The Ford Performance Racing School (FPRS) has a new home out west. After running programs for eight years at the facility previously known as Miller Motorsports Park outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, the only racing school to feature the Ford blue oval has sent its pavement-based programs east to Charlotte Motor Speedway beginning in 2020. The Raptor Assault off-road program and most of company’s logistics have relocated to a brand-new, 45,000 ft2 facility just down the street from the previous location in Tooele, Utah.
With its GT350/GT500 Track Attack, ST Octane Academy and retail racing-school programs now scheduled to run out of Charlotte Motor Speedway, the airy, spacious and bespoke new facility in Tooele will host only the Raptor Assault School, a one-day program for owners of Ford’s high-speed, off-road pickup truck. FPRS-West now is based in a business park redeveloped from a former Army train depot and the reconditioned space houses the entire operation under one roof. Automotive Engineering was able to slot into an early March 2020 Raptor Assault program, on only the facility’s second day of operation.
New location, new programs
“This all happened starting January 1,” explained Bill Johnson, sales and marketing manager for FPRS, of the bright new space. “We built all this out just this year. So the dust hasn't even settled yet, really, and we had we had our first program yesterday.” The beautifully wood-raftered building is one of dozens within the business park, which is laced with old railroad ties storing rail cars (the U.S. Army still runs a depot, slightly to the south).
The facility is in close proximity to the Utah Motorsports Campus (UMC; previously Miller Motorsports Park), where the school was based for eight years, starting with the Boss 302 Track Attack program in 2012. UMC was sold to investment/development group MiTime in 2018, which like Volvo, is a subsidiary of the Chinese auto company Geely. In addition to the Raptor program in Utah and track-based programs in Charlotte, owners of Ford Explorer ST and Edge ST models can now participate in one-day FPRS “lifestyle” programs in Asheville, North Carolina, or Park City, Utah.
“Those are very similar programs that include a night at a five-star hotel, a reception dinner and then a day's worth of driving,” explained Dan McKeever, president of FPRS, which is part of the McKeever Group. “Now that driving is more lifestyle, mountain roads, and you can bring your spouse, your dad, or your buddy. But we have a driving activity in the middle of the day, through an autocross, and through exercises to showcase the capability and some of the technology in the vehicle.”
New off-road base
The original goal for FPRS upon departing UMC was to find a similar setup, with both pavement and off-road programs run from the same facility. “We’d just as soon have one base of operations, as it actually was quite nice having receptions with multiple groups. We had ST owners right next to Raptor owners, next to GT350 owners,” McKeever said. “Ultimately, that's what we wanted to try to do. But we figured out pretty quickly that a motorsports facility that had an off-road option at this level wasn't out there.”
Having run the Raptor program in the Tooele area, with its truly stunning off-road terrain literally minutes away, the decision was made to divide the school into FPRS-East and FPRS-West. “We wanted to find a way to house the off-road portion locally. To use the same trails, a lot of the same things that we did, because it just fits so beautifully. To be able to get the different levels of off-road that really fit this truck.”
The new facility was an opportunity to grow the Raptor off-road program, which is provided as a free benefit to new buyers, and was already booked through most of 2020. “We've been able to expand the relationship with Ford and set this up,” McKeever explained. “We were sort of packed in at the other place, and this gives us a bunch of elbow room. It's our own facility, and we can do programs any days we want. We're on our own schedule, so it gives us the ability to make the right decisions.”
The renovated space combines the storage and service garage for the more than two dozen Raptors used for the program, as well as reception, classroom and office space. “We sort of tried to embrace the fact that we're in the middle of an old army depot.” McKeever said. “This whole thing was a warehouse. We keep the trucks in the back. And this is the main office for both locations. The way we've got our program structured is that we've got sales, marketing and accounting all located here.”
A day in stunning terrain
The Raptor Assault school starts with a reception in the new facility the evening before the program, where the roughly 20 students and their guests can meet, enjoy the provided dinner and get sign-up logistics sorted. The program starts at 8:30 a.m. the following morning with a brief classroom session to go over basic vehicle dynamics, a discussion of the terrain expected to be encountered that day plus radio and schedule logistics. Students pair up for the day in the Raptors, which are provided by the school, and you roll in the immaculately prepped trucks right out of the attached garage.
The first session is at a set of dedicated off-road courses at a playground built for the program in a lot down the street from the FPRS facility. Here students are provided helmets and taken through a series of obstacles and short off-road tracks to become familiar with the Raptor’s different off-road modes and capabilities. These included nerve-wracking side inclines and steep climbs and descents to practice engaging the hill ascent and descent aids (an off-road cruise-control feature Ford labels Trail Control that debuted in the MY2019 Raptor).
With the familiarization complete, the remainder of the day is spent on local wilderness trails, with driver swaps and a mountaintop lunch as part of the agenda. The terrain is spectacular, as are the views. Depending on the weather, participants will see a host of surfaces, which on our day in early March featured plenty of mud, some snow and lots of sand and rocky pitches. An instructor in their own Raptor is assigned to every three trucks, with constant radio contact to alert and guide students on the trail. Though wide-open desert running is not part of the curricula, the two-track off-road pace proved more than swift enough for most students.
The Raptor Assault day is capped by a return to the playground to practice jumping the trucks and navigate a flowing course to highlight the abilities of the Raptor’s Baja Mode. Thanks to spectacular weather for early March (sunny, 70), and a great mix of surfaces including lots of mud due to the snowmelt, overall response by the attending Raptor owners on our program day seemed exceedingly positive. The instruction staff was an entertaining and knowledgeable bunch, helping keep the day light and most importantly, fun.
The Raptor Assault School runs annually from March through November and is provided free to new Raptor owners, though students need to provide their own lodging and transportation to the school. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, classes through April 3 have been rescheduled, and the school will reassess future 2020 program dates at the end of March.Continue reading »