Who says desert trucks can't flex? We stopped by Cougar Buttes after a run through the who
If you've perused our desert racing coverage over the past few years, you've seen Steve Herrera a time or two. Steve first appeared on Off-Road's radar when he bought Danny Guernsey's '69 Ford F-100 and raced it in MDR's 1450 Prerunner Class. The F-100 carried a full factory frame and was built within the Class 8 rules, but Steve wanted to be in the thick of competition and not in a class all by himself. Instead of lining up against one or two other Class 8 entries, Steve was mixing it up with ten or more Prerunner Class trucks every time out.
The F-100 proved a potent weapon, a testament to Danny's fabrication skills and Steve's driving skills. Danny, of course, is the "D" of C&D Fabworks. Steve and the F-100 took the overall win during one of their MDR conquests, something normally reserved for Class One unlimited buggies and the occasional Trophy Truck that shows up at MDR.
You're not looking at a re-skinned F-100 here. You're looking at a new build by C&D Fabworks. The original plan for this Ranger was to have a mild prerunner to go along with the '69 F-100. As soon as he experienced the Ranger's capability and handling in mild prerunner form, Steve decided that the Ranger would make a good race truck. There were additional factors. The first was its lack of nostalgia. Steve explained his train of thought: "If I rolled the '69, it would be done. It's hard to get some of the body parts we'd need to fix it after a major rollover. We've been looking for a new grille for a long time and it's been impossible to find. The '69 is just cool. I'd be bummed if it were damaged. On the other hand, I'm not in love with the Ranger at all. It's a race machine and that's it. There's no sentimental value." The second factor was a desire to make racing more challenging. As first built, this Ranger used a full-length frame and a leaf spring rear suspension. It wasn't as fast or as smooth as the F-100. But with the leaf-sprung Ranger, Steve had more peers to race against. Wins didn't come as easily, and that was just what he was after.
The leaf spring-based rear suspension proved a maintenance and performance challenge. "The leaf springs would be done after every race. The main leaf would break, or the eyes would bend open," Steve related. "The performance was very good for leaf springs, but leaf springs are at a disadvantage compared to links. The only way a leaf-sprung truck will beat a linked truck is if the linked truck isn't working well." Those statements may sound harsh, but they come from someone who's seen both sides of the equation. Don't get us wrong: leaf spring suspensions can be very good. It's just that link-based suspensions still have the advantage provided they're designed and built correctly.
After a couple of seasons on the Ranger, Steve was looking for a fresh direction for both his truck and his racing. We'll let Steve take it from here: "I wanted to try some short desert-style courses, like SNORE's Battle at Primm and the Glen Helen Baja Cup Series. Logistically speaking, there are a lot of things that are easier about short course. One is that it's easier for friends and family to get to see you race. In a desert race, you might break during the first lap and they'll never get to see you. It gets hot out in the desert during the summer and that's not a comfortable environment for casual spectators. The other factor is pit support. Unless you have a big budget, you have to depend on a lot of volunteers. Volunteer help is always appreciated, but volunteers usually can't give the level of support you could expect from a professional pit crew. With short course racing, you don't need a big pit crew, and your pit crew doesn't have to chase you from pit to pit."
The Ranger originally had a 125-inch wheelbase. It's now 114 inches. The black-and-orange
Rather than have C&D build another completely new truck, Steve decided to have his Ranger cross over instead. The '86 is now part desert truck, part short-course truck. Chris and Danny left the front of the Ranger alone, but lopped off the factory frame and the existing 'cage work behind the cab. They sliced the wheelbase down by over a foot. In place of the leaf springs, there's now a short-course-style four-link system. The Ranger's stance is low and aggressive: perfect for tight, twisty corners.
Even though it's nimble in the twisties, there's still a desert truck lurking inside. The 114-inch wheelbase is still stable enough to attack the whoops, and there's sufficient travel on tap to navigate the bumpy minefield better known as the Mojave. The back-halved frame lets the truck sit low and still benefit from generous bump travel. Many short-course trucks take to the track with shocks that aren't big enough to handle the heat generated by extended pounding. Showing his long-course desert roots, Steve uses 2.5-inch King coilovers and 3.0 King bypasses to make sure his suspension can take the heat without fading.
What's a short-course-style four-link? Generally speaking, the links are shorter and the s
What's it like inside the SuperCab? Yours truly had the chance to find out. The co-driver's seat is set back pretty far, allowing tall co-drivers comfortable leg room. I'm short, so the digs were extra-roomy. The ride isn't plush. Instead, it's controlled. This truck is a thoroughbred, not a marshmallow. Under the hood, the power produced by a mildly-built 5.0L small-block Ford V-8 is well-matched to the chassis. The abbreviated wheelbase felt just right on the fire roads above Steve's Hesperia, California hometown. Sweeping through turns and threading between trees happened without drama. We made our way over to Lucerne Valley, where Steve pinned the throttle through a half-mile section of whoops that are part of the racecourse used by MDR and M.O.R.E. Again, it felt controlled but not cushy. For good measure, Steve launched off of The Wall, a short, steep jolt that slams you into the whoops as soon as you land. It's a treacherous jump for a long desert-style wheelbase, but was second nature for the shortened Ranger.
The verdict? This is a perfect blueprint for anyone who needs one truck to do a lot of different things. If dreams become reality, we'll see Steve and his Ranger at Pike's Peak before long. When your truck is crossed over, anything's possible.
1986 Ford SuperCab Ranger
Steve Herrera/ Hesperia, California
331ci stroker small-block Ford V-8
Ford C-4 three speed automatic built by Kenny Walker.
Equal-length kingpin I-beams by C&D Fabworks. Pro-Am hubs and four-piston Wilwood calipers. Seventeen inches of travel controlled by King coilovers and bypass shocks.
Short-course four-link by C&D Fabworks. Speedway Engineering housing and hubs. King shocks mount directly to axle housing. Axle housing trussed by C&D Fabworks. Eighteen inches of travel.
Ring and Pinion:
Prerunning: 5.14:1 / Desert Racing 5.46:1 / Short Course 6.00:1
Spool for 100-percent locked-up durability and predictability.
35-inch BFG Baja T/As
15-inch KMC beadlocks
Driveshaft by High Desert Driveline. Momo steering wheel. PCI Roadmaster race radio and intercom. Fiberwerx front conversion clip. Glassworks Unlimited bedsides. Paint by Trent "181" Soresi.
Here's the frame-to-backhalf juncture. This is one of the cleanest such executions we've s
As much weight as possible was shifted over and behind the rear axle. Dual Optima batterie
Steve selected a Speedway Engineering Ford 9-inch axle housing with matching Speedway Engi
C&D built a set of their kingpin-style equal-length I-beams for the Tuna Can, which are ca
Here's half of the crossover steering system. A Howe ram assist makes steering effort easy
This is 5.0L engine number four. After our photo shoot, Steve had a 331ci small-block Ford
This corral above Hesperia is sometimes used by the BLM during roundups of wild horses. Th
The interior is no-frills, but everything is easy to get to and surprisingly comfortable.
The curved upper door bar makes a big difference in ease of entry and exit.
At speed in the desert, everything vibrates. This is murder on the engine and transmission
Mastercraft's 3G seat is pretty big, and it's usually tough to fit in smaller trucks like
The Beard low-back co-driver's seat has a custom headrest behind it. This seat is mounted
Off of The Wall, even the best 125-inch desert wheelbase will nose hard into the landing.
Did we mention this truck corners well?