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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The 2021 MINI Cooper 1499 GT Special Edition is a throwback to a 1969 MINI.

Photo courtesy of MINI

The MINI 1499 GT Special Edition pays tribute to the iconic 1275 GT from 1969 while the MINI Countryman Oxford edition offers unique value proposition. The two models are new for the 2021 model year.

2021 MINI Cooper 1499 GT Special Edition

Photo courtesy of MINI

MINI has given the 1499 GT a Midnight Black Metallic exterior complete with gold 1499 GT side stripes. There's a Piano Black grille frame, door handles, and headlight rings, which surround LED headlights. There are Piano Black taillight rinks and Union Jack taillights.

The addition of the MINI John Cooper Works (JCW) styling package adds JCW front and rear bumpers, side skirts, split level spoiler, and door entry plates. The MINI 1499 GT rids on 17-innch Track Spoke Black wheels wrapped in all-season tires.

Under the hood, the model has a 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine that delivers 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. The car can get from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds and has a top speed of 130 mph. A six-speed manual transmission is standard while a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is available.

MINI refines the interior with more JCW accents including Sports seats in Carbon Black Dinamica/Cloth, a JCW steering wheel in perforated leather with Chili Red stitching and multi-function controls, along with Piano Black finishing throughout the interior with an Anthracite Headliner. The list of standard equipment includes dual-zone automatic climate control, a 6.5-inch infotainment touch screen with navigation, MINI Assist eCall, remote services, Apple CarPlay, and a digital instrument cluster.

The MINI 1499 GT will be offered with a starting MSRP of $27,040 plus an additional $850 destination and handling fee.

MINI Countryman Oxford Edition

MINI's small SUV, the Countryman, is getting a budget-friendly version that available with front- and all-wheel drive. It comes with the standard equipment list of the Classic Trim, which includes leatherette upholstery, an 8.8-inch display with Bluetooth, rear camera, rear park distance control, seven-speed dual clutch transmission, and a panoramic sunroof. The Countryman Oxford Edition also has LED headlights and fog lights and Union Jack LED taillights.

MINI has given the model standard 18-inch wheels (Silver of Black) that are wrapped with run-flat tires, an anthracite headliner, heated front seats, automatic climate control, and a choice of six exterior colors, including metallic paint options. Those options include British Racing Green IV metallic, Midnight Black metallic, White Silver metallic, Moonwalk Grey metallic, Chili Red, or Island Blue metallic. Exterior options also include body color roof and mirrors, or choice of a contrast white or black roof and mirror combination.

The staring MSRP for the 2021 MINI Cooper Countryman Oxford Edition is $26,500 and the 2021 MINI Cooper Countryman ALL4 Oxford Edition is $28,500, plus an additional $850 destination and handling charge. This means the MINI Countryman Oxford Edition is specially configured with $5,600 worth of optional equipment as standard at no additional cost.

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Ford has launched its new Bronco configuration tool.

Photo by AutomotiveMap with screen image courtesy of Ford Motor Company
How would you build it? Now you can find out. The new 2021 Ford Bronco build-and-price configurator is live on the Ford website giving buyers the opportunity to customize their pick without having to commit to a deposit or trip to the dealership. Ford has received over 190,000 reservations for the Bronco to date.
It's also a great way to kill some time between Zooms.

"The color and material offerings of the all-new Bronco and Bronco Sport are genuine and trusted, and establish a visceral connection between nature and the authenticity of this new family of rugged SUVs," said Missy Coolsaet, Bronco color and materials designer. "They motivate our customers to return to the wilderness and challenge themselves – and Bronco takes them there in a carefree, spontaneous way."

2021 Ford Bronco configurator options

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The configurator works in a traditional sense, asking users to first enter their ZIP code then taking them to a menu where they choose a trim level. Ford offers the Bronco in seven trim levels: Base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands, Wildtrak, and First Edition.

Buyers are then asked to choose a two- or four-door model. The 2021 Bronco is available in a wide variety of colors, including some with deep Ford heritage, and wheel varieties.

Powertrains components are trim level-dependent and some paint and wheel color combinations are not compatible with the seven-speed manual transmission or the Sasquatch Package.

All-terrain, mud, or all-season tires are either standard or available depending on trim level and wheel choice.

Buyers can check options boxes for a hard top, sound-deadening headliner, roof rails with crossbar, splash guards, an upgraded bash plate, paint protection film, brush guard, keyless entry keypad, wireless charging pad, heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, a 12.0-inch infotainment touch screen, 10-speaker B&O sound system, and LED headlights, depending on trim level. Higher Bronco grades get much of these features as standard.

Cloth, vinyl, or leather-trimmed seats are available. An Ebony black or Medium Sandstone interior are the only options, but Medium Sandstone is not available in all trim levels.

A variety of equipment groups and packages are available as well, including a graphics package that will put the profile of rolling hills on the lower quarter of your Bronco's door panels.

Check out the configurator now at Ford.com/Bronco.

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