Off-road racing proves to be addictive once again. This time, the fun consumes a longtime enthusiast with his newest toy, a 2000 Ford F-150. Frank Rusich got his start in off-roading many years ago, when he teamed up with his brother to race Class 1600 buggies. For many seasons, they raced for fun, but when it wasn't fun anymore, the duo stopped. Frank's departure from the sport was short-lived. While he was gone, he found himself with a burning desire to get back behind the wheel. Never straying far from the sport, Frank kept a stable full of off-road toys, such as buggies and motorcycles.
But with this, his most intense project to date, he is quickly refueling his desire to race again, and a prerunner is a necessary tool for off-road racing. Different than a race car, a prerunner needs to be more reliable and, most important, more comfortable. Frank is currently training his son to be his racing partner; prerunning in the truck together is their way of laying the groundwork for things to come. Through his son, Frank has regained his youth, and his off-road racing fire is back and burning brighter than ever.
The project began when Frank took his dream to longtime fabricator and friend Dave Snoddy of Daveco Motorsports. Dave got the green light to build a dream prerunner, and the flying Ford's launch sequence commenced. Although the goal with this truck was to make it look as close to a stock F-150 as possible, it is far from stock. In fact, the only stock part of this truck is the cab. Underneath the cab lies a chassis built of 1-3/4-inch 4130 chrome-moly tubing. The chassis provides the triangulated configuration needed to carry the 90-inch-wide, 135-inch-long truck over the most punishing terrain.
Where many trucks give a sensation of speed at 80 mph through moguls, this truck does no such thing. At such speeds, by the time the bumps are transferred to the cab, they blur into smoothness. This is not surprising when you look at the suspension configuration. In the rear, the off-road-proven three-link design comprises heat-treated 4130 upper and lower arms. The handcrafted works of art are complemented by a pair of King shocks on each wheel. It uses a 4.0 King Kong damper complete with bypass tubes and a King 3.0 coilover. For the really big hits, a Sway-A-Way bumpstop is mounted on each wheel. With an astounding 3 feet of rear-wheel travel, it is no surprise this monster soaks up bumps like a sponge does water. This much wheel travel on other vehicles could lead to excessive body roll, but not on this truck. Dave fabricated an antisway bar from 4130 chrome-moly, ensuring easy operation.
The dedication to quality continues with the front suspension. It is composed of a pair of 4130 chrome-moly plate, TIG-welded, heat-treated A-arms. The hand-sculpted components provide a sufficient 25 inches of wheel travel. In conjunction with the arms, a pair of King shocks on each wheel completes the front suspension. Keeping the truck straight through the rough is no problem with the Fortin power steering rack. Every removable piece of the suspension system was heat-treated and then powdercoated at Pro-Coat in Lake Elsinore, California. The attention to detail makes the truck look fast even when standing still.
Each of the four corners has custom billet hubs designed and machined by Wade Weaver in Irvine, California. The trick hubs allow the brake rotors to be removed without taking the hubs off the spindles. The modular system keeps brake and hub maintenance easy as pie -- not that there would ever be a brake problem with gigantic Brembo rotors and calipers on each wheel.
The powerful eight-cylinder engine is a Chevy transplant. Steve Bothwell of Torrance, California, worked his magic on the modest Chevrolet 383 LT1. Included is a pair of massaged, fuel-injected aluminum heads. There are no secrets as to where the 475 ponies come from. REF Unlimited manufactured the custom eight-to-one headers. Underhood systems stay cool with a Ron Davis aluminum radiator.
The driveline consists of nothing but race-proven, reliable components: Gordon Stoney built the 4L80-E transmission, and the converter is by TCS of Arizona. Dave took no chances in the rearend, using a bombproof Chrisman unit and 5.0 gears.
Every detail on this truck is covered, down to the NAS Aircraft fasteners used from nose to tail. The interior is just as impressive as the rest. Frank travels with all the pleasures of a rock concert: 600 watts of glorious sound come from the Eclipse sound system. The dash was custom-built to house a full spread of Auto Meter Phantom gauges and a Garman GPS. The race-specification rollcage is camouflaged by the tweed-and-leather interior. Every extra detail was added, including 3-D flames inlaid into the headliner and the door panels. The Ford even has air conditioning, a heater, and three Beard seats made to match the interior. All the comforts of your modern luxury car make it an enjoyable ride no matter the temperature or terrain.
Recently, Frank bought his 15-year-old son his first race car. Since the race car is a single-seater, it is tough for Frank to oversee his son's learning curve. Enter the new dream prerunner. Frank enters races and follows his son, coaching and hurrying him along. "I am not racing it," Frank says, "I am just here to make sure Andrew does alright."
Frank uses the importance of his father-son relationship to rationalize the amount of money he put into the Rusich toy stable. "Price of a race car for my son: a lot. Price of a motor home for my wife: more. Price of a state-of-the-art prerunner: even more. The price of quality time a father spends with his son: priceless." Andrew has a way to go, but he has plenty of time to get there. Remember this name in the years to come; with his support system, he is sure to be a contender in the desert.