Tackling Sebring In A Shelby
Seth Burgett, Gateway Bronco founder and CEO, might be known for his company’s high-riding custom Ford Broncos, but there are times when Seth prefers to travel much lower to the ground.
Seth spends his rare free time driving on the vintage racing circuit and in February, was able to mark a big one off his bucket list. He competed at the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association’s Sebring SpeedTour at Sebring International Raceway. Racing fans know the venerable Florida track for its annual 12-hour endurance race that has attracted the world’s top drivers and race cars since the 1950s.
However, the competition at Sebring was not just a goal achieved for Seth, but a grand homecoming for his car as well. Seth’s 1967 GT500 Shelby Mustang is a car with its own road racing history, including competing in the 1971 and 1972 FIA Sebring 12 Hours Endurance Race.
“It was surreal to return the Shelby to Sebring and run it there 50 years later, especially the year that Shelby American is celebrating their 60th anniversary,” Seth said. “It was very satisfying to qualify first in my class, adding another chapter in the car’s history. Just sitting in the car on the grid for the race even felt special. This was one of those moments I won’t easily forget, and I savored the moment.”
The Shelby has been raced in some form or another for most of its life, primarily in the Sports Car Club of America and later in vintage classes. Seth raced at Sebring in the SVRA’s Group 6BP class, home to large displacement sports cars and sedans such as certain small-block Corvettes, Ferraris, Aston Martins and Shelby GT350 Mustangs. Although Seth’s car is a genuine GT500 that was originally fitted with a 428ci V8, it has been equipped with a small-block V8 since the early 1970s and thus classified for racing as a GT350.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the car was owned and raced by Grant MacDonald, former Research and Development Engineer with Ford Motor Company, a man who knew the ins-and-outs of Ford performance. The Shelby later passed through the hands of other owners, and when it came up for sale Seth was ready for it.
“I found the Shelby while searching for Broncos and fell in love with it,” he recalled. “My favorite car of all time has always been the 1967 Shelby Mustang. When I was 15 years old, I had an opportunity to buy a 1967 Shelby with original Lime Gold paint but bought a standard Mustang for much less instead. I still own that car, but the ’67 Shelby would have been a great purchase and so much fun to drive.”
Seth eventually did get his 1967 Shelby. He bought a pair of them in 2016: a GT350 and a GT500. “While they were fun street cars to drive, I really wanted to go vintage racing eventually. When I ran across the ’67 Shelby race car in Gulf Livery colors, I knew this was the perfect car for me.”
Seth has been steadily sorting the car for its vintage debut since he purchased it. He enlisted Billy Johnson as a driving coach to help formulate the best way to tackle Sebring. Johnson is the 2016 IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge GS champion and raced a Ford GT for the Chip Ganassi Team in Europe; he did very well at Le Mans and won Spa.
Johnson works with drivers at every level, from beginners driving their first track days, to those attending racing schools and professionals at the top levels.
“Regardless of your skill level, it is critical to understand what elements you need to work on and be willing to try something different,” Johnson said. “Working with Seth was awesome because he listened as I introduced the correct procedures, allowing him to safely and quickly improve. He’s very smart and is able to understand how everything works as I explained them. While coaching Seth, he just knocked it out.”
Sebring is a notoriously tough track, but Seth’s attention to detail paid off. “The race team, R&R Motorsports, did a great job prepping and adjusting the car,” Seth explained. “It can be a handful and if not done right, can bite you. If you keep within its operating window and nibble at the limits, the Shelby can be very predictable.”
Although the car was well-prepped, Johnson saw that Seth was able to test the Shelby’s limits as he racked up the laps. “Seth progressed so quickly, he was driving the car so fast and so hard, that his driving abilities were greater than the cooling system abilities of the car,” Johnson said.
“If he had been driving slow because of inexperience, the car would have been good. But he was pushing it and leading the race by driving to the car’s capabilities. The cooling system just wasn’t able to keep up. No one could have expected him to drive that well and that fast in that context. It was rare that it happened over a weekend, but he did very well. I really enjoyed coaching him.”
A new crankshaft has been ordered so Seth hopes to make the Historic Sportscar Racing race at Road Atlanta later in the year. He also plans on racing at Sebring again next year. The Monterey Historics is also on his radar if they have a class for it. “The goal is to drive it at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion in 2023,” Seth noted.
Few people have the opportunity to purchase their all-time favorite car and then race it at world-famous racetracks. Seth is eager to make the most of his. This is good news for Shelby fans as Seth’s GT500 has many more campaigns ahead.
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