The BFG Blazer
There are a few vehicles in the Dirt Sports Nation that have achieved iconic status, and without any doubt among them would be the racecar simply known as the BFG Blazer.
Author: Craig Perronne Photos: Boyd Jaynes
There are a few vehicles in the Dirt Sports Nation that have achieved iconic status, and without any doubt among them would be the racecar simply known as the BFG Blazer. In 1976 Chevrolet approached Parnelli Jones, wanting to build a state-of-the-art racecar with the hopes of dominating desert racing. Parnelli, fabricator Dick Russell and his designers employed what they had learned from Big Oly along with their extensive road racing experience to create the icon seen here. The second of two Blazers (the first was a shorter-wheelbase, single-seat version), it was radical for its time. Most of trucks of the era were built on production frames with full cabs and strengthened factory parts. The BFG Blazer was a complete departure from this formula, using a full tube-frame chassis, a fiberglass body and exotic one-off suspension components. And, just like Big Oly, a big and thoroughly bad-ass wing topped off the whole creation. Besides being an evolutionary step forward, the Blazer also played a huge role in propelling the careers of two names who were then somewhat unknown. While it might be hard to believe now, BFGoodrich at the time was a new entry into the market with an all-terrain radial tire. Most ran bias-ply tires and viewed the new radials from a new company with loads of skepticism. Frank Vessels was one of the first to run the new BFGoodrich All-Terrain rubber on his more conventional Ford F-100. The Blazer was the next step for both him and BFG, helping to turn both into household names across the Dirt Sports Nation. After being driven by both Vessels and Bob Gordon, the Blazer was purchased by Don Adams, who campaigned it until it was no longer competitive. Like many old racecars, it was put into a corner of a shop and forgotten. That was until long-time racer Cam Thieriot finally convinced Adams to sell it for another run down the Baja peninsula during this year’s NORRA Mexican 1000. To get the racer back to fighting shape, he sent it to Sean Hoglund of YT Motorsports, who went about rebuilding and restoring the almost 40-year-old truck. In homage to the truck’s long and important history, Cam decided to share driving duties with Frank Vessels’ son Kash. For Kash, climbing behind the wheel of the racecar that played such an important role in the life of his father was a unique experience. “The BFG Blazer has been in my memories since I was just a little guy. Every game room picture in my house is of the Blazer. I grew up seeing this Blazer in photos, but had actually never seen it in person until Cam Thieriot brought it back to life with the help of Sean and YT Motorsports,” shares Kash. Bringing it back to life was no easy process for Hoglund and YT Motorsports as the Blazer had seen lots of hard use. Thousands of hours were put in meticulously restoring and rebuilding it in an amazingly quick 60 days. “Sean and YT Motorsports’ exhaustive efforts were amazing,” shared Cam Thieriot. “My off-road racing family and I, and even the whole off-road community, owe him a huge amount of thanks for bringing back this icon.” Indeed, we do.
At the time, and even well into the 1980s, the majority of trucks racing used strengthened versions of stock components for the suspension. Showing the forward thinking that went into the construction of the Blazer, Dick Russell and Parnelli Jones built their own independent front suspension. The unique A-arms were actually stamped out of metal with a die and then welded together. Summers Brothers hubs with knockoffs attach to the 11.75-inch rotors (the original design was replicated by Coleman) along with the rebuilt Lockheed four-piston calipers that have been on the Blazer since it was built. Gabriel shocks were originally used to control the eight inches of available wheel travel, but they were replaced by 2-inch diameter Bilstein 5125s for the NORRA Mexican 1000.
Unique to the front suspension is the addition of a separate pivot that attaches to the torsion bar. With the truck sitting for over 30 years, taking apart the front supension, along with the rest of the truck, was a formidable challenge for Sean Hoglund and the YT Motorsports crew.
With Parnelli Jones’ extensive road race experience, it is no surprise that the rear suspension originally built Dick Russell features an exotic six-link with a Jacobs Ladder. Similar to the suspension of many Sprint cars, the duo was able to massage it to get a whopping 10 inches of travel. The link heading to the rear of the car that many could easily mistake for an anti-roll bar actually attaches to a torsion bar that provides spring force for the car (the anti-roll bar can be seen mounting to the front of the axle). YT Motorsports, who skillfully rebuilt and restored the Blazer, reported that shock mounts were found almost everywhere, but eventually they settled on three Bilstein 5125 shocks per corner. Nestled beyond all the links and shocks is further exotica in the form of a Parnelli Jones live rear axle that more resembles something from a Sprint car.
Just like many modern Trophy-Trucks, the engine of the Blazer is pushed way back into the cockpit for better weight distribution. Barely clearing the cowl is a K&N air filter sitting atop a 750 cfm Holley four-barrel carburetor. The combination sends mixed air and fuel to a Chevrolet 350 cubic-inch V8 that was built by Tony Oddo Jr. of T.O.E. Performance Products. Not wanting to deal with race fuel, the V8 runs on pump gas and still produces a healthy 430 horsepower. Straight pipes run from the original Cragar headers to produce a beautiful noise. Backing the engine is an Art Carr-built Turbo 400 three-speed automatic.
Hidden behind the shroud is a Corvette radiator to keep the Chevy 350 V8 cool. Like almost everything on the Blazer, the power steering was unique. Built by Tommy Lee, it uses a inboard mounted box along with a steering dampner with an external reservoir.
With the NORRA rally over, the interior of the Blazer was returned to its original state with no “modern” conveniences such as radios, Parker Pumpers or GPS units. The extensive aluminum work forming the dash and floors that was originally built by Dick Russell was repaired and refreshed by Jake Wreesman of Metallhaus. The desirable Superior Performance Products “The 500” steering was also in good enough shape to restore, while new Stewart Warner gauges and a freshened Art Carr shifter replaced the originals. MasterCraft Safety provided new seats and restraints that keep with the retro theme of the rebuilt Blazer. Other than the small windscreen that got some air off of Vessels, there is very little in terms of driver comfort.
One of the most recognizable features of the BFG Blazer is its iconic wing. Beautifully crafted from aluminum, it was completely taken apart and rebuilt by YT Motorsports. It is adjustable and was originally powered by a hand crank before switching to hydraulics and finally converted to electric for its run down the peninsula during the NORRA Mexican 1000. While many might think of it as a gimmick, Frank Vessels reported that the big wing did actually work, pushing the rear of the truck down at higher speeds, and Kash confirmed the same experience when he drove it.
Those with a keen eye can spot the three small housings in the wing for the lights hidden inside it. A lever in the cab raises the KC HiLiTES (originally Cibies) out of the wing and two more lights in the front clip provide plenty of illumination. The body is all original, with the one-piece sides and hood being repainted in the Vessels livery by Anaheim Hills Auto Body with stickers by Sign Pros. It might be hard to believe now, but at the time BFGoodrich was a relatively unknown name in the desert with a radically new radial all-terrain tire. With Frank Vessels and the Blazer playing a vital role in changing that, it is no surprise that the Blazer is still fitted with 33-inch BF Goodrich All Terrains on American Racing wheels.
POWERTRAIN Engine: Chevrolet 350 cubic-inch small-block V8
BUILDER: T.O.E. Performance Products
MAX Horsepower: 420 horsepower MAX Torque: N/A
MODIFICATIONS Built to run on pump gas INDUCTION: Holley 750 cfm carburetor, K&N air filter TRANSMISSION: Art Carr Turbo 400 three-speed automatic
SUSPENSION Front: Parnelli Jones/Dick Russell-built dual A-arms, eight inches of wheel travel, two-inch diameter Bilstein 5125 shocks, Summers Brothers hubs REAR: Parnelli Jones/Dick Russell-built six-link with Jacobs Ladder, 10 inches of wheel travel, Bilstein 5125 shocks, Summers Brothers hubs Cooling OEM Corvette radiator and expansion tank WIRING Anthony Moreno of YT Motorsports PLUMBING: YT Motorsports using Earls fittings and hoses BRAKES: Front:Coleman 11.75-inch rotors with Lockheed four-piston calipers REAR:Coleman 11.75-inch rotors with Lockheed four-piston calipers WHEELS/TIRES WHEELS: American Racing 15x8 front and 15x10 rears TIRES: BFGoodrich 33x12.50R15 All-Terrain T/As
BODYWORK: Original fiberglass hood and one-piece sides Paint: Anaheim Hills Auto Body
INTERIOR: Original aluminum work restored by Metallhaus, Stewart Warner gauges, Superior Performance Products steering wheel, Art Carr shifter, MasterCraft Safety seats and harnesses CHASSIS: BFG Blazer DIMENSIONS: Wheelbase: 106 inches Overall Length: N/A Overall Height: N/A Track Width: 56 inches Overall Weight: 3,000 lbs.