How this man found the Mustang that had changed his life

Photography Credit: Dave Green

This is more than just a fine example of a historic Ford Mustang race car. It represents a turning point in Mike Sedlak’s life. As he worked on this car as a teen, Mike transformed from a troubled misfit into a promising up-and-comer in the automotive field. More than 50 years later, Mike acquired the car that changed his life.

Redirecting that Energy


How this Ford Mustang arrived to Bill Clawson. Photo from the Mike Sedlak collection.

The Ford Mustang was built by Ford engineer and racer Bill Clawson. Bill’s shop was in the same town where a young Mike had lived: Dearborn, Michigan. They were not only in the same ZIP code but just a 2-minute walk apart–to be exact, a distance of 443 feet, according to Google Maps.

“As a kid, I’d go by and see him working on his race car and I’d hang out,” Mike says. “All I’d ever want to do is work on cars and be a car guy. He’d try to chase me away. Bill was a gruff, no-nonsense man.”

That didn’t stop Mike. Instead, it was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

“One day, he was trying to chase me away,” says Mike. “I told him, ‘I don’t have to leave. This is a public sidewalk and I can watch you if I want.’ His garage opened up right on the sidewalk. I remember his wife, Betty, yelling out the window, ‘He’s right. He doesn’t have to leave.’”

Seemingly stuck with this annoying young teen, Bill decided to make the best of the situation.

“Not too long after that, he invited me to move something, and I moved it,” Mike says. “I was smart enough to know that once I finished up, I walked back out of the garage and stood there watching.”

Then, the tasks Bill asked of Mike became more involved.

“Over a period of time, that led to, ‘Get in here, kid!’” says Mike. “He’d dump out a bucket of bolts and nuts and say, ‘Hey, find me a couple of these.’ That’s when I learned about bolt sizes and threads.”

Eventually, Mike had a regular gig with Bill.

“In the spring of ’66, I was working with him on a limited basis, as school would allow,” Mike says. “That’s when I met Carroll Shelby. Him and Bill were friends. I have letters where [Carroll] writes to Bill, ‘You are like family to me.’”

Likewise, Bill became like family to Mike. Early on in Mike’s time with the man, Bill switched cars to the 1968 Mustang that Mike now owns. Bill ran it in SCCA A Sedan. As Mike worked with Bill, even more doors opened.

“Bill got me a job at the gas station, where I learned about the alignment of suspension–plus, I learned it from Bill,” says Mike. “When I was 17, his next-door neighbor was a counselor at the high school. They had this program where seniors could go to jobs in the afternoon. I got involved in the Volkswagen certified mechanic program.”

Then, with all that training, more opportunities came knocking.

“After I graduated school, in the spring of ’71, I got married suddenly, and you can imagine why,” Mike says. “The people who knew me through racing said, ‘You’re going to need benefits.’ They got me a job as a research technician trainee at Ford at 19 years old, a full-salaried worker. I went from trainee to technician to shift leader by ’79.”

That led to a long career in the auto industry.

“I left Ford in ’79 to become a test engineer at AM General,” says Mike. “Then [I became] a senior tech engineer between 1988 and 1991 [at] TTC, Tactical Truck Company, which was a joint venture between BMY Military and GM MVO, Military Vehicle Operations. They did not win a contract, so they folded in ’91. I moved over to GM STG, Service Technology Group, until I quit to become [Green Oak Township] clerk in 2000.”

If it weren’t for that Ford Mustang, though, Mike may have never worked for any automotive company.


The Ford Mustang in action. Photo from the Mike Sedlak collection.

The Platform for the Education


Bill Clawson with Mike Sedlak. Photo from the Mike Sedlak collection by Chris Tropea 

Bill acquired the Ford Mustang in late 1967 for his next race car. He also got a nonserialized body in white, less a right-hand door, plus a pair of damaged front fenders, a hood and a right-hand door courtesy of Ray Geddes of Ford. They also gave Bill a 1968 preproduction car for parts.

“This is how I learned to work on cars,” Mike says, referencing the Mustang. “[Bill] said, ‘Okay, pull the door off the [parts] car. Take the door completely apart. Scrape out all the insulation. Drill holes in all these places for lightness. Put it back together and hang the door on the other car.”

Bill owned and raced the car from 1968 until 1972. Then, he obtained a Bud Moore Trans Am car, a ’70 Mustang.

“The ’68 Mustang was stripped of all its components,” says Mike. “He sold it to Charlie Henry, a well-known racer for Chrysler, [but] this was when he was first starting out in 1973. He paid $500 or $600 for it. He raced it for a number of years. Then he sold it to Lonnie Maynard, who put it back on the street. Maynard owned the car until 1991.

“In 1991, Chris Liebenberg of 3 Dog Garage fame, an outstanding restorer, contacted me about trying to locate the car because he wanted to buy it.

“I started asking around and I found the car.”

Then, Chris worked on bringing the Mustang back to its former glory.

“I bought the car from Lonnie, with Chris’ money, and transported it to Chris, who did an outstanding restoration back to the way it was in ’68,” Mike says. “He worked with Bill very closely. But Bill would never give up the original paperwork or files.”

After the restoration, Chris sold it to Craig Conley of Paradise Wheels.

“Chris and I were friends,” says Mike. “Chris told Craig that if he wanted to know anything about the car, talk to Bill or Mike. So Craig and I became friends.”

When Craig found out he couldn’t race the car in Historic Trans Am because it lacked actual Trans Am experience, it then passed through the hands of several racers.

Craig Poundstone of California. Gary Barnes of Virginia. Tony Conover of Pennsylvania. And then Hal Mccarty of Virginia.

“All these people [who had owned it] contacted me throughout the years,” Mike says. “After 2001, I was the only person who knew anything about the car. Bill and I were very close friends up until the day he died. I was doing hospice on him, because I was a medic at the time. Before he passed, he gave me all his personal records–literally file cabinets full of records. Hal and all the other owners would ask me for information, but I’d never give up the paperwork.”


One page of volumes of paperwork Mike Sedlak has from Bill Clawson. Photo by Chris Tropea.

A Kind Gesture


Mike Sedlak today. Photo by Chris Tropea.

“Hal asked me, ‘When was the last time you saw the car?’” Mike says. “I said, ‘When I delivered it to Chris Liebenberg in 1991.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you pack up that paperwork, come on down, see the car and let me look at the paperwork.’ So I said, ‘Sure, why not?’”

When Mike arrived at Hal’s shop, he checked underneath the dash of the Mustang to see if it was the car he remembered.

“In ’68, when we were in the final stages of assembly, I was tasked for installing a support for something–I can’t remember what now,” says Mike. “I drilled the holes in the wrong spot. I had to fill and seal them with body sealer around the bolts as they went into the cowl plenum. They were still there when I went to look at the car at Hal’s place.

“I discovered it was the original car. The emotional connection was immediate.”

Hal must have recognized that connection, too.

“Hal said, ‘Do you know how significant of a car this is?’” Mike recalls.

“I said, ‘Yes, I do.’

“He said, ‘You’re not going to give up this paperwork?’

“I said, ‘No, I’m not.’

“He said, ‘Well, you should own the car.’

“I said, ‘How can I afford this car?’ I had just gone through a divorce.

“He said, ‘We have to find a way to make this your car. You deserve to have this car.’

“Hal and his wife, Marlene, sacrificed a lot, and he made the car affordable for me to buy. I wouldn’t have gotten the car without his help.”

Mike bought the car in June 2019.

“The car, the original helper and the volumes of paperwork are now reunited,” says Mike.

Bringing It Back to How Mike Remembered It


Photo by Chris Tropea

With that many owners, the Mustang had seen its share of modifications since its first restoration in the early 1990s. One of the first changes Mike made was to return the rear suspension to how Bill had it. But when previous owners heard word that he got the car, more help was the way.

“Craig Poundstone still had the original dual-quad airbox,” Mike says. “When he found out I got the car, he immediately sent it to me, no charge. Everybody has been helping me with original parts so I can take the car back to exactly the way it was.”

It’s been a process to reset the car to how Mike remembers it.

“One of the things I got done was the exhaust system, just before Daytona [in January],” says Mike. “It sounds like what it’s supposed to.”

With binders and binders of records, Mike went to work on other items.

He had photos of the car back in the day, so he tried to replicate the logos that adorned the Mustang, including the contingency sponsors. Again, a previous owner rose to the occasion to help.

“Kelsey-Hayes had a different decal for ’69 and ’70 and beyond,” Mike says. “I had never been able to find an actual decal to copy. Craig Conley had one on one of his cars.”

Surprisingly, the car came with much of what it had back when Bill owned it.

For example, the left-side mirror is original. It came off a Shelby. (Bill had also owned the first Shelby GT350 R model ever produced, 5R002.)

The passenger’s seat, window braces and door panels? All original.

The switch box isn’t present, but Mike’s working on getting one made.

“I have the drawings for it,” he says. “The reason Chris [Liebenberg] didn’t do it is because he never came across what was actually in the switchbox.”

The steering wheel is also on Mike’s to-do list.

“I found a company that makes the original steering wheel,” Mike says. “I’m going to have to special-order it without the dish in it. It currently has a removable steering wheel because that takes about 2 inches out of the dish of the steering wheel. The pictures I have of the original steering wheel show it had solid spokes.”

The engine Bill ran is long gone, but Mike hopes to build a replica of the one Bill used.

Since Mike runs the car in historic events, he did upgrade the driver’s seat and fuel cell to today’s standards. Nevertheless, Mike wants to retain certain details, like the Stewart-Warner 240 fuel pump, which he has a collection of. Still, Mike wants some modern technology to make life easier, too.

“What I’ll end up doing is probably taking one of the [Stewart-Warner 240 fuel pumps] that’s scrap, due to the rarity of them, and make it a flow-through, where the fuel just goes through it and I’ll have a fuel pump located somewhere else,” says Mike.


Photo by Chris Tropea

The Magic of this Mustang


Photo by Dave Green

This 1968 Ford Mustang, once owned and raced by Bill Clawson, played a pivotal role in Mike’s life, even when Mike didn’t regularly work on it or own it. The same applies for others who had it, according to Mike.

“This car, from the moment it arrived in Bill’s garage, has for every owner, for everyone who has touched it, built relationships,” Mike says. “It builds relationships, not acquaintances. This car has brought so many people together. It’s one thing about the car that makes it more special than any other car I’ve known.”

On the weekend we photographed the Mustang, an example of that played out as Mike prepared to take his car back to Michigan from the Rolex 24 weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

“The folks that we had rented a camper from, the father and son were getting ready to move it out from there,” Mike says. “The kid, maybe 8, 9 or 10, asked, ‘Is that your race car?’

“I said, ‘Why, yes.’

“He said, ‘That’s pretty cool.’

“I said, ‘Would you like to sit in it?’’

“He said, ‘I have to ask my dad.’

“The dad comes out, and he’s deaf, so I explained to him the best I could of what I wanted to do.

“[The dad] said, ‘Sure.’

“He gets pictures of the boy, I put him in seat belts, and they think it’s the coolest thing in the world. So I’m ready to get it loaded on the trailer.

“I asked [the boy], ‘Would you like to go for a ride while I put it on the trailer?’

“He asked his dad and his dad came out [and was okay with it].

“So I fire the car up and drive it on the trailer. I’ll never forget what this kid did. When I shut it off, he spins his head around and looks at me and says, ‘That was epic!’

“It was the coolest thing.”

Perhaps the 1968 Ford Mustang of Bill Clawson that changed the life of a young Mike Sedlak made another incredible impression–one that might make another boy a car guy for a lifetime.

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Comments
Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
9/6/23 3:01 p.m.

The chance to learn how to wrench from such a legend is way cool.

Sedco8
Sedco8 New Reader
9/20/23 11:00 a.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of the influence Bill had on my life and how he changed its direction.

 

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