Meet the Ultimate Track Truck

By Staff Writer
Apr 4, 2018 | Chevrolet | Posted in Features | From the May 2012 issue | Never miss an article

story and photos by alan cesar

If you’re old enough to have parked your butt on your living room’s shag carpet and twisted the TV dial to watch “Sanford and Son,” you may remember the title characters’ truck.

In the sitcom, Fred Sanford and his son, Lamont, own a salvage shop, and they tour the neighborhoods of Los Angeles looking for merchandise in a red, sun-baked, stepside Ford pickup. Four decades later, Wreckless Abandon Racing replicated this iconic look when they built their huge and heavy racing machine.

Let’s dispense immediately with the truck brand rivalry: This homage is sacrilegious. It’s not a Ford at all, but a Chevy—a 1964 C-10, to be precise. But come on, this truck is for a group of self-appointed “regular schmucks” who like to go racing, not dogmatists hellbent on keeping things separated. It’s a mix of parts from both brands and more—a melting pot of racing components. Embracing the Fred Sanford spirit, the team used whatever they had lying around or could take home cheaply.

What started out as a rolling chicane of a crapcan race car came to test its mettle (and hulking slabs of metal) at our 2011 Ultimate Track Car Challenge, the no-holds-barred competition to see which machine can lap VIR the fastest. There, the truck was also dubbed a rolling chicane. That didn’t stop Jim Gorman and his team from having a great time and, after the track and their beverages were both cold, knocking back a few beers in celebration.

You Know My Arthuritis

In true junk-hunter fashion, the team pulled a rolling C-10 shell out of the middle of a field somewhere in rural South Carolina. Just $300 allowed them to bring it home and start building it into a ridiculous racer. Wreckless Abandon members scoured the inventories at eBay and 2nd Chance Race Parts for all the goods they could find to make this truck actually go, stop and handle.

The latter shop specializes in old NASCAR parts, things discarded by last year’s racers that are still perfectly usable. They’ve just been outlawed by a rules change or aren’t quite good enough to be competitive at that top tier of racing. It’s like getting a Major League Baseball player’s used jock strap. It—well, no. It’s not like that at all.

Thanks to 2nd Chance and eBay, Jim took delivery of a Ford 9-inch live axle housing from a Cup car for a mere $200. It’s mounted to the frame using rear suspension brackets from a 1959 Buick Roadmaster. The tubular double-wishbone suspension—made up of NASCAR leftovers—controls the front end.

The axle and spindles came with Cup-car brakes so meaty, Lady Gaga could wear them as a dress. A master cylinder from a Corvette operates those calipers, aided by a hydraulic booster system from a GM diesel truck. Since their C-10 was a rolling shell, the team had to figure out a powertrain solution from scratch. The truck needed something appropriately large under its enormous front-hinged hood—which, by the way, is not an original Chevy design feature.

Jim tracked down a 6-liter V8 from a Cadillac Escalade and worked it over thoroughly. A stroker rotating assembly topped with aftermarket pistons means it now pumps a heroic 6.9 liters (420 cubic inches). That and a few other tweaks help the engine achieve 550 horsepower and 610 lb.-ft. of torque.

For easy tuning, the team said goodbye to the fuel-injection system and fitted an intake manifold that accepts a carburetor. Perseverance paid off when they sourced a fuel tank: The junkyard owner said if they could remove the tank from a Chevy S-10 compact truck on his lot, they could have it, no charge. It took time, but they dug it out.

However, luck hasn’t been on their side when it comes to their Ford four-speed toploader transmission. “The transmission was free, but it’s the most expensive transmission in the world,” Jim says. “It keeps breaking, so we’re always getting it rebuilt.”

It was clear from the beginning of this build that none of the needed components would simply bolt in. Huge portions of the truck, like the rear suspension and gas tank supports, were made from scratch. The team credits Dwight Patterson for building most of these custom pieces, including the headers, roll cage, suspension mounting points, and an adjustable Panhard bar to tame the live axle.

Ya Big Dummy

This truck had some pedigree before coming to the Ultimate Track Car Challenge. It also campaigned in both the ChumpCar and 24 Hours of LeMons junker racing series. It showed up at our event with the same suspension used in those races, but its cheapo engine had to go. “That one was a junkyard-built, iron-block, LM7 engine with mismatched internals,” says team member Jason Ledford. “We’re guessing it makes 350 to 400 horses.”

That’s not exactly a lot of power for a nearly two-ton vehicle, especially if it’s in contention for the title of Ultimate Track Car—er, Truck. That’s where the LQ9 Escalade engine came in, and it certainly made the truck a bigger threat. (This lump is too much of a budget penalty to run in those budget-minded enduros, though, so the cheaper engine went back in after the UTCC.)

Endurance races are great venues for shaking out problems with a fresh build, and this vehicle sees continuous abuse with only short breaks. Its first time on track, Jim recalls, “it sounded like a midget was in the back, banging around with a hammer.” After a short pit stop, they discovered the truck bed wasn’t welded down. Whoops.

None of the other fixes were very complicated, but they shared a common culprit: heat. When the engine wouldn’t stay cool at a ChumpCar event, the Wreckless Abandon crew pulled off the whole hood—which they had welded to the front clip and fenders—to keep things cool for the rest of the race. A bit of ducting to direct air through the radiator took care of the problem for future events.

Heat crept into the braking system, too: Even those four-piston NASCAR brakes were overworked from repeatedly slowing this juggernaut. The brake fluid kept boiling over until they switched to ATE Super Blue Racing.

The drivers got pretty uncomfortable with the heat in the cabin as well. The left-side exhaust header runs directly underneath the floorboard at the driver’s feet. Rather than have their toes cooked up like Lit’l Smokies, they screwed a piece of wood to the floor. “It’s cheap insulation, and it works,” Jim says.

Simple fixes and upgrades like these tend to amass on nearly all budget-minded race cars, and it’s exceptionally true of the Sanford and Son truck. “Every little piece of the car has a story,” Jim says. “My kids, Lucy and Clark—Lucy is 10 and Clark is 8—painted the doors themselves.” Those doors, of course, bear the Sanford and Son Salvage name and mission: “2nd Hand Antiques/We Buy & Sell Junk.”

I’m Comin’ to Join You, Elizabeth

The team’s driver at UTCC was Adrian Amos, who normally runs Time Trial events in a Mazda Miata. “It’s not like my normal car at all. It’ll do the same lap times, but it’s horrifying!”

Adrian reports driving on two wheels on more than one occasion, and the truck’s braking points approach that near-death light at the end of the tunnel. “You don’t brake until you see God and have had a brief conversation with him,” he says.

The truck is entertaining to drive in a way few other vehicles could ever be. Adrian says half the experience of racing it is watching the other drivers gawk at him as he passes. No one expects a huge, red truck to run the track at speed, much less pass anyone. Yes, it finished near the bottom of the UTCC roster—ahead of a couple Spec Miatas, a 1998 Mustang Cobra, and a few others—but that won’t stop Wreckless Abandon from campaigning it.

Winning isn’t everything, after all. Sometimes it’s satisfying enough to just gather some junk into a truck-shaped pile and hit the pavement.

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View comments on the GRM forums
759NRNG HalfDork
7/17/17 3:18 p.m.

Absolutely love this wrong it's right.

Bobzilla MegaDork
7/17/17 5:01 p.m.

It's a definite inspiration for mine.

M2Pilot HalfDork
7/17/17 10:41 p.m.

Seems that I recall that truck going off track fairly dramatically at turn 4 that day

M2Pilot HalfDork
7/17/17 10:42 p.m.

I would have probably been off more dramatically by turn 1

Xceler8x UberDork
4/5/18 12:06 p.m.

In reply to M2Pilot :

It did. Crazy hot that day so the brake fluid boiled. Also, Adrian tends to push the limits. 

Xceler8x UberDork
4/6/18 8:12 a.m.
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