"For sand, obviously you need the paddle tires, for flotation. And some kind of a Razor Back sand tire for the front, so you can turn. Or the car pushes in the corners. When you get a four-seater that's 134 inches long, it doesn't turn on a dime. So you need the right tires," Cooley says. "Given that, you can do both. I have customers who prerun the Baja 1000 and the next week are at the sand dunes in exactly the same car."
As a general rule, dual-purpose machines are not too pretty to take into rough terrain. "If you have a sand car that's all polished, with metalflake paint and chrome and all that, you normally won't take the car out into the hard pack. A dual-purpose vehicle "could be the same car, but it's powdercoated. Now they're not afraid to take it out and beat it up," he explains.We asked Cooley, a SCORE racer himself, how he evaluates a dual-purpose car.
"First thing I look at in a chassis is the safety aspect for the occupants in the car - it has to be safe. Then I look at the workmanship, and how the car was constructed. Any car can work, but if the car goes over, and it's not safe for the driver and the passengers, then it doesn't matter what the car is. "And then I look at the way the suspension is set up, and how things have been mounted on the car. Where is the radiator positioned on the car? If a radiator hose blew off, would it spray the people in the back seat? All those little things you have to look into when you build a car.
Alumi Craft's style is based on performance, Cooley says. "We build cars for function first. We don't have a reputation for building sand cars with chrome, all glittered out. That's why the majority of our customers come from off-road racing. The off-road racers know they are getting a car that's going to work, and for the most part, the avid racer doesn't really care if his steering shaft is polished or not. He's a driver. And he wants to be safe. We stress the safety part of it in a big way. If you think about off-road racing, you're out there in a controlled environment in a closed course, with helmet and driving suit on. Now you take a sand car and you go out to Glamis - they don't have window nets, they don't have helmets, it's a free-for-all out there. You have no idea what's on the other side of the dune. So you really have to use your head when you go out to the sand dunes. Sometimes I feel safer racing."
Racing shaped his ideas about what he wanted in a recreational car, and that R&D process continues with every car he makes. "What you learn is how to make a car live," he said, "and the other half is how to make a car work. A lot of our customers race. If they have a race car, that means that they have to test the race car and get it to work better and better. We're always gaining knowledge through our customers. "We're pretty lucky to have customers we have. John Marking with Fox owns one of our cars, and he is the type of guy who will spend days and days and days to try to perfect how a car works. Beard Seats owns our cars; Redline Performance owns our cars. So with these people owning your cars, you can pretty much bet that those cars are going to be set up to the best of their potential. That has helped me tremendously when it comes to making the cars work."
The ORBA sweepstakes car represents a tangible commitment toward supporting off-road recreational opportunity. Cooley and the other sponsors agree on the need to raise money to give off-road enthusiasts a voice in Washington. "People need to know how important it is to support ORBA. It's so important for people to get involved in some way, even if it's just going out there and picking up trash. People need to do their part to do whatever it takes to keep the dunes open."