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Jeep XJ Cherokee - 10-Day JeepSpeed Competitor - Part 3

Posted in Project Vehicles on March 6, 2007
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Two issues ago, we began coverage of a unique buildup that posed a question of great interest: Could JeepSpeed racer Jason LaFortune and his crew at Temper-Mental Racing turn a tired, 140,000-mile ex-Forest Service Cherokee into a race-worthy XJ in just 10 days? LaFortune had done a similar short-fuse build previously, but that two-week timeframe seemed almost leisurely by comparison to this exercise.

To get the job done, LaFortune figured he and his team would have to work night and day-literally. So the core group of guys you've seen over the past couple issues would each day be augmented, or sometimes replaced, by a fresh group of builders and fabricators once the sun went down. By LaFortune's own admission, the pace of work changed dramatically between night and day, as more guys clustered around the Jeep tended to make things a little more chaotic. Our curiosity piqued, and we let Day 6 turn into Night 6 before we showed up at the Temper-Mental garage.

In our last issue, we pointed out that the Jeep's rollcage was complex enough-and important enough to the racer's safety-that it would require nearly the entire 10-day build time to complete. On Day 6, the crew finished X-bracing the main hoop and also added the horizontal bar to mount the DJ Safety harnesses. Jon Krellwitz is fitting a side bar that will run alongside the driver's seat. Note that the Beard racing seat, still in its protective plastic wrap, is set (but not anchored) in place to help Krellwitz locate the side bar.

One big difference between the night and day crews: there are a lot more guys around at night. Matt McCallum holds an Auto Meter gauge box in the cab while Jason Bernal, Patrick Smith, and Krellwitz debate its placement. Discussions like this could get lively, but never heated. Despite everyone showing signs of fatigue at this point, tempers never flare. These guys would never make it on one of those wrench-throwing, obscenity-yelling TV shows.

No fancy aluminum race radiator here, just a "standard three-core replacement radiator, the kind you can buy for $100 all day every day," LaFortune said. "That's what's so great about JeepSpeed racing. Using a stock motor, transmission, brakes, and other parts keeps the costs low. You can get into this series for about $10,000." Of course, to be truly competitive costs more. Also note the frame reinforcements.

Nighttime is great for catching sparks in flight. Here, LaFortune cuts the stock shock mounts off of the 2WD front axle he'll use for short races. Eventually, new shock mounts will be welded on.

When we left the garage at about 11 p.m., the crew still had hours to go before calling it quits for the night.

Prior commitments kept us away from the garage during Day 7, which LaFortune called the team's "most productive day." We tried not to have hurt feelings. Among the tasks done on Day 7 was the installation of the Unique Metal Products (UMP) in-cab engine air cleaner.

From inside the cab, intake air is routed through this piping to the UMP airbox that feeds the engine.

The beefed 2WD front axle was mounted during Day 7 using Skyjacker lift-kit pieces and hefty Currie steering linkage.

With the axle in, it was time to work on the steering. Krellwitz and Jason Rivera plot where to mount the tilt-steering-column mechanism in the cockpit. The steering shaft looks like it could be shortened just a bit.

The interior layout is also far enough along that the seat mount brackets can be welded in place.

The rollcage's rear downbars were welded in on Night 6 so that the framework for the rear bumper/spare-tire carrier could be fabricated on Day 7. You can see one of the 33x10.50R15LT BFGoodrich Baja T/As that'll be used on the Jeep as well as the two new battery brackets, located just ahead of the rear wheel tubs.

Also on Day 7, the crew mounted these subframe bars, which tie the front and main hoops together and also reinforce the front spring mount points.

LaFortune works on hanging the leaf-spring shackles, which were TIG-welded for extra strength.

While our camera was under the XJ's back end, we shot one of the finished Fabtech rear bumpstops.

The race Jeep will use these Fabtech Dirt Logic remote reservoir shocks in conjunction with Skyjacker 6-inch-lift coils. The front shocks are 10 inches long, the rears are 14 inches long; both have 2 1/2-inch-diameter shock bodies. One trick feature: LaFortune had Fabtech engrave the shocks with his "TMR" logo.

Daniel Demonteverde (left) and Karl Armbrust modify the stock front bumper so it will fit onto the XJ behind the brush bars. The bumper mounts are made of mild steel, not chromoly (which the rest of the cage is built from). That way, if they get hit, they'll fold or crush and not do more damage by being shoved backward into the engine bay.

This was the day we really started to see fatigue take its toll on all the guys, not just poor Armbrust. Everyone was moving slower, and jobs were taking longer. Next month: Will they finish in time?


Currie Enterprises
Corona, CA 92880
Lincoln Electric
Cleveland, OH 44117
Skyjacker Suspensions
West Monroe, LA 71294
Kartek Off-Road
Corona, CA 92879
Fabtech Performance Suspensions
Brea, CA 92821
Temper-Mental Racing

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