Chase Vehicles: The Unsung Heroes of Desert Racing

chase truck

Normally our features spotlight a readers’ personal vehicle, the latest build, or even a specific teams’ race truck. This time around we are taking a look at the unsung hero of the desert racing world; the chase truck.

A chase truck is defined as; A highly modified truck that carries the crew, gear, supplies and operational equipment in support of a race truck. Chase trucks must be highly capable off road both in strength and power. They must be able to handle the terrain of the race course while being loaded down with spare parts and tools capable of fixing anything on the race truck or itself.

These trucks often are the tow pigs bringing the race truck to the event and then must traverse the course to the series of pit areas. Once the event has concluded they are packed up for the long haul back to the shop. We’re not talking about your typical pre-runner here; these behemoths are every bit as important as the race truck itself.

Desert Concepts Logo

Desert Concepts Logo on the side of the chase truck

Brian Grigs is the operations manager for Desert Concepts, Inc. based out of Riverside, California. Grigs entered the off-roading at a young age. Racing motocross evolved into racing a Class 5 VW, then moved on to an 89 Ford Ranger. “We did a lot of things the wrong way back then and learned from our mistakes but made a lot of memories too!” said Grigs. It was then he decided to pursue a career involving off road vehicles. He started out at the bottom pushing brooms while watching and learning the ins-and-outs of the off-road shop. Soon after, he stepped into a management position.,

It was then that Grigs got the itch to open up a shop of his own, but little did he know that this would be one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, choices of his life to date. Since opening their doors, Desert Concepts Inc. they have prepped and campaigned vehicles that have won BITD (Best in the Desert), MORE (Mojave Off-Road Racing Enthusiasts), and even Lucas Oil Races. Their greatest wins came in 2011 and 2012 with back to back wins at the BITD Vegas to Reno Race.

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Just a few years ago Grigs and his team retired their previous Chevy 2500 chase truck and set out to build the baddest chase truck around. A 2001 Ford F-350 found itself in Grigs’ shop on a Monday morning and by that Friday it was complete. The team stripped the old chase truck of the parts they would need for the new truck.

The service bed was removed and then transplanted onto the long-bed Ford chassis. All the parts and bins were labeled to aid in efficiency of the repairs while out on the course. LED work lights were added to the rear of the service bed to aid at night repairs.

While the service bed was already fully-equipped on the Chevy we think it’s pertinent to showcase the equipment the team uses while out on the course. The truck is equipped with not one but two Lincoln units. First is the Tomahawk plasma cutter, capable of slicing through thick plate steel with ease.

They also have a Lincoln combo welder generator to put the truck back together and power any of the tools needed to complete repairs. Spare parts on-board include the basics such as nuts, bolts, seals and bearings. On the other end of the spectrum they will have axle shafts, extra shocks, and suspension joints. It’s sufficient to say that this truck can handle repairing nearly any damage the racers inflict on the truck.

Raptor style front clip by McNeil

Raptor style front clip by McNeil with Anzo headlights and Tough-lite LED bar

Grigs’ team turned their attention to the front of the truck with a little help from McNeil Racing. A raptor style front grille and fiberglass fenders were added to give the truck a beastly look. Tough-Light LED bar up on the front bumper and a few more LED floods up on the chase rack make the night desert daytime while on the way to the next pit location. A new tube bumper was fabricated to protect the front end from damage.

With all the custom work to the front end Grigs team came to the conclusion the stock headlights looked a bit anemic with the rest of the truck. An order was placed with Anzo USA and soon a set of its 2012 F-250 Halo headlights with LED rings arrived and were installed. Massive swing out tire carriers enclose the rear of the service bed and hold two 38 inch tires. They are balanced and ready to mount onto the race truck, or even onto the chase truck, in the event of a blowout on either vehicle.

The raised letters and the black mesh really sets off the look of the front of this rig.

While a few of the guys at Desert Concepts worked on the cosmetic fabrication, a few of them were tasked with making this truck actually function as well as it looks. While the front high pinion Dana 60 is regarded as one of the strongest front axles ever to be offered in a stock application there’s still some room to make it even stronger. Chromolly axle shafts were installed along with reverse cut 4.88 Nitro Gears, Detroit Tru-Trac locker, and a Nitro differential cover to seal it all up. They didn’t stop there; the Sterling rear axle also received the same attention to detail but instead of the Tru-Trac they opted for the Detroit locker.

In order to fit the massive 38-inch tires under the truck Grigs turned to BDS Suspension. Long travel leaf packs out front along with Fox 2.0 Shocks with exterior reservoirs give the truck great clearance and off road handling. Firestone air bags in the rear accommodate the load of all the parts and tools in the service bed. Fox also set the team up with a set of 2.0 air shocks for the rear. Setting off this new stance are KMC Rockstar 20×9 wheels and Toyo Open Country mud terrain boasting a size of 38x1450R20.

The truck came to Desert Concepts with a very healthy 7.3-liter diesel engine, certainly enough power to get this behemoth moving at a good clip, but that wasn’t good enough. With the race truck easily putting down 500hp or more it’s no surprise Grigs wanted every ounce of power out of that engine. Advanced Flow Engineering provided their Power Stage 2 intake system filling the lungs of the beast. Not only did they provide the intake, but also the exhaust turbo downpipe. The guys straight-piped the rest in five-inch stainless steel pipe and dumped it just ahead of the rear axle. SCT Performance set up a custom program to tune the computer to guarantee they squeezed every ounce of power out of the engine.


Mission control for this chase truck.

Turning attention to the cabin they opted for simplicity. While maintaining all the creature comforts this fully-loaded truck came equipped with, there was just one thing missing. Kenwood Race Radio was wired up so the crew can maintain contact with the driver and navigator. An interesting feature was added to this setup; switches on the dash allow the team to switch the speaker from the trucks audio system to an additional speaker placed in the service bed so they can hear the radio communications while outside the truck. In the event of an emergencie the pertinent radio frequencies are on the dash so the team can contact the necessary personnel as needed.

Being involved with the off road community more than 25 years, Grigs has learned a thing or two about building race vehicles. He has survived 95 mph rollovers and vehicle fires with not so much as a scratch due to the safety equipment and fast response of his chase team.  While this truck is a real testament to the quality work the Desert Concepts team does, Grigs still has a few more plans for it. A four link with coil-overs, upgrading the shocks as well as the stock stereo is on the to-do-list. We all love blaring the music while blasting through the desert. Grigs did joke about adding a hula girl to the dash. but we don’t think that such a bad idea. All it needs now is a chrome bigfoot gas pedal to finish this truck out.

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Rear view showing off the chase rack and massive tire carriers.

A little advice from Grigs, “Attend races; go to the local smaller events in your area. Those guys are the heart of the sport. If you want to get the feel for the sport, for its’ true roots, start at the bottom just like everyone else did. You don’t know who you’ll meet and where it will take you.” If you see these guys out at one of the races, head on over and introduce yourself. Let them know you saw their chase truck featured here on Off Road Xtreme!

About the author

Kevin Mcgilvery

Kevin has spent most of his time on earth consumed with wanting to travel and explore. What better way to do this than on four wheels? With the advent of the overland culture, he has set out to make his Chevy Colorado a solid axle expedition rig. When Kevin is not wrenching, he works, attends college, and freelances as a contributing writer with Power Automedia.
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