Precious Metal: Keith Smith’s Class 1400 Ranger

PRECIOUSMETAL_LEADART_1_edited-1Most consider platinum, silver, and gold to be precious metals. For others, aluminum and heat treated steel is much more treasured. One such person is SDR Racing’s Keith Smith.


Fast, easy access to the entire front end is accomplished thanks to a fiberglass one piece front clip. The Rigid Industries LED light bar shines bright even in direct sunlight.

With years of hands-on experience prepping and racing off-road trucks, Smith can spot precious metal when he sees it. Like a miner who spots ore, Smith discovered a Ford Ranger chassis sitting at SI Motorsports that captured his interest. The chassis was modified for strength and fitted with the interior cage structure, but little else.

Smith had walked into SI Motorsports looking for an equal length I-beam suspension kit for his existing race truck. After seeing the quality of work done by SI Motorsports owner Tom McKenzie, Smith left with a plan to build a new race truck based on the Ranger frame.


Aeromotive fuel pumps and filters are routed down the driver’s side frame rail. The square, gray block with red cap in the upper right of the photo is a remote coupler that connects to the battery. Also visible are stainless steel mesh inserts by CRB Alumifab that protect the Fluidyne coolers from stray debris.


Under the hood resides a long list of the highest quality components available. The Redline Performance LS3 draws air through an SI Motorsports air intake with dual UMP pre-filters. Reservoirs for the Brembo master cylinders, Lee power steering and Ron Davis radiator are all easily accessed for quick pit stops on race day.

The Ranger frame was a project that began at NewLine products. The work done at NewLine was sound but somewhere along the way, the project stalled. After several years and multiple owners, it eventually ended up at SI Motorsports. It had great bones but lacked an owner with the determination and funds to see it completed. Just as ore is refined into pure gold, SI Motorsports spent the next ten months turning the bare chassis into a functioning work of art.


Leading the way up front is an SI Motorsports tubular bumper and aluminum skid plate. The piercing red glow from a Rigid Industries LED light bar comes into view long before the sound of the twin Hella horns can be heard. Protecting the Ron Davis radiator is a custom enclosure fabricated by Curt Beam of CRB Alumifab.

Everywhere you look on this truck, you will see the quality of fabrication and meticulous attention to detail that SI Motorsports is known to deliver. A Class 1400 door slammer (working doors and a steel cab), it’s not a “money is no object” build. At the same time, you won’t find a single corner that hasn’t been cut.

In fact, the truck has a level of fit and finish typically found on high-end show cars. The powder coated frame is complemented by nickel-plated suspension components courtesy of PSC in Chino, California. Under the hood, a FAST fuel-injected 420ci LS3 from Redline Performance drinks fuel from a redundant system using Aeromotive pumps and filters, and puts out 610 hp.

It breathes through a custom air intake system built by SI Motorsports that uses dual UMP pre-filters and belts out beautiful noise through custom stainless headers and exhaust by Mike Davis. Engine oil is cooled by Fluidyne coolers and the coolant sheds heat with a custom radiator by Ron Davis.

Left: Spent fumes dump out of twin Magnaflow mufflers after being extracted by custom Stainless headers and exhaust tubing built by Mike Davis. Right: Out back, everything is arranged meticulously–the Fuel Safe fuel cell with Kevlar bladder, dual Fluidyne coolers, a storage box for fluids and spare parts, and a Rigid Industries LED light bar.

Fuel is safely stored in a Kevlar bladder inside the custom Fuel Safe fuel cell. The ample horsepower goes through a Culhane Racing Transmissions Turbo 400 to a Currie Enterprises-fabricated 4130 housing filled with a 10-inch third member and 5.14:1 gears.

Heading inside the cab, we can’t help but admire the beautifully fabricated dash built by Curt Beam of CRB Alumifab. Vital information is displayed to the driver and co-rider on dual Racepak displays. The co-rider also has a Lowrance GPS to keep them on course. Communication is handled by a Kenwood race radio and PCI intercom system, and PCI also supplied the fresh air system.

Left to right: Metal mesh inserts built by CRB Alumifab; Geiser Bros. dry break fuel cap assembly; SI Motorsports-made brake lines are hard or flexible where they need to be; the custom-built brake system features CNC 630 four-piston brake calipers on each wheel.

The electrical system and switches were fabricated by Brian Dague at BDR. Sparco racing seats and MasterCraft harnesses and window nets keep the occupants safe. The driver controls the truck with a quick-release MOMO steering wheel, a Winters Brothers shifter, and a custom 4130 brake pedal assembly built by SI Motorsports.


Keith Smith’s SI Motorsports built Ranger is impeccably finished but built for racing. Despite a show car level of detail, Smith and his SDR Racing team are not shy about getting it dirty.


The aluminum dash built by Curt Beam of CRB Alumifab is mind-blowing. The perfectly smooth contours make room for dual Racepak displays, Lowrance GPS, Kenwood race radio, PCI intercom, Winters Brothers shifter and switches for the BDR fabricated electronics system.

The most important part of any desert racing truck is the suspension. The front suspension consists of SI Motorsports nickel-plated equal length I-beams and radius arms. The front hubs ride on SI Motorsports billet king pin spindles. Steering is accomplished with an SI Motorsports long travel, equal length “swing set” style assembly that maintains proper geometry throughout the suspension’s 20 inches of wheel travel.


The front suspension consists of SI Motorsports nickel-plated equal length I-beams and radius arms. SI Motorsports’ long travel, equal length “swing set” style assembly maintains proper geometry throughout the suspension’s 20 inches of wheel travel.

Steering hydraulics are handled by a custom box, pump, and reservoir by Lee power steering. Suspension damping is handled by a King 3-inch coilover and 3.5-inch, six-tube, position-sensitive external bypass shock with finned reservoirs to dissipate heat at each wheel. King hydraulic bump stops manage the last bit of travel at full bump.

In the rear, an SI Motorsports bolt-on four link kit allows 25 inches of useable wheel travel. King Shocks coilovers, bypass shocks, and bump stops are used at each wheel. The same King 3.0 inch coilover used up front is used in the rear, but the 3.5-inch, position-sensitive external bypass shock with finned reservoir has seven bypass tubes to allow precise control of the additional five inches of wheel travel.


The NewLine fabricated roll cage, Sparco seats, MasterCraft harnesses and a PCI fresh air system keeps the occupants safe and comfortable.

Contact with the dirt is handled by one of the best in the business: Toyo 37×13.50R17 Open Country M/T Race Tires, wrapped around Ultra 17-inch beadlock wheels. The truck’s speed is controlled by CNC 630, four-piston calipers and Brembo master cylinders for the front and rear.

The Ranger has function well taken care of, but form is also important. The factory Ford cab is complemented by a one-piece fiberglass front clip and rear bedsides that are cloaked in a beautiful satin silver gray wrap by LA Wraps in Torrance, California. For protection, the firewall and underside of the cab have been coated with black Rhino Lining.

The window glass has been removed for racing, but due to the design of the stainless steel mesh inserts built by Curt Beam of CRB Alumifab, factory glass can be installed at a future date when (or if) the truck becomes a street-legal prerunner. The silver body is paired by the gold SDR Racing graphics on each door. Taken all at once, the metal tones on the body give you a hint about this truck, you can see the precious metal that lies below the surface.


Photo gallery


About the author

Mike Ingalsbee

For more than two decades, Mike Ingalsbee has worked as an automotive writer and photographer and covered just about everything that burns fuel or throws dirt. His writing and photography has been published in over 20 magazine titles and websites in North America, Europe and Australia. He has worked as a design engineer for several manufacturers in the automotive aftermarket and is a founding member of the Association of Motorsports Media Professionals, (AMMP), an organization that consults with racing sanctioning bodies on safety and media issues.
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