PickupTrucks.com photo by Evan Sears
For an ultimate Shootout like this, we knew we had to put someone behind the wheel who had intimate knowledge of both desert terrain and truck dynamics. Thanks to our friends at MadMedia Productions, who have deep experience in the desert racing world, we were able to get Chad Ragland for our driving duties.
Chad has plenty of experience over the past several years racing Trophy Trucks — the premiere class in the SCORE racing series — with podium finishes in the San Felipe 250 and Baja 1000 races. More recently, he's been assisting Baldwin Motorsports, driving for Bobby Baldwin and his son B.J.
You might also know that Chad is the son of Larry Ragland, who holds five overall SCORE Baja 1000 titles, among many other accomplishments.
Our hot-shoe grew up racing on the dirt in BMX, moto and mountain biking, as well as helping his father's racing team wherever possible. He started his truck racing career with Mark Miller in 2003 and the factory-backed Volkswagen team, then moved to Collins Motorsports in 2005. Two years later he became the lead driver of the newly formed Toyota-backed TForce Motorsports race team. Two years ago he moved to Baldwin Motorsports, where he also had success. This year Chad is racing in the Best in The Desert series with Trophy Truck racer Kevin MacGillivray, and he's likely to race with Mark Post in the Baja 1000.
Ragland's daily driver is a well-worn 2007 Toyota Tacoma TRD with 70,000 miles on it, but he says he's driven quite a few off-road vehicles and understands how they're made. "Every truck has its mechanical limits, so you have to be very careful about finding the fastest way through the tough section," he said before the testing. "I'm really looking forward to driving both trucks, especially the Ram Runner because I've never seen one before."
Chad also said, in the name of full disclosure, that a few years ago he drove a new SVT Raptor from Hemet, Calif., to Telluride, Colo., and did more than 80 percent of it off-pavement, following desert racing routes and National Park service roads.
PickupTrucks.com photo by Evan Sears
Our instructions to Chad for this test were minimal. We explained that we weren't looking to break either truck but that we wanted the fastest time over the course. Chad assured us he was fully capable of staying just below each truck's absolute limits, with their unique suspensions and extreme capabilities. At the end of our competition runs, the only damage we saw were a few scrapes to the skid plates; however, during one particular photo session, we managed to shear off one of the sway-bar bracket bolts and dislodge the CV boot on the Ram Runner. The boot was an easy fix; drilling out the bolt was a different story.
Finally, I feel obligated to make this point: After sitting in the passenger seat for all the competitive runs Chad executed with each truck (watching my face during some of the in-cab video is pretty funny), I can personally vouch for the fact that each truck was pushed to its suspension and engine limits, yet at no time did it feel like abuse.
It was quite impressive to see Chad read the course like a surgeon reads a patient's body as he navigated obstacles I didn't even notice until we narrowly squeezed by, through and over them. Likewise, he saw lines through the river wash, brush and over the rutted dirt roads that I didn't know existed until we were right on top of them. Still, even at slower speeds, he was able to finesse and coax the trucks through a series of nasty bumps (two sections on our course, at the beginning and near the end) without too much pain to my shoulder and lap belts. He literally made the trucks dance over, around and through craters.
Watch for the name Chad Ragland — it's likely to show up somewhere prominent soon.
Photo by MadMedia
Duel in the Desert Shootout