Paul Brown is a name known well to Mustang fans, and if it’s not, they’ve surely heard of his father, Kenny Brown, of Kenny Brown Performance. Kenny was the manager for Steve Saleen’s racing program in the mid-’80s, and by working there, the impressionable Paul quickly took a liking to cars and racing. Your author met him in the late-‘90s when he was associated with HP Motorsport in Omaha, Nebraska, a company with a long line of performance parts for late-model Mustangs. Paul has been competitively racing Mustangs since his early 20s, which brought a level of credibility to the business and the parts he sold.
In 2000, at a race in Charlotte, North Carolina, Paul met Ferrari racer Carol Hollfelder and her father Tom, and struck up a friendship. It turned out that Carol had a ’95 GT street car so Paul helped her hot rod it a little bit, and Paul also helped the Hollfelders for a few weekends of racing. Eventually Carol, who is paraplegic so her cars have hand controls, tired of the Ferrari and wanted something different. With Paul’s connections at Ford, he helped them adapt an Aston Martin Vanquish (Ford owned Aston at the time) T-56 paddle-shift transmission into an ’03 Cobra race car with hand controls, and Paul got the contract to build the car.
He built it in Omaha, and then moved with the car to Hollfelder’s Tiger Racing shop in Covina, California, to help Carol race the car from 2003-’05 in World Challenge. In ’06, she finished second at the NASA Nationals in Super Unlimited. Paul quit racing himself to help manage the Tiger Racing team, which consists of Carol’s car and Tom’s fleet of vintage race cars.
Paul had been in and out of driving race cars over the last two decades, but came back professionally in a big way in 2011 by helping to develop parts, through Tiger Racing, for the new Boss 302S race car for Ford Racing. He then jumped behind the wheel and dominated SCCA’s World Challenge GTS class in the car. We sat down with him to talk about how the season went, and how it all came together originally.
StangTV: What is Tiger Racing?
Paul Brown: ”There’s Tiger Racing, which is the vintage race team. That is my real job, maintaining the fleet of vintage race cars and collectibles. We do some shows and concourse, auctions and vintage races. And then, my name became so associated with Tiger Racing that I created Tiger Racing Performance Parts. That’s become its own separate identity and that’s what the Boss program fell under, the parts that we’re doing with Ford Racing. I’m also involved with some sales and marketing of Competition Performance Products, which is the G-Stream wing, which is supplied to Ford Racing [for the Boss 302S program]. CPP is owned by a friend of mine, Dave Martis, who is the race shop manager for K&N. So there are all these overlapping circles I’m involved in.”
STV: How did you start developing parts for Ford Racing?
Brown: ”We had developed parts for ourselves and it fit into what Ford Racing was doing. We provided many test subjects even back in ’07 for the Mustang Challenge. Dave and I approached them on being the spec wing supplier but they went with the other stuff. Then into the World Challenge series this past year with Ford building the Boss 302S race car, they got a little bit more of an open slate to have fun with it.”
“The Boss R that runs Grand Am is very spec specific—no aero, stock parts, no splitter—where World Challenge is seen a little bit more as a tuner class where guys are running wings and aero devices and are allowed splitters. So to bring the Mustang Challenge car up to a competitive level in GTS, as opposed to dialing all the other competitors back, Ford was allowed to bring those cars up to speed. Looking at an average lap time, the Mustang Challenge cars needed to be about 3-seconds a lap faster to be competitive. The wing, the hood, and a 100hp upgrade pretty much put them in that ballpark.”
“The second year for GTS, the Boss 302S was being brought to market. It was announced at the PRI show in 2010 for the 2011 year. The car has a stock clutch, stock driveshaft, GT500 transmission, and off-the-shelf production parts. It comes with the Laguna Seca Torsion differential, Brembo race brakes, Tiger Racing hood, CPP G-Stream wing, and Ford built their own plastic splitter for economic reasons.”
STV: Tiger Racing supplies that wing for the Boss 302S cars. How did the wing project come together?
Brown: ”Well, ten years ago, HP Motorsport was the spec wing supplier for World Challenge for three years, until they gradually opened it up. When I went back to rebuilding one of my old cars and wanted a new wing, I was looking at an improved design because aero stuff continues to improve all the time. I had worked with an aerodynamicist here on the west coast who had developed the G-Stream wing. He was having a hard time marketing it and selling it based on the cost to club racers. Most of the professional series you have to buy your way in to become a spec part, so I made him put his money where his mouth is and we went to the track.”
“We used Carol’s race car to test because it had full data acquisition on it, and literally tested the traditional World Challenge or Trans Am wing against the G-Stream on the same car, at the same time, on the same day, and it by far destroyed the earlier versions. It made noticeably more down-force, but what surprised me was it did it at a lower speed. The design is supposed to start working at 40 mph, where most of the others start at 80. With the G-Stream wing the car was a full second and a half faster. When you looked at the data, it had better top speed, corner speed, and better braking. We did coast-downs and the G-Stream was just better everywhere. I started selling the pieces and we started selling them faster than they could produce them. That’s when Dave took over the company and I handled sales and marketing. We work closely together.”
The 2011 race season started off as a pipe dream with a bunch of guys sitting around drinking going, “Yeah, we can do this. We can make this happen.
Brown: ”The 2011 race season started off as a pipe dream with a few guys sitting around drinking going, “Yeah, we can do this. We can make this happen.” Mark Wilson at Ford Racing contacted me while they were working on the Mustang Challenge cars to bring them into World Challenge, and asked if we were still making the wings. After seeing their involvement and then learning about the Boss Mustang and the factory race car that was coming, it fit with what I wanted to do to get back into pro racing.”
“We had a direct involvement with the factory, providing them parts. The problem was that it was a new car and a new program, so the car wasn’t going to be released until May or June and the season started in March.”
“I had been driving a Cobra R for friends in Tulsa, Tracy and Jody Wellendorf, who were old customers of HP since ’92 or ’93. Tracy wanted a race car, so we knew what to do. When Ford wasn’t going to have cars ready in time, Tracy went to a local Ford dealer, bought a 2011 GT off the lot, and I flew back to Iowa and drove it home. Thirty days later, three of us had turned the car into a full-fledged World Challenge GTS car just in time for the SEMA Show. An effort which just about killed us. We got our Boss prototype done before Ford did, but we were waiting on Ford for a final ECU calibration. The biggest thing we had to overcome was that it was such a new car that they were still developing the final parts that they were going to run. So that allowed us to get a lot of my past vendors involved in this project. Again, it started off with drinks, 30 days later we had a car, and 30 days after that it was a race car.”
“Our car is referred to as X2 and Ford’s car is X1, then they started with serial numbers. X2 is the car we raced all season, campaigned as a Boss 302S. It was used to develop several parts for the series and we used it to develop some parts for ourselves. We developed a full carbon/carbon clutch to the letter of the rule. It has four layers of carbon and is 24 pounds for the assembly, compared to 32 pounds for the lightest clutch we could find. For selfish reasons, (but I’m claiming it was for durability testing) we didn’t start selling any of our carbon clutches to the other competitors until the end of the year.”
STV: Because you wanted to get the championship?
Brown: ”I wanted to keep our edge. Racing’s like high-speed chess. Not only do you have to plan what’s in front of you, but you have to plan your moves well ahead. One of the things that kept us ahead of the competition is that our car was literally different at every race. Whether it was shock settings, ride height, air filter, brake pads, something. We tried to make improvements on it for every race, and that was part of staying ahead. If you expect to go out and win a championship with a car you buy off a shelf and never change it, it’s not going to work. Somebody’s always got more money and you gotta keep ahead.”
“The wild thing about our season—Tracy provided us a car and it was myself, Adam Cox, who is my crew chief, and we brought in a young kid from Boston as an intern by the name of Chris Filias. It was the three of us that worked ‘round the clock for weeks on end to put the car together. Once we had the car, it was how do we get it to the track? We originally planned on just doing the west coast races because we didn’t have any funding. I hadn’t been in the series seriously for almost 10 years, so approaching sponsors was really a tough sell, but what made it worse was the first two races were in Florida and the second race was in Long Beach [California] in April. And Long Beach has a limited entry, so if you didn’t do the races in Florida, you didn’t have a guaranteed spot at Long Beach. Lucas Oil stepped up as our first sponsor and they’re the ones that got us to St. Petersburg and Long Beach.”
STV: So tell me about the season.
Brown: “At the first race, we qualified second, which blew me away. You always expect to do well and want to do well, but to come out of the box with a brand new car, qualify second, lead the first half of the race and finish second was huge. It was icing on the cake. The Saturday before we had to leave for Florida, we found out we had to change a bunch of parts on the car because the rules were still being written. They weren’t really solid until the fourth race. Ford was still getting ready to deliver the cars to the customers, so there was a lot of clarification and a lot of work still being done.”
STV: Did you have a chance to do any testing on the car before that?
Brown: ”We took it to the Shelby Club event but in a completely different format. It had my dad’s [Kenny Brown] suspension on it, which they deemed illegal on the Boss cars, but not the FR500. It had a different transmission, a different rear-end, different wheels, brakes and control arms. It still had the stock motor, not the Boss motor. We changed a whole lot and didn’t have time to test it before Florida. We had run the fastest lap of the race on Saturday so we started on pole Sunday for the second race [St. Pete was a double header]. I led the first half of the race and on a restart got tangled up with a Touring car and got put into the wall. I limped it back to the pits with a flat, Adam ended up changing a tire and got me back out to finish the race in which I again set the fastest lap of the race even after the car was banged up. The three of us then drove straight back to LA in the pickup to get a couple weeks worth of work done in less than a week in time for Long Beach. We had to replace one quarter, one door, both fenders, and the front and rear bumpers are still banged up from that event. The radiator core also got crunched so it had to go on the frame machine. Just minor stuff!”
STV: And then?
Brown: ”At Long Beach we started second, got the lead on the start and led it flag-to-flag. The next race was at Miller [Motorsports Park in Utah]. The St. Pete weekend put us on a high, following it with the win at Long Beach, suddenly we were leading the championship. At that point, it forced us to go forward. You don’t want to quit a season when you’re doing well, but it was a struggle the whole year financially. It took us a few races to gel as a team, but what set our team apart from the rest was that I was the only Mustang guy on the team. Tracy is our car show guy and detailer, but he’s not real mechanical. He’s a doctor, so we don’t let him touch the car too much, but he mixes a helluva drink and keeps the crew hydrated, at the end of the day, of course.”
“Adam’s background is Ferraris and other exotics. He’s factory trained, went to Italy to work on the factory race team, so his background is serious, but he had a similar situation where life took over and he had stopped racing for a time. We connected through my wife, who reconnected to him through Ferrari Chat. Adam was Carol’s first crew chief back when she ran Ferrari Challenge and we refer to it as a comeback year for both of us. We got him back into what he loves, and for me to come back into the series as strong as we did, in the series that I grew up in… the series back in ’86 was called Escort Endurance, which then turned into Escort Something, then World Challenge, and that’s where it’s evolved to today. The series I started in 25 years ago, we won a championship in this year.”
STV: So what is the final tally for the season?
Brown: ”We had five wins, three seconds, a third, seven fastest race laps, four pole positions, nine front row starts, nine podiums, 10 top tens, and I led 189 out of 319 laps in 12 races.
STV: Wow, that’s pretty dominant. What kind of cars were you racing against in your class?
Brown: ”Other Boss Mustangs, lots of FR500S [Mustang Challenge] cars, Camaros, BMW M3s and Z4s, Acura has a factory team—they’re high-revving, full sequentials—Porsche Cayman, Nissan 370Z. The Challenger’s legal too, but nobody showed up with one. It was a pretty diverse group of cars. There are three classes in our series. GT is the high end, with Porsche Cup, Corvettes, Ferraris, a factory Cadillac team… basically the higher hp, more expensive cars. Then there’s the GTS class that we run in, which is more muscle cars around the 400 hp limit, and finally, there are Touring Cars which are mostly your front wheel-drive VWs, Hondas, Volvo C30s, more of the 4-cyl imports. [All three classes race on track together.]”
STV: Tell us more about the season.
Brown: ”This year was pretty surreal, a wild way to come back into racing. It was a financial struggle every race, which is why I can look at any picture of my car and tell you which race it was at depending on whose graphics are on the car. We started off with Lucas Oil, did some stuff with Hawk Brake, brought my dad’s company Kenny Brown Performance on at Laguna Seca. I was working with an old Mustang contact from the Midwest through the year who’s one of the franchise owners of One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning. So it turned into, for lack of a better term, a family affair. Same goes with our crew.”
“Chris, the 22 year-old intern, was the only one that made every race other than me. We brought in my engineer friend, Cary Eisenlohr, the ERP on the nose of the car. I think Tracy made every race and his wife Jody would fly in for support when she could. My in-laws Tom and Bea made it to several events and my father Kenny got involved with technical and sponsor help even though they made us pull some of his parts off. John McCarthy from One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning also made a few races and he was sending real Nebraska steaks to the track that we grilled for the crew. I joke that it was the three of us: Chris, Adam and I were the blood, sweat and tears, but we really had an army of 10 to 15 people at the track every weekend, depending on where we were and who could come in to help. It was really the networking during the season and support from family and friends that made the difference.”
STV: So it was a shoestring budget?
Brown: ”Hah, we couldn’t afford the shoestring! Yeah, shoestring budget would be a good word, but with killer steaks! With our success, we were getting prize money and contingency that we’d dump right back in to the program to get us to the next race. It was race-to-race all year. We locked up the championship at Laguna, which was the second to last race, so we didn’t even have to go to the last race in Atlanta. We struggled with that for some time. It required somebody, or several somebodies, to drive from California to Atlanta and back. The screwy thing about Road Atlanta is that we move in on Tuesday, practice Wednesday, qualify Thursday and race on Friday. So no matter how you looked at it, it was a 2-week adventure, plus the expense. Diesel fuel was at $4 a gallon, but we also knew that One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning had a corporate office in Atlanta, which was also important. One of the deciding factors was that a Porsche GT team needed transport from the west coast. We rented the other half of the trailer and that paid for most of the fuel and driver, so it made that week much more reasonable.”
STV: So for someone on the outside that says, “I’ve got a truck and trailer. I can afford the car. I can do this.” How much are they looking at spending?
Brown: ”On average, doing things as reasonably as anyone could, it was an easy $10,000 to $15,000 every weekend, or even a bit more. And that’s after owning the car, truck and trailer, but not with crash damage or blown up parts. We used four different trailer combinations this year, whatever we could borrow. For St. Pete, I borrowed my father-in-law’s pickup and 32-foot enclosed trailer. For Long Beach, we used a flatbed since it was close to home. We took the pickup to Utah and after that we sent the car with another team for the Canada race. They dropped it off with Tracy in Iowa to get to Mosport and Mid-Ohio, then I drove the toter and stacker from Iowa to home, for the California races.”
“We always presented ourselves as professionally as possible. K&N and Lucas gave us t-shirts, we brought in a watch company at the end of the year, Luminox. Having everybody on the crew wearing the same shirt, whether it was an embroidered crew shirt or just a clean t-shirt, just presenting yourself in a positive organized manner presents a better image and that helps you attract more sponsors. It definitely has opened the doors for 2012, but nobody has committed yet.”
If you expect to go out and win a championship with a car you buy off a shelf and never change it, it’s not going to work. Somebody’s always got more money, and you gotta keep ahead.
Brown: ”Even when you prove something, it doesn’t necessarily make you attractive to a sponsor. The toughest thing I’ve had to deal with, and I’ve been around pro racing for 25 years, is that a lot of it comes back to marketing. I have a personal ego, who doesn’t? But I’ve never had the big, corporate ego as far as “look at me!”
If it wasn’t for the guys behind me there’s no way I’d be able to be here. NASCAR drivers are a good example. They market themselves as celebrities so that becomes the identity, whereas sports car racing is marketed more as a team and less as a driver. The thing I’ve found with sponsors is it matters if you’re winning, but that’s not the most important thing. If you have a professional image and are in front of people in a professional manner endorsing the product properly, that’s what it’s about. It comes back to how many places can their name be seen?”
“I always try to give back to the sponsor more than I take. It’s gotta be a 2-way street. Every race, we’re sending updates, pictures, information, getting someone to blog on it here or post it there. The biggest thing is keeping the awareness up. You have to stay on top of things and that becomes another full time job in itself. I’ve got my regular fulltime job, racing’s a fulltime job, then you have a fulltime marketing job. It’s tough to do everything well and that’s where a lot of people fail or miss.”
“And the economy… when companies have to cut back, motorsport is the easiest way. They have to be able to track the value. We’ve already got a lot of companies signed on for next year and a lot of them are product sponsors, but that all helps reduce the cost. The biggest thing you’ll find with us is that there’s nothing on our car that doesn’t work. We’re not representing anything that I don’t believe in. I think that’s my own personal value. We’ve had a money opportunity by an additive company, and it just didn’t fit what we did, so we stayed more true to ourselves.”
STV: What was your best moment of the year and your worst moment of the year?
Brown: ”There were a lot of good moments, and I actually get emotional on a lot of stuff. Locking up the championship was pretty special [Brown gets choked up while describing this]. This year was at Laguna [Seca Raceway]. I love Laguna, it’s one of my favorite tracks, I can almost drive that place blindfolded, but the race was also on my and Carol’s wedding anniversary. She told me I either had to win the race or buy her jewelry; so winning was a lot cheaper! I told her I didn’t know if we had the car to win, and asked, “How about if I just lock up the championship, would you be satisfied with that?”
In qualifying, we kept toggling back and forth between second and third, then had a red flag. When the track went green again there were only about two minutes before the checkered came out [Ed note: once the checkered flag comes out during qualifying, the session is on its last lap]. I hit the flag with 30 seconds left and set the pole qualifying time by 4 tenths on the last lap and nobody had a chance to respond.”
“The worst moments were being up against the wall saying, “Shit, this sucks.” We had two races we didn’t finish, one was with somebody else’s help and the other we induced our own failure. Trying something different doesn’t always work and sometimes you find out the hard way.”
STV: How did the Boss 302S hold up during the season?
Brown: “The car’s durability is fantastic. I broke a spoke out of a wheel at Miller from contact with another car and drove the whole race without knowing it. It’s not supposed to be a contact sport, but sometimes there’s a little bit of rubbing. We had a few really good battles with Eric Foss, who finished second in the championship. At Mid-Ohio we exchanged paint the better part of a lap, got knocked off track… that may have been one of our best races or highlights of the year. We just came off a win at Mosport and SCCA threw a 49mm restrictor at us. We didn’t have the fastest car that weekend, but through consistency and determination, we won both Saturday and Sunday. Sunday was a full out dogfight. There were marks on three out of four sides of that car. That’s when it’s fun, when you have to work for it.”
STV: So how many times were you torn down or protested?
Brown: ”We were never protested, I don’t think, because the series does a lot of inspections. Every time we were on the podium or qualified in the top 5, SCCA would put us on the scales, check the wing, tires, splitter, brakes, track width, intake off, valve covers off, intake apart, measure the throttle body and restrictor, starter out so they could check the clutch size and diameter, rear axle ratio, control arms, brackets…”
“I don’t know that we were accused of cheating, but one of my competitors was in my trailer telling me everything that we did to our motors and that we shouldn’t be doing that. But we had stock crate motors from Ford. Until SCCA made us pull the intake and valve covers, I’d never seen the inside of the motor. We didn’t have time. The motor would show up on Tuesday, went in the car Wednesday, and the trailer was gone Thursday. But we did our homework and we methodically went through every inch of the car. Cary, our engineer, can tell me if we change the ride height ¼-inch, where it puts the roll center and how it affects the rest of the car.”
“And we worked very closely with our vendors. My car was a donor car and didn’t have the Brembos to begin with, but I have a 20-year relationship with Hal Baer and Todd Gartshore at Baer Brakes so they worked with us. They wanted to get back into racing and developed a new caliper for us in 30 days to compete with Brembo. We did the same with shocks. We use JRZ from the Netherlands. It’s something we could do different than what everybody else had. Different isn’t always better, but it gives you an option. There were a lot of little things like that.”
“The funniest part is we never did screw with the motor—we didn’t have to, the Ford powertrain is so strong to begin with. One of the other teams was trying to squeeze more power out of it, but detonated and melted it down. We got a sealed ECU from Ford Racing with their Boss programming in it. Mark told me, ‘Don’t screw with it. Don’t touch it.’ We didn’t touch it, and didn’t have problems. When we had our problems, we had smaller problems than our competitors.”
Racing is like high-speed chess. Not only do you have to plan what’s in front of you, but you have to plan your moves well ahead.
Brown: ”We started with no restrictor at St. Pete because the cars were fresh and new. The Acura that was so underpowered was only a tenth slower than me at St. Pete, but at Long Beach it was 2.5 seconds slower so we got a restrictor for Miller, the fourth race. They were actually faster than us at Miller, then we were faster at Mosport, so we got another restrictor. That’s the thing I don’t get. At St. Pete, best time to best time was a tenth difference. At the end of year, after they slowed us down and gave them a weight break, we were still that exact same speed. How do you take 50 hp away from us, add 240 pounds and the cars are still even?”
STV: Were you sandbagging?
Brown: ”Hell no, not at all! We didn’t think we had the money to run an entire season so I was out to impress our sponsors and people involved from the first time the car hit the track. I didn’t hold anything back and we showed our cards from the beginning, but we were also upfront with the series. The first couple races, when they were trying to figure out what parts we were allowed, I had a file folder a half-inch thick with all the email conversations and with everything on our car explained out to the letter. Nothing was hidden.”
STV: So what’s next for Tiger Racing?
Brown: ”For 2012, we’re in negotiations with several other drivers to haul, prep and transport their Boss cars. I don’t know if we’re the official support trailer for the Boss cars in World Challenge, but we will be carrying spare motors, transmissions, rear-ends, control arms… basically all the Boss 302S-specific components. That’s something we’ve worked with Ford Racing on. I have a 2013 Boss 302S, serial number 1, coming. We will be racing car number 1 if it’s here in time. If not, we’ll probably introduce it at Long Beach. My current car will probably be turned into a backup or a rental.”
It was quite a season for Paul Brown and Tiger Racing, and we expect to see them on the winner’s podium more than once in 2012. To learn more about Tiger Racing, “Like” their Facebook page at Facebook.com/TigerRacing and check out their website at Tiger-Racing.com.