When you think rock crawler, you probably think durable, straight axle and often times expensive. In today’s world though, independent front suspensions are getting more tuning time and are really coming into their own. As a pure Jeep guy, I have a hard time letting that slip off my tongue but it’s true. Independent Front Suspension (IFS) has the potential to be extremely effective for many things. It may not get the forced articulation that a straight axle gets and generally takes more brain processing power to do it correctly; there is certainly a place for it in off-roading.
Typically we’ll see it on desert race vehicles, bombing through the desert at 60+ miles per hour, hitting the whoops with a vengeance and loving every minute of it. When it comes to rock crawling though, they are few and far between. How many FJ Cruisers do you see on the boulder-strewn trails of Johnson Valley versus JK Wranglers? It is certainly a small number. Now with the formalities out of the way, you seriously need to grab a drool cup before you check out the FOX Racing sponsored rig that Jason Scherer built to run the 2015 King of the Hammers race.
“I remember calling FOX and asking about bypass shocks for KOH and about how we can improve the set up for Rock Crawling. I think they thought I was crazy.” –Jason Scherer
After the 2015 race has come and gone, we got a chance to catch up with Scherer and talk to him about his racing history and his cutting edge car. Scherer has been into off-roading for over 20 years. He got his start by riding dirt bikes out on the trails but then realized he had no place to stash some frosty cold beverages for after the riding was done. He jumped into four wheels to allow for all the storage capacity he could want. With a previous KOH 1st place and multiple rock crawling championships under his belt, Scherer and his Rage 4th Racing team wanted to build a new rig to help them stay competitive for the 2015 race. The team worked hard together and built “The Gavel” in two months. Completed in May 2014, this gave Scherer plenty of time to shake the vehicle down and work out bugs. Nearly everything was done in-house. Scherer and Rage 4th teamed up with Wild West Off-road to build the IFS system. A friend, Dan Trout, helped weld nearly everything together.
Since this didn’t start life as a specific Jeep, there wasn’t much trouble building the car around an engine that would make some good and healthy power. A Pacific Fab/Tildon Motorsports LS7 was chosen and placed in the middle of the chassis. The 427 cubic-inch V8 had no shortage of go fast goodies in it. Callies American-made connecting rods kept the Wiseco domed forged pistons doing their thing. In fact, the entire bottom end was Callies components. FAST (Fuel Air Spark Technologies) also got heavy into the build with an intake manifold and fuel injection rails and injectors. Air Flow Research ported 245 heads keeps everything flowing and a cam from COMP Cams times it all just right. A tuned Trout Built Tri-Y header and exhaust system took the bad air out while an Armstrong Race Engine Systems dry sump kept the internals properly lubricated. A 20-gallon Harmon Dry Break fuel cell keeps the hungry engine fed, and Power Steering Solution Pump and Servo keep the tires pointed right where Scherer wants them to go.
The necessary horsepower and torque moves out of the engine and into a Hughes HD30 torque converter which then moves along to a Reid Racing Turbo 400 built by Harris Race Cars in Livermore, California. The transmission was modified to use all 300M steel parts and has a custom oiling system that helps the trans survive the mid-engine installation. Both a large and small CBR oil cooler were used in conjunction to keep the Turbo 400 running at optimum temperature. Bolted to the back of the transmission and making this race car spin all four wheels is an Advance Adapters Atlas Race Case. The lightweight billet housing is a perfect addition to the race chassis, especially with less moving parts internally to fail than a standard Atlas transfer case.
Bolted to the heavy duty yokes of the transfer case are a pair of custom driveshafts with 1480 u-joints built by High Angle Drivelines of Paradise, California. The rear driveshaft sends power to a Spidertrax Spider 9 Pro-Series straight axle differential. Internally, the 3.5-inch diameter chromoly tubed rear diff is touting an ARB Air Locker, 5.43:1 ratio gears and 300M axle shafts. A 4-link suspension system keeps the differential where it is supposed to be and able to move around.
FOX Racing coilovers and PAC Springs keep the ride height consistent while 3.5-inch 7-tube bypass FOX Racing shocks handle rebound and compression. A total of 28 inches of up and down wheel travel makes sure the rearend can take anything Scherer throws at it.
The front driveshaft goes to the area of the rig that makes this one of the rare sightings in the rock crawling world. The independent front suspension was specially built to house a Spidertrax IFS Housing. 300M stub shafts and 300M RCV Series 30 CV Joints handle the power transfer to the wheels.
An ARB and 5.43:1 gears match the front to the rear. FOX Racing coilovers with PAC Springs supports the nose and FOX 3.5-inch 5-tube bypass shocks fine tune the dirty work of keeping the suspension under control. Scherer and the Rage 4th Racing team are extremely happy with their FOX shocks.
“I remember calling FOX and asking about bypass shocks for KOH and about how we can improve the set up for Rock Crawling.” Sharer explains. “I think they thought I was crazy, but ever since then I have been running them and they have helped in the progression of the sport and capability of the vehicles.” 18 inches of wheel travel is what brings the advantage of IFS to the forefront. It’s just plain hard to get unbound travel like that in a straight axle.
Beyond the Tubes
Common tires sizes have been growing steadily over the years. Tires over 37-inches aren’t outside the norm any more. In some places, it is likely Scherer’s 40-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers are even required if you intend on being a big time contender. Forged 101 Method Race Wheels Beadlocks keep the tire firmly connected to the drivetrain. To stop these monstrous meats, Scherer set up a Jamar brake master cylinder and proportioning valve to control Jamar X brake calipers.
“The Gavel” was specifically built with a low center of gravity in mind. Hardly anything is above the dash bar, helping to keep it low and stable. The full chassis was built out of two-inch chromoly tubing with a 0.120-inch wall. Race communications are handled by a built in unit by Rugged Radios. The exterior of the car was decked out by Pinnacle Graphics in the 40th Anniversary FOX Racing livery.
Over all, Scherer is extremely happy with his racer. He mentioned that the only thing he would go back and change would be to possibly add in a second seat so he can take his buddies out for a hot lap or two through the dirt. Scherer and his team pulled off an amazing build in a ridiculously short time period.
In this world you can pick two out of three: good, fast and cheap. Scherer certainly chose good and fast. This build is estimated to be right around $250,000. He added that he couldn’t have done it without the support of family and friends. A “special thanks goes out to Dan Trout and the entire Rage4th Team. Chad & Brett Lujan, Ben Ratto, Brian Farris, Ole Stortroen, Jonathan Haniger, Zac Merril, Phil Smith, Dallas &Tim Lund, Kevin MF Sterns, Ben Bower, Alexandro Walsh and all the awesome suppliers that make the best parts in the industry.”
Whether or not the King of the Hammers racing field fills up with even more IFS rigs, Scherer is going to continue to push the boundaries of his machine. He mentioned in an interview with FOX Racing that he has been told he has a bit of a Robby Gordon disease “because I like a ridiculously stiff setup. We have two cars with very different styles for our numerous types of racing disciplines. One is a four wheel-drive with a solid front axle and front engine and the other one is a four wheel-drive IFS rear engine single seat.”
Scherer also enjoys the outdoors on mountain bikes, dirt bikes and even a Jeep CJ-6. Scherer prides himself on his ability to find the best in people. He likes to surround himself with the best team he possibly can and this race buggy is a perfect example of that. Keep your eyes peeled for more on Jason Scherer.
For more info on the 2015 King of the Hammers race, follow this link for the Off Road Xtreme coverage.