milk and my fantasy is complete.
We’re lined up on the grid and I’m on the pole. Even though this will only be a testing session, the driver of the car behind me suddenly climbs out of his car to confer with the pit steward. He unleashes a verbal barrage, waiving his arms frantically while pausing occasionally to point at my little Roush.
Me? What did I do? I dismiss him as a helpless body attached to a runaway mouth.
I watch my mirror as he storms back to his Mustang – a hideous orange abomination reminiscent of pumpkin barf – and the pit steward waves him past me. He now sits first on the grid, bumping me to third. He obviously thinks I’ll slow him down. This is insulting. I am forced to consider the possibility of hating him.
Jim gives me the thumbs up and I hear engines roaring. The pace car trundles away and I follow the orange Mustang – which I have now mentally nicknamed “The Ugly Pumpkin” – out onto the track. We heat up our tires and get ready to go green. Just as the pace car pulls off the track, the Pumpkin driver has the audacity to reach out his window and wave goodbye to me as the green flag falls.
Yup. Now I freaking hate him. That was a declaration of war, and I refuse to be beaten by a whiner in a gaudy restomod. The Ugly Pumpkin must die.
I mash the gas and chase and The Pumpkin down Founder’s straight. The Roush 360R’s supercharged 360 horsepower 4.6 liter power plant responds beautifully, pegging 115 mph in fourth gear.
Only then do I realize that the shift knob is unbelievably hard to reach. This seems like a great car, but for crying out loud… first and third gear might as well have been in Louisville. I try to loosen my shoulder harness to no avail. I swear my right arm will be five inches longer than my left when this blasted session is over. Finding long sleeve shirts will be a nightmare, but I remain calm. The only concern at the moment is passing The Ugly Pumpkin, preferably in the most humiliating manner possible, followed by the most sarcastic wave I can manage.
After the first lap I realize that while I can pull him on the straightaways, he’s a touch quicker in the corners. Alrightee then. Everybody’s cards are on the table.
The two of us turn out to be the class of the field. Leaving the also-rans, we find ourselves slicing through lapped traffic at a ridiculous pace, with each lap faster than the one before.
Aha. The Pumpkin is caught behind a slow car… this is my chance.
I blast down the Cimarron Straight, stomping the clutch and hitting fourth gear for a split second at 95 mph before braking down to 35 for the tightest hairpin on the course. The 360R’s Alcon brakes stop you faster than a brick wall. The left rear lifts and spins slightly as I exit the hairpin and squeeze the throttle. Good heavens. The supercharger slams me back against the seat and the little Roush rockets ahead like a meteor.
More traffic. I drop to the inside, dump the clutch and sail past three lapped cars in one gulp. Bang, bang. I’m airborne for half a second. The S-turns are terribly violent when you hop the curbs, but my pride is on the line. Besides, it’s on the far side of the course and Jim will never know.
The 360R gobbles up the final straightaway in third gear at a tick over 90 mph, and finally, the orange abomination is within shooting range. Now separated by only a few car lengths, mister smarty-pants is watching his rear view mirrors in a last-ditch effort to stay ahead of me.
The Ugly Pumpkin is oversteering now. His rear tires have heated up. I’m on his bumper. He’s got nothing left. On the next straightaway he’s mine… and he knows it, too.
I’m going to enjoy this. Should I wave with five fingers or just one?
We’re in the last turn before Founder’s Straight. There’s a lapped car between us, but the 360R’s supercharger will eat them both alive. I slide the 360R out of the corner, squeeze the throttle, and…
The 4.6 liter Ford gasps and coughs. I glance at the tach memory, but I haven’t over-revved. With one final sputter the little Roush’s engine gives up. I coast helplessly into the pits as the hated Pumpkin sails off into the distance. This time he’s smart enough not to waive goodbye.
I brake to a stop and lay my Simpson helmet on the seat beside me as Jim walks up to the window, oblivious to my one-man war against The Ugly Pumpkin.
“That’s alright. I forgot to turn off the air conditioner.”
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