When we started the Way of the FiST series for Ford Muscle we planned on doing a few modifications to our 2019 Ford Fiesta ST and autocrossing it in the SCCA H-Street class. But, like any car project, we started playing around and having fun with the Fiesta at the drag strip, tinkering and taking it to the dyno, and the next thing we knew we were in Kansas at the DirtFish SCCA RallyCross National Championships racing the car in the dirt in the Stock Front class. We earned a respectable podium finish at the RallyCross Nationals, brought the car back home to California, converted it back to autocross spec and then finished the 2020 season by winning an SCCA Regional Championship. Good times, and in case you didn’t know…”Fiesta” is Spanish for “party.”
Time for a Change
As successful as the Fiesta had been for us in 2020 we felt like we had pretty much wrung out all the performance we could get out of the hot hatch while it was in essentially stock form (per SCCA rules). Admittedly, at some events we got the car up on two wheels a few butt-puckering times and realized an upgraded suspension wouldn’t be a terrible idea. As we kicked around a few concepts for what to do next with the FiST I came across the Tire Rack One Lap of America webpage. Looking at the rules for the monumental 8-day, 17-state, 3,600-mile, 10-different-track, smorgasbord of a racing event I saw they had an Economy Car class. The rules stated that any vehicle purchased new for less than $25,000 MSRP is eligible for the class. We picked up our 2019 Ford Fiesta ST from a Ford dealership for only $19,000. We were in, let’s party!
As we looked closer at the rules for One Lap of America we realized there weren’t many rules. In fact, the rulebook is quite thin. Which meant we could modify the car anyway we chose to and it wouldn’t change the class we entered. Even if we threw $10,000 in mods at the Fiesta it would still remain in the Economy class. Time to get out the credit card! Since all of the previous tuning we did to the car was specifically for autocross we needed to adapt the car for road courses. We would be hitting ten different tracks during One Lap of America, mostly road courses, along with a drag strip, an oval, one autocross and the skid pad at Tire Rack’s headquarters in South Bend, IN. I started scrolling through my Krider Racing Instagram feed to see what people in the Fiesta IG community were doing to their cars in regards to mods for track days. That’s where I found Matt Wortham, who told me to concentrate on cooling the engine, cooling the brakes and to change the springs. Good advice.
Since we would be traveling to different race courses and because we would have to drive the car every night, sometimes up to nine hours, to each of the tracks (no support vehicles or trailer queens allowed for One Lap) I wanted an adjustable suspension system. We decided on a set of MeisterR coilovers because we could adjust ride height, camber and soften the shocks for the transition drives. Then when we arrived at the track we could crank down the rebound adjustments for some corner carving. Jerrick Lo at MeisterR had experience working with Fiesta STs so he set us up with the perfect spring rate for One Lap – a spring rate that would calm the car in the corners on track but not knock all of the fillings out of our teeth on the freeways. The MeisterR coilovers bolted right into the Fiesta with ease and they had all of the required mounting connections for the front swaybar, ABS wiring, and brake line (not all shocks are as easy to install). Each unit came with a knob on the top to easily make rebound adjustments between sessions. The MeisterRs were exactly what we were looking for.
With the suspension decisions handled we turned our concentration onto the Fiesta’s cooling system. We had heard from numerous people that the Fiesta ST would get pretty hot while running hard on track for any length of time. We were certainly planning on running it hard. We scored a Mishimoto radiator and fan shroud to resolve any possible cooling issues. But since we were already on the Mishimoto website…we figured we might as well buy a bigger intercooler too! And with a bigger intercooler it meant we could run a more aggressive tune for more boost. At this point we were certainly falling down the rabbit hole of modifications. Why stop now? Raffi Kazanjian at FSWerks created a custom tune for 93-octane fuel (not available in California, but certainly available where One Lap of America runs) and the tune had lots of boost to help us go fast while on track.
One of the interesting rules about the One Lap of America race is you have to use one set of tires purchased from Tire Rack during the entire event. You are not allowed to drive the transition sections (between tracks) on street tires and then slap on race tires in the paddock before you hit the track. You have to use one set of tires, for the entirety of the eight-day, 3,600-mile race. The tires had to be a minimum of 200 treadwear. We had done a lot of testing with the Yokohama ADVAN A052 tire and loved it. On the “OLOA: One Lap of America Drivers” Facebook group page there was a lot of chatter about the Yokohamas being so soft and sticky that they may not make the full 3,600 miles with track driving included. I was confident the Yokohamas could make it the full distance. In fact, we were so confident we actually drove all the way from California to Indiana for the start of the race while on our brand-new Yokos we bought from Tire Rack. Each tire for the event has a special blue Tire Rack stamp and “OLOA2021” branding in the sidewall to ensure tires aren’t swapped out during the race week.
Let’s Get this Party Started
The first thing you find out when you check-in for One Lap of America is the guy who runs it, Brock Yates Jr., is a funny dude. He tells you he wants you to drive 3,600 miles and not get a speeding ticket, and then he hands you a bag full of sponsor stickers to make your street legal car look just like a racecar. After the increased horsepower from the Mishimoto intercooler and the FSWerks tune, we calculated that we probably added about 40 additional horsepower with the amount of stickers we stuck on the Fiesta for One Lap.
After the driver’s meeting was completed and all the stickers were added, each car was tech inspected (the minimal requirements were a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit, some flares and a license plate). Then it was time to walk around the parking lot at the hotel, look at the competition, and assess our chances of victory. “Do you think we can beat this McLaren?” Nope. “Do you think we can beat this GT500?” Nope. “Do you think we can beat this Volkswagen GTI?” Hmmm, that might be a race. “Do you think we can beat this Porsche GT2 RS?” If they crash it…yes, then I think we could beat the Porsche.
Green Flag on One Lap
The race started at the Tire Rack headquarters in South Bend, IN, where we hit the wet skid pad (2 laps, each direction). Then it was 82 miles to Grissom Air Force Base for an autocross (3 runs). Next was a 525-mile long haul to Memphis, TN. In the morning we raced at Memphis International Raceway on a limited part of the road course due to rain (3 laps) and we were scheduled for a drag race and E.T. Bracket Race but those were cancelled due to rain. Back in the car for 509 miles to Texas. The next morning we had two sessions at Eagles Canyon Raceway (3 laps each session) and then drove 561 miles to Louisiana. The next day at NOLA Raceway we did two sessions (just 3 laps each) and then drove 551 miles to Georgia, which included a checkpoint at Tommy’s Express Car Wash. The checkpoint was well timed as our Fiesta was looking pretty rough from all of the transition miles and the front wheels were black from the Carbotech brake pads doing their job well.
Day 5 we were scheduled for two sessions at Atlanta Motorsports Park, but only got one 3-lap session due to the second session being cancelled because the Ford Shelby GT 500s were smashing the maximum decibel level for AMP. We drove a short 82 miles to Lanier raceway, our second track for the day, for a circle track format (yup, 3 laps). After Lanier we drove 554 miles with a checkpoint at Carolina Rod Shop and then landed in West Virginia. The following morning we ran two sessions at Summit Point Raceway (3 laps each) and then had our longest transition, 629 miles (10 long hours), to Michigan. The transition drives gave us time to try and learn the next day’s track by watching YouTube videos and looking at track maps (as a passenger, not the transition driver, of course).
And on the seventh day we had two sessions at GingerMan raceway. Once those were completed we had an easy 62 miles back to Indiana. On the 8th and final day of One Lap we were back at Tire Rack for the last event, the dry skid pad (2 laps, each direction), then it was definitely time for beers. We brought our own Double Nickel Nine IPA from Tactical Ops Brewing, located in California, and snuck them into the host bar.
There were 76 teams that were crazy enough to enter the 2021 Tire Rack One Lap of America. The final mileage for the event was a grand total of 3,678 miles. Of the 76 teams that started at Tire Rack only 67 finished. The nine teams that didn’t make it to the final checkered flag had unfortunate racing luck of all kinds of ugly sorts. A Dodge Viper avoided all of the hard walls at the race tracks and then hit a deer during a transition drive. A Honda Civic (who we were having a good class battle with early in the week) blew a turbo, sourced one and fixed it, and then crashed at Summit Point. An expensive Porsche 911 was totaled at a track. A few Corvettes had their Genuine GM Parts fail them and leave them stranded. But the Ford Fiesta ST made it to every track, survived every challenge, didn’t have a single mechanical issue and…drumroll please…won the Economy Class.
The FiST is Mighty
Not only did we win the Economy Car class, but we actually placed higher in the overall standings than we originally expected, especially compared to some of the awesome machinery that entered this year’s event. For example, in our Ford Fiesta we finished ahead of a Ford Focus RS (that shouldn’t happen), a 2020 mid-engined C8 Corvette (that definitely shouldn’t have happened), and a 2014 Porsche Cayenne driven by pro driver Randy Pobst (What!?). The little Fiesta solidly finished ahead of some much more expensive automobiles.
Yes, the Fiesta won the Economy class, but obviously in a field filled with Shelby GT500s and McLarens, the ole Fiesta did not finish first overall (not by a long shot). That honor went to Steve Loudin and Tom O’Gorman in a 2019 Corvette ZR1. Congratulations to Steve and Tom for an outstanding finish while competing in probably one of the hardest races to win in the world. One Lap of America has 13 different classes including specific groups for pony cars (won this year by a GT500), luxury sedans (won by a BMW M3), electric cars (won by a Tesla), and even trucks and SUVs (that class was won by Pobst in the Porsche Cayenne). It is certainly a must-do, bucket list race for any motorsports fanatic and I highly recommend to every car nerd to race it at least once (and chances are, you will do it over and over again). Most competitors, referred to as Lap Dogs, do the race repeatedly, and if they can, annually.
Prior to the race there was a lot of doubt about the Yokohamas making it through One Lap of America. We drove from California to Indiana (2,216 miles), raced One Lap (3,678 miles), and then drove back to California (2,216 miles) all on the same tires for a total of 8,110 miles. My insurance guy is gonna kick my butt for this year’s mileage. Not only did the tires fair well, but the Fiesta ST itself and all of the mods we did to the car also performed flawlessly.
One Lap is a crazy, long, awesome, hard, exhilarating, wonderful, grinding, insane, frustrating, adrenaline pumping, racing road trip that I highly suggest everybody tries. Go find a car buddy and enter. There is just nothing else quite like it. Huge props to Brock Yates Jr. for keeping this beast alive. Like the Cannonball Run that preceded it, One Lap of America is an intricate part of American automotive lore and culture. See you at next year’s event!
To catch up on all of the work we did to the winning Ford Fiesta ST, check out The Way of the FiST story archive below.