By Teresa Flores
The Northeast Carroll Shelby Automotive Program has a lot to celebrate. The rebuilding of a 1965 Mustang has been an extensive project for the Shelby program students. The car is set to race in the 2015 La Carrera Panamericana Race in Mexico.
The Panamericana Mustang was commissioned last year by Dallas attorney Rob Miller, who will drive in the race with Wilbert Grinsven, the curator of the Dallas Museum of Automotive History.
Under the leadership of Shelby Director Keith Fennimore and Instructor Tony Whitworth, the students were able to finally put the Mustang on the track for the first time this month. “Our main goal is to do a shakedown,” Fennimore said before the test. “We will test and see what’s wrong with the car, what changes we can make, and what we can do differently.”
Students from the Shelby A/P Race Team were finally able to see their combined efforts put to the test. Student Oscar Quiroga said after the first lap he was surprised to see the car running well. “We weren’t even sure it was going to run,” said Quiroga. “We were having doubts. The car did pretty well on its first lap. It surprised all of us.” Overall, Quiroga said, “It was a lot different than what I expected. It was a rush. It was a great opportunity for us to get used to the racetrack.”
Student Kaleb Dorsey agreed saying it was an amazing experience. “We had a lot of fun,” he said. “Seeing all the racecars and being around that environment was breathtaking.”
Fennimore said the Panamericana Mustang only needed small repairs during the run. “There were few minor issues, nothing major,” he said. “The students fixed the issues and were able to get the car back on the racetrack.”
In coalition with the racecar’s first run, the Shelby program also celebrated Whitworth’s 50 years of racing passion that day. Whitworth comes to the program with tremendous racing experience having worked with automotive giants Carroll Shelby and A.J. Foyt. Miller presented Whitworth with a photo book documenting his years in racing. Whitworth said he became really emotional by the memento. “I had my glasses on,” said Whitworth. “My wife could see I was getting choked up, but nobody else could.”
The book was passed throughout the day and signed by Shelby students, which gave Whitworth an extra special gift. “The students signed it,” he said. “It’s even got some grease on it now, which makes it even cooler. I feel so lucky and honored to be here and to perform with these students.”
The students shared the same sentiment with their instructor as well. “I wouldn’t have wanted to be with anyone else that day,” said Dorsey. “I’m so glad Whitworth came here to NTCC when I was here.”
A film crew from the Velocity Channel was also on hand to document the day. The Panamericana Mustang has garnered a lot of attention. The Mustang was the featured car at the 2015 Hot Rods and Hatters Car Show earlier this year and highlighted in the Austin American Statesman newspaper.
Throughout the rebuilding, Miller said he hopes the program students can gain an appreciation for what Carroll Shelby did for the automotive industry. “It gives the students perspective of who he was, a pioneer,” said Miller. “Also, it gives the students real world knowledge, meeting deadlines and taking responsibility.”
By having the Shelby program aid in the rebuilding of the Mustang, the attorney said he gets more than just a racecar. “I get the opportunity to work with the Shelby program,” he said. “It’s meaningful to me to be a part of the legacy and program that was very important to Shelby.” Both Miller and Grinsven will be racing the Panamericana Mustang this October in the 2,000-mile race. Miller said, “Our overall goals are to publicize the Carroll Shelby Automotive Program so people know, internationally, it’s there.”