Taking Aim At The Starting Line Again
Is your current off-road machine also your first? We're guessing it's not. Most of us started off with something basic, played in the dirt for a while, and then admitted the off-road addiction had taken hold. The next step? Find a way to go bigger and better.
Brothers Keith and Tony Sato of Orange, California, are just like you. "We grew up with the desert as our second home," Tony told us. "Our family was into camping and shooting, and our parents started taking us to the desert when we were about six months old. A buddy's uncle had some property in Lucerne, so we were out there all the time." Before too long, the Sato brothers had grown enough to ride dirt bikes. As the years went by, the dirt bikes were supplemented by a Baja Bug for Keith and a Toyota 4x4 pickup for Tony. These machines were sold and replaced with pair of classic Bronco's. Keith had a '66, while Tony had a '68. "We were helping out a Class 2 buggy in the La Rana series. The Broncos were great chase vehicles, and we had fun chasing and helping out in the pits." Tony continued, "We always liked going fast in the dirt, and after riding in a Class 2 car and seeing what it could do, we were hooked."
Keith sold his Bronco, while Tony kept his and used it for a prerunner and chase vehicle. Keith took the proceeds from selling his Bronco and used them to buy a 5/1600 Baja Bug. Tony explained where things went from there:
"Keith originally just wanted to take the 5/1600 out to play, but I told him that I'd pay half the entry fees so we could go racing. That was all it took. We knew the basics, and we knew we wanted to go racing! During our first race, we got our doors blown off. We knew we had a lot of work to do if we wanted to be competitive. At the time each La Rana race (the predecessor to MDR and M.O.R.E.) would have 15 to 25 entries in the 5/1600 class. You had to pin it to win it. We learned a lot, and we ended up winning our class championship in '98. That was the same year we won our class in the Kartek 400 in Lucerne Valley, which was the first year for a 400-mile race in the local desert. That was a huge victory for us. Our goal was to win the points championship and then move up in class."
Right about then, Keith and Tony had a chance to step up once again. The championship-winning 5/1600 was sold to make room for a new buggy. The new buggy was a Class 1 Raceco that had the '98 MDR Class 1 championship to its credit. It was owned by a friend names John Lucas. The Raceco was a solid vehicle that had received some recent upgrades. The front end had been re-worked by Bill Varnes of Mirage Race Cars, while the rear suspension had been re-done by Mike Monohan. The Sato brothers figured it would make an ideal Class 12 buggy, and began rebuilding the Raceco's midsection for increased safety and comfort.
About the time the now-Class 12 Raceco was coming together, opportunity came knocking again. Casey Currie was selling a freshly-built F-150 prerunner. Casey had planned to take the F-150 to the short course races at Glen Helen Raceway and to the desert, but changed his plans and put the truck up for sale. "Keith and I had been out helping the Curries when they were racing in Jeepspeed," said Tony. "We had ridden in the truck in Glamis and we also got to prerun a lap out in Lucerne Valley in Casey's F-150 and we liked the truck, so when Casey put it up for sale, we were immediately interested." Sato Brothers Racing sold their almost-completed Class 12 project, which netted them almost exactly the amount they needed to buy Casey's F-150.
Since the F-150 landed in their stable, Keith and Tony have performed several upgrades in anticipation of another starting line. The engine started out as a standard-issue 351 Windsor, but was stroked to 392 cubic inches using a Ford Racing block. In the suspension department, Sato Bros. Racing hardware now cycles beneath the front of the truck in the form of I-beams and radius arms originally built by James Hall of James Gang Racing, and then modified by SBR. The James Hall/SBR front end is steered using an SBR-built pitman arm in conjunction with an SBR single-swing crossover steering linkage. Additional tubes were added to the 'cage for extra strength and safety.
Is the truck ready to rock? It's close. It still needs a racing fuel cell instead of a stock gas tank. The rear-mounted radiator will be replaced with one that sits directly behind the cab, and the Fluidyne tranny cooler will be re-mounted in a more optimal location. Finally, SBR has a set of four Kuster bypass shocks waiting to be mounted astride the 3-inch King coilovers and the 2.5-inch King bump stops found at each corner of the truck. New lower rear suspension links will be built to accommodate the Kuster bypass units, while an additional set of shock mounting brackets will be added to the front suspension.
With these final details checked off the list, this F-150 will be ready for a high-desert starting line, and Sato Brothers Racing will be back in contention. Sato Brothers Racing would like to give special thanks to Currie Enterprises, PSC Motorsports, OC Driveline, and UNI Filters: "Without help from these companies, the truck wouldn't be at this level. We can't thank them enough."
After crawling under and perching on top of the truck in the name of photography, and riding in the truck in the name of research, there's only one thing left for us to say: we should all be so fortunate to trade up to something like this.