Muscle Mustangs & Fast FordsFeatured Vehicles
Ford-powered Off-road Racing
Flying over the desert in a Ford-powered Trophy Truck.
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.
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.
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.
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.