“Fun per dollar” is one of the most important measuring sticks for many hobbyist and weekend racers. That measurement is the motivation behind Aaron Van Velsir’s Ford Ranger, “2Ghetto.” I met up with him in the pits of Off Road Nights Del Mar after watching his impressive qualifying run that left me wanting to get the story behind this truck and driver.
Representing a large portion of enthusiasts, one that is critical to the off-road and racing community alike, Aaron is a “weekend racer.” Aaron is a middle-aged guy with a career far removed from any type of motorsports. Spending his weekdays like most other members of society, what he does outside of those 9-5 hours is a lesson in pursuing one’s passions.
I found Aaron sitting in the pits in a folding chair under a blue pop-up canopy next to his truck in between runs. Aaron was happy to share his story about how his love for dirt and racing got started. Beginning as a motocross rider in his early teens, Aaron says that years of riding and collecting injuries had him looking for a new way to enjoy his love for off-roading. Adding another pair of wheels and a cage seemed like a logical way for him to do just that. This led to him to learning what it would take to build a prerunner tough enough to satisfy his passion for unforgiving terrain and big air.
“I researched how much it was to build a truck, it’s really expensive to have these things built,” he said. “Having a shop do it wasn’t an option.” So, with a shop build off the table, the next logical option was to build it himself. “I betted that if I bought a welder and a bender and just did it, I could figure it out,” he added.
Hitting the forums and other online resources, Aaron soon came up with a plan and got to work. “It wasn’t the prettiest thing, but I raced it and flipped it, I had a blast and got addicted,” he says about his first build. Soon after catching “the bug,” Aaron started on his second project – 2Ghetto.
“The plans for this one started on a napkin,” he laughed, pointing to an unclad, home-built truck brandishing a set of poster-board race numbers taped to the side. “I built it in the backyard under an EZ-up just like this,” referring to the pop-up canopy atop his flatbed trailer. “It’s crazy how much you learn building one and there is always room for improvement,” he said.
The conversation soon led to what type of events he participated in. “I just do local events like Tuff Trucks and this, I don’t have the budget to race the bigger series, those are not a $500 venture,” Aaron said. He was quick to add: “As a hobbyist, it’s easy to get discouraged by the price tag, but you can have a ton of fun for something that’s not very expensive.” With talks of budgets usually comes the question of being competitive. “It’s nice to win some of these races in something I built, it really adds to the sense of accomplishment beating up on some of these high powered trucks,” he commented. This event turned out to be another one of those accomplishments, as Aaron managed a second place finish overall.
When it was time to take a closer look at “2Ghetto” and see exactly what Aaron had put together, it was quickly evident the amount of time that was put into this build. Starting off with a gold 1994 V6 Ranger as the base, Aaron describes the truck when he first purchased it as “super clean.” A few days later, a load of 1.75x.120-inch DOM steel tubing was brought home in the bed it would soon be replacing.
Starting with a quick teardown, Aaron created a custom front bumper from that steel that would also serve as the material for the full chassis and cage. After that, he got going on the enormous task of building the massive cage. Starting from the engine cradle, it slowly moved back, snaking to the rear bumper over the next few months. Meticulously documenting every segment of the build down to the size of each bar and bend radius was also part of this build process. “I posted the entire build online,” Aaron said. “I wanted to make it where someone could take my notes and build their own. While it was hard to find information when I started building, I loved doing this and just wanted to help if someone wants to try it.”
Once the cage was completed, it was time to move onto mounting the suspension components. The first of those components to find their new home was a Threat Motorsports D44 equal-length beam kit. At that point, is was time to start fabricating the shock mounts. Those mounts now support Sway-A-way coilovers and matching triple bypass shocks on all four corners. Bilstein 2.0 hydraulic bump stops were then installed to help control all that suspension travel. To keep the side to side motion in check, a Camburg KINETIK sway bar kit was used.
2Ghetto still boasts the factory V6 power plant and automatic transmission. However, Aaron hinted to a possible V8 upgrade in the future. Despite the stock power plant, the driveline has received some attention during this build. A Strange third member geared 5.67:1 starts the power delivery upgrades. Getting power to the wheels is a Speedway Engineering 9-inch housing and full floater kit.
The corners are home to BFGoodrich 35×12.5R15 KM2 tires. Holding that rubber in place falls in the hands of a set of Ultra Wheels Walker Evans 501 Legends sized at 15×8. GM metric caliper disks help whoa things up with that extra mass in the rear, while Ford factory D44 discs handle the front. Overall, the combo creates an aggressive stance that can handle some serious abuse.
Do to a recent rollover, 2Ghetto’s body work has had some recent changes. At the time of this article, a cab transplant was the latest addition to the build, replacing the original one damaged in the roll. “Cutting the cab off is intimidating, you know, at first you really don’t want to cut it off,” Aaron said about the recent addition. “If you have a welder, it’s like a glue stick and a grinder is your eraser. It’s just a big art project.” The remaining body mods include a fiberglass hood and fenders. Currently, those panels and hood are prepped and awaiting a new coat of orange paint. “It doesn’t normally look like this,” Aaron commented about the current state of the truck. “I normally drive it around town, it just looks like a normal truck.”
When you peek into the interior, it’s all business, with most of the stock amenities removed to make room for the extensive roll cage. What remains is wrapped in plastic, pending the scheduled day at the paint booth. A pair of PRP racing seats finished in black vinyl take center stage in the cab. A set of Crow racing belts ensure the occupants stay firmly planted in those seats when the asphalt gives way to the dirt. Noticing something was missing, a glance at the nearby trailer revealed an MPI Innovations steering wheel awaiting the next run.
Overall, Aaron’s story is very similar to many. It starts with a drive to get out there and race, as well as a willingness to pick up the tools and build something. Even though that start can be intimidating, the journey is a big part of the joy. Hours researching and learning accompanied by long nights in the garage all culminate in a level of satisfaction that only comes from that process.
Somewhere along that journey, you get to join an elite class of individuals, the Weekend Racers. They are a dedicated group of enthusiast and hobbyist that spend the weekends on the trail, roaring through the desert or soaring over jumps for the local crowd. For that group, fun per dollar is almost as important as the trophies that may find a place on the mantel – almost.