Land Racing's '86 Chevy S-10 4x4 is the latest in a string of off-road racing vehicles campaigned by Bob Land. The midsize Bow Tie was originally fabricated and used by Team MacPherson, after which it rested in Chevy's Detroit museum for six years. Bob knew the truck still had potential and brought it back to its native habitat - the high-speed deserts of the Southwest. Although new Class 7-S standards were in place, the truck was raced as purchased to Second Place SCORE points during the 2003 season. Two tokens of the truck's older build date are the bushing-mounted rollcage - most current 'cages are welded directly to the framerails - and the bolt-on 'cage crossmembers. That the truck is still competitive is a testament to the high quality of the original buildup.
A key update to the Land Racing S-10 was the addition of Bilstein pneumatic bumpstops. These adjustable bumpers are a modern key to high-speed, no-damage desert assaults. Rodd Fantelli's fabricating talents were called on to fit the 'stops to the framerails.
SCORE's Class 7-S is for stock production mini or midsize pickup trucks. This limited class mandates use of stock upper and lower control arms, which may be reinforced. The number and mounting positions of shocks are open, although shocks may not protrude through the hood or be remotely mounted. Bob's suspension is designed and supplied by Bilstein. A 9100 and 7100 reservoir shock work in tandem at each front corner, while a trio of 7100s dampens each rear wheel. Bilstein also supplied the all-important pneumatic bumpstops, one per wheel. Limit straps attached to the upper control arm take the brunt of the suspension's droop when the tires leave the ground. Ball joints must be stock in design, but may be from any manufacturer. The truck is operated in two-wheel drive most of the time, but the front drive is called on in deep silt beds, such as those that lurk in Baja.
I'm short, what can I say? Since I don't own a driving suit yet, Bob lent me one of his. I thought I might drown in the expanse of fabric, but only the legs proved to be too long. Driving suits are required to be made of fire retardant materials, such as Nomex and Proban. Helmets are required, of course. Many racers use additional safety gear to make their ride less wearing. This includes kidney belts and cushioned neck supports.
"That's racing" is used in place of "stuff happens." Bob and I were nearly done with our first lap on Saturday when the driver's side upper ball joint suddenly said, "No mas." The wheel folded under, so we drifted off the course and coasted to a stop in deep Laughlin sand. Thinking we merely suffered a flat, we unclipped our safety harnesses to investigate. The sight of the tucked-under wheel made us wish we'd had a mere flat. Fortunately, a call on the radio had the crew scampering from the pits with a floor jack, a new upper ball joint, and tools. Since our racing group's time limit was 85 minutes, we were out for the count. The four-wheel-drive CV joints survived with no damage, as did the brake line; stretched, but not snapped. After the truck was patched back together, we drove off to the cheers of nearby onlookers.
With our official lap count at zero from Saturday's ball-joint failure, Sunday's three laps were mandatory. Our official finish at Laughlin would be DNF, but laps completed count in the SCORE-series points chase. As such, Jim rolled the truck over the Laughlin Leap instead of going for air time. The Chevy uses the oft-booed 2.8L V-6. While the horsepower numbers from this mill aren't impressive, the little motor never skipped a beat and faithfully responded to demands from Winovitch's right foot. Jim skillfully pushed the Quaker State S-10 along at a pace made possible by years of off-road racing experience - he's driven the course perhaps a dozen times. We finished Second Place in Class 7-S on Day Two. Since an automatic transmission is prone to overheating and soaks up engine power, a manual T-5 gearbox is bolted between the 2.8L and the stock NP 207 transfer case. What's the ride like in a limited-travel 7-S pickup truck? Rough, but controlled. The Bilstein dampers followed the terrain, allowing the 7-S to traverse the mayhem beneath at speeds unreachable by a stone-stock truck. I'm already a terminal off-road addict, but my experience with Land Racing has made the happy disease that much more incurable. I thank Bob Land, Jim Winovitch, and the Land Racing crew for an unforgettable ride.
With a set of new ball joints and CV boots on the driver's side, No. 721 lined up on Sunday. Since the previous day's laps were cut short, Bob offered me the codriver's seat again, which I gladly accepted. Sunday's laps were piloted by Land Racing's Jim Winovitch. Waiting on the starting line is a nerve-wracking experience for many, including yours truly. On Saturday, my helmet seemed to shrink on my head, and the cab walls appeared to follow suit. Bob allayed my fears: "If you're not nervous, you're not ready." In that case, I was more than ready. The claustrophobia faded as soon as the green flag fell in front of our hood.