Inside a NORRA Mexican 1000 Pre-Evolution Winning Truck


We all know that Robby Gordon won the NORRA Mexican 1000 in his crazy cool Gordini but what about the other vehicles in the race? There were vintage vehicles, bikes and ATVs and a class called Evolution with an assortment of modern race vehicles ranging from Robby Gordon’s Unlimited entry all the way down to mini trucks with leaf springs. Somewhere in the middle are some pretty cool trucks that can be daily driven around town and still win their class – vehicles like this Ford Raptor that won the Pre-Evolution class.

It’s an unusual desert racing race truck as it resembles a “pre-runner”more than a trophy truck, but its the perfect vehicle for having fun at the NORRA race which is designed with a little more fun and comfort than the full blown Baja 1000 which runs non-stop for nearly a 1000 miles. If you’re new to the Mexican 1000 or somehow missed Jalopnik’s latest video offering, this is a pretty cool recap of this year’s race.

As you can see, the Mexican 1000 is still a full blown desert race and the field was loaded with a bunch of top names in desert racing, but each night you get to stop and work on your truck or have a few drinks with your friends – if you have a pro service crew that does your work. It also means you can run unusual vehicles and even some that would never be able to pass the rigorous tech inspection required for SCORE(the sanctioning body of the Baja 1000. But it also means you can build a much more civilized race truck and have a ton of fun racing with your friends in the desert.

The Pre-Evolution class is for trucks and SUVs with hinged and operational doors. Meaning no tube frame craziness. So they started with a Ford Raptor chassis and then went nuts.

The frame stays in place, but first the whole bed is pulled off and replaced with steel tubes to hold all your gear. Everything from the fuel cell to the spare tires, a jack, fire bottle, and even a spare driveshaft.

In most trophy trucks the radiator gets moved to the back along with the batteries but with this race truck left them in front. Instead you see the transmission and differential cooler mounted out back and that’s the end of the jack handle in the foreground. And as I mentioned, that’s the spare driveshaft lying horizontally between the spare tires and the coolers. Remove two hose clamps and its ready to be installed.

A lot of these parts could be mounted in the factory truck bed but why carry the extra weight? Cut it all off and add fiberglass fender flares to hold the maximum tire allowed by the rules which is 37”. Your normal tire on say a BMW is around 24-25” by comparison.

But the real reason for all the tubes is to mount the monster rear suspension allowing more travel. Mostly in droop (vs upward travel or bump) but you need to fit much longer shocks and there’s just not room under the stock Ford bed/suspension pickups. The other reason is to add attachment points for a second set of bypass shocks which have position sensitive valving. Meaning the dampening changes through out the stroke of the shock.

If you want to know more about by-pass shocks, check out this article from a last week that provides and in-depth look.

The other reason for the rear tubes is the continuation of the safety cage or roll cage in the drivers compartment. The box of tubing protecting the drivers needs to be supported and that is done by going backwards at a roughly 45 degree angle to the rear frames. As you can see, the cage isn’t very intrusive. Your mom could drive to the store if you helped her into the seat. Again, this cage design would never pass SCORE tech because it would need another door bar higher up that connects into the sill bar but it does allow many different types of vehicles and designs to enter the NORRA Mexican 1000.

The rear is even more interesting with its center mounted third seat. I climbed in and check it out and the view is excellent. Originally I thought it would be hell to ride in the back seat during a desert race but I bet its the most comfortable seat in the house – partially because of the view but mostly because its centered between the axles and would experience less movement than the front seats. Or at least it looks that way.

On the other hand maybe you would feel like R2D2 sitting in the back of the X wing while Luke does all the work.

This is a shot of the front suspension. The upper and lower control arms are from Camburg and bolt into the factory mounting locations. The coil carrying spring sits in the middle and then the shock on the right is a by-pass to control movement.

While the upper arms are tubular, the lower are fabricated from plate steel and crazy thick with vertical reinforcements welded though out the middle of the boxed area. The two canisters from fox are the remote reservoirs from the Fox shocks.

The rear axle is also replaced with a giant Camburg unit. Those are the rear brake lines riunning down the axle an the red colored AN fitting is for the rear diff cooler.

Just like the front, the rear trailing arms were replaced with massive steel welded units for strength. 

The engine bay on the other hand is relatively stock. Even the battery is in the factory location. Normally they get moved to the rear bed area with second battery for better weight distribution.

While the engine is stock, the power steering was upgraded to a Howe unit providing more control and cooling for the larger 37” tires.

The front of the truck a received a steel bumper and massive skid plate as well a recessed LED light bar for the night stages.

And that’s about it. The truck is surprisingly stock because all the reforced suspensions bolts into the factory locations. The truck also gets to keep is antilock brakes and even air conditioning. I always wanted air conditioning my race cars but couldnt justify the extra weight and drag on power. But in the massive Ford Raptor its hardly noticeable. 

The truck was bought partially completed and taken to Strategic Racing Design(SRD) in Vista, CA to be finished given the tight timeline to the race. SRD can build these from scratch, but its just how this truck was built. And the racers took it to the right shop because SRD has never missed a race. Remember my Baja pig I built in 14 days starting on the floor of SEMA? It was SRD that helped me finish it in record time. 

So if you’re into off road racing and fabrication, or just want to see cool trucks and desert buggies come to life, check out SRD. They are my favorite race shop in the country and the owner Justin is a racer himself with numerous off road wins to his name including a few in the Baja 1000. Even cooler is that he has won on a motorcycle as well as in a Class 5 VW bug back. They even built the first electric vehicle to compete in the NORRA Mexican 1000. You can follow SRD on Instagram or go check out their website here for more details on the company and their builds and races.