It all started five years ago. The top-secret Off-Road magazine satellite network started to collect spy images of 8,000-pound, Cummins-powered Dodge Rams flying through the air. Since we hadn't seen many Dodge trucks taking flight since Walker Evans was doing it 20 years ago, we decided to investigate further. What we discovered was Kroeker Off Road Engineering, code name "KORE."
Based in San Diego, this small, elite company has made an international impact on the off-road industry. By taking the heavy-duty Dodge Ram 4x4, a vehicle that had been neglected by the performance aftermarket up to that time, and making it a battle-worthy weapons platform, KORE has not only opened new doors to adventure, KORE has created the very doors themselves.
So what is this desert beast called KORE? Who are these guys who huck huge solid-axle trucks 8 feet in the air and rumble across Baja in black Dodge Rams like a tank battalion storming northern Africa?
In order to gather some intel, we joined the 2006 KORE Invitational Baja 1000 Prerun. Every year it starts with "The Brief," which takes place at the KORE Kompound. In 2006, KORE had three spec-built Stock Full race trucks competing in the transpeninsular Baja 1000 under the KORE corporate flag. These teams consisted of: Worthington Racing out of Palmdale, California; RPM Offroad of Bristol, Tennessee; and High Rollerz Trux from Calgary, Alberta.
These teams had never raced the Baja 1000 before, and most had never even seen a desert! They were inspired to build Dodge race trucks by Kent Kroeker's solo Baja 1000 success in 2004 when he drove the Beast (featured on the cover) to Ensenada, competed in the race, brought the truck to the podium, and then drove home the next day. It was this proof-of-concept that helped launch KORE's high-end suspension systems and position Kroeker as the country's foremost expert in Dodge off-road suspension. Now, building a professional-grade Stock Full race truck is as easy as a phone call to KORE.
The black '03 Dodge Ram 2500 4x4, known affectionately as the Beast, has been a rolling testbed for KORE's suspension components as well as components from other companies that KORE uses in its racing efforts. Dependable high-end companies such as Toyo, Weld, Banks, Baja Designs, and FASS are on board with KORE's race contingency program that basically says, "You get your truck across the finish line of the Baja 1000, and you get your money back." Using proven products that are part of the KORE formula not only makes it easier to build a race truck and make the dream of the Baja a reality, but it gives race teams monetary incentive to do what Kroeker continuously emphasizes and "drive smart."
It was at the KORE Kompound that we got to know Kent Kroeker, the owner of KORE. A former Marine Corps pilot and veteran Baja motorcycle racer, he's ultraprecise, gritty, mean, and intolerant - sort of a cross between Erwin Rommel and Mike Ditka. He doesn't talk with you, he talks at you. When he speaks, he holds up his right hand in the shape of a claw and says things like "you will comply or you will be eliminated..."
During The Brief, Kroeker emphasized safety, situational awareness, and teamwork. Drivers, navigators, chase and pit crews - nobody had immunity from Kroeker's iron fist. He randomly picked crewmembers from guest teams to recite Baja rules from the "KORE Battle Plan." Then, depending on the response, Kroeker's crew (which consists of former Marine Corps combat pilots and infantry officers) would either praise them or mercilessly ridicule them.
"You are not competing against other drivers - you are driving the terrain," Kroeker emphasized. "A Stock Full race truck is not a Trophy Truck that will survive repeated operator error. Stock Full is a driver's class, meaning you can't be imprecise or you will fail. No amount of money can buy you the finish line of the Baja 1000 - it is up to you to drive your truck there."
What followed were thrills, spills, and chills of Baja prerunning at its best. Kroeker and his crew taught over 30 people driving, navigation, communication procedures, chase and pit techniques, hammering home Baja racing concepts like drill instructors at Perris Island. San Diego to La Paz and back - it was seven days of early mornings and late nights during which drivers and crewmembers earned call signs like "Golem," "SHOE" (stupidest human on earth), "Princess," and "Mongo."