St. LOUIS, MO – Welcome St. Louis, the gateway to the West. A great American city steeped in history, industrialization and westward expansion. This is where over 175 Focus fanatics from east coast to west coast descended on Gateway Motor Speedway for “Focus Fest 2014.” Focus Fest began in 2008 and has grown to become one of the largest Ford Focus events in the United Sates where Focus fans from around the world can meet and compete. This year, the event included a plethora of activities such as a meet-and-greet welcome party, an audio competition, drag racing, autocross, Focus swap meet, a car show with judging, an awards ceremony, parade lap on a speedway oval and even a go-kart event.
Our experience begins with the Focus Fest Meet-and-Greet on a sunny, 70-degree Friday at the Derby hotel, just outside of St. Louis. Pulling in to the parking lot, the scene looked like something out of a movie: Young kids, greasers, punks and car gangs all hanging out. They appear as the sun goes down standing next to their prized cars in tight-niched groups, eyeing down any car or person who pulls into the parking lot. It was a car-culture moment lost in time: youth living out their own coming-of-age stories during a warm summer night.
The stares quickley turned into smiles, and later their voices quickly turned to laughter. These Focus fanatics were some of the closest and friendliest groups of gearheads you will ever meet. So quick to introduce themselves, to say hello and complement your car. It didn’t matter the year or condition of your Focus, if your car was high-miles and completely stock or if you had thousands of dollars of top-end tweaks. Everyone was asking, “Where did you get that part … How did you do that … Where can I get that?” Every kind of build was present at Focus Fest – from show cars to mini-dragsters, autocross contenders, rally crossers, and street machines. The love for the Ford Focus was present and accounted for, and Ford Racing felt welcome and right at home from the get-go.
This kind of car group has to a close-knit group for survival’s sake. Being a young enthusiast community built around a late-model compact car has its obstacles. But with complements flying between strangers meeting for the first time, this group looked like a gang of lifelong friends, even if they all came from different parts of the country and never met in person before. A great example of this was a game played at the meet-and-greet party. Everyone had to place their keys in a bucket. The object of the game was to hit the panic button on the key fob and see the car flashing before guessing who that car belongs to. Even though it was the first time many of these petrol heads had met, it was amazing to see how many people matched the cars with the owners.
The Saturday morning car show was a much-anticipated event. Shortly after the sun rose, a caravan of Ford Focuses left the host hotel en route to the Gateway Motorsports Park just a few miles outside of the famous St. Louis Arch. Time at the speedway included the show, plus a full day of drag races, auto crossing and go-karting – plus that cruise around their oval racetrack. Drag racers could choose between the Focus only competition to race against your Focus buddy or the All-Ford drag racing event to take on the big shots. You could also get officially timed on the Gateway Motorsports Rallycross track.
This group exudes the true great American spirit that many car enthusiasts live by: “I didn’t buy it, I built it!” To show how that spirit was alive at Focus Fest 2014, we’ll offer up the following three examples of three amazing 2003 Focus owners and their three very different cars:
First up are Josh and Abby Adkins who own an ’03 Focus ZX3. At first glimpse you can tell this husband and wife gearhead duo have spent countless hours wrenching on their beloved Focus. If the saying, “A car is a reflection of the owner’s personality” is true, this car would be a reflection of a family’s personality. With Josh and Abby both putting in equal garage time, the two recently recruited the help of their young son, Kelvin, to help with the mods. The couple plans on attending car shows as a family. Josh’s Ford roots run deep: at the age of 18 he worked at a Model T and Model A hot rod shop, where he learned the art of blue-ribbon level restorations, restomod builds and hot rods projects, along with his friend, Robert, who often lends a hand on the ZX3 jobs. Josh bought this Focus new 2003 and decided to give it a much-needed makeover after 185,000 miles. It included full bodywork and paint and a new custom interior. They did a superb job.
Next is a custom 2003 ZX3 two-door wagon. That’s right – a two-door ’03 Focus wagon! It belongs to Matt Rowe, owner of Speedway Recyclers in Maribel, WI. Matt’s love for Focus shows up in his business, because Speedway Recyclers is a Ford Focus-only scrapyard. After seeing his car and what he has done to it, you realize you’d need a field full of used Focuses to pull off what Matt has accomplished. Matt successfully transformed his Focus from a four-door wagon into a custom, one-off two-door ZX3 wagon, complete with a trick, sloping hatchback and a custom sun roof.
Finally, we found one of the most interesting Focuses you’ll ever see -- a mid-engine 2003 SVT Focus, owned by Dani Vandyke, an ultrasound technician from Columbia, MO. Dani told us that he had always loved the way a mid-engine car handled, so in true gearhead fashion, Dani decided to convert his front-engine, front-wheel-drive Focus into a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive street machine, doing all the work himself. I the process, he added an independent rear suspension borrowed from a 1988 Pontiac Fiero, making his Focus a true one-of-a-kind.
Each and every one of the Focus fanatics who attended Focus Fest 2014 deserves a salute from Ford enthusiasts everywhere, not only for their dedication to the hobby, but for helping to create a first-class event that now belongs on any Ford fan’s annual “can’t miss” list. We can’t wait to see what Ben Richter and the rest of fanatical crew has in store for Focus Fest 2015!
FORD PERFORMANCE PHOTOS / TRENTON ZEISLER