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Class 8 Royalty Walker Evans’ 1978 Dodge Ram race truck is an icon of desert racing history By Stuart Bourdon Photography: Stuart Bourdon, Kris Pallesen, Dan Sanchez Parked inside an airport hangar in the middle of a busy metropolitan landscape, quite different from the rugged desert terrain it used to traverse at high speed, was one of the off-road racing’s most famous race trucks. The roar of its powerful V-8 engine that shook the ground as it passed by is a memory that many off-road racing fans and competitors will never forget. And although all present had witnessed it run like a triple-crown thoroughbred during those glory days of Class 8 competition, on this day, it stood silently still while we photographed it, interviewed Walker Evans, and basked in its historical significance. The vehicle we’re talking about is the 1978 Dodge Ram pickup truck that Walker Evans drove with Bruce Florio as co-pilot to the overall four-wheel vehicle win in the 1979 SCORE Baja 1000, a feat not repeated for another 10 years. “We beat all the trucks and buggies, and thought we had a trouble-free race with the exceptions of some scrapes and a few little problems, but nothing that slowed our pace,” says the off-road legend and Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Famer. Clocking an elapsed time of 20 hours, 48 minutes, and 27 seconds, Evans successfully brought the Dodge truck across the finish line at La Paz in one piece. As with most things, a bit of luck came into play during that 1979 SCORE Baja 1000, and Walker remembers it like it was yesterday. “We got to the finish line, the truck went into impound, and when we came to pick it up and take it back home, we discovered the coil was laying on the valve cover with just its wires keeping it from falling on the ground,” said Evans. “It had bounced around for who knows how long and beat all the paint off one of the valve covers. You need to have a lot of luck in off-road racing, as well as the skill to drive as fast as you possibly can while keeping the truck all in one piece. When it’s your day, it’s your day.” History in Metal In its original fighting form, power for the 1978 Dodge Ram race truck came from a Keith Black 360ci V-8 making more than 700hp that was specially built for the Chrysler-backed Dodge race truck. “It’s very first race was the SCORE Riverside Raceway Off-Road Championship. We built it and got it ready for that race. It ran well, and although it had a different paint job that you see today, the 1979 Riverside race was this truck’s debut.” The chassis is pretty straight forward for the period. SCORE Class 8 rules and regulations dictated that the factory 1978 Dodge Ram pickup frame had to be retained and it is still in place today. The Class 8 race trucks of that era were the “Trophy Trucks” of the day, but unlike today’s SCORE Trophy Trucks, custom-built full-tube frames were not allowed. It also had a different suspension system then, too. “This truck had a cantilevered rear suspension with springs and shocks and a big progressive-ratio rocker arm system that stuck up through the bed of the truck,” said Evans. “It was ahead of its time, and it worked incredibly well to keep the rear axle and tires exactly where we wanted and the truck running steady.” Now it sports a 3-Link set up in the rear with Walker Evans Racing 2.5-inch adjustable coil-over shocks with additional damping from non-coil secondary shocks. Compression limiting is accomplished with Walker Evans 2.0 bump stops. Up in front, the Dodge Ram truck runs double fabricated A-Arms, and Walker Evans Racing 2.5-inch coil-over shocks and non-coil secondary shocks. Driven by Innovation  The big Dodge truck has gone through quite a few changes over the years. As the sport grew, new ideas spawned better technology and new equipment was developed, to that end, Evans made sure the Dodge was on the cutting edge. “In the early days this truck had four shocks on each corner, they were thin and not very long, and during a long race I realized that by halfway through a course, all 16 of them were leaking oil and pretty useless,” he said. “I decided that we would start changing out all the shocks halfway through a long race, but we couldn’t unbolt them all and then bolt on new ones, it would take too long. We decided to mount them all on quick-release pins so they could be easily pulled off and slipped right back on. My pit crew could change the air cleaner, check the oil, put all new bump stops on the back of the truck, and change out all 16 shocks in under five minutes.” Crediting Mickey Thompson for the idea, Evans told us about a further change he made to the race truck. “Mickey had these big fat custom shocks that were longer and offered much more wheel travel and better performance than I was getting. So I went to Kuster Shocks and had two giant custom shocks designed for each corner of the truck. They made a big difference,” he said. “That is one of the things I love about off-road racing. There are constant innovations and development due to the competitive nature of the drivers and builders. It keeps the sport moving forward.” The cockpit of this Dodge Ram pickup race truck is a story all of its own. The driver and co-driver are surrounded by a web-like roll cage created from 1.75-inch steel tube that’s fully welded into a structure designed to protect the passengers. The seats are Sportsman models from MasterCraft Safety and include full five-point harnesses. AutoMeter gauges across the dash panel help keep an eye on the engine’s vital signs. Some of the interior equipment is vintage, while much has been updated. What you don’t see is the full air conditioning system it ran for that 1979 SCORE Baja 1000 win. “This is the very first truck that ever had, and competed in Baja, with a complete air conditioning system,” said Evans. “I mean we had floor mats and plastic windows in it. I started in that truck at Ensenada and drove it to La Paz, and when I stepped out, I was as clean as I am right now today. We decided to take it out a little while later because of the extra weight, but it sure was nice during that SCORE Baja race.” Off-Road Destiny “I have often thought that off-road racing was meant for me, and I was meant to race off-road,” he said. “Driving all night with high-intensity lights, hardly knowing where you’re going, it’s all part of the challenge and thrill. In those early days, there were no course markers. It was from point A to point B, going from little town to little town.” Winning is a habit with Evans, and with more than 100 race wins and multiple championships he has certainly proven himself. But every off-road racer has a Baja tale to tell. “In 1980 we were running the SCORE Baja 1000 again. I was way down along the Pacific coast and had driven through lots of silt beds. Silt is tough on a truck, and unlike the previous year, our luck ran out. The torque converter failed. It was late in the afternoon and would be dark in a couple of hours. “It was the first time, and I might add, the last time that I ever spent the night out in the Baja desert. It was colder than ever and we spent all night gathering little bits of brush to keep a fire going to keep warm. Finally, someone came by in the middle of the night and threw us out a sleeping bag. Then just after sunrise, my crew came along and we towed the truck out of there. I like to say I’ve beaten Baja, but that day Baja beat me. I guess we’re even.” SPECS Vehicle 1978 Dodge Ram (Class 8) Owner/Driver Walker Evans Builders Randy Anderson, Danny Shields, Kim Klepper Engine Redline Performance 400hp LS3 Transmission Kroyer Racing 4L80/Kroyer Racing Converter Chassis 1978 Dodge Ram frame rails/1.75-inch roll cage Front Suspension A-Arm/Walker Evans Racing 2.5-inch Adjustable Coilover and Secondary shock Rear Suspension 3-Link/Walker Evans Racing 2.5-inch Adjustable Coilover and Secondary shock, 2.0 Bumpstop Wheels Walker Evans Racing 17-inch Polished Beadlock Tires Goodyear 37x12.50x17-inch MT/R Weight/Wheelbase/Track 4,200 pounds, 115 inches, 86 inches

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