Most racers are well aware of the consequences that may come from desert racing. Therefore, they are prepared, both mentally and somewhat financially, to roll with the punches of decimated sheetmetal, broken parts, the mileage and wear of the racecourse, and the constant threat of annihilation that any desert-racing vehicle is susceptible to. These frustrations are to be anticipated by a race team and can be fairly foreseen. What does a SCORE champ do, then, when his trophy-winning, point-leading pride is unexpectedly and untimely snatched away, with no backup sitting on the horizon?
On September 15, five days after Primm, Bob Graham's Toyota was parked outside of Donahoe Racing in Anaheim, California. When Bob emerged from the shop, the champion Toyota 7s, winner of the 2002 and 2003 Baja 1000s, was nowhere to be seen. As the points leader for the SCORE series, Graham, his sponsors, and his crew had quick decisions to make and only eight weeks in which to make things happen.
It's said that every dark cloud has a silver lining. Well, Graham worked as a Toyota mechanic for 20 years and has piloted Toyota racing vehicles since 1994. Unfortunately, he never found the amount of support from Toyota he felt his long relationship with the company deserved. In the market for a new race truck, he ran into a friend who works at a Nissan factory, and as things to happen, before he knew it, he was set up with an '04 Titan 4WD King Cab. With the Baja 1000, SCORE's crowning event and Graham's season highlight, looming ahead, he went to work with crew members Eddie Frias and Sonny Garcia to make the stock Titan SCORE-worthy.
The Titan was taken to the shop in the hopes that it would emerge able to carry the team down to Baja and at least part of the way to La Paz. There'd be no time to do a test run and Graham's pockets weren't deep, so with the help of numerous friends and manufacturers, the essential modifications were made and the team members kept their fingers crossed. The crew placed Nismo custom headers on the 5.6L V-8 and completed the Titan's exhaust system with a 3-inch two-in-one Flowmaster. The numbers came out to 315 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque. The air filter system was upgraded with an 8-inch K&N cone filter and was routed into the cab. A Fluidyne transmission and oil cooler combo was fit on the bedcage and plumbed through the five-speed transmission. The stock fuel-injection system remained the same, but now feeds from a 35-gallon fuel cell.
To help Graham get things done in time for the race, Donahoe Racing custom-built the front suspension with its own 2-1/2-inch custom and bypass shocks, setting the Titan with 10 inches of front wheel travel. The rear was also built with 2-1/2-inch bypass shocks, as well as Deaver custom springs, which were donated to the project. Built in keeping with SCORE's restrictive Stock Full class rules, the rear suspension still travels a respectable 15 inches.
Fabricators Eddie Rias and Sonny Garcia certainly had their work cut out for them. The front and rear Dana 44 differentials carry 3.25 gears, with a Traclock locker in the rear. The stock tie rods were retained, at least for the time being. As with all Baja runners, the undercarriage has its own protection via custom skidplates formed from 6061 T-6 aluminum. Currie 31-spline forged axles were set in place, and the Titan rides on stock 17-inch alloy rims wrapped in 35x12.5x17 BFGoodrich Baja T/As.
No truck can run Baja, let alone any other race in the series, without some serious time and attention having been spent in and outside of the cab. To ensure the Titan was up to Bob Graham's standards, and those of his previous Toyota, the truck was taken to the Baja Shop in Orange, California, where a complete 'cage was built from 1-3/4-inch MIG-welded chrome-moly tubing. Hella Lights also stepped up to help with the build, sending the crew six Hella 4000 HID lights, with two placed on the front lightbar and four lighting the way from above.
Winding out the build was PRP, which donated the driver's and codriver's tube-frame race seats. As for the modern-day conveniences in navigation, the team relies on Lowrance's 6-inch GPS system coupled with PCI and Roadmaster radios. Although Graham has been on the race circuit since 1983, the 2004 Baja 1000 was going to be one unique trip, with a virgin truck and new codriver Jeff Vance sitting in for the first time.
With zero test miles on the Titan's odometer and last-minute preparations being made in the parking lot before the green flag fell, Bob, Eddie, Sonny, and the rest of the crew held their breath for the outcome. "We were just looking for a finish," Graham said. "Nissan wasn't going to put its name on it because it didn't know how the truck would do." Graham was happy to report that not only did the Titan perform well, but Jeff Vance and Graham's son Shawn finished in Second Place. "Our hats go off to Nissan for the vehicle they produce." Many thanks go to Sonny and Eddie, as well as Paul Fisher, Brady Helm, and Bob Lunsted.
As for the old Toyota? Well, the five-time 7s points champion was stripped of many parts and is now sitting in Graham's shop. The day of the Titan has arrived, so be on the lookout for this tried-and-tested newbie to take more wins in the 2005 SCORE and Best in the Desert series.