Jason Hutter was going nuts. Transplanted from San Clemente, California, to Snowmass Village, Colorado, to take a firefighting job, he was surrounded by some of the best scenery and off-roading to be had anywhere. Despite the great job and premium surroundings, something was missing. Jason needed a fix of desert speed in a bad way, so he packed his gear. Jason was Baja-bound. Sensing an impending adventure, coworker Paul Blangsted asked where Hutter was headed. "I'm going to watch the Baja 1000," came the reply. That was all it took for the solo journey to become a tandem effort
Hutter and Blangsted were on their way to experience the 1995 Baja 1000. At the time, the Trophy Truck class was only 2 years old. Major manufacturers were backing most of the Trophy Truck teams, with Chevrolet's Larry Ragland taking the top TT honors that year. The '95 Baja 1000 started in Tijuana, instead of the usual Ensenada kickoff point. The race wound its way down the peninsula a record 1,146 miles to La Paz for the longest Baja 1000 racecourse in history. The two firefighters drove to Morelia Junction and watched the race. Short on sleep and with clothes full of Baja's finest silt, Blangsted turned to Hutter on the drive home and said, "We're doing this. We're gonna go racing even if we have to race a stock VW Bug in Class 11." Hutter agreed, but convinced Blangsted that racing a truck would be a better way to go. Desert racing's buggy classes feature some of the sport's most advanced technology, but the looks of the machines make them harder for the average person to relate to. By choosing to race a familiar-looking pickup truck, fans would be better able to relate to the vehicle, and sponsorship would be easier to come by. SCORE's Stock Production Mini Truck class, or Class 7s, became the chosen path. They just needed a truck
Fire Guys Racing didn't have to search far. A fellow firefighter at their station was about to eighty-six his '86 Toyota 2WD pickup. It had served faithfully for many years as a daily driver, but the engine had finally died. Jason asked what the wrecking yard had offered for the terminal Toy'. Three-hundred and fifty dollars was the price. "Sold!" The Fire Guys had their truck
After mounting a pair of fiberglass fenders to the front of the rusty white '86, the Toy' was given a coat of fire-engine-red paint to announce the team's intentions of 7s glory. A new 22R motor breathed life back into the truck. The Fire Guys set about crafting a basic rollcage, bolted a pair of Bilstein 5100s at each corner, and took their new prize out to its first race. Since that first outing in July of 1999, the truck and its owners have gained valuable experience and are a threat in the 7s Class every time they line up to start a race. OFF-ROAD caught up with the Fire Guys on a brisk morning in Laughlin and snapped a few shots of their racer in its current incarnation. What we discovered was not a collection of unobtainable racing exotica, but a solid truck that's composed of class-mandated stock parts and key upgrades where allowed. "Don't cut corners," advises Hutter. "Do the research and do it right the first time." That is not to say the Toy' hasn't suffered a DNF or two over the years. "Every time you strengthen one thing, there is still a weak link somewhere." The Fire Guys have a collection of podium finishes in SCORE races and three BORE (Bonneville Off-Road Racing Enterprises) Mini-Metal championships to their credit.
Our favorite part of the Fire Guys Toyota? It's an attainable truck that's built to finish race after race, season after season. The most recent upgrades include a Ford 9-inch rearend and a set of custom Dana 44-based spindles. The 9-inch was outfitted with a full spool and Currie 31-spline axle shafts. The spindles were custom-built by Advanced Off-Road Research (A.O.R.) and use the beef inherent in the 4WD spindle design to avoid breakage on the pounding courses of SCORE and BORE. The front control arms are stock units reinforced and gusseted per 7s rules, sprung by Sway-A-Way 300m torsion bars and controlled by a pair of S.A.W. bypass shocks. The 9-inch rear is also damped by Sway-A-Way bypass shocks, but is sprung by an Advanced Off-Road Research (A.O.R.) leaf pack featuring Orbit-Eye spherical bearings in place of traditional polyurethane spring eye bushings. For power, the '86 has been motivated by a four-cylinder 22R block with a better-flowing 20R head bolted to the top. This 165hp cylinder and head combo was built by Toyota Dan of Grand Junction, Colorado, and reliably ran for several seasons with no major maintenance or rebuilding. An attainable, reliable truck adds up to one thing when it's time to go racing: fun.
The next time you're on the sidelines of a desert race and see the Fire Guys buzz past, picture yourself in a truck of your own, out on the course mixing it up with Hutter and Blangsted. Be advised, though: With years of experience and a truck that's been refined to the nth degree, they're gonna be tough to beat.