Back in April 2004 as I was driving home from the Mustang 40th Anniversary Celebration in Nashville, my cell phone rang somewhere in north Georgia. It was event director Jim Chism, checking in to get my thoughts on the spectacular event that had just ended the day before. He also provided some insight about his job as executive director: "For the past few months, I was the most important person in the Mustang world," Chism lamented as he referenced getting important calls from Ford executives and being interviewed by television and radio stations. "Now I'm lost because no one is calling and all of a sudden I don't have anything to do."
I'm fortunate to have known all the men who have tackled the responsibility of overseeing the Mustang anniversary events, held every five years since the 30th in 1994. All of them served as Mustang Club of America officers at one time or another, dedicating their nights and weekends to promoting the Mustang and the hobby/industry that surrounds it. MCA co-founder and former president Jim Osborn took on the task of overseeing the first anniversary show in 1994, serving as show chairman for the 30th Mustang Anniversary Celebration at Charlotte Motor Speedway, an event that quickly went from expected frenzy to statistical nightmare when, at the last minute, President Bill Clinton decided to attend with his '67 Mustang convertible. Unfazed, Osborn signed on to lead the next big show in 1999, the 35th Mustang Anniversary Celebration, once again in Charlotte. Unfortunately, he passed away unexpectedly just a year before the event. MCA president Bill Dillard took over and valiantly followed Osborn's vision to produce a successfully overwhelming and memorable anniversary show.
It's hard to believe that nearly 10 years have zipped by since 2004's 40th Anniversary Celebration at Nashville Speedway. Seems like only yesterday when director Chism was ushering attendees back stage for photos and autographs with the event's celebrity closer, Charlie Daniels. Five years later, Steve Prewitt led the charge into Birmingham for the 45th Mustang Anniversary Celebration, an event that sent everyone into Mustang sensory overload in spite of the logistical challenge of being spread out over the sprawling Barber Motorsports Park.
Now it's Ron Bramlett's turn as he oversees not one, not two, but actually three 50th anniversary events if you include Charlotte, Las Vegas, and the weekend-before kick-off party in Oklahoma followed by eastbound and westbound Pony Drives. Counting the preliminary cruises into Oklahoma from several locations across the U.S., the 50th celebration will cover over two weeks, culminating with the Charlotte and Las Vegas events on April 17-20, 2014. It's shaping up to be the biggest happening since the Mustang's introduction in 1964.
Ron is also the owner of Mustangs Plus, a full-time job in itself, so I asked what possessed him to take on such a huge responsibility: "Total lack of consciousness," he laughed at first. "But honestly, I'm honored to be working on it. I felt I could do something to bring the hobby together—old and new Mustangs, show-car people and race people, MCA members and non-MCA members."
Staging two events, east and west, along with a kick-off weekend in the middle, was part of the plan to make it easier for all Mustang owners to participate. "If we'd held just one 50th event in Charlotte," Ron explained, "then the west coast people would have felt left out."
When I asked Ron if the task is more work than expected, he replied, "Yes, but I have good people working with me, including Steve Prewitt, Steve McCarley, and Steve Hall; they all have previous event experience. I'm no more important than the people helping me."
The path to a successful anniversary event is filled with endless meetings, nighttime phone calls, contract headaches, and plenty of differences in opinion. Five men—Osborn, Dillard, Chism, Prewitt, and Bramlett—took on the responsibility to create memorable events for the rest of us to enjoy. I can't thank them enough.