Roaring to life: Mustangs invade Steamboat
Steamboat Springs — Gary Griffith’s 1968 GT 350 supercharged Shelby Mustang purrs like a saber-toothed tiger.
It’s not perfect, not a “show car,” Griffith explained. There are dings in the paint and cracks in the vinyl.
It rumbles like a prehistoric beast, though, and Griffith casts a wide smile every time he turns it on.
“It’s held up pretty well,” he said, “probably better than I have.”
Just as Thanksgiving in Steamboat Springs means Steamboat Ski Area is opening and the Fourth of July means there are going to be fireworks, mid-June means there are going to be beautiful, sparkling Ford Mustangs galloping from one end of town to the other.
Those who gather for the annual autocross race event at Meadows Plaza are among those drool-inducing specimens, and they’ll be on display like all the rest Saturday in downtown Steamboat Springs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the Show n’ Shine on Lincoln Avenue.
Unlike some of those cars, perfect and Q-tip cleaned, however, the beasts of Friday’s races are as much about speed as they are shine.
With “oohs” and “ahhs,” rumbling engines and screeching tires, the Mustangs announced their arrival Friday in Steamboat Springs.
Part of the family
For those who gather annually in Steamboat for the Mustang Roundup, the cars are a part of the family. (Sometimes literally. There are at least a few daughters named “Shelby” out there.)
Hap Schadler’s 1965 Mustang Fastback came into the family when he was 14 years old, a Valentine’s Day gift to end all Valentine’s Day gifts from his father to his mother. She drove it every day, and often too fast, thus earning herself the nickname “Mario,” as in Andretti.
Schadler loved it from the moment it came into his life, and he purchased it from his parents when he was 24 years old.
For years after that, it wasn’t so much his Mustang as it was his car, going to school, for hauling groceries and for going to work.
He eventually switched to driving something else, and in the mid 1980s, he decided to put time into restoring the ’65 Mustang.
Now, it’s still mostly a factory vehicle, although he’s made modifications.
It sits lower. He’s put on new shocks and made other adjustments, many with an eye on racing.
What he had Friday was more than an heirloom, more than a treasure. It was one of the fastest cars on the track.
“It’s a thrill, a rush to do this, especially with an old car,” he said. “It gives you something to do besides let it sit in the garage and take it to the occasional show.”
Friday, he was intent on winning his class in the autocross event.
Autocross sends competitors flying around a track through and around cones. The Meadows parking lot makes an ideal platform, Schadler explained.
The Mustang Roundup and associated Sports Car Club of America autocross race used to go to Breckenridge until the mid-1990s. Since then, the cars — Mustangs, of course, but any Ford model is allowed — have been laying down rubber at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.
The course is laid out with big sweeping turns, long sections of cones meant to be slalomed around and a few straight areas in which to pick up speed.
“A lot of it is getting your car set up well to do this, and a lot of it is just seat time,” Schadler said. “There aren’t a lot of straight sections. What you’re trying to do is drive this in a bunch of arcs, and you want to have the smoothest arcs you can.”
Mastering the Mustangs
Schadler’s car looks perfectly at home sitting in a Mustang lineup, a beauty to be admired.
He’s used to the gas station conversations and the highway honks.
A Harley flew by him recently as he was driving his Mustang, pulled in front of him and slowed down. The leather-clad biker turned on his seat, looked over the gleaming black Mustang and offered a hearty “thumbs up.”
But it’s more than a showpiece, and Friday morning, he whipped around the track and did what he set out to do — win his division, finishing the course in 46.2 seconds.
Griffith, too, learned to master the Meadows course. He came in 52.01 seconds on his first run.
“I got lost,” he said with a chuckle.
He cut it to 50.6 seconds on his next attempt.
On his third, his 47-year-old pony roared from the line. With one hand on the wheel, and the other hanging to the window frame, Griffith cut around corners and swung the tail, the steering wheel gliding through his fingers.
“Come on!” he shouted. “Turn!”
The wind whipped through the open window and into his face, and he danced the old car through the slalom course, around one last corner and across the finish line with a final roar.
He parked, and an official brought him his time moments later: 49.59 seconds, his best of the day.
He cackled with laughter.
“Pretty good for mud and snow tires,” he said, grinning.
He keeps it clean and, oh, is he proud of it, but it’s no show car.
He’s just fine with that.
“I know for sure I’m going to die some day,” he said. “I know I’ll wish I drove my old car more. It’s fun to drive.”
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