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2004 Off-Road Expo

Posted in Events on November 17, 2006
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Contributors: Kevin Blumer
Photographers: Kevin BlumerCollette Blumer

In 2000, Petersen Events Corporation put together a little show dedicated to the sport of off-roading. It took place in one building of the L.A. County Fairgrounds in Pomona, California, and was attended by many who lamented the demise of Sal Fish's old SCORE Show a few years before. The new event was a success, slated to continue, and, hopefully, grow.

Fast forward five shows later to the 2004 Off-Road Expo. The show has become the largest off-road show in the nation, overflowing from four giant buildings at the L.A. County Fairgrounds into the surrounding 8 acres and straining for still more room. This latest event's attendance figures topped 40,000, and, because of the number of people attending, it was hard to get around at times - even outside.

The show covered the complete gamut of our sport, with everything from vintage dirt bikes and race trucks to modern-day Trophy Trucks and rockcrawling vehicles. Of special interest to us were the many exhibitors dedicated to the sport of recreational trail riding and prerunning. If you had questions about suspension, axles, gearing, locking differentials, onboard air systems, or where to go to use all this equipment, you could find the answers at the Off-Road Expo.

If your brain became overloaded from checking out all the booths inside the buildings, you could walk outside, enjoy live music, and inspect the large exhibits and off-road vehicles being displayed outside. Of course, a highlight for attendees was being able to see Off-Road magazine's Super Duty project truck in the flesh. For people wanting something different, an RC car track was set up; you could purchase a car, fine-tune it, then race it right there. The Freestyle Motocross Exhibition had riders soaring four stories into the air, doing unbelievable stunts on (and off) their bikes, before landing on the exit ramp.

Those of us in the industry have been able to enjoy trade shows such as SEMA for years. The Off-Road Expo has opened up the trade-show concept to include everyone, allowing exhibitors to reach not only the industry, but the end user as well. Everyone is welcome at the Off-Road Expo, and business was brisk for those vendors who came prepared to sell products.

The 2004 Off-Road Expo was the biggest and best yet. We're sad it was only a two-day show, as it's hard to see everything in one weekend. We can only wait in anticipation to see what the 2005 Off-Road Expo has in store for those of us in the off-road community. We can safely say one thing, though - it'll be worth the wait.

Brothers Ian and Aaron Dixon spent the 2003 season motoring through the southwestern deserts in pursuit of Class 7300 gold in Best in the Desert's racing series. Class 7300, also known as Pure Stock Mini, is a racing class, with rules so restrictive, they require stock sheetmetal fenders and a stock pickup truck bed. Since modifications are so limited, Class 7300 victory requires careful race prep and judicial use of the skinny pedal once underway. Dixon Bros. Racing prevailed in 2003 and brought the 7300 crown home to Lompoc, California. Ford Motor Company took notice and provided a brand-new '04 Ranger for the new season. The Dixons now provide feedback to Dearborn, Michigan, as to what lasts and what breaks. It's just one of those dirty jobs that someone's gotta do.

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Steve Ruddick's Got Dirt? Toyota is a common sight during MDR Prerunner class contests. Steve began with a leaf-sprung solid-axle Toyota 4x4 pickup, but the truck has since traded the solid front axle for a pair of Ford-style I-beams. At the rear, a recently installed linkage suspension sprung by coilover shocks helps the 'Yota glide along at speeds never dreamed of by the stock truck. Andy Stix was the man responsible for the metallic transformation and also helps with codriving duties during races. Got Dirt? offsets some of its racing expenses by selling T-shirts. Our personal favorite? A kid's T-shirt that reads "My dad's faster than your dad."

The Flying Dutchman, Dan Vanden Huevel ("from the hills" in Dutch), brought his Kumho-shod CORR Pro-2 truck from its Wisconsin stable to let Expo-goers see what an 800hp short-course truck looks like up close and personal. The 4130 chrome-moly tube frame is TIG-welded and skinned with lightweight fiberglass panels. "You go through a body every race," says the 2004 Top Five finisher. CORR's contests last about 15 minutes per class and require a full-throttle assault from the green to the checker. A class tire-width rule for 2005 will require 12-1/2-inch treads to be used at the rear instead of the 14-1/2-inchers that were previously a class standard. The reason for the rule change? Reliability. The grip that the wider meats provided served to readily snap axles, which added to racers' already substantial budgets. Safety was also a huge factor behind the rule change. "There was the potential for a wheel to get loose and fly into the crowd," Dan revealed. The Pro-2 Chevy uses Richmond gears with a full spool for maximum traction. Ratios are changed from track to track, but usually hover around 6 to 1.

Advance Adapters was also on hand, showing off the Vortec engines that are now available. At the tail end of this display drivetrain sat the AA Atlas II - arguably the best transfer case ever made. The Atlas II can be ordered in a variety of low-gear ratios and can have a passenger- or driver-side front output. Another cool feature is that the Atlas II can be clocked to maximize ground clearance, or to relieve steep front driveline angles. Advance also makes adapters for unconventional applications, such as those that couple a small-block Chevy motor to a Ford manual transmission to create the shortest drivetrain possible. We'd like to run this combination, just for the groans we'd get from the Bow Tie and Blue Oval purists among us.

Dixon Bros. Racing took its considerable race-prep talents and put them into developing long-travel suspension kits for four-wheel-drive A-arm Fords. The kit shown here provides as much as 14 inches of travel and fits Ranger Edge 2WD and 4WD models. The kit also fits Explorer Sport Tracs. Clean workmanship and the use of coilover shocks are welcome additions that add reliability and smooth suspension action to the latest generation of Rangers. Our favorite part, though, is that the kits are fully functional with four-wheel drive. Dixon Bros. also produces a 4WD long-travel kit for '97-'03 F-150s that cycle 15 inches. We'll add one of each to our wish list.

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Bilstein's Shane Casad dropped some pre-Expo hints about the new 9300-series bypass shock. "It looks like something out of a science-fiction movie," went the claim. We weren't disappointed. The 9300, dubbed the Blackhawk, is a revolutionary design in the world of hard-core off-road shocks. The Blackhawk uses an aluminum shock body for light weight and quick heat dispersal. Aluminum's high heat-dispersal rate is augmented by using cooling fins on the shock body, keeping the shocks running as much as 100 degrees cooler than comparable-size steel-bodied bypass shocks. Cool-running shocks provide more consistent suspension action and allow a truck to maintain speed in the rough. In the past, aluminum shock bodies were a disadvantage because the bores wore more quickly than steel. The Blackhawk's answer to this drawback is a special hard coating on the piston bore. The coating is so hard that it can't be cut with a hacksaw, or even with lathe tooling. Anything else? The Blackhawk's bypass tubes have distinct detents, making tuning easier and more accurate. The remote reservoir uses an anticavitation valve, allowing nitrogen to run at low pressures, which further promotes smooth, consistent shock action. We're sure that the only thing better than eyeing the Blackhawks will be riding in a Blackhawk-equipped truck.

Dynatrac's Pro Rock 60 is tough to beat. Combining the ruggedness of a 9-3/4-inch ring gear with the strength of 332-X U-joints, the Pro Rock 60 actually has more ground clearance than a standard-issue Dana 44. Dynatrac can build a Pro Rock 60, standard Dana 60, Dana 44, and its beyond-overkill Dana 70 and Dana 80 axles to customer's needs, including widths, wheel bolt patterns, suspension-attachment points, and traction-aiding devices. Yes, all this performance does come at a price, but off-roaders who choose to lighten their wallets at Dynatrac come away with smiling faces.

Sway-A-Way's red RaceRunner shock lineup has been expanded, with models featuring piggyback reservoirs that rotate 360 degrees for easy mounting. This ultra-cool 4-inch external-bypass model is also a new addition to the product line. The girth of the shocks and extra volume of oil that goes along with the added diameter promise fade-free performance on the heaviest of off-road trucks. The size was impressive, but we thought you'd be even more impressed with a close-up view of the gorgeous TIG welds that fuse the bypass tubes together.

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T&J Performance Center was on hand, showcasing one of the most versatile off-road vehicles ever created: the XJ Cherokee. The XJ features a smooth-riding coil-sprung solid-axle frontend and a wheelbase that's short enough to be maneuverable, but long enough to provide stability at speed. XJ Cherokees also seat four and have generous lockable cargo space. Such a versatile vehicle provides a perfect beast of burden for off-roaders, fast and slow alike. T&J fabricates and sells preformed rollcages that tie into structural points on the XJ unibody and chassis stiffeners that join the rear spring hangers to the front link pivots.

Alan Pflueger brought his Trophy Truck-haulin' semi and several other trucks in his high-speed fleet. Each was an eye-candy feast, but we thought this view of the hood shed light on just how trick the Porter-built TT really is. Massive tire bulges provide clearance for the big Baja Project T/As to cycle beneath and feature louvered vents to minimize frontend lift from air packing beneath the front clip. In the center, the hood drops to provide maximum visibility and is also vented to avoid frontend lift. A glance under the hood revealed nothing but suspension control arms, steering components, and bright-blue King shocks. Porter Trophy Trucks use a mid-engine design, which feeds the power forward into a Casale V-drive. The V-drive turns the power 180 degrees to an offset rear pumpkin. Most competitors see Pflueger's rear axle and its offset pumpkin, but not much else, as "Pfearless" disappears in a cloud of Baja silt.

Currie Enterprises had a humble beginning when Frank Currie scoured wrecking yards in search of used Ford 9-inch rearends. The junkyard jewels were narrowed and fit to Taylor-Dunn industrial cars. Since those yesteryears, Currie has become a dominant supplier of 9-inch rearends and components. Currie's new CMAC housing adds a new dimension of strength for prerunners and race trucks of all sizes. Currie hasn't distanced itself from its roots, however. Those Taylor-Dunn industrial cars that ferry people and cargo around airports and school campuses still sport narrowed 9-inch rearends - we checked.

Total Chaos has carved a niche as a producer of high-quality bolt-on long-travel suspension kits for Toyotas and Nissans. Shown is the Tacoma kit, which fits six-lug Prerunner models and four-wheel-drive Tacomas. Do TC kits work? Dan Vance bolted one on his 2WD Prerunner-class pickup and proceeded to take the 2003 MDR 1450 class championship, one race at a time.

Scott Douglas brought his Rancho F-150 CORR Pro-4 racer out to meet the fans. Since CORR is still a Midwest series, most of the nation must tune into Speed Channel to catch the action. Compared with a Trophy Truck, a Pro-4 is set up with a lower and wider stance for superior cornering. Front suspension usually ranges around 2 feet or more on a Trophy Truck, but is reined in to about 18 inches on a Pro-4. Big horsepower and a few hundred feet of TIG-welded 4130 chrome-moly chassis tubing are common to both truck types. The Rancho Pro-4 F-150 uses a custom front differential mounted dead center and custom CV shafts to drive the front wheels.

A wide stance and a low center of gravity are also advantages for those on the polar opposite of the speed spectrum. Jon Bundrant's buggy, dubbed Tiny for obvious reasons, has been a dominant entry on the pro rockcrawling circuit. The tube chassis is a one-off build by Jon Nelson of Nelson and Nelson Racing to Bundrant's specifications. The drivetrain is a bizarre blend that is ideally suited to the task; an air-cooled VW motor feeds into a GM Powerglide transmission, through an Atlas II T-case, and finally to Ford 9-inch axles. Yes, the brand combo is odd, but the configuration is the big news: The motor is rear-mounted and faces forward. As such, the drivetrain rotates opposite of normal. To get Tiny moving in the correct direction, the 9-inch axles are flipped - flipped as in upside down.

B.K. Fabworks' Class 7 Toyota usually has too much dust and velocity to get a good look at. The Expo gave fans an opportunity to see Number 700 while it was clean and still. Barry Karakas spent three-and-a-half years building the metallic work of art, which features a long-travel four-link rear suspension and handmade control arms up front, which cycle 21 inches of travel. High-quality fab work, as seen on this TIG-welded dimple-died entry step, is par for the course.

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