PickupTrucks.com map by Dave Lee
Where better to have a six-gun shootout than in the middle of a remote desert, especially when you have two of the most purpose-built high-speed terrain champions around? Truthfully, it didn’t take us long to figure out where we wanted to hold this head-to-head competition. Our choices were pretty clear: We could rent a closed-course track and have the two trucks do battle over a relatively predictable short course over multiple laps, or we could take them back to their spiritual origins.
Both truck makers have told us at different times that their trucks were designed and engineered with the wide-open desert in mind. In fact, just before the SVT Raptor debuted, a significant chunk of Ford’s shakedown testing was done in a Baja race. Likewise, Trophy truck racer Kent Kroeker did a lot of the development and testing for the Mopar suspension kit for the Ram Runner in the desert as well.
Our search for the best terrain and venue to hold our duel led us to an amazing area several hours east of Los Angeles. The Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area is a desert playground for motorcycles, sand rails, UTVs, four-wheelers and anything else you can ride or drive. We picked an open area so we could set up the perfect course that would include natural river washes, rutted terrain and developed gravel roads.
The course itself is just less than 25,000 feet long, measuring 4.73 miles from start to rolling finish. We started both trucks from dead stop, marked by a park road sign (front wheels at the post). Both trucks were run in 4WD High range, and it was up to our designated pro driver, Chad Ragland, to push each truck to its limits, squeezing every ounce of performance and speed from each truck, straddling the fine line between fastest time and safety.
From our starting line, each truck navigates a rough, hilly section that drops us off of a dirt plateau. From there, we head across open spaces for several hundred yards, and it includes a few small jumps.
PickupTrucks.com photo by Evan Sears
The next section is a nasty series of washboard bumps, right before a loose and dusty hill climb to put us over another plateau and into an open bowl. On the far side of the bowl is a set of sand dunes that each truck must climb and execute a turn on, then head as fast as possible to the more wide-open main road. This is where our speeds start to climb. Most weekend warriors use this section of road to get to the more isolated parts of the park, but we were using it to get to the huge river wash that cuts the length of our off-road area.
Turning off this main road into the wash is tricky because it’s on a downhill section, and you’re carrying a lot of speed. Once inside the wash, this is probably the longest, fastest stretch of the entire course, and it is likely to give us our top speed. Small adjustment turns are necessary while in the river wash; a really good driver will be able to accomplish them with a small amount of steering-wheel turn and a lot (or a little) throttle. This section is just as much about precision as it is speed, as we have to shoot through the middle of huge sagebrush, in between large riverbed outcroppings, basketball-size rocks and outstretched and shifting mini-dunes. One wrong hit to a wheel here would completely take out a front end.
Once through the wash, we jump back onto another sculpted access road. Here, a big motor and lots of traction will be your best friend, only to have it all come to a complete stop over the first little rise as the course transitions into a minefield of irregular two-, three- and four-foot whoop-de-dos that push the front and rear shocks and springs to their maximum compression and droop. Speeds through this section are likely to be between 10 and 12 mph. And if you are going just a touch too fast, you could get into a horrible pogo frequency — one second you’ll feel the seat belts dig into your bones, and the next you’ll be smacked into the seatback. This stretch is less than 100 yards, but it seems like it takes forever to get through, until you get back onto the winding access road that takes you back to the finish line (where we started).
This last section of access road is choppy in most spots, with quite a few horribly dug-out holes in exactly the wrong spots for anyone wanting to hit an apex or take the shortest distance around the corner. Skill and caution will be the only thing helping to get the quickest time here.
For the sake of full disclosure, we did not tell our driver exactly where the finish line was, but we did have him target the exact spot where he started, which he could see about 100 yards away. This would take away any braking discrepancies (or surface irregularity issues) he might have trying to stop the truck on the exact spot either by gradually slowing or dynamiting the brakes just before or after the spot needed. It turned out the point we selected (at the 24,960-foot mark) was about 40 yards away from our designated start line, and just out of the final corner.
PickupTrucks.com photo by Evan Sears
Duel in the Desert Shootout