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AN AGGRESSIVE BUG Bill And Trey Hernquist’s Modern Class 5 Baja Bug By Mike Vieria Photos by GetSomePhoto The Volkswagen Beetle-based Baja Bug has been a fixture in off-road racing for more than a half-century, and it has gone through quite an evolution over the years. The backyard modifications to bodies, suspensions, tires, and engines have given way to purpose-built, very sophisticated race machines. SCORE’s Class 5 rule changes allowing the use of water-cooled engines of up to 2500cc from any manufacturer, revitalized the class several years ago by doing away with the need to use more expensive, harder to find, Volkswagen air-cooled power. Bill and Trey Hernquist’s new Class 5 car made its debut in last year’s SCORE Baja 500 using a 2.4 liter GM Ecotec engine is a fine example of the latest in Baja Bug development. Bill’s off-road racing history includes numerous wins and championships dating back to the 1980s, but his son Trey says, “I was born into the sport, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Racing has given me so many other opportunities in life by opening doors for me. It’s been amazing.” He started with dirt bikes, but after some injuries, he graduated to racing on four wheels when he was fourteen, then on to SCORE races when he was sixteen, and now he is the primary driver and driver of record for the team in a variety of off-road races. Although the new car resembles their previous vehicle that was originally built in 1982 as a pre-runner, the father and son team tells us that it’s a giant step forward in driving characteristics. Bill won Off-Road Championships at Willow Springs Raceway in 1990 and 1991 in the older car. Originally built by Jimco, it was restored to its previous racing configuration a few years ago and has since provided the team with a long string of victories in various races. Those successes, combined with Bill’s desire to team with son Trey and the rejuvenation of Class 5, inspired them to build the new car, still under the long-standing sponsorship of General Tires. Additional sponsors for the team include Schaeffer’s Oil, Salty Crew Clothing, Fox Shocks, Baja Designs Lighting, Method Race Wheels, and Hostyle Racing Products. “The old car is truly old school,” says Bill. “It has doors that work, it has an original 1960’s body on it, door handles, the whole nine yards, but it is a rocket ship. That car worked so well and was so dependable. It just goes and goes and goes. It’s still competitive, but it’s just not up to today’s levels. It’s more of a 1980’s graded road NORRA kind of car. It still has torsion bars and spring plates, and has a floor pan in it from a 1960 Volkswagen.” Both cars currently use identical 2.4liter Ecotec engines, but the new car has a Mendeola sequential five-speed transmission by McDowell Performance, while the old one uses a four-speed with an “H” pattern. The new car has a CAD designed, TIG welded 4130 Chromoly chassis built by Curry Race Cars, with design work by John Marking and Mike Julson. Paul Mischel at Racer Services put the finishing touches on to complete the project and keep it race-ready. The 2.4 liter Ecotec engine from CBM Performance powers the new bug and Bill is a big booster of the Ecotec’s contribution in Class 5. “They are economical, they run pump gas, they’re reliable, they’re fast, and they’re more than enough motor for a car like this. There’s a big interest in the Baja Bug classes right now. It’s a great, fun class. They’re so much fun to drive, and because they’re short, you have to know how to drive. You can’t fake it. The long wheelbase on a Class 10 car can cover up a lot of mistakes. You don’t have that luxury in a Baja Bug. They’ve come full circle and Baja Bugs are cool again, and the Ecotec made the biggest change to the whole class. The Volkswagen motors had become expensive, and hard to find. SCORE was on the cutting edge in allowing these new engines, and it’s made a big difference.” He also gives a lot of credit to the Class 5 Coalition for promoting, as well as providing assistance and support for the revitalized Buggy class. Cooling for the Ecotec is provided by a CBR Dual Row/Dual Pass Radiator with dual SPAL fans and an internal oil heat exchanger. Brown and Miller Racing Solutions plumbing is used. A custom 4 into 1 stainless steel exhaust by Ilk Design and Fabrication helps the engine exhale. A 34-gallon Harmon Fuel Cell feeds the 2.4. ProAm provides the CV joints, drilled axles, hubs, and four-piston brake calipers all around. Fodrill King Kong Arms and Spindles are used on the front end, and Curry 30-inch trailing arms at the rear, along with Eibach springs, and Fox bump stops. Fox custom 12-inch 2.0 coil-over shocks are used in front, and Fox custom 16-inch bypass and coil-over shocks in the rear. The steering rack is a Howe 2.5-inch Diablo unit with an integrated control valve. Method 101 wheels and General Grabber X3 Tires connect it all to the ground. Baja Designs LEDs light the way, and communications equipment includes a Kenwood 50 watt radio and PCI intercom. Mark the Wiring Guy in Santee, CA takes care of the electrics. Inside, Mastercraft seats provide comfort and safety, while Hostyle nets and bags keep things tied down and organized, and an AGM Jack is at the ready if needed. At Bill’s insistence, the new car also uses genuine steel panels from an early Beetle. “I thought it was kind of cool. It was something I wanted to keep just as kind of a throwback. The new car uses a windshield frame from a 1960 convertible, and the doors and the body are all skins from an original 60’s convertible. The plan for the new car was to build something that looked old school, but underneath the skin would have every technology upgrade known to man,” he says. The car was finished just days before the 2019 SCORE Baja 500, and despite having virtually no testing time, they were running in the top 25 overall, with nearly an hour and a half lead on the next car at the halfway point of the race. Unfortunately, a transmission failure then put them out of the running, but the new car had certainly shown itself to be a force to be reckoned with. At this year’s 52nd BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 500 Presented by 4 Wheel Parts they turned to the older car for the race, due to some suspension damage to the new racer from a previous race. Although they say the team “took it easy,” the older car was still strong enough to give them the Class 5 win. The new car will start its fourth race when it competes in the upcoming 53rd BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000 Presented by 4 Wheel Parts, while the old one will be used as a prerunner. The difference between driving the old car and the new one is like night and day, according to both Bill and Trey. “The problem with Baja Bugs is the short wheelbase,” Bill says. “The limit is only 105 inches, but what John Marking at Fox Shocks did with the design of the new car is make the rear trailing arms much longer than normal, and he pushed the weight of the drivers forward by about six inches. He also personally designed and tuned the shocks for us specifically for that car. With the weight up front and the longer travel in the rear, it’s designed not to bottom out and kick when you hit a bump, making it much easier to drive.” Trey agrees, saying, “They feel very similar on graded roads and tight, technical things, but as soon as you get into bigger bumps, our newer car does a lot better. It makes a huge difference. It drives almost like a 10 car.” The longer trailing arms give the car 24 inches of suspension travel in the rear. Rules on front suspension limit design changes and so they’ve got 15 inches of travel upfront. Despite the use of steel skins, the new car is almost 400 pounds lighter than the old car. “We’ve had a few growing pains with the design changes in the new car, but I think we’ve got it all figured out,” says Trey. Bill echoes his son’s sentiments, “Now that we’ve sorted it out a bit more, we’re super excited to take on the Baja 1000. It’s going to be fun.” Former Baja champion Rick Ellison will join Bill and Trey in this year’s race, and like just about everyone else, the team hopes are that race schedules will return to a pre-pandemic normal soon. SJ

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