Steve Temple
September 3, 2005

If you've ever wondered what it's like to ride in a Trophy Truck in a desert race, imagine a rig powered by a NASCAR engine, with a ride as soft as a wet sponge and road conditions rougher than the back of an alligator.

This F-150 Trophy Truck is right at home jumping hills and cruising the desert at 100-plus mph.

To wrestle this wild reptile, first you climb through the window, clamp yourself in with a five-point harness, and cinch the chinstrap on a crash helmet with a Darth Vader breathing tube to keep out the choking dust. After you fire up the 780hp small-block and stomp on the go-pedal, you'd better hang on tight because blasting across the desert feels like a nonstop crash. It's all too loud, too hot, too fast--and too much fun. It's like riding a nuclear-powered roller coaster headed for critical mass. You launch off hilltops at freeway speeds, floating for an impossibly long moment while awaiting the inevitable landing on hard-packed sand.

Actually, jumping is the easy part. It's the 100-mph sprints, skipping like a stone over the rutted, gnarly terrain that are frightening and exhilarating at the same time. The ride is not unlike that of an offshore boat running at full throttle in the open ocean, jumping from one swell to the next. Only thing is, the sun-baked desert floor doesn't cushion the landing the way foaming seawater can.

Craig Stewart, son of legendary off-road racer Ivan "Ironman" Stewart, is credited with building this wild F-150 Trophy Truck. It began life as a Truggy but has since been converted to the F-150-style vehicle you see here.

Credit the relatively soft bounce to the sophisticated suspension design from Craig Stewart, son of Ivan "Ironman" Stewart, the legendary Baja racer. The underpinnings from Stewart's Race Works have nearly 3 feet of travel. (Note in the action photos the differ-ence between the suspension's full droop and the landings where the wheelwells swallow the tires.)

To endure the extreme punishment dished out in desert racing, Stewart installs stout, custom, billet-aluminum A-arms in the front and a four-link setup in the rear with super-long trailing arms. The rig rides on King 2.5- inch coilovers with King Kong 4-inch bypass tubes. The 39-inch knobbies are BFGoodrich's race-duty Project tires reinforced with inner liners and mounted on Kartech rims measuring 17x8 inches.

Lurking in between the tube frame is a 442ci Ford engine. Patton Racing Engines is responsible for stroking and poking the small-block. Using a high-tech MoTeC fuel-injection system, tuned by Banks, this mill kicks out 780 hp.

Originally, this F-150 Trophy Truck started life as a truggy--basically a bare tube-frame chassis with an aluminum body. But owner Wayne Lugo had bigger plans in mind for this platform. His pursuit of a Ford-powered Trophy Truck began during his childhood in a farming region of Southern California. "I grew up in the Imperial Valley, where off-road racing is big," he says. "I saw them racing in the dirt at Riverside Raceway, and knew then that I had to do this someday."

Lugo took his first steps with both Class 9 and 10 VW-powered dirt racers with 6 and 21 inches of travel, respectively. Run-ning off-road came naturally to him. "I spent my whole life driving up dirt roads," he says. "That gave me a good jumpstart, having crashed enough trucks as a kid."

Eventually, his professional success as a calf raiser for a dairy farm allowed him to afford the next level of off-road vehicle--a truggy that would form the foundation of his Trophy Truck. "I knew how good a Ford V-8 sounds, and had to move up," he says.

The truggy's engine was a special, race-duty aluminum 351 Windsor that runs about $34,000, punched out to 442 cubes by Leon Patton of Patton Racing Engines. This same naturally aspirated setup, with a 12:1 compression ratio, would later serve as the heart of Lugo's Trophy Truck. He says that Patton, who works on Bow-Tie blocks as well, feels Blue Oval engines "have the best pull" and prefers using them for extreme off-road applications.

The suspension is fully unloaded as Wayne Lugo's F-150 flies through the air. The suspension features nearly 3 feet of travel--something that is necessary when you race on terrain as rough as the desert.
Here is a close-up of the suspension and chassis system that has been constructed by Craig Stewart. It is designed for one thing--survival in desert racing conditions. That's a tough chore, and Lugo will put it to the test at next year's Baja 1000, the most grueling off-road race in the world.