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Ford Prerunner Racing Trucks - Triple Threat

Posted in Features on December 26, 2006 Comment (0)
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If you're ever meandering down Lambert Road in Whittier, California, you might catch a glimpse of a free-standing sign perched nonchalantly next to the street. "Desolate Motorsports," it reads. "Lift kits. Metal fabrication." An arrow points toward the shop, located aft of an unassuming strip mall.

"My location is actually a good thing," comments owner Greg Gilbert. "Since my shop is a little tougher to find, I notice that customers who come in not only know about Desolate Motorsports, but they're more informed and have a better idea of what they want to do with their trucks."

Desolate first appeared on Off-Road's radar when Matt Langan took top honors in the prerunner class at the '04 MDR Lucerne 250 driving a Desolate-built F-150. "I just drove a little harder and a little smarter than everyone else," Matt told us at the time.

We recently had a chance to catch up with Desolate Motorsports and see what Greg and crewmembers Nick Lopez, Matt Carter, and Danny Cannon have been up to during the last few years. Langan's prerunner-class entry has grown into a full-fledged Class 8 truck with a fire-breathing V8 and full fiberglass bodywork. Customer Mike Wahl employed Desolate's talents to build a 7S Ford Ranger that netted a podium finish after 584 hot, dusty miles between Vegas and Reno. Finally, Greg himself chanced upon an already-built F-150 prerunner that was too good a deal to pass up.

Keep reading. The next few pages showcase an impressive trio of trucks.

When Time Is of the Greatest Essence"With the demands of a growing business, and deadlines coming sooner rather than later on customers' vehicles, I couldn't see myself ever being able to take the time to build a prerunner like this one," confides Greg.

This F-150 has a stock frame, a stock steel cab, a license plate, and functional A/C. It's also got a few drops of Trophy Truck flowing through its veins. Tom McKenzie of Suspension Innovation applied his talents and otherworldly attention to detail to this 1/2-ton. To see more of Tom's work, look back a few issues to "Coming Full Circle" from November 2006.

"Tom originally built this truck for my good friend Aaron Stein," Greg relates. "I fell in love with it at first sight. Aaron soon sold the truck to another good friend of mine, and just a few months after that, I was able to sell off a few half-finished projects and purchase the truck. As a racer, I saw this as the 'perfect prerunner.' Besides the fact that it is four-wheel-drive, the quality of the fab work is topnotch. It's 100-percent TIG-welded, and 100-percent chrome-moly was used. Every surface Tom worked on has been either painted or powdercoated."

In purchasing this truck, Greg not only saved himself a lot of time, he also saved himself a wad of cash. Although we're not going to reveal the dollar figure, trust us that it was a steal.

PhotosView Slideshow

Saga of speed
Going fast runs in the Wahl family. "I started in the early '70s at a muffler shop," truck owner Mike Wahl says. "I worked for a guy who had a high-speed car built for running on salt flats. My dad also helped get me started in racing."

These days, Mike's focus has shifted toward his daughter Erin and the 7S Ford Ranger he had built for her at Desolate Motorsports. "Erin will drive and race more when she gets more experience. For us, going to the desert is a family thing."

The build began with a cab and frame procured from a wrecking yard. Per Class 7S rules, the Ranger keeps the engine in the stock location and uses modified stock suspension parts. The class restrictions mean that 7S is a "driver's class," where a single truck has little technological advantage over another. The secrets to 7S success are to upgrade key components on the truck for extended dirt duty, and to get as much seat time as possible prior to hitting the starting line.

It's clear that Erin's time is coming. In the BITD Vegas to Reno race, Erin took the wheel long enough to be listed as a driver of record next to Danny Cannon and Dave Sanchez. Congrats!

PhotosView Slideshow

The frame remains the same
Like almost every prerunner or race truck, this one began life as a daily driver. Matt Langan was largely satisfied with his F-150 until he fatefully codrove during a race in 2002 - he was hooked.

Matt handed his then V6-powered '97 F-150 off to Desolate for each stage of the buildup. The stock steel cab, 4.2 V6, five-speed manual tranny, and stock-location leaf springs were used at first in conjunction with an H&M long-travel front suspension. After a few races, an H&M linked rear suspension took the place of the leaf packs. At that point, the chassis far outperformed the drivetrain.

After racing successfully in the prerunner/1450 class for a couple of seasons, Matt, along with his father Jeff, decided to unlock the rest of the F-150's potential by having it built into a full-fledged Class 8 racer. If it could see and think, the Langan truck wouldn't recognize its former self if the two incarnations passed each other in a hallway. Nearly everything else has changed, but the frame remains the same.

PhotosView Slideshow


Desolate Motorsports
Whittier, CA 90605


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