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Selecting and Building The Perfect Prerunner

Posted in Features on April 9, 2015
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Photographers: Augustin Jimenez

The Media-Runner
Dirt Sports + Off-Road has a new project on our hands. We are going to take a stock ’14 Ford F-150 pickup truck and turn it into a simple prerunner. The vehicle is going to remain street legal for use as a daily driver, while adding the functionality of being able to drive it through the desert and access race courses and other desert trails. We will feature a six-part build on the truck in upcoming issues of DS+OR magazine.

The feature series will showcase the entire process from removal of stock parts to installation of the aftermarket parts. The series will include these how-tos along with dos and don’ts from the manufacturers. We are planning on adding a suspension package, shocks, lift kit, and, of course, wheels and tires that are worthy of running through the desert. We will add a lighting package allowing us to light up the desert and see in the dark of night. The engine will be upgraded with a performance package as well as a communication system.

Finally, we will make modifications to the body, upgrading the overall functionality and look of the truck. We want to make it comfortable to drive both on the street as a daily driver as well as in the desert. All of which begs the question: How do you build the perfect prerunner?

There is a wide selection of vehicles that can be modified as a prerunner.

How Much do you have in the Bank?
The first question to ask yourself when you are looking at buying or building a prerunner is how much do you want to spend and what can you afford. Do you have a spending threshold? A fully built “luxury” prerunner can run almost half a million dollars while just adding some aftermarket parts to a truck you may already own will cost maybe a few thousand dollars. Price is dependent on what vehicle you will use. There are a ton of parts out there that vary in costs. Are you going to buy parts and do the install yourself? Are you going to contract out a shop to do the install? Having answers to those questions is the first step to building your prerunner.

From basic to over the top, prerunners can be built on any budget. The key is to know what you are going to do with it and how hard you’re going to run it.

What is the Function?
Once you have figured out your prerunner budget, the next question to ask is what is it going to be used for? If you are adding off-road parts to your existing daily driver, you need to make sure you keep the vehicle street legal. Laws require you to have windshields and working lights. There are plenty of suspension packages, tires, wheels, lighting and performance parts you can add to your existing truck to make it a street legal prerunner to drive to work every day while enjoying some time out in the desert.

The “street legal” prerunner can be used on weekends and as a daily driver. Being street legal (that means insured, too), these trucks are able to travel on every road in the United States that allows motorized traffic.

Most fully functional prerunners have long travel suspension installed. This includes extended upper and lower control arms, extending the track width, large coilovers, limit straps, and bumpstops to keep your shocks from bottoming out. With a long travel kit, your stock fenders get in the way and you need to install fender flares. If your prerunner is going to be fully dedicated to the desert and you are planning on towing it with a trailer every time you go out to the desert, there are less rules you need to worry about. A windshield is not required, although you still have to register the vehicle with the DMV. In California and several states you must get an Off-Highway sticker and pay a yearly fee. Be sure to check your state regulations to avoid any problems.

The four-seat buggy is a great dedicated prerunner for running through Baja.

The more parts you add to your prerunner, the more time you have to spend on maintenance. While a small buggy can be cheap, easy, and simple to maintain, a fully built truck will require additional prep time, changing fluids, cleaning, and inspecting parts. Prep time is dependent on how hard you run your prerunner. If you are constantly out hard charging through the whoops, you definitely want to inspect your shocks and other suspension parts on a regular basis. The same goes for overworking your motor through the silt beds.

What Color do you Want?
Prerunners come in all shapes, sizes, makes, models, and colors. There are parts for every existing model of truck out there to turn your vehicle into a prerunner. For those driving Fords, Chevys, Dodges, Toyotas or Nissans, the choices are nearly endless. The most popular and fastest growing prerunner category has been the Ford Raptor. There are literally dozens of aftermarket kits for these vehicles. Stewart Raceworks located in Santee, California, is known for their luxury prerunner builds. Started by Craig Stewart in 1995, the company can fully modify your existing vehicle or build one from the ground-up, complete with creature comforts for ripping up the best of Baja!

The “Luxury” prerunner is popular among the more well-to-do. And yes, some of these trucks are really used to prerun races.

Top-level Trophy Truck teams use these prerunners to prerun in Mexico. Their setup is identical to a Trophy Truck. The vehicle is fully ’caged with a high-end tube frame and has the best suspension package, fullsize wheels and tires. No Parker Pumper is needed because the all the window glass remains intact to keep the air conditioning inside the vehicle and the elements out! The interior has been redesigned with race gauges, race-style steering wheel, race seats, harnesses, and gear shifter. Luxury items have also been added such as a leather dash and satellite radio. The motor has been upgraded to emulate a race motor. The rear bed has been taken out to allow for shocks, fuel cell, and spare tire.

“Every detail means everything,” says Stewart. Building the perfect prerunner is all about preference and how far you want to take it. You can go as extreme as building a full rollcage into your vehicle or as simple as adding some aftermarket suspension, wheels, and tires. If you want to run the courses of Baja and don’t need a street legal prerunner, Craig Stewart recommends the four-seat buggy. The buggies have full suspension, Parker Pumper, large wheels and tires, beefy motor, and windshield to keep the elements from flying at you. They are great for bringing codrivers, crew members, and friends along on your prerun. Everything goes back to function and what your prerunner has been designed to do. You want to make sure your parts hold up and are properly installed to avoid breakage and failures while running the Barstow whoops or Baja silt beds.

PhotosView Slideshow

How we’ll do it
Our Project Media Runner will take note of many ideas that the top builders have used, and do those that we think will apply to our final idea. Sure, we could pop for Ferrari leather like some of the luxury prerunners that are really plated Trophy Trucks, but let’s be real. And that will be the key to this build: taking good ideas and bringing reality into the mix. It will have what a prerunner really needs: suspension, lighting, safety, and enough performance mods to get back to camp (quickly!).

The Media-Runner build will take a stock F-150 and transform it into a true off- road–worthy rig. All of the stories will be featured in upcoming issues of Dirt Sports + Off-Road magazine.

Stay tuned as we publish the build. We plan to get this thing done so we can go have fun! And by fun, we mean having it get us to the races and to the best parts of the course to get the best pictures and video. If we happen to need to blast down a sandwash or over a few whoops to do it, so much so the better.

PhotosView Slideshow

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