Off-Road.com's Janurary 2000 Feature Vehicle-Bruce Landfield's Mickey Thompson Class 7s Desert Truck
Jan. 01, 2000
It began decades ago with a need for speed, and the will to win. And that's right about the time when things began to spiral rapidly out of control.
Wether streaking across the Bonneville Salt Flats pursuing yet another land speed record, or riding a nitromethane fueled, supercharged land rocket down the quater mile, the man - the legend that was Mickey Thompson, pushed whatever sport he was involved in to previously unheard of, and wildly successful extemes. While his pavement exploits alone could fill whole encyclopedias, his greatest success, and most notable accomplishments came in the realm of off-road motorsports.
Who among us can forget the spectacles that were the short course races at Riverside? The sound and the fury of the Grand National Sport Trucks in the Mickey Thompson Stadium Series that defined "Factory Involvement", and made a virtual superhero of an Oakie carpenter named Ivan Stewart? And what of that little business venture with a man named Sal Fish that had roots in a short course endeavor that grew a thousand miles long.....
Although Mickey is no longer with us, his accomplishments in the world of off-road motorsports will never be forgotten, perhaps even equaled. In truth, you can't spit a rock in the off-road community without having it crash into one aspect or another that MT hasn't either innovated, or been a part of. The list is a long one - Events, promotion, suspension design, engine performance products, and of course the tires and the company that bear his name, just to name a few.
In addition to his "material" accomplishments, there's a side of M/T's life and times that's not often considered by those of us in the press. It's the side that inspired untold thousands from all walks of life to race the paved paths and dusty courses of the world, hot for adventure, and in search of the ultimate high speed thrill. No, ya' aint gotta' be crazy to go racin' bub, but it sure helps.
Take Bruce Landfield for example, the head honcho of "Roll-A-Long". The master builder of high end ubertrucks could be spending his ever elusive "off-hours" relaxing on a yacht, or playing a sedate round of golf with some well heeled friends. But much like ol' Mick, Bruce was bitten by the desert bug a long time ago. And of course, he has friends and family in some very dusty places.
After a successful career racing Class 5/1600 Baja Bugs, Bruce decided to step up to the truck ranks. Specifically SCORE's Class 7s. Campaigned under the "Roll-A-Long" banner, Bruce, co driver Brett Turley, Dan, Doug, and the team of "Rust Racing" proved to be consistent finishers and spent their share of time in the winners circle. Despite a series of hard fought battles, the 98 season came to a close, and when it did, the SCORE Class 7s Championship remained out of reach - but just barely.
As luck would have it, 1999 would be the year that Mickey Thompson Tires made their return to desert racing, contesting the stranglehold that arch rival BF Goodrich had built in their absence. Their plan? Rather than a full on frontal assault aimed at instantaneous conversion of the racing masses, M/T chose to pick it's battles carefully. In the Buggy classes, they entered into a partnership with Bartolotti Racing and the Class 10 Lothringer (featured in Off-Road.com), but that was only half the equation. They wanted a presence in the truck classes with the ability to do double duty. 1. Serve as an extreme duty test platform for tire R&D, and 2. Go the distance - all the way to the 1999 SCORE / Laughlin Desert Series Championship.
In Bruce Landfield and the 1997 Rust Racing Ford Ranger, they found just what they were looking for. Off-Road.com caught up with Bruce and the guys from M/T in Barstow CA. as they prepared the Ford Ranger for the (then) upcoming 99 Baja 1000. Truck builder Kent Lothringer was on hand to oversee reliability testing on some fresh modifications to the truck's setup, and make some last minuet adjustments to the suspension and steering systems. With a bevy of experts at our disposal, we took the opportunity to rip the glass off the black beauty and see just what it is that makes a 7s tick.
Class of the Class
To give you an idea of what a 7s desert racer is, we'll tell you what it isn't. It's not a fire breathing 785 horse travelmonster that will inhale 4 foot whoops and spit out a Cadillac ride. On the other hand, it's not a thinly disguised street stocker masquerading as a "real" racer. Truth be told, it falls squarely between the two. And lest ye think differently, make no mistake - this is 100% race truck.
Home on the Ranger
Rules for the 7s class call for a "stock" frame, and to be sure the "frame" is as stock as the day Dearborn riveted it together. It does however have an amazing array of chro-moly steel welded, and bolted to it. The Lothringer designed roll cage serves multiple duties in addition to it's prime directive; keeping the occupants alive in the event of a high speed "oops!".
The tubular space frame construction adds incredible strength and torsional stabilization to the factory framework , and serves as the mounting location for multiple suspension components, coolers, spares, seating, and more. Custom bracing and bracketry work in conjunction with their factory counterparts to minimize additional (read "excessive") use of steel, and the additional (and unwanted) weight that would result. While an all steel cab and doors are a requirement, the hood, and front fenders are replaced with fiberglass pieces, lowering the vehicles weight, adjusting it's bias, and providing extra, and much needed clearance.
The huge flared fenders make way for the massive Mickey Thompson rubber, while simultaneously speeding access to the front suspension componentry / engine bay, in the event that rapid repairs are needed.
Out back, the factory steel box has been shelved in favor of custom mounted, Dzus fastened fiberglass bedsides. While the rules allow for steel boxes, the additional weight would extract a heavy toll from the 2.9L V6 under the best of conditions. Add to that the space taken up by the roll cage, Kuster shocks, oil coolers, fuel cell, air ducting, spare parts, and fluids, and you'd have little room to store the groceries.
The Little Engine That Does
When Ford rolled the 2.9L V6 off the assembly line, it was rated at a meager 145 HP. By anyone's standards that would be considered a "generous" figure. While it was relatively fuel efficient thanks in part to fuel injection, it was a long way away from being a "performance" engine. Solid transportation? Yes. Reliable? Yes. Flatten your eyeballs? Eh........not exactly.... So why run it? After all Ford put an awesome 3.0L in the Ranger that had all that and then some on it's sub 3L sibling.
Rules is rules my friend, and SCORE makes'em. They say 2.9L is all you get. Not a tenth of a liter more. Sometimes though, 2.9 L is all you need, especially when you have the pros at Hammes Brothers Racing give it the deluxe treatment. Basing their buildup on a stock block and crankshaft, the Hannes hid an impressive array of "haul ass" beneath the stock Ford valve covers.
First Tings First
While the "speed density" fuel injection setup might pass on the street, it was far from "performance minded". Rather than waste precious time and cubic dollars on a potentially long R&D curve, Hannes scrapped the system in favor of a tried and true Holley 390 CFM carb bolted to a single plane Offenhauser intake manifold. Topped with a K&N air cleaner, the mighty mite will easily flow enough go juice from it's 32 gallon fuel cell to power it well over it's 7200 RPM shift point. No that wasn't a misprint. The 2.9 is a rev monster, thanks to it's JE pistons, Carillo forged steel rods, and enough big valved custom head work to make a Pro Gasser envious. The Hannes Bros relied on Jacobs Ignition products to light the spark in the Ford's highly pressurized combustion chambers, while a custom welded set of Mark Wiess headers and Dynomax mufflers provide a fast path for spent exhaust. The end result? 250 HP at 6500 RPM.
As you might imagine, the 250 high winding horsepower would quickly overwhelm a stock cooling system. To keep the 2.9 within respectable limits, Bruce employed a 4 core Griffon aluminum radiator, coupled with a monster CFM electric fan. Not content to let the Griffon do all the work, Kent Lothringer rear mounted a pair of Fluidine oil coolers to the custom cagework that draw their air from roof mounted ducting.
A C- What?!?
The stock Ranger auto was the light duty A4LD. The common performance upgrade is a built C4. The common race tranny is a highly modified C4. Not content with "only" a "4" series tranny, Rust Racing went way over the edge of the reliability cliff, bolting in an underdrive backed Culhanes C6 maga-tranny. Equipped with a high stall TCS torque converter, reverse pattern / manual valve body, and the benefit of decades of upgrades, the beastly C6 is practically indestructible behind the V6 engine.
Under - Drive Train
With all that high RPM horsepower on tap, Bruce and Kent settled on a unique drivetrain configuration to put it to best use. Rather than using just a "mere" 6 to1 ring and pinion, the spooled Cone Engineering Ford 9in gets an additional boost of reduction from a transmission mounted underdrive. When the numbers are added up, an ultra low 7.25 to 1 final drive results. Coupled with the way high 7200 RPM shift points, the Ranger pulls with enough authority to make you think the engine bay is home to a 5.0L GT.
And "that", my dog loving friends is "quite" impressive indeed.
Springs n' Things.
Appearances can be deceiving. Where common Ford suspension theory says bolt a long set of radius arms to those I-Beams for an instant 15 inches of A-arm eating wheel travel, the rulebook once again rears it's ugly head, and puts a big damper on the travel party. Limited to stock length radius arms, the rapid Ranger employs Hiem joints rather than bushings to extend the stock suspensions already impressive reach to a full 12 in of motion.
Progress Group front coils work in conjunction with Kuster shocks to make the most efficient use possible of those 12 inches. Multiple pre-race shakedown runs in the hell that is Barstow have resulted in front suspension dialed in to perfection. Keeping it all pointed in the right direction is a job that falls to a custom tie rod assembly, utilizing Hiem joints in place of the stock ball joints, with corrected geometry to minimize bump steer induced hassles. Kent and Bruce spent multiple sessions and races dialing in the hybrid tie rod assembly in time for Baja, but once they got it right, the chro-moly wonder shook off hits that would have turned the stock pieces into so much scrap.
Out back, Deaver leaf springs combine with Kuster shocks to provide a measured 17-7/8 in of vertical wheel travel. That's V-E-R-T-I-C-A-L. Imagine what this puppy would pull on an RTI ramp!. I can think of a few jeepers that would be green with envy.
Sparse and safe are the words of the day within the Ranger's caged interior. Taylor suspension seats and Dietz 5 point Competition Harnesses combine to hold pilot and co-pilot immobilized when the suspension runs out of travel. A Reverse Gate Art Carr cable shifter sits atop an integrated switch panel, placing it well within easy reach at all times. In fact, the entire gauge / electrical system is very ergonomic. Other safety equipment like a fire suppression system and first aide kit are standard desert truck fare, but their importance cannot be over-emphasized.
Into the Great wide Open....
Later in the year we met up with Bruce and the M/T / Rust Racing crew in Primm Nevada just before the 1999 SCORE Award ceremony. True to promise, Bruce had won the last Baja 1000 of the century, and took home the 99 Season championship in the process. The truck had performed flawlessly (doubtlessly in part from the magic of the "Off-Road.com" stickers place there during the earlier photo shoot).
We had the chance to take the Mickey Thompson truck out for a hot lap and put it through it's paces. What's it like to pilot a well tuned 7s Ranger through the desert? Pretty darn impressive actually.
The 2.9L is definitely a top end performer. Keep the revs up and it's one hellaicously happy camper. Let it lug in too high a gear, and performance sees a definite decline - but still remains worlds above a well tuned stocker.
If anything, the power steering is "too good". Feedback to the wheel is nearly nonexistent, and you can literally steer it in rough terrain with a finger. Impressive as that may be, it would only become an asset once you'd gotten used to it - and that only comes with time.
Suspension action is incredibly precise. While very firm over washboard type chop, the suspension smoothes out considerably at speed. the end result is that the harder you drive it, the faster it gets. The structural integrety added by strategicly placed beefing have done wonders for both chassis performance and reliability.
Getting the Ranger "on top" of the whoops is a simple exercise thanks to the low gearing and abundant power. Hauling it down is just as effortless thanks to the full compliment of Wildwood brakes.
Nothing Mousey About These Tires Mickey.
Lastly, we couldn't possibly finish a report on the Mickey Thompson Ranger without talking about it's reason for being - the Tires
Depending on the terrain, Bruce alternates between 35x12.5x15 Baja Belted HP's on all 4 corners (with the rear tires custom cut for additional soft sand traction), and a 35x11.5x15 Baja Belted / 35x12.5x15 Belted HP front-rear combo. Despite their proven record of success however, the tried and true may end up seeing limited duty on the race truck in the year 2000 and beyond.
As the new season approaches, all eyes will be on the newest member of the Mickey Thompson Tire family - The Baja Claw. While primarily intended for the rockcrawler / mudder market, M/T sees the tires strengths as well suited to the murderous desert terrain. Likewise, Rust Racing is eager to reshoe the 7s with the all new 35x13.5x15 rubber & M/T Alcoa rims.
While it may be a risky gamble to undertake, it remains the reason for Mickey Thompson Tires triumphant return to the wilds of desert racing. Build the product, test the product, and improve the product under the harshest conditions possible.
That's desert racing folks, and as long as companies like M/T are ready to put their products up the challenge, men like Bruce Landfield and the crew of Rust Racing will be there to accept it.