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Class 8 Ford Baja Race Truck - Standard Of Excellence

Posted in Features on May 17, 2007
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"We dare you" just wasn't strong enough. After checking out this truck from multiple angles, we concluded that it's gonna take a lot of doing to eclipse what C&D Fabworks and Towery Off-Road Racing have teamed to create.

The demarcation line setting this truck apart is drawn squarely down the middle of the details. To be sure, primo parts were selected and utilized for this build, but the thoughtful design and overall build quality were what pushed our challenge from "dare" to "defy."

Moment of truth: Chris sits shotgun as Matt prepares to give his new F-150 its first taste of Mojave dirt. Danny (blue shirt, at right) does a last-minute inspection before the send-off. Chris Wrublevski and Danny Guernsey put their absolute best feet forward on this build. "We wanted to show what we can do," Chris tells us. "We took everything we knew how to do and put it into this truck." The hood says it all: Ford. Built C&D Tough.

A bit of history is in order. This isn't Matt Towery's first F-150, or his first season of desert racing. Matt kicked things off at the '86 Baja 1000, driving a '79 F-150 in the Safari Class. Instead of crossing the finish line that year, he spent the night waiting for his chase crew after his truck broke down. Undaunted, he showed up on the '87 Baja 1000 starting line to try again. He succeeded, beating not only the course, but 36 other Safari class competitors. Sixth out of 42 felt good - good enough to spur him on to the '88 Baja 1000, this time lining up with the big boys of Class 8. That race ended early for Matt, with a rollover in the pine forest. Matt held on to his '79 F-150 until 1991, taking a Class 8 win in the La Rana High Desert 250. He then sold the '79 and concentrated on building his business and raising his two sons, Dan and Dave. Several seasons of desert racing have a nearly universal effect: They infuse dirt permanently into your bloodstream.

The dirt running through Matt's veins bubbled to the surface again in 2002 as he sat watching the Baja 1000 on TV. It was impossible to contain his enthusiasm as he longingly recalled his previous racing career. "You want to do that again, don't you?" asked his new bride, Kassy.

"Yes, I do!"

That was all it took. With Kassy's thumbs-up and encouragement from Dan and Dave, Matt went shopping for another F-150.

Baja Brokers' Rich Minga found Matt a race-ready Class 8 F-150 in Colorado, owned by Andy Schifanelli. Matt paid Andy a visit. A deal was struck, and an exchange was made. After more than a decade away from racing's arena, Matt was back behind the wheel of a race-tuned F-150.

The truck Matt purchased from Andy Schifanelli had an impressive pedigree. It began life in the stable of multitime Baja champ Frank "Scoop" Vessels. First appearing as a mid-'60s F-100 longbed, the truck had since taken on a new look with the addition of a '73-'79 F-150 cab and a fiberglass conversion kit that updated the front clip to '92. The longbed had been exchanged for a shortbed stepside, giving the truck a nimble feel in the desert. Matt drove and upgraded this truck for three seasons, netting back-to-back MDR Class 8 championships in '04 and '05.

Matt knew there was even more potential lurking inside the former Vessels truck, so he approached Chris Wrublevski and Danny Guernsey of C&D Fabworks about further upgrades. "They looked the truck over," Matt recalls, "and in the end they told me 'Matt, we can make several upgrades for you, and the truck will be faster, but we'll be doing the upgrades on an old, beat-up truck. Why don't we start over?'"

After giving it some thought, Matt took the plunge.

PhotosView Slideshow

The year 2006 involved a tough racing season for Matt. It was tough because he wasn't racing. During the build, Matt paid several visits to the C&D shop in Hesperia, California, and consulted with Chris and Danny about the details of his new truck. Matt's tall stature meant that seating and control positions were critical for maximum comfort. Although the truck is built with long-travel suspension, a low ride height was high on the list. Durability was also a top goal. In short, the truck needed to be comfortable, tough, and handle well.

After over a year of building and a lot of hand-wringing, Matt took his new prize to the starting line of the race he'd sponsored in honor of a late friend. Matt won the MDR Don Griffith Memorial 250... overall. He topped the entire racing field.

Our lenses were on hand during the truck's first shakedown run in the dirt one week before the race. As a testament to C&D's build quality, the truck needed only minor suspension tuning before it was ready.

If you've got a Class 8 contender you'd like us to feature, shoot us an e-mail or give us a call. If you want to claim unequivocal superiority, you'd better do your homework. The standard of excellence is right here on these pages.

Spare bolts? Hardly. Instead, these two everyday fasteners are a tribute to a standout figure in Matt's life. Don Griffith was a close friend and a second father to Matt. Towery Off-Road Racing showed up at the 2004 MDR Lucerne 400 with a three-link rear suspension freshly fitted to the F-150. The truck broke a rear bumpstop during prerunning. A replacement was purchased from an on-site vendor, but the fit wasn't quite right. Don, described by Matt as "a machinist by trade, and a MacGyver by ability," got up early on race day with Matt to "get the square peg into the round hole."

"Don told me to get two 3/8-inch bolts at least 2-1/2 inches long," Matt recalls. "And a drill." Don took the drill and configured the subsequently drilled holes so that they wedged the new bumpstop into it's nonmatching mount. Don's in-the-dirt fix lasted the entire race, during which the bumpstop failed on the opposite side. "His last words to me the day before he died were 'I'll be back in a couple of days and we'll fix 'em all!'"

PhotosView Slideshow

Chris, at center, consults with Ross (white shirt) and Lance (blue jacket) King, who were on hand to give tech support to their customers. The Barstow main pit area has become a hotbed for race testing, since it's a stone's throw from the freeway and features miles upon miles of deep whoops with rocks, sand washes, and jumps thrown in for good measure. Some suspension tuning is to be expected with a brand-new truck, and Matt's F-150 was no exception. The truck wasn't using all of its travel, so the coils were swapped for a set with a lighter rate. "Getting the spring rate right is the first step," comments Lance. "After the correct spring is in place, the valving is easy to dial in."


C&D Fabworks
Hesperia, CA 92345
King Shock Technology
Towery Homes

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