Sebring Sizzles During Camp Steeda

May 14, 2004 8:11 pm
It was the first weekend in May and the ponies were gathered, eagerly waiting for their turn on the track. Excitement was high at the annual event, but you were hard pressed to find a mint julep. The site of this excitement wasn’t Churchill Downs, it was Sebring International Raceway, home of the 2004 Camp Steeda / SVTOA Sebring Sensation!

The festivities began Friday with the Vendor Meet & Greet. Sales Manager Gus Irizarry from Steeda Autosports, the Event’s Main Sponsor, was joined by reps from Vortech, Tokico, Nitto, Auburn Gear, Powerslot and Hawk in presenting go-fast goodies to the SVTOA members in attendance. Enthusiasts got to check out hot, new products for their Fords, and get answers to their questions straight from the horse’s mouths.

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Dawn broke Saturday with a haze that slowly lifted, as if Mother Nature provided a buffer to prevent sensory overload. While race team participation has been a staple of Camp Steeda since it’s inception, this year’s presence of the SVTOA added a Show and Shine element to the weekend. Hats off to Ed Zerbe from the South Florida Chapter of the SVTOA for adding the “Show” to an event with considerable “Go.” The field was comprised of a great mix of the cars and trucks you’d expect – Foci and Mustangs and Trucks, with a couple “Wild Car(d)s” thrown in.

Ashley Weiss’ 1965 GT-350 Shelby Fastback looked like a nice, simple resto from the curb, black with gold stripes and Bullit Wheels. Racing seats and a roll cage in the mostly stock interior tipped you off to the fact that the pony car could run, and when builder / father Bruce Weiss lifted the lid, you saw a completely re-engineered engine bay stuffed with a 4 cammer reported to deliver just under 500 hp to the rear wheels! Another standout was Scott Gabriel’s ’57 Fairlane. While the two-toned blue beauty had pushrod power, it was in the form of a 428 cubic-inch dose of CobraJet. If the factory had offered the CJ as an option, it would have looked like this. While talking to Scott, we learned that he had previously conspired to shoehorn a Mod Motor into a ’48 Lincoln Cosmopolitan! Scott took home the trophy for Best Ford, and Ashley went home with the Best Classic Mustang award.

Plenty of late model Fords found their way onto the show grounds, too. Notable among the herd were two South Florida-based Mustangs piloted by Roy Boccadifuoco and Josh Laddin. While many are content to personalize a specific year and model, both took liberties with their ‘stangs, mixing factory and aftermarket parts to create a couple of one-of-a-kind pony cars. They placed one and two in the show’s Mustang class.

Meanwhile, SVTOA Lead Instructor Jeff Lacina headed up the classroom training, which featured Tech Talk with Dan Carlson of Team Steeda. How the car works, and how the drivers need to work within them were covered. What makes a car loose? Are the driver’s feet, hands or eyes the most important? If you were there, you got the answers to those questions and many others, a great means of preparing for the on-track training to follow.

On-track instruction began on the skid pad – a flat, paved area with a large circle painted on it. A sprinkler in the center makes the driving surface slick, and drivers drive around the circle at ever increasing speeds to get the feel of the car spinning out. An important first step in reining in your ponycar is learning what it feels like as your car loses traction, and the skid pad is the best place to learn.

Armed with a better feel for the car, students then proceeded to the autocross area, where a twisting course was laid out with orange traffic cones. Drivers got a chance to work on steering, braking and acceleration skills. Not a race or timed event, the objective was to cleanly navigate the course at speed without knocking over a single cone. Most drivers showed marked improvement throughout the day, knocking over fewer cones with each successive pass – although at one point a wildly spinning Mustang smoked the tires, and the SVTOA Volunteers became the fastest moving things on the course! In the end, all of the drivers and turn marshals recovered, as did all of the little, orange cones – except for one that went to little cone heaven.

Relaxation and celebrations were the bywords at the banquet Saturday night. Lead Instructor by day, emcee by night, the versatile Jeff Lacina introduced speakers that included Tom Scarpello from Ford SVT with his insider’s look at Ford, the SVT program and the growth of the SVTOA. Steeda’s Jo-Ann Orlando introduced the vendors who contributed prizes to the raffle. Thousands of dollars in prizes were awarded, including a Vortech 5.0 Supercharger, sets of Steeda Ultralite Wheels, Nitto Tires, Tokico Shocks and more. A John Coletti-autographed print of the Ford GT was put up for bids, with the proceeds benefiting the SVTOA, and a moment of silence was observed in memoriam of the one little, orange cone that didn’t make it at the request of the Pylon Preservation Society.

Sunday saw the action move to the racetrack. Under the trees in the infield, enthusiasts and their families gathered to relax, toss around the occasional pigskin and of course, talk about their Fords. The SVTOA sent drivers out grouped by skill levels one through four, with one being the novice level, for circuits around the historic Sebring Course. Team Steeda piloted both their personal vehicles as well as the company’s racecars, and treated their guests to some thrill rides throughout the day. Pro drivers, including 1990 GTU Champion Lance Stewart, piloted the Steeda #20 Q400R Mustang around the abbreviated Sebring road course. Little can compare to the sensation of having a Modular Motor pin you to the seat at close to 130-mph, and then a second later, feeling your chest press into the five point harness under hard braking as the driver sets up for a tough right hander! The rear breaks free for an instant, but the driver corrects with a small flick of his wrist and the skinny pedal meets the floor yet again. Breathtaking!

And while we congratulate Smarty Jones on his win at Churchill Downs, we think the real winners were the folks who attended Camp Steeda / SVTOA Sebring Sensation 2004. This event had it all; new and old Fords, show and go Fords and plenty of Steeda Style and Power. Check out the SVTOA website at for other events scheduled around the country in 2004. Start planning now to attend next year. Mint juleps optional.