SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal - March 2019

SCORE Journal - The Official Publication of SCORE Off-Road Racing

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Page 47 of 86

THE RANGER INVASION How the Ford Ranger Tamed Baja And Created A Legacy In SCORE’S Off-Road Racing History By Stephen Romero Photos by Centerline Images The Ford Ranger nomenclature was first introduced in North America as a “trim package” for the Ford F-150 back in the mid-sixties. Following the end of production of the Ford Courier mini truck in 1982, the Ranger was used to brand a new midsize pickup that would be launched as an ’83 model. The Ford Ranger pickup turned out to be a success, and after 29 years of sales in the U.S. and Canada, the Ranger model was unceremoniously pulled in 2011 in the U.S., while production and sales continued in other parts of the world. As desert racing enthusiasts will recall, the Ford Ranger made headlines in the off-road motorsports industry for many years as a challenging force in SCORE Baja racing and other venues. Perhaps the most notable teams to use the truck, was Dick Landfield’s factory-backed Ford Rough Riders team that ran from 1991 to 1995, but there were also privateers that still enjoyed the off-road capabilities of the Ranger throughout its reign. Racing legend Manny Esquerra also had a hand in putting the Ford Ranger in the winner’s podium back in the ‘80s under the guidance of Bill Stroppe. Landfield’s idea was to bring together six highly successful off-road race teams already using Ford products and put them under one corporate roof. This included Enduro Racing, Bill Stroppe Racing, Simon and Simon Racing, Jim Venable Racing, Spirit Racing, and Swift Motorsports. It was just what Ford wanted to hear. Soon, the Ford Rough Riders were winning races, lots of them, many in Class 7 with the Ranger, emblazoned in a white, red and blue graphics scheme. This undoubtedly put the Ranger on the map as one of the top trucks at the time. Besides winning drivers like Esquerra, many more raced under the Rough Riders’ team banner. They included Dan Smith, Dave Ashley, Rob MacCachren, Robbie Gordon, Paul and Dave Simon, Ray and John Swift, Steve Spirkoff, and Chuck Johnson. Later, Scott Taylor, Steve Olliges, Tim Casey, Danny Thompson, and Jerry Whelchel joined the Rough Riders as drivers for hire. It was also Landfield who brought Parnelli Jones out of retirement and into the fray in ’92. All the Ford race trucks including the Ranger were built and prepped by Landfield’s Enduro Racing until the partnership dissolved in 1996. While the story of the Ranger is a complicated one. One thing's for certain, the truck became the little truck that could conquer Baja and did so in true storybook fashion. Now one can only wait to see how this next chapter of the Ranger unfolds. SJ Racers Recall Their History Behind The Wheel Of A Ford Ranger Rob MacCachren Racing The Ranger Everywhere Long before Rob MacCachren jumped into the seat of his mega powerful Ford Rockstar Energy SCORE Trophy Truck, he was a winning driver in a Ford Ranger back in 2005. “I raced a nearly stock Ranger as a research and development project for Ford,” MacCachren said. “They were very strong trucks. I raced the four-wheel drive, six-cylinder, four-liter with a single overhead cam (SOHC) and a 5R55E transmission. It had 35-inch tall tires, but not much aftermarket products on it. In fact, it still had stock leaf springs out back.” MacCachren raced for years in the Ranger and had fun doing it. “I raced all sorts of venues,” he said. “I don’t recall any Ford part failing during those days, they were well built for desert racing. They are cool little trucks and I’m glad they are coming back.” Dan Chamlee The Class 7 Champ With An Incredible Record Fourteen-time SCORE Class 7 Open points champion Dan Chamlee, of Factory Racing, could be the desert racing poster boy for the Ford Ranger. Since 2002J he’s won more Class 7 championships than anyone else, racing a Ford Ranger over a 15-year career. “I started out racing with a 1989 Ranger,” said Chamlee. “It was an old two-wheel-drive work truck with a V6 and manual transmission. I raced the entire SCORE series with it. We built it out of a very low budget and swapped out the transmission and engine, added some F-150 parts too. I raced SCORE Class 7 Open with it for years. I was always a big fan of Manny Esquerra and his SCORE Class 7 Open Ranger. I got the job done with that truck too. I must have had the cheapest Class 7 Open truck out there, but I had dialed in the geometry real well and for the most part, I was always in the top four finishes.” Today Chamlee drives a full-tube chassis, Ford Ranger, that’s more of a Trophy Spec chassis than a true OE framed truck, but it has changed with the rules and was necessary to be competitive. “I ran half the 2016 SCORE season with a frame-based Ranger and then went with a full-tube chassis,” he said. “Considering how many SCORE points championships I’ve won driving a Ranger I think I need to contact Ford and see if I can graft the new Ranger body on my chassis.” Dick Landfield How The Ranger Got Its Start In BaJa The success of the Ford Ranger in desert racing owes a lot to Dick Landfield, the owner of Fairway Ford in Southern California. It wasn’t simply because he ran a top Ford dealership, but because he loved the Baja Peninsula, and SCORE racing. According to Landfield, he went to Ford looking for sponsorship for his desert racing efforts with the F-150. From that conversation, Ford told Landfield that they wanted to market their Ranger, not the F-150. “The F-150 trucks being campaigned by Walker Evans and Ivan Stewart at the time were beating everybody in the desert, especially in Mexico,” said Landsfield. “But Ford wanted to promote this new small-bodied Ranger and saw me as the man to do the job.” It sounded like a great idea, but there was not a class at that time for the smaller truck. “I wanted to help Ford, but the problem was that you can’t just make a special desert racing class for something like the Ranger,” he said. “I explained to Ford that it takes lots of money, and they told me to talk to the promoter of the Baja races. So I told the folks at SCORE that I wanted a class made for these trucks. At first, they said no. But then I told them I had $15,000 from Ford and they suddenly got very interested. That’s how the small truck class started and how the Ranger got involved in desert racing.” Landsfield got a lot of experienced people involved to make the program work. “The program I started for Ford was a little bit of everything, including using both four-wheel drive and two-wheel drive models,” said Landfield. “The Ranger performed extremely well with the Simon brothers and with many other racers on the team, including drivers like former motorcycle racer Jack Johnson (pictured above). The Rangers didn’t have the power of the F-150 because they had a four-cylinder. They really didn’t have many advantages in desert racing.” For this reason, Landsfield acknowledged Bill Stroppe for his help and involvement with the Rough Riders in prepping the vehicles and making the Rangers work. “Bill is the father of all of our success by building and supporting some of the Ford race vehicles,” said Landsfield. “He was there to help everybody racing with Ford products.” Landfield thinks the new Ranger fits a segment of the market that needs something light-duty and affordable. “It’s like a little F-150 with a great ride,” he said. “I hope they bring the diesel engine to the states like they have in Mexico. It gets 35 miles per gallon. Hopefully, it will happen in a few years.” Manny Esquerra As told by Larry Saavedra Manny Esquerra is an Off-Road Hall of Fame inductee and racing champion whose race wins in a Ford Ranger are many and well documented. The first time I met Esquerra was in 1986 at Bill Stroppe’s shop near Los Angeles, California, reporting as an automotive journalist. I never imagined that the next time I would see Esquerra, it would be in Mexico just prior to the start of the 13th Annual SCORE Baja 500. I was assigned to report on the race for a national truck enthusiast magazine, where I would ride with him during the race. While Esquerra already had made a name for himself racing Baja, and would go onto doing much more, I was a duck out of water. My experience amounted to a brief off-road rally in the California desert and some quality time on dirt bikes, not racing the notorious SCORE Baja 500. Yet, my publisher wanted the story covered and I was signed up to ride shotgun for Esquerra. To set the record straight, I had no clue what to do as his co-pilot. I was so nervous I almost forgot how to fasten my helmet as Esquerra’s Ranger approached the starting grid and the green flag dropped. There were thousands of fans looking on and beads of sweat filled my visor. But Esquerra seemed cool, calm and collected. He turned to me behind the wheel of the truck as it was rounding the first street corner leaving Ensenada and with a broad toothy grin, asked if I was ready. I said yes. Shouldn’t you be watching the road I asked? Truthfully, I couldn’t have been less ready. What I do remember most about riding in a Ford Ranger with Manny Esquerra was the 16-inches of wheel travel that delivered an unbelievably smooth ride, even in the whoops and big jumps getting into the forest after hours into the race. I got into a rhythm at some point, like a piece of luggage bouncing along waiting for disaster to happen. Esquerra explained how the Ranger had a top end about 120 miles per hour on the flats, and even though I couldn’t see his face which was covered by a red bandana, I swore he was grinning ear to ear. I was supposed to make a co-pilot change after five hours, but Esquerra asked me if I’d like to continue to the finish. I agreed that the story would be better if I raced the entire SCORE Baja 500, and so his brother Trudy had to sit out this time. The artistry of Esquerra driving was on full display and I did my best at taking photos of his swashbuckling hands on the wheel as he weaved through the course, never lifting the throttle. He told me driving is like dancing along the course, you have to be in sync with the way the truck responds. The Ranger rode was a dream and Esquerra was its master. Esquerra got the lead early and never let up. Behind us in our class division were Mark Steele, Mike Harding, John Swift, and Dave Turner. But they never posed a threat. Esquerra took the class win in 9:56.10 with only a flat tire to show for it. “Took my own sweet time with no issues,” Esquerra was later quoted as saying. That’s what riding in the Stroppe prepped Ranger was like with Esquerra, a sweet, dusty, exhilarating experience at speed across the wild Mexican desert from morning to night. SJ Editor’s Note: Larry Saavedra is a veteran automotive journalist with 30 years of experience in print and digital magazine publishing. A VIEW FROM THE PITS JMG’s Frank DeAngelo Recalls When The Ford Ranger Hit The BaJa Desert By Larry Saavedra Many believe that the legendary Ford Rough Riders was the first factory team to introduce the Ranger to Baja racing fans. But as Frank DeAngelo, Executive Director, Motorsports at Jackson Motorsports tells it, the Ranger also enjoyed years of motorsports success prior to the Rough Riders of the early 1990s. DeAngelo’s early years working and organizing the pit areas for BFGoodrich tires gave him a perspective of SCORE’s race history. He says that it was Manny Esquerra that actually put the Ranger on the map in the mid-to-late ‘80s. DeAngelo was there in fact when Esquerra was tearing up the courses with the Ranger, and he was also part of the reason BFGoodrich got involved in sponsoring the Ford Rough Riders. “There was already a Ranger race program going on in the desert before the Rough Riders began,” said DeAngelo. “Rangers had been raced with Bill Stroppe and Esquerra as a driver. The Simon brothers were racing Rangers in the ‘80s. I don’t think Ford wanted the Rough Riders simply to promote the Ranger platform. Esquerra was the Ranger star for sure, and he was up against Toyota’s Ivan “Ironman” Stewart, and Nissan’s Spencer Low/Rick Mears team.” DeAngelo cites Chuck Johnson (pictured above circa 1992) and Scott Taylor, who campaigned the Ranger in off-road racing in both short and long-course action during the ‘80s. “The attraction to the early Ranger was Twin I-Beam suspension,” he said. “If you were a privateer you probably bought a Ranger because it was super tough. Much tougher than a ball-joint type vehicle. It was a real popular truck in the ‘80s because it was affordable to build, too.” DeAngelo thinks that the new 2019 Ford Ranger has an opportunity to make its mark in Baja, just like its predecessors. He thinks that if Ford gets behind the effort with a factory team or two, there’s a chance that we could see a repeat of the glory days of the model line. “It depends totally on Ford,” said DeAngelo. “I can’t speak for Ford, but if you look at the handwriting on the wall, we are approaching a critical time for that decision to be made.” DeAngelo is referring to the fact that many automakers are eliminating model line ups. The focus now is on trucks, SUVs, and crossovers. Some industry insiders even think that if there was ever a time and place to promote the durability of the truck line from Nissan, Toyota, Chevy or Ford, Baja racing would be the venue to do it. SJ

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