Behind the wheel of a Shelby Mustang at Sebring

- Are you a Mustang person or a Camaro person? It's often a personal preference much like chocolate or vanilla, John or Paul, or white meat or dark meat.

Ford recently put on a show at Sebring International Raceway aimed at making their special new Mustang the choice for consumers looking for a flashy, fast ride starting under $50,000. It's the new Shelby Mustang GT-350, and its beefier version, GT-350R.

When I was invited to take the new Shelby for a spin on the raceway, I jumped at the chance.

BIG HORSEPOWER

Getting fitted for a helmet was the first kick.  Although I've been around cars all my life, I don't have "track time" on a raceway.

I was intrigued before I even got close by the unusual throaty sound of the 526-horsepower engine.  Jim Owens, of Ford Performance, says the engine's flat crank produces the sound.

Climbing in the driver's seat was comfy, although the helmet added a whole new dimension I'd never experienced. I soon felt the potential for speed  as I eased out onto the legendary raceway.

I must admit, when I stepped on it, I was surprised at the response. I've been behind the wheel of a couple of 500-plus horsepower cars and while I did feel "snap your head back" power, there was also a smoothness indicating this could be an everyday driver instead of just a rocket ship  for short, weekend blasts.

BLAST FROM THE PAST

While my two laps driving the Shelby at Sebring were great, the "hot lap" with a professional driver was the highlight. Brian is a long-time competitor in organized auto racing and it took him only about a minute to prove the Shelby's prowess. He headed into every turn at breakneck speeds before engaging the Shelby's oversized breaks to corner, then accelerate, whipping around the track to at least quadruple my earlier speeds and G's.

As a child of the 60's and 70's who grew up with motor heads, I was eating up the lure and legend surrounding the Shelby Mustang and its creator, the late Carroll Shelby.

Owens, the Ford Performance rep, worked with him for several years.  When he told the story of how Lee Iacocca, then the head of Ford, asked Shelby to turn the Mustang into a performance car in 1965, I loved the response.

"You can't make a race horse out of a mule," Shelby told Iacocca.

Then he built  the first Shelby Mustang in 1965 and won dozens of races.

"We were blowing Corvettes off in the weeds," Shelby would  later boast.

It was a trip to relive some of that 60's swagger at Sebring in the new Shelby GT-350.

For more information, visit http://www.ford.com/cars/mustang/trim/shelbygt350/

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