The 2004 event came about in many ways by accident, not unlike the 1994 30th Anniversary MAA drive. I had been pretty distant from the Mustang hobby for many years since the last big MAA event which had occurred in 1996. That event was a three week drive that was very long and taxing both for our team and for the participants for a number of reasons. We had bad weather for 80% of the drive, many mistakes were made in the planning of the event, and in the end many lessons were learned about what makes an event like our drives really work and really fail. It was taxing for my wife who had to stay home and tend our one-year-old son Sidney, as well as for myself. I ended up having to leave the trip before it was over to tend personal business at home, flying home from Detroit. Tony Sousa of Los Angeles, CA had taken the reigns bravely in the face of mounting difficulties in managing the remainder of the event.
After the event in 1996 I jumped headlong into raising my children and building our family. My wife and I kept a couple of Mustangs during the some seven years after that but were not very active in Mustang club activities as our focus and energy was keeping our three children fed, watered and growing. This was a time of building careers, homes, and getting our foundations built.
During this time, the Mustang’s 35th Anniversary came and went. A new group formed by former MAA participants, Mustangs in Motion had formed. They organized a big drive to the 35th Anniversary from the west coast led by Gary Hanson of Livermore, CA. The drive was very reminiscent of the MAA 30th Anniversary drive and proved once again that the Mustang spirit on the open road was alive and well. Over the years I kept in touch with a number of confidants within the MAA team who always asked when the next drive was going to be. Tony Sousa, one of my closest friends I got to know during the 1994 MAA event was always ready to do it again. In hindsight, it was his constant prodding and undying enthusiasm that kept the idea alive.
Then came the light. In the fall of 2002 we bought a new Roush Stage 3 Mustang convertible. Somehow, the ownership experience of this car rekindled my enthusiasm. It was the car, but also my wife and I had gotten to a point in our lives where we had more time to pursue hobbies and such. Our children were at a point where they could all walk and talk. I began participating in the Mustang hobby in a new way,.......via the internet. In the time since the first MAA events some significant dynamic shifts had occurred in the enthusiast body. Online chat and message boards had become the new medium for how people communicated and kept in touch. Shows, get-to-gethers and other events grew by the pulse of the new digital age. This new paradigm has become a major force in the hobby that I not only embraced, but felt was the seed to take MAA on the road again.
Starting in the winter of 2002-2003 I started building this website, first building galleries and archives of past events for people to read and enjoy. Photos, stories, anecdotes, and archives of media coverage really created a draw as well as provided an excellent brochure that really demonstrated to new enthusiasts who had not heard of MAA before, what we were all about. Once the website had become active for some months I began getting letters and emails from many old friends from past drives. Hearing from them excited me even more. This odyssey has brought many positive things to me, but the number one asset has been the wealth of friends that have come into my life at the hand of our drives.
When I began sharing this with Tony Sousa, his excitement was not hidden. He soon began exuding a confidence that a new drive was in the future. He and I discussed the possibilities of a 40th Anniversary drive. Many different scenarios were tossed around. In the early months, MCA had not even announced a location for the big show. Thus we looked at creating our own show at a location like Dearborn, MI, Mustang, OK, and other locations. In the end, Jim Chism secured Nashville, TN as the location for the big show. The dye was in the water.
We are Doing It!
When the decision was finally made to move forward, Tony Sousa and I began mapping out the route and talking a lot about how this event would be planned and operated. We knew well the lessons learned from the last big drive in 1996 and we vowed to take that wisdom into our new event. We formulated a new format which we tested in April of 2003 with the Knott's Drive, a short trip from Sacramento, CA to Los Angeles for the Knott’s Berry Farm show. The new format was really about how we planned the schedule to allow for a variety of car vintages, ages and driving styles of drivers, and overall speeds. The drive had to allow that all people, driving fast or slow would be able to meet our timeframes and feel relaxed doing it.
The test went off perfectly! Our first planned event since 1996 had only about 20-25 cars, but it allowed us a fun drive, a chance to meet some old friends, and make some new ones. It also allowed us to get MAA back into the headlines so that when we began pitching the 2004 drive, people would know who we were. At Knott’s, we told everyone about the upcoming 40th Anniversary Drive and handed out flyers to everyone with a set of hands.
In late spring of 2003, we started taking entries for the 40th Anniversary Drive. With the new internet driven setup, we got instant gratification. Entries started coming in almost immediately. The first paid entry came from Kev Ewert of San Jose, CA. He owns the www.fnsweet.com website dedicated to Roush Mustangs. As the summer wore on, we began getting press coverage in some of the magazines, word of mouth began to take shape, and we were showing up on internet websites all over the Mustang hobby. The word was out,…..MAA is back.
First, I must point out that hundreds of people were involved with planning the 2004 MAA drive. Tony Sousa and I really were mere gate-keepers or ringleaders for the teams of Mustang clubs, sponsors, and local enthusiasts who chipped in to organize different parts of the drive across the country. We had a big job to do, ensuring that every aspect of a 3000 mile drive with hundreds of cars and 3-4 stops a day went like clockwork. The workload was shared and luckily came at us like sands through an hourglass, grains at a time.
Enough credit could never be given to the groups and individuals who lived alongside Tony and I for the year-long planning process. These people spent money, spent time, and volunteered many resources to be a part of this event. I have to point our that the planning of this event was expensive. When all was said and done, the total cost of the 40th Anniversary drive by MAA was close to $30,000. This does not include the money that the clubs, companies, sponsors, individuals, and groups who hosted our event in their hometowns spent while offering us free lunches and dinners for 300+ people day after day, car shows, blues band concerts, and all the fanfare. In my estimation when you add all those things into the big picture, over $100,000 was spent collectively across the country to put on the event. When you measure the small portion of these costs actually paid in the form of registrations, the whole thing is quite amazing. In short, the volunteerism and sponsorship is what makes this thing tick.
Special thanks of course goes out to Roush Performance who provided our event pace car, a 2004 Roush Stage 3 Convertible. For a company like Roush to hand over a $60,000 car to a guy they hardly know to drive across the country was a bold move on their part. I had flown to their factory Livonia, MI in August of 2003 to ask them to sponsor the event with a couple of MAA hats and a handful of event flyers as my only pitch materials. They took the leap of faith in us, and I made sure that during the experience that every opportunity to show off their awesome product was exploited.
I have give much credit to Tony Sousa who was my best counselor in this venture. Frankly, if it were not for his presence and support, this event would not have happened at all. He was a deep source of advice, a measure of good and bad ideas, and a wealth of moral support both during the planning and the actual running of the drive. Others too came into the picture as the last days before the drive arrived which include too many to list, but Doug and Carol Peters of Washington State, David Launderville of Sacramento, CA and Richard Liverani of Ely NV were of great support as part of our team during the event in more ways than be conveyed here.