When the Skip Barber Racing School needed to upgrade the transmissions in their Mustang GTs and 1967 Camaro school cars, they wanted TREMEC manual transmissions! These cars get hammered from students learning fast-driving techniques, so the school wanted to upgrade the transmissions for durability and precise shifting. The outcome was a partnership that provides the Skip Barber Racing School with the quality performance transmissions they need, and students of all ages get first-hand experience with TREMEC transmissions.
The Skip Barber Racing School is the driver’s instruction for those who want to improve their skills or begin the process of becoming qualified and licensed to race in NASCAR, Indy Car, SCCA, Formula One and other sanctioning bodies. Veteran driver John “Skip” Barber founded the Skip Barber Racing School in 1975 with the belief that driving a race car was a coachable and teachable skill just like any other sport. The success of the school has been proven by its impressive list of alumni and their accomplishments, most recently with A.J. Allmendinger, who won the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series and the Cup Series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In late 2017, DeMonte Motorsports bought the Skip Barber Racing School and revitalized it to continue the legacy of teaching the skills necessary to be a great driver and winning racer. The school uses a fleet of vehicles as its educational tools, including a trio of early S197 Ford Mustang GTs. The Skip Barber Racing School also offers the Hagerty Driving Academy, where the students are also able to learn how to drive a classic muscle car – a 1967 Chevy Camaro – and how to drive manual-transmission equipped car.
The factory TREMEC TR-3650 6-speed found in the Mustang GTs was replaced with a TREMEC Magnum XL 6-speed transmission, which is designed specifically for S197 Mustangs and fifth-generation Camaros. It’s an easy, bolt-in upgrade that provides the strength and ability needed for hardcore driving and racing. Based on the standard Magnum 6-speed, the XL unit features ideal shifter location for these cars, and it comes with an SFI-rated bellhousing that uses the factory clutch system. The Magnum XL also has an improved shifter setup that eliminates the factory semi-remote shifter system used in these Mustangs. With 700 lb-ft of torque capacity, the Magnum XL is ready for the track, while maintaining great driving characteristics and feel on the street.
The Hagerty Driving Academy’s Camaro was running a vintage Muncie M-21 4-speed, and its external shift linkages could be problematic. Plus it required constant maintenance. The Skip Barber Racing School upgraded the Camaro with the new TREMEC TKX 5-speed transmission. The TKX is based on the TKO 5-speed, and features a revised, slimmer case design that allows for easier fitment in vintage muscle cars without having to modify the factory transmission tunnel in most situations. The TKX also has smoother shifting than the TKO series. Check out our blog for more details on the TKX 5-speed.
We sat down with Dan DeMonte of DeMonte Motorsports and the crew at the Skip Barber Racing School to find out more about the school’s activities and how the TREMEC upgrades have made a difference in student performance.
What is the main goal of the Skip Barber Racing School?
We offer a wide array of driving skill improvement classes, from courses that teach teen drivers the foundational skills for being a good driver to ones that qualify racers for licenses to run in NASCAR, Formula One, SCCA, Indy Car and other sanctioning bodies. For anyone looking to become a better driver, whether it’s just for the street or to move up the racing ranks, we have a class to satisfy any driver’s desires.
Who can attend the school?
Divers of any skill level can attend one of our classes. We have the Teen Safety & Survival Course that’s part of the Hagerty Driving Academy, which gives teens with at least a learner’s permit a full day of guided driving experience and a foundational skillset. Also part of the Hagerty Driving Academy is the chance for drivers to improve their skills behind the wheel of a classic muscle car. From there, it goes all the way up to classes for drivers to become qualified to race in NASCAR or open wheel series like Indy Car and Formula One. Recent NASCAR Brickyard winner A.J. Allmendinger was one of our students. Past racing students have included drivers Juan Pablo Montoya, Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick.
Why did the school decide to upgrade their cars with TREMEC transmissions?
Our school cars see a lot of use and abuse from hard shifts, missed shifts and high-rpm shifts, along with the usual wear and tear from being run on race road courses constantly. We wanted the best manual transmissions on the market, which are TREMEC! We think that the Magnum XL 6-speed is basically bulletproof, and its smooth shifting and optimized gearing make it perfect for how our Mustangs are used. The Magnum’s SFI-rated bellhousing that gives us extra peace of mind should a catastrophic clutch failure occur. The Magnum XL was designed as a direct upgrade for the S197 Mustangs, so the factory connections for the speedometer, neutral safety switch and other factory sensors plugged right in with no modifications. And not having the semi-remote shifter setup improves shifting, which allows us to better teach proper shifting techniques.
The Hagerty Driving Academy Camaro needed a better transmission than the old Muncie 4-speed, but we didn’t want to do significant modifications to upgrade to a modern manual transmission. The new TREMEC TKX 5-speed was the perfect solution. Mike Kidd from TREMEC worked closely with us, and our Camaro served as one of the first test mules. Its redesigned case fit the stock transmission tunnel without any modifications. It even created some extra space with the elimination of the 4-speed’s external shift linkages.
What were some of the noticeable differences in the Mustangs after the Magnum XLs were installed?
We instantly noticed much smoother shifting, and even our novice stick drivers had an easier time shifting gears. Aftermarket shifters can sometimes have more notchy shifting, but not with the shifter that the TREMEC Magnum XL comes with. The Magnum leaves no doubt about which gear we or the students are going into, which helps eliminate missed shifts. And these cars aren’t treated nicely by the students as they are learning to drive aggressively! The upgrade exceeded our expectations.
And how does the TKX compare to the Muncie in the 1967 Camaro?
The Muncie 4-speeds were good back in the day, but they just don’t compare to a modern, internally shifted 5- or 6-speed transmission in both shift feel and durability. The results were so positive that we knew the Camaro couldn’t have anything else – perfect fitment, no modifications necessary to the transmission tunnel and immense improvements to shifting quality.
Additionally, we work with Resilience Racing, which uses SN-95 Mustangs to help disabled veterans through motorsports therapy to help them in recovery. They also develop adaptive hand control systems that help disabled vets to live life while minimizing the limitations of their injuries. Their SN-95s use the TREMEC TKO 5-speed, so we’ve spent countless hours with that transmission. The new TKX is a big step above the TKO when it comes to shifting, both in terms of feel and high-rpm shifting capability.
What have veteran stick drivers thought of the TREMEC transmissions?
A student who drove a Magnum XL-equipped Mustang GT said, without being asked, “That is a really smooth-shifting transmission!” Veteran drivers love the GTs because even they’ve been able to build more confidence in their driving since they’re not distracted by missed shifts or wrong gear selection.