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Off-Road Race Chase Jeep JK

Posted in Features on October 18, 2016
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Photographers: Trenton McGee

Unless you’ve been living in a bubble, you’ve probably heard of the SEMA Show. It’s the largest automotive aftermarket trade show in the world, and it takes place in Las Vegas every November. It’s no secret that the vast majority of the display vehicles in the show are simply visual; most of them are built to showcase products and more than a few don’t even run. Jeeps always have a strong presence at the show, and the JK is no exception, but sadly, a large percentage of the SEMA Jeeps are lightbar-clad trailer queens that will never see a dirt road, let alone ever get put in low-range. Though our featured Jeep may have started life as a SEMA vehicle, this particular Wrangler has shed it show duties and regularly gets used in the dirt.

Mark “Sarge” Schleipfer was the brains behind this creation, and his buddy and racing partner, Todd Douglas, was largely responsible for making it a reality. Sarge is a marketing guru at mobile audio giant MTX Audio, while Todd owns Phoenix-area shop Desert West Outdoors. Both Sarge and Todd campaign Sarge’s Class 7SX race truck in a few different off-road racing series’, so when Sarge’s day job wanted to build a Jeep for the 2015 SEMA Show, he decided to kill two birds with one stone and build a JK that would both showcase MTX’s audio products and serve as a prerunner/chase vehicle for the race truck. The result is this ’15 Unlimited that received a lot of attention in the MTX booth at the show this past year, but it serves its present purpose as a prerunner and race support vehicle even better.

Though uncommon in the desert-racing world, in many ways a four-door Jeep is a great choice for a racing support vehicle. There’s plenty of room for crew members and an adequate amount of space for gear if you pack carefully. The coil-spring suspension can be built to soak up rough terrain while prerunning, and it’s nimble enough to get to remote areas should a recovery be needed.

Buff Build

A prerunner/chase rig has different needs from a traditional trail vehicle, and Sarge focused on enhancing the Jeep’s utility in a race support role. Navigation is handled by an iPad mini on a Ram mount, while a powerful Rugged Radio system complete with headsets enables the crew to keep in close contact with the race truck. Good suspension is a critical part of prerunning, and Sarge reports that the Rock Krawler suspension and shocks do very well on high-speed dirt roads, while the PRP seats help keep occupants comfortable. There’s lots of recovery equipment on board, including two Hi-Lift jacks, because breaking stuff is just part of racing. Though most prerunners are a little rough around the edges, the Jeep’s past as a SEMA Show vehicle means there are a lot of show-quality finishing touches to the build, from the interior and exterior components hydro-dipped in a carbon fiber finish to the serious MTX sound system that keeps the support crew jamming during those long nights in the pits.

Good, Bad, And What It’s For

Though it may not have all the gadgets needed for hardcore trail work, this Jeep wasn’t intended to be a hardcore crawler. Instead, it’s a useful alternative to a bulky pickup truck with a service bed and a chase rack or a full-blown prerunner that’s just one step away from a racecar.

Why I Wrote This Feature

We love unique and unusual Jeep builds, and this one is right up there on the chart. Sarge’s ’15 Jeep JK Wrangler has proven to be handy as both a prerunner and a chase truck. Judging by the build quality and the performance we saw first-hand during our day in the desert with the rig, we’re willing to bet the Jeep will fulfill its intended purpose for years to come.

Under the hood, the Jeep is largely stock with the exception of an AEM intake and some wiring to power the massive sound system. The Jeep’s SEMA Show roots are peeking through with a hydro-dipped engine and PDC covers by CGS Customs. CGS also did quite a few of the exterior pieces in a slick carbon fiber. KC HiLites Cyclone lights are on hand should something under the hood need to be diagnosed after dark.
The interior of the JK is all business, with iPad-based navigation, a Bully Dog programmer, and a host of switches on tap to control all of the interior and exterior lighting. There’s also a full Rugged Radios Communications system with headsets, push-to-talk, and music piped in from the massive sound system. Note the Rugged Radio’s head unit cleverly mounted in the glove box.
There’s plenty of equipment on tap should things go sideways, either on the race course or during self-recovery. A Hi-Lift jack is mounted over a 12,500-pound capacity Bulldog winch, which in turn is mounted in an ICI Magnum bumper. A Factor 55 Flatlink is attached to the winch rope, while more KC HiLites LED lighting (including the headlights) helps keep things bright after dark.
The rear cargo area is all business, with a Rock Hard 4x4 rollcage holding a full complement of MTX speaker pods as well as added subwoofers, all of which was installed by TJ Meise and the rest of the crew at MTX Audio. A Power Tank is on-tap for filling tires and running air tools, while more Hi-Lift recovery equipment is also ready for action.
Protecting the rear is an ICI bumper that incorporates dual recovery points and includes more rear-facing LED light from KC. A second Hi-Lift is mounted out back, as well as LED taillights from Off-Road Only that are mounted in hydro-dipped housings to match the rest of the exterior accents.
The 3 1/2-inch Rock Krawler suspension does a good job of keeping the Kanati tires in contact with the ground, and a set of Artec Nighthawk front and rear fenders provide plenty of room for suspension flex. The ICI Magnum Side Steps make entry and egress easy but are vulnerable to trail obstacles, as we found out during the photo shoot. Portions of the fenders, the Daystar hood cowl, and the door handles are hydro-dipped carbon fiber.
Chasing race trucks and prerunning often means hours behind the wheel, so comfortable seats are mandatory. Custom PRP suspension seats carry the black-and-yellow theme inside, and there’s a matching bench seat in the back.
The front and rear axles are stock, and the factory gearing does an adequate job of getting the Jeep moving, even with the 35s. Rock Krawler 2.0 shocks smooth out the whoops, while a Magnaflow cat-back system allows the engine to breathe easier.

Hard Facts

Vehicle: ’15 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
Engine: 3.6L V-6 Pentastar
Transmission: Auto
Transfer Case: Stock
Front Axle: Dana 30
Rear Axle: Dana 44
Suspension: Rock Krawler 3 1/2-inch Flex System
Wheels: 17x9 Black Rhino Tanay wheels
Tires: 35x12.50-R17 Kanati Trail Hogs

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