Tough Truck racing, like the kind found at Special Events 4-Wheel Jamborees, is a lot like high-speed desert racing, only it's designed for those on a budget. It offers hair-tangling speed, nosebleed jumps, groovy, drift-inducing corners, and the thrill of competing with other psycho off-road drivers in a slippery and dirty environment.
We've witnessed hundreds of these races over the years, and gotten to know the drivers, and we've poured over scores of technical spec sheets in a effort to deduce what criteria goes into a winning truck. Well, let's just say, a truck that can at least finish the race, because sometimes that's half the battle.
So Exactly What is Tough Truck?
First off, Tough Truck is a trade name, owned by The Promotion Company in Indianapolis. Other promoters call 'em Ruff Trux, Arena Trucks, Pro Trucks, and so on. But for this story we're going to stick with Tough Trucks because this is the event series that we attend most frequently, and all of the rules and truck requirements we're going to talk about are specific to the Special Events Tough Truck racing program.
The objective in Tough Truck is quite simple-race your 4x4 around an obstacle course as fast as possible. Course construction varies from event to event, but the tracks usually contain several jumps, whoop-de-doos, and sweeping turns. There are two classes of racing, stock and modified. The stock trucks race around the track individually and against the clock, while the modified class races in pairs, with the winner advancing to the next round. The first thing you have to do is be assigned a class, and that is done by race officials who factor in the vehicle modifications.
Pick Your Poison
To compete in Tough Truck racing, you'll need a vehicle. If you buy a bone-stock vehicle off a used car lot, you'll fall into the stock class. If you take it home and start modifying it for killer suspension travel, or whip out the Sawzall for some major body mods, this will graduate you to the modified class.
The idea behind the two classes is to create fairness so that stock trucks don't have to race head to head with highly modified trucks. There are three basic driver attitudes prevalent in Tough Truck racing. There's the driver who is just out there to show off and destroy stuff, the driver who is semi-serious about the whole thing and wants to keep the truck intact from race to race, and the dead-serious driver who may have big-time sponsorship and a custom-designed truck. We're going to focus on the middle of the pack, because that seems to be where the majority of the trucks are. With this in mind, we can analyze what mods can be done to your truck to enhance its durability and your safety.
We would be remiss if we didn't point out common sense things that help you avoid being an astronomer (seeing stars) when you stuff your truck into the dirt. Special Events requires all drivers to wear a safety approved SNELL 90 full-face helmet, long pants, sleeved shirt, and neck collar.
Furthermore, all drivers must be securely strapped into their vehicle with a minimum four-point harness with two shoulder straps and a lap belt. All soft-topped and open-topped vehicles must have a six-point rollcage, and it must be tied into the frame of the vehicle in at least four places. Rules also require all vehicles to have front and rear tow hooks, and the battery must be firmly tied down.
The Welder is Your Friend
A welder is needed, not only to fix your Tough Truck when it breaks, but also to help avoid breakage to begin with. Case in point: axle trusses. They're probably the most important item you can install to help your Tough Truck's axlehousings hold together when your truck comes crashing back down to earth after that crowd-hushing major launch on your way to the checkered flag.
Almost all of the competitive Tough Trucks have axle trusses installed, and almost all of them are welded on (forget those bolt-on pretty chrome ones). On the subject of axles, which is better, IFS or solid? Interestingly, we've seen numerous IFS trucks run Tough Truck over the years, and amazingly, they've held up quite well. The downside to racing an IFS-equipped truck is that if you do fold the front end up after a massive jump, the fix time is substantially longer than that of a solid front axle, and more components tend to break and bend.
When it comes to solid axles, it seems that bigger is better. After all, a lot of pressure comes to bear on the axlehousing when the vehicle lands, and a Dana 60 will take the abuse much better than a Dana 44. A fun thing to do (and we all like fun things) is to calculate how much force is generated by using the simple formula: force equals mass times acceleration. Not only will your friends be impressed by your professorlike qualities as you do the math, but the astounding number you arrive at will illustrate the force dropped on your differentials by the falling weight of your truck.
If bigger is better, than wider is better too. Some drivers that race smaller trucks outfit their rigs with full-width axles. This enhances the trucks stability on the sweeping curves, thus eliminating the chances of rolling over. Another way of decreasing the chances of rolling over is to slow down, but then you lose a lot. The upside to rolling over is that you'll be the crowd favorite.
Many of the highly competitive Tough Trucks are designed much like desert racing trucks, with a minimum amount of suspension lift. This allows for more stability while blasting through corners, but requires significant body and chassis mods to allow for full wheel travel. The modified class allows for rear four-link suspension systems, multiple shock kits and coilover shocks, and redesigned shock mounting points. If you're on a budget, look into assembling a suspension that allows for full wheel travel while not creating a lot of height. Chances are you'll need to run smaller-diameter tires, but don't sweat it. Unlike trail riding you really don't need a lot of height for this type of off-roading anyway.
Under the Hood
It's a no brainer to conclude that what's under the hood of your Tough Truck will make a big difference in your overall speed around the track. A fire-breathing V-8 engine will easily outpace a worn-out six-cylinder, but both can become equal sputtering boat anchors if the carbs aren't adjusted correctly.
Fuel injection is the hot ticket for smooth, uninterrupted power over the bouncy track, but those racers on a budget sometimes can't afford a late-model truck sporting injectors and a pump. Hence, the trick is to correctly adjust your carb's float level so the engine doesn't flood every time you launch over a berm. This is most often done by trial and error. Superchargers and NOS are a no-no in both the stock and modified class, but the modified class allows for all the go-fast high-flying stuff like moving the engine back for better weight distribution (up to 15 percent), relocation of the radiator, and the installation of a fuel cell.
Building a competitive Tough Truck can be as easy or as complex as you desire it to be. It all depends on how bad you want to win. It's one of the few forms of grassroots racing that invites you to drive like a total maniac and be rewarded with cash and prizes.
As with all forms of racing there are rules, and you can request them from Special Events at 317/236-6525. Drivers tell us that the bottom line is to beef your truck so that it can take the abuse without breaking. After all, you can't win if you can't finish the race.