SCCA

Have car, will Track Night in America: This weekday race alternative makes track time a go

SCCA's Track Night in America events take place across the country at lesser-known tracks.

Photo by Dan Sabol

For a parent, weekends are precious. Weekends are for road trips, backyard parties, and youth sporting events. A mere 52 opportunities to connect with your family.

For the gearhead, however, a weekend can mean a long couple of days away, driving or towing to the nearest track for some full-throttle action. While the family can and often does tag along at weekend track events, devoting attention to the car, the kids, and the spouse can be a challenge.

Track Night in America 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost The Ford Mustang is sold as either a coupe (shown here) or a convertible.Photo by Chris Tonn

Since 2015, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) has been offering an alternative to a weekend at the races. Their Track Night in America program is a mid-week track experience open to just about anyone with a car and a helmet. It starts mid-afternoon and leads into the twilight hours. For this dad, sneaking away from the office at noon and missing a single dinner with the family is a much better alternative to an entire weekend away.

Over the past five years, the SCCA has offered over 650 Track Night events at 47 different tracks – and finally, an event popped up in my home state of Ohio. I had a 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost coming to my door to test. I'd finally run out of excuses – it was time to get on track.

With a bunch of sweeping corners spread over a brief two miles, the Nelson Ledges racecourse between Cleveland and Pittsburgh has been thrilling racers for decades. It's a throwback to the early tracks that appeared in the 1960z – it's rustic. Many newer tracks offer a country club atmosphere – Nelson Ledges has a shack with some bathrooms, a timing building that is undergoing some repairs, and a few picnic tables. It's all about the on-track experience, and this track delivers.

Track Night in America 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost The Mustang's available High Performance package added 19-inch machined-face aluminum wheels to the tester.Photo by Chris Tonn

The EcoBoost High Performance package on my tester seemed ready-made for track duties. It adds 20 horsepower to the standard turbocharged four-cylinder (up to 330 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque), alongside many of the suspension, braking, and aerodynamic goodies from Ford's V8-powered GT Performance Package. For me, the highlight was the 13.9-inch brake rotors being clamped by large four-piston calipers. These brakes give plenty of stopping power on track, and never felt like they were fading under the heat of stops from triple digits.

Track Night in America is meant for street cars, not race cars, as the SCCA's goal is to let people simply have fun with the cars they already have. Many other track day programs tend to encourage drivers to work their way up a "ladder" of sorts from novice track events to time trials all the way to wheel-to-wheel racing. While that's certainly an option, the SCCA just wants people to enjoy performance driving in a safe environment without the pressure to compete.

Track Night in America 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Ford gave the test car a larger rear sway bar and unique stability control tuning, elevating its on-track performance.Photo by Chris Tonn

I wish something like this had been around twenty-plus years ago as I began to make a little bit of money. While I'd long spent time at the track as an avid spectator, getting on track back then generally required a dedicated race car. I explored those options – even going so far to buy a retired SCCA Honda Civic to get back on track for myself, only to be laid off shortly after getting it home – and I found myself pushing my motorsport ambitions aside.

Track Night lets drivers self-select into one of just three groups – Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced, all based on prior track experience. There's no breaking out cars based on speed – just driver ability. Considering our current pandemic, Track Night is well positioned – there are no instructors strapped in the passenger seat. Rather, they space out and observe from trackside, and will pull aside drivers to give pointers and encouragement between each of the three twenty-minute track sessions.

The novice group gets accordingly more attention, as well as a masked-up group debriefing after each session. The instructors joked that social distancing is important on track as well as in the paddock – a safe six feet helps to keep away both viruses and sheet metal damage.

Track Night in America 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost The car's Showstopper red leather upholstery adds a bit of a dramatic touch to the interior.Photo by Chris Tonn

As I have little actual on-track experience, I selected the novice group. I was expecting some slower cars in the group – and while there were a couple, I was also watching my mirrors fill with C7 Corvettes, Porsche Caymans, and a Chevy Camaro SS 1LE. The four-banger Mustang was quick – keeping pace except coming off corners with a recent five-liter Mustang – but let down a bit by the ten-speed automatic transmission, which was reluctant to shift as quickly as I'd like. The car was magic in the corners, however, as the balance afforded by the lightweight engine let both ends of the car rotate at will.

Instructors told me that their main goal is for everyone to drive home with the same intact car they arrived in, so keeping within the limits of both the car and the driver is paramount. Only one incident marred our evening – a snarling Chevy El Camino modified in the Pro Touring style came back to the paddock on the end of a rope with some tire barrier damage to the left side of the car, though it seemed to drive home without problems.

Track Night in America 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Photo by Dan Sabol

SCCA has a winning program on their hands. Over five years, over forty thousand drivers have registered for Track Night events. It's a great way to keep socially distant at speed. I missed a conference call and one family dinner, and was home in time to tuck the kids into bed. I get to spend another weekend with my family. Admittedly, I'll spend some of that weekend pondering if I can trade the family minivan for a new Mustang EcoBoost.

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Lincoln will not make a performance variant to compete with Cadillac.

Lincoln

TheLincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade have been duking it out at the top of luxury SUV rankings for decades, but there’s one area of the Caddy’s development that Lincoln won’t touch. In a recent interview, a company executive told Ford Authority that it has no plans to create a performance variant of the Navigator to compete with the upcoming Escalade V from Cadillac.

2022 Lincoln NavigatorThe new Navigator features several upscale touches and excellent tech. Lincoln

That means the Navigator will stick with the powertrain it’s carried for years, which is a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine that makes 440 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a smooth ten-speed automatic and either rear- or four-wheel drive. While there’s more than enough power to get the hulking Lincoln moving, it’s not a powertrain that inspires excitement or engagement, and though beefy, it’s tuned much more for comfort and quietness than drama.

Though more than adequate, those specs are a far cry from the numbers we expect from the Escalade V. The full-size bruiser from Cadillac is expected to get a supercharged 6.2-liter V8, similar to the unit seen in the CT5-V Blackwing and Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. We don’t know power numbers yet, but the engine should deliver horsepower and torque numbers in the high 600s.

Cadillac Escalade VThe Escalade V will be massively powerful. Cadillac

That Lincoln is taking a different approach isn’t surprising. The automaker has already announced its intention to go all-electric, so pouring more time and resources into creating a performance gas-powered SUV isn’t in line with its goals. Company executives have also expressed a desire to avoid imitating rivals, so the decision to leave a performance Navigator behind is not surprising.

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First-year Ford F-150 Lightning production numbers doubled
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Ford has begun serial production of the new F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, marking what could be one of the most important days in recent automotive history. The first trucks rolled off the assembly line at Ford's Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Michigan today, so America's best-selling truck has finally gone electric. Ford wants to sell two million EVs per year by 2026 and have half of its global sales volume to be electric by 2030.

Ford F-150 LightningPast meets future: Ford's new electric pickup will be the F-150 Lightningautomotivemap.com

Ford has seen extreme demand for the trucks, with 200,000 reservations since the books opened. To deliver, the automaker plans to increase production to an annual rate of 150,000 units by next year, which involved huge investments in the Rouge Center and created hundreds of jobs. Ford's total investment for the F-150 Lightning crests $1 billion across Michigan alone, and has created 1,700 jobs across various facilities in the state.

Ford F-150 LightningThe first production trucks left the factory today.
Ford Motor Company

Though the Lightning starts around $40,000, the most mainstream models will cost much more than that. The F-150 Lightning Pro, while affordable, is a stripped-down truck intended for commercial buyers. It's still a forward-looking electric truck with amazing capabilities, but it lacks much of the creature comforts and features that everyday drivers expect. Higher trims get the latest driver assistance features, including BlueCruise, which is Ford's semi-autonomous hands-free driving assistant. A 12-inch touchscreen is standard, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and more.

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