This past month we had the opportunity to venture out to Huntington Beach, California to take a tour of the well-known hub of off-road suspension manufacturing that is Camburg Engineering. While at Camburg, we had a long conversation with Camburg’s president, Jerry Zaiden, about how he and co-owner Jason Campbell built the company from a hobby into the trusted manufacturer they are today.
While Camburg’s main focus over the years has been the development of some of the highest quality off-road suspension components you will find anywhere, their true core revolves around their passion for desert racing, which has served as the driving force behind the company’s success. Zaiden and Campbell learned early on that desert racing was the ultimate proving ground to the products they intended to sell to the general public and needed to be their main focus to create race-proven parts.
As we learned in last month’s Camburg Shop Tour, desert racing has and continues to be Camburg’s source of inspiration when creating products for their customers. Together, Zaiden and Campbell have had a long-standing history in desert racing and have evolved over the years in both vehicle complexity and race speeds while competing in classes like 1600 buggies, MDR 1450, BITD 7200, and Stock Full. With more experience and speed however, came the desire to step up to the ultimate class in desert racing – Trophy Truck.
Enter the KINETIK race truck platform, Camburg’s full-bore, no-expense-spared, versatile truck platform that can be molded to run the 7200 class, 6100/Trophy Truck lite, and of course, unlimited Trophy Truck. KINETIK serves as Camburg’s next giant leap in their desert racing evolution and is true art in motion, with all the goodies you would expect out of the upper echelon of Trophy Trucks. With the KINETIK platform experiencing a lot of success in the short time it has been offered, we had to speak with Zaiden to get the story on how it came about, what makes it unique, and what the plans for the future are for this beautifully crafted piece of art.
Off Road Xtreme: Before we get started talking about the KINETIK platform itself, could you give us some insight about how Camburg’s racing efforts have evolved over the years?
Jerry Zaiden: “Absolutely. We started our company being racing enthusiasts and wanting to go racing. We were told by people that you need to start in a 1600 buggy, which is a Volkswagen 1600 cc powered lightweight buggy. So we got a 1600 car and I’ll never forget that I was told; ‘Hey Jerry, you get in and drive it first.’ So I took it down the fire road and I came back and said ‘Hey, there’s something wrong with this thing.’ Our buddy Jonathan, who ran Baldwin Racing’s program for years, was like, ‘Man, that thing sounds insane, that thing’s hauling butt.’ He thought it was really fast for a 1600 car but when you’re going to a Volkswagen-powered 1600 cc buggy from a Toyota V6 supercharged engine in a truck, you can’t even compare the two.”
“So we raced it a couple times and posted some decent results with the car, but stupid little problems took us out. It was a fun experience, but the buggy was short-lived because we knew we belonged in a truck – it’s just more of who we are, we wanted to be in a truck.”
“We then built a 1450 truck and helped start the 1450 class in MDR. We bought a Ford Ranger off a guy here in Huntington Beach, which became our Lucas Oil Ford Ranger. We built that truck and it had the stock engine in it with I-beams and I’m pretty sure we made the podium our first race. It just wasn’t enough power. We would get behind JeepSpeed trucks and didn’t have the power to pass them, even though we had way more suspension.”
“In our second race, we put a supercharger on the engine and were doing great until a ground wire broke off. We stopped to fix it, got going again, and passed everyone back to have a 40-minute lead. Right before I was going to hand the truck over to Jason (Campbell), I crashed the truck really bad, you’ll even see the crash to this day on RealTV!”
“We fixed the truck, put a V8 in it and went out and did some more races in it. We had some transmission issues caused by our transmission builder at the time so once that was resolved, we rethought the process and went out to another MDR race – but that’s where Jason crashed the truck. When we were in the process of fixing the truck, we saw the need to build an A-arm truck because the Rangers were transitioning over to A-arms, so we built our 2001 Ford Ranger Edge.”
“We ran that truck for a while with the stock 4.0-liter V6 and our Camburg 6.0 Ranger Edge kit and had a lot of success against much faster trucks with more travel. Then we revamped the truck with our long-travel kit and continued to race in the MDR series with a lot of podiums. We even ran it in the SCORE Baja 500 and had to enter it as a Trophy Truck, even though it wasn’t a Trophy Truck, due to the track width rules. Finally, in 2007, we did the whole Best in the Desert Series because they opened up the rules of 7200. We got third at Parker, second at the Terrible 250 Race, and then we had a couple issues like being underpowered, getting stuck in silt, and having vapor lock issues that earned us fifth place at the last three races. We took second in points and only lost by four points to the champion.”
“Since then, we raced a stock full Tundra with Toyota in 2007 when that truck came out and then after that, we just knew we belonged in something faster. So that’s when we started designing our trophy truck.”
JZ: “The decision was made just to be in the ultimate class. It’s just cool and looked like a lot of fun. We started the process and laid out our own tube chassis. We built one and then wound up doing CAD drawings to lay out a real precision vehicle with all the details. Our first truck (generation-one) that raced in the 2009 Baja 1000 literally got finished in the parking lot at the race. We raced our first truck ourselves, made a bunch of changes to it, learned a lot from that, and that’s how we’re now in our second-generation truck.”
ORX: What variations of the KINETIK platform do you offer?
JZ: “So the variations of the KINETIK truck we offer are a class 7200 truck, a class 6100/Trophy Truck lite variant, and the unlimited Trophy Truck. We’re not trying to build the lightest truck out there, we’re just trying to build the best overall truck for rough and fast races. Our 6100 truck is basically the front end of our 7200 truck cab-wise with different suspension, different shock geometry, and the back of the Trophy Truck. It’s wider than the 7200 in the back but the cab forward is all the same tubing. A-arms are different, shock angles are different, shock mounts are different, but the size of the chassis is the same.”
“Then for our Trophy Trucks, we have the big unlimited truck which is basically the same truck as the lightweight version, just on steroids. It’s bigger, wider, heavier, more of what you see with the bigger Trophy Trucks. The main difference would be little bit more girth in the tubing and the size of the shocks. It has 4.5-inch bypass and three-inch coilovers on all four corners whereas our 6100s have 3.5-inch bypass and 2.5-inch coilovers, a little less fuel, less tubing, lighter A-arms, etc. You just shave off weight where you can.”
ORX: With Trophy Trucks being the pinnacle of the desert racing community, what makes the KINETIK truck unique compared to the competition?
JZ: “I think what makes our trucks really unique is that they are a fully CAD-drawn truck. I mean even the detail of the GoPro mount is drawn; no one else has that. They have CAD-drawn components but the whole truck’s not CAD-drawn the same way. Every little detail is laser cut and put in the CAD design with weights so we can balance the truck in the computer and know where to put the weight.”
“I think a big advantage is repeatability. So if someone damages an aluminum panel on their KINETIK truck, they can just call us and order the part. They don’t have to wait for the hand-built guy to come out to their shop, which always gets delayed two or more weeks because of how busy they are. We just cut it out. All of our dashboards are full carbon fiber and we have a carbon fiber option for the body. We’re just putting a lot of technology in the truck.”
JZ: “The hard thing is we’re known as the suspension company, so people view some of the other Trophy Truck builders as the go-to because they are winning all the time. Well, when they have 40 trucks out there in the hands of wealthy people and hire great drivers, it is easy to see why other Trophy Truck builders get in the spotlight.”
“I feel like our KINETIK truck has a lot of advantages to those other trucks, but teams and drivers just have to give us the chance. Our welding is high quality, we have all our own machining in-house, and build everything in-house because it gives us full control over how good the finished product will be.”
“We’re running our racing program like really high-dollar well-funded teams, it’s just been baby steps for us to acquire the property needed to race like fuel towers, box trucks, and motorhomes. It’s taken years for us to do it, we don’t have the budget to just go out and buy all the stuff like these wealthy guys do. But at the same time it lets us buy only what we need to have, not wasting resources, and focusing on being as efficient as possible when doing things like outfitting chase trucks or motorhomes.”
ORX: What’s different about driving a Trophy Truck compared to other classes you have raced in?
JZ: “I would say just the speeds you race at, it’s just so much smoother and beats you up less. Since you’re going faster than in limited classes, you’re finishing races faster and are actually driving for less time, which means you spend less time getting beat up. It’s a lot more fun to drive.”
“I mean from a dollar and cents standpoint, the spec Trophy Truck class is really affordable when you put everything into perspective. Desert racing is expensive, but if you race a class 10 car for instance, you’re almost spending more money than a spec Trophy Truck just to have a very competitive 10 car. If you want to yield upfront results (in class 10) you have to spend the money.”
ORX: What’s been the biggest success and failure of the KINETIK program?
JZ: “The biggest success has been winning numerous races in the KINETIK trucks we’ve built. We placed third place with an LS engine in the Trophy Truck class at the Henderson 250 and that was a big success. Winning Vegas to Reno, winning Parker, I mean we’ve won just about every one of the races as a Trophy Truck spec, so the trucks have been very successful. I would say one of the biggest successes is the first KINETIK truck we built and prepped for a customer, TSA Motorsports’ 7200, went out and won at their first race. So it’s just cool seeing our trucks, that we build for other people, go out and do well right out of the box.”
“The biggest failure of KINETIK – I wouldn’t really call it a ‘failure,’ but the biggest misstep we had was when we initially tried running LS engines as Trophy Truck engines. I feel if we would’ve spend a little bit more money up front and went and got a detuned smaller Trophy Truck engine, we would’ve had way better results out of the box.”
JZ: “Well, we’re building motion, and kinetic means ‘of, relating to, or resulting from motion’ so we just put our own twist on the spelling of it.”
ORX: One last question – what do you hope the KINETIK racing effort will accomplish in the future?
JZ: “We definitely want to continue building more trucks and hopefully getting a Trophy Truck or Trick Truck championship. We would also like to win the Baja 1000 and get our trucks in the hands of some of the top racers, that would be really cool.”
The KINETIK 6100/Trophy Truck lite that is driven by Camburg’s own Jerry Zaiden and Jason Campbell is a true work of art, standing 220-inches long, 91-inches wide, 68-inches tall, and roughly 4,450 pounds when race-ready. Being at the pinnacle of the sport means the best equipment is needed, and Camburg’s truck is no exception with its FOX Racing Shox, 24-inches of front suspension travel, 32-inches of rear suspension travel, 14-inch disc brakes front and rear, and a host of other features.
Powered by a Chevy LS3 Spec Race Engine, Turbo 400 transmission, and carrying up to 80 gallons of fuel at any given time, it is designed to travel great distances and get there in a hurry. The KINETIK platform was developed using today’s latest and greatest CAD software, extensive research and development from years of racing experience, and the highest-quality components in an effort to build a finished product that will provide consistent performance and results for those that race them – which they have more than succeeded at.
Zaiden, Campbell, and the entire Camburg/KINETIK team are very proud of the finished product they have created and the success it has brought the drivers who race their trucks. It was a pleasure getting to see the shop and the KINETIK platform. We certainly got a taste of what it must be like to drive some of the world’s most badass off-road trucks.