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Major Threat

Posted in Features on August 17, 2002 Comment (0)
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Contributors: Mark Dustin
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The pros at Baja Shop Motorsports in Orange, California, have been building off-road vehicles for more than three decades. In such a young sport that's still rapidly growing, the company's tenure is indisputably impressive. With several hundred customized vehicles under their belt and new projects always popping up, it isn't often the pros take time to do something for themselves. It's tragic that they are always building the latest toys for everyone else, while dreaming of what they could build for the shop if only they had the time. This '90 Ford Ranger is an illustration of their dreams from the past 30 years.

This was the side project that finally got finished. The project began way back in 1998. Jesse and AJ acquired the perfect truck to build the first-ever shop race truck. The family team has many buggy trophies on the office wall, but this is the first attempt at a truck.

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With many truck categories to choose from, they found a few reasons to build a 7s Class. The elaborate rules limit the trucks to keep the cost relatively low. The rules also have remained more or less the same for many years, enabling AJ and Jesse to take their time building their masterpiece. The collaboration of these rules means that pretty much all of the 7s trucks ever built still exist. Although many are dormant, it seems wherever you go this class tends to have the big entry numbers, thus increasing the most important part of racing: the fun factor.

A combination of strength, safety, and aesthetics within the class rules makes this Ranger a favorite to win at any event. The 4130 chrome-moly cage provides the driver with protection and the truck with the reinforced platform to construct the involved suspension system. As an important part of the infrastructure, the rollcage extends from front bumper to rear. In the cab sits a pair of Beard seats. The tubular framed seats are complemented with a set of Crow Enterprises seatbelts. In case of a dreadful frontal impact, the belts include a sternum strap. Also, whichever family member is driving gets to grip a suede-covered MOMO steering wheel.

Power comes from the reliable 4.0L V-6. Although the stock block remains, the modifications make the six-cylinder engine far from stock. They dropped the truck off at Johnny Lightning's Motorworks for some massaging. Johnny focused on the heads, porting them for better airflow. When he was finished with the internals, it was time for the Baja Shop to install the bolt-on horsepower. The Baja Shop installed a set of its headers and one of its high-flow intake systems. With the new breathing apparatus in place, the rest of the power comes from the Hypertech chip and, of course, the item no off-road truck would be complete without, the K&N air filter.

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The transmission is the reliable stock unit. Depending on the racecourse, the Currie 9-inch can be easily manipulated for the best performance. Precision Gear supplied the ring-and-pinion that holds up to the rough desert terrain. The driveshaft was custom-built by the driveline specialists. The truck always runs on BFGoodrich tires, however, depending on the race, they alternate between Baja T/As and All-Terrain T/As. The black-anodized 15-inch American Racing wheels are plenty tough for any terrain. With their bead locks, low pressures can be used with absolutely no worry about popping the bead off while pitching it into a turn.

The rear suspension retains the stock configuration per the class rules. However, the stock leaves were upgraded to a set of National Springs and prepped by Deaver. The direction the wheel travels is manipulated by the use of a three-point link attached to the top of the differential pumpkin and extending forward to both sides of the stock chassis. The triangulated system helps keep axle wrap and high-speed gravity alignment issues to a minimum. Once completed, the modified system used a 16-inch-stroke King 3 tube bypass shock, damping each wheel. The new wheel travel is up to the rule limit of 16 inches.

The '90 Ford Ranger was one of the model years to use the effective Twin I-beam front suspension system. The sought-after system is easily modified within class rules to produce 12 inches of wheel travel. This successful suspension design is one of the main reasons there are so many pre-'97 Rangers still dominating desert racing in the 7s Class. The stock beams were beefed up to handle the rigors of desert racing and bolted on. The front suspension is unified with a pair National coil springs that are damped by a 12-inch King 4 tube bypass shock on each wheel.

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There was just one last detail before taking the truck to its maiden race. They had make sure the overall presentation of the truck was a good representation of the Baja Shop Motorsports legacy. The first step included dropping the truck at Perries Fab & Fiber for fiberglass fenders on each corner. The next stop was the paint shop. Performance Sign Wurks in Anaheim, California, was commissioned to do the job. Todd shot the top half of the truck in an eye-catching bright-red. A silver stripe divides the black lower half of the vehicle. All of the team's sponsor logos were added in the same color, and the team was off to the race.

Pepe, their father and father of the Baja Shop, has been racing since the first Baja 1000. With both of the brothers growing up as their father's proteges, earning themselves seat time by the age of 15, neither of them could be called rookies in off-road racing. On the way, the mighty Ranger performed well. With no testing, the Rodriguez family had luck on their side. Pulling together a team of good friends and three generations of family, AJ, Jesse, and 63-year-old, multiple-Champion Pepe piloted the mighty Ranger to the top of the podium.

The next outing was a bit more prestigious for the team. The annual SCORE Primm 400 was augmented by the Fatback Mini Metal Challenge. Fabtech put up some extra prize money, which attracted nearly 30 entries. The starting order for the race was determined by a pit crew competition Friday night under the lights. The Baja Shop team prevailed, proving their merit on and off the track, in the process putting the truck on the pole position for Saturday's main event. Unfortunately, on Saturday, their luck ran out after running strong early on, which happens more often than not in desert racing, and they ran into numerous mechanical problems, shortening the team's day. However, with much more 7s Class racing on their agenda, it's just a matter of time before the Baja Shop Motorsports boys get back to the winner's circle.

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