The PreRunner Building series is one of Off Road Xtreme’s most popular recurring features. We want to continue this most searched for and valued content. For context we will link PreRunner Building 101: The Basics, PreRunner Building 102: Beginner Vs. Advanced, and PreRunner Building 103: Testing And Tuning. This next article feature has been titled PreRunner Building 104: What Is An Ultimate PreRunner? Off Road Xtreme will be defining what exactly an Ultimate PreRunner is.
To help frame this up, Off Road Xtreme has connected with several reputable industry sources that know just about all there is when it comes to a proper PreRunner off-road vehicle. You will hear from the racers, the builders, the preppers, the industry experts, and the innovators. We sampled a few contacts to help establish a perspective. Off Road Xtreme recognizes that there are many other talented individuals, shops, and builders. We were simply unable to connect with them all.
As the Editor, and after starting an Instagram page years ago called Ultimate PreRunner, I have come up with my own basic definition which can be described as a functional off-road vehicle that looks good. Mind you that is only the criteria for the Instagram page. You might often hear a few different terms thrown around. A Luxury PreRunner, and Trophy Truck PreRunner are very much different from your standard issue PreRunner trucks seen around town driving on the streets.
Ultimate PreRunner Project Vehicle
Speaking of PreRunner Street Trucks. For a quick side note, we wanted to acknowledge Off Road Xtreme’s latest project. The Ultimate PreRunner vehicle build series borrows the same name and was derived from the association with the Ultimate PreRunner Instagram. In the first segment, we covered the origins of a humble 2004 Ford Ranger built to be an off-road capable and streetable daily driver. Our mission with the project is to build it up into a more functional vehicle with performance in mind. We want to retain certain aspects of the vehicle in regards to comfort and styling. In the end, we hope to mimic the Ultimate PreRunner look.
I want to preface this by saying, I am simply a fan of all these types of vehicles and appreciate them for what they are. Both big or small, simple or complicated, budget friendly or super exotic. Our Off Road Xtreme Ultimate PreRunner Project Vehicle is not currently and will never actually be intended to serve as the type of mission capable tool that we are about to showcase and define below.
With all that said, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of what a true Ultimate PreRunner is. Let me introduce our expert panel.
Ultimate PreRunner Experts
- Jason Duncan – SDG Suspension and navigator for #83 Trophy Truck Racer Luke McMillin.
- Craig Stewart – Stewart’s Raceworks: Truck builder extraordinaire, and race prep shop.
- Jake Velasco – JVRP (Jake Velasco Race Prep): Truck builder and race prep shop.
- Rob Lindsey – RJ Fabrication: Truck builder and race prep shop.
- Jerry Zaiden – Camburg Engineering: Off Road Manufacturer, racer and industry expert.
- Jason McNeil – FiberwerX: Off Road Manufacturer, racer and industry expert.
We first reached out to Jason Duncan because of the simple fact that he was able to build out a high-end PreRunner on a real shoestring budget. It took him over five years and every penny he had, plus a whole lot more. We wanted to start out here to present a real world scenario that this is actually achievable if you want it bad enough. You can actually see the truck build documented on a Facebook Album. Jason is also a full time navigator calling out the shots for championship winning Luke McMillin in the #83 Trophy Truck. Additionally, Jason Duncan plays a big role at SDG Suspension dialing in all sorts of off-road race vehicles for the sports very best.
Jason Duncan – SDG Suspension and navigator for #83 Trophy Truck Racer Luke McMillin
ORX: What is an Ultimate PreRunner to you?
Jason Duncan: “Essentially these are the Ferraris of off-road trucks, but they are also tools. First and foremost, these PreRunners have to be reliable. Second, they have to be comfortable. And thirdly, the truck has to be easy to work on.”
“On our team, we usually run four to five times the distance of any given race. For example, in this most recent Baja 500, we ran approximately 2,500 miles and worked these PreRunner trucks for a week straight, sunup to sundown. Having the comfort and amenities like a sealed cab, heating and air conditioning, and all of that helps us fight fatigue, and makes the job easier and more enjoyable.”
“We are practicing racing. It is a multi-purpose scouting vehicle that allows us to go on course and plot out the trails. Once we chart out the GPS trail first, we go back and run it again to see how fast we can go. After that, when necessary, we will run it a third time looking for alternate lines.”
How Do The Top Teams Use Their PreRunners?
“Top teams like McMillin Racing and Bryce Menzies will own and utilize multiple PreRunner trucks. This is for a number of reasons. With another PreRunner in the stable, they have a backup on call. They can also stage one truck, gassed up with a fresh prep, ready to go when a driver comes off the trail. This saves time and cuts down on vehicle wear and tear.”
Between brothers Dan and Luke McMillin, they own three different Raceworks PreRunners Jason Duncan reported. Duncan continued, “They have owned these same three trucks for the last five years and put over 100,000 hard off-road dirt miles. They are at least ten years old.”
A standard Stewart’s Raceworks Ultimate PreRunner can cost $450,000 – $650,000. Menzies Motorsports has just taken possession of the newest Raceworks build which is rumored to cost a $1,000,000. This particular vehicle contains a 100 gallon fuel cell, carries two full size spare tires, a 6-speed Xtrac gearbox, and is powered by a big-block Chevy V8.
Having gotten the scoop from Duncan, Off Road Xtreme reached out to Craig Stewart for more information. Craig Stewart is pretty much the main innovator when it came to building a true Trophy Truck style Ultimate PreRunner.
Craig Stewart – Stewart’s Raceworks and Truck Builder
“These things are Trophy Truck guts plus Mercedes Benz extravaganza. Meticulously built from the ground up, they are incredible machines and are exotic and different from everything else.”
“Our main customers for Luxury PreRunners are mostly Trophy Truck racers who want to prerun in a truck very similar to what they are racing in. They want it to drive like a trophy truck, which it essentially is, but have it be nice and comfortable.”
“These are basically a tube frame Trophy Truck with a high horsepower motor, and gobs of suspension travel. Almost thirty inches in the front and over thirty inches in the back. The trucks have incredible ride quality because the occupants will spend many hours inside. We use premium leather throughout, and equip air conditioning, sat phones, and GPS. I think we were the first to install a compact fridge in a Luxury PreRunner too.”
“Since we started building these, our customer base has changed a little. We now have individuals from all over the world who want a top of the line well-built vehicle. There are tons of people who love and respect cars. The ones we build are some of the very best made on earth.”
Craig Stewart Is Always Innovating And Evolving The PreRunner
ORX: How much different are they from 15 years ago to today?
CS: The layout is similar. Every part is of higher quality. We are using bigger tires, bigger shocks, and carrying more fuel.
ORX: How many have Stewart’s Raceworks built?
CS: Probably 18-20 true luxury PreRunners.
ORX: We heard there is something brand new that is even better. Can you share?
CS: I will just say it’s all top of the line and a bunch of cool stuff. This new PreRunner truck features an all aluminum big-block V8 from Dougans Racing Engines. That right there has never been done before. It runs pump gas and makes 780hp. A 6-speed sequential gearbox is controlled with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. James Lin wired all of the electronics which are driven by a Motec. The truck is configured for three seats. The one-off body is all carbon fiber cad designed by Walker Industries. It has an air cleaner pass-through that seals to the hood offering cold clean air. Of course a windshield, air condition, and door locks are included too. This is the most impressive build ever and packaged to the max.
What Does It Take To Build An Ultimate PreRunner?
In case you ever wanted to see what goes into the custom construction of how these trucks are built, here is a near complete Stewarts Raceworks Luxury PreRunner build documented in a five part series. These videos were posted on YouTube in 2010 and are worth a watch.
- First Part: Stewart’s RaceWorks / TSCO – Raptor Luxury Pre-runner
- Second Part: Stewart’s RaceWorks / TSCO – Raptor Luxury Pre-runner
- Third Part: Stewart’s RaceWorks / TSCO – Raptor Luxury Pre-runner
- Fourth Part: Stewart’s RaceWorks / TSCO – Raptor Luxury Pre-runner
- Fifth Part Stewart’s RaceWorks / TSCO – Raptor Luxury Pre-runner
- Stewart’s RaceWorks / TSCO – Raptor Luxury Pre-runner on the dyno
Jake Velasco – JVRP (Jake Velasco Race Prep): Truck builder and Race Prep Shop.
In the world of off-road desert racing, Jake Velasco is widely known by big team racers who demand the best. Spending top dollar to make sure they are getting the best of the best is commonplace. Jake and his in-house shop, JVRP, run an exclusive clientele list that offers a boutique service of top tier race prep. After locking in a contract for the year, no new customers are taken on.
Andy McMillin has contracted with JVRP for the last two years having at least three of his PreRunners serviced and regularly prepped for mission critical race operations.
ORX: What does it take to maintain one of these trucks and do a full race prep?
Jake Velasco Race Prep: “Money! No really. It gets crazy expensive. And it takes time. A lot of time. We can expect three hundred hours for a proper tear down, and reinstallation of the components. If we are pulling the motor, it can take even longer because you would have to pull the windshield.”
JVRP’s Primary Business Comes From Prepping Race Cars And Ultimate PreRunners
“All suspension is broken down and disassembled. We magnaflux and crack check everything. We install new brakes. The engines are pulled every seven to eight thousand miles. I keep a running log book to track the data. Everything has a born on date and a projected shelf life where we plan ahead to replace with brand new components. “
ORX: Beyond prep and maintenance, we have seen you build some pretty awesome PreRunner trucks. Can you share a little bit about some of these vehicles and what makes them unique?
JVRP: “You must be talking about Alan Pflueger’s 1981 C10 NORRA race truck. We started with a TSCO 6100 bulkhead and front clip. I punched that into the truck’s stock frame rails. It fits the nostalgic criteria, has the classic look, but with modern trophy truck performance. It is super unique! Pushing out 680hp at the crank, the truck with body weighs 6100lbs wet and race ready.”
“It can take anywhere from 1,000 to over 1,500 man hours for a ground up build. Everything is hand built and put into place. We are hand fabricating everything, each tube. Buying the components is the easy part. Planning it out and fitting everything together is very time consuming.”
“The hardest part is the design. It has to be very well thought out and easy to work on. This truck has three unique dash pods that come out and disconnect from their cannon plugs. The modular configuration is clean and makes for easy prep. We also designed it to have rapid gear changes and under drive options. It makes everything so much easier and also competitive come race time.”
Rob Lindsay – RJ Fabrication and Truck Builder
We have interviewed Rob Lindsay several times before. We recognized his ability of mixing genres, building high horsepower cars and now crossing over into high-performance off-road. The very high-end vehicles he and his shop build are functional works of art.
ORX: We know you prefer ground up builds. What are some of the biggest challenges in building one offs from the ground up?
RJFAB: The biggest challenge starting from the ground up is the canvas that is chosen and trying to package everything needed in that particular vehicle. The suspension and cage and chassis design comes pretty easy. It is trying to get a decent amount of fuel, spare tires, tools and all the amenities inside such as air conditioning, heated seats and any other luxury stuff that someone wants.
ORX: Some of the other sources we have talked to are very racer oriented. What are the biggest differences in some of your truck builds?
RJFAB: The differences in our builds not being racer oriented is that I come from a background of building drag race cars and hot rods where the fit and finish is paramount. There are several top notch builders out there and the field is very competitive but I think that taking things to the next level as far as fit and finish sets us apart from some of the other builders. A lot of our builds are kind of vintage, so we build these vehicles specifically to cherish that classic flavor but are still very modern in design and execution. You will not see that anywhere else right now.
Rob Lindsay Builds His Ultimate PreRunners With a Hot Rod Flare
ORX: Where does your inspiration come from?
RJFAB: Our inspiration comes from several different genres which show in our work. Since we started out building drag race cars and hot rods we pull from that. Some of the builders that have inspired me over the years are Troy Trepanier from Rad Rides by Troy, and The Ring Brothers, and a guy named Scott Sullivan. He started building some of the first prized street hot rods back in the late 80s early 90s. Many years ago a lot of older people would know him by name, but the younger generation probably might have never heard of him. Most of these guys build high-end high horsepower street cars and hot rods. We have pulled from that scene and brought it over into the off-road industry.
ORX: What are the biggest expenses in building a high-end PreRunner?
RJFAB: Some of the biggest expense that comes with building a Luxury PreRunner is the fact that it has to have all the components and do everything that a race track does yet have all the amenities of a new Lexus inside. So, not only are you building a race track. You are building a race truck with full custom interior, air conditioning, and heated seats. We drop in all of the latest electronics and communications like a GPS. Race trucks have all of this too, but we are incorporating everything into a custom aluminum dash that is all stitched and covered in upholstery. All the closeout panels that have to be done in the interior to make it airtight. It just drives the cost up.
ORX: Is there anything else you would like to add?
RJFAB: The biggest thing that I want to say is that technology has brought us so far. It is really a good time to be able to build stuff. I am excited to see the direction the industry goes. I believe there are a lot more things that are going to become technologically advanced for the average builder such as engine controls, race pack PDM‘s, and things of that nature. If you think about it, twenty years ago, fuel injection was pretty much unattainable for most people. Now it has become almost an everyday thing that is completely bolt-on and the average garage guy can do it. Like I said, it is a good time to be able to build stuff.
Jerry Zaiden – Camburg Engineering and Off Road Racer
ORX: There is an entire industry built around the PreRunner scene and category. Camburg was an early innovator that was essential to growing the segment. Can you share with us how that came about?
JZ: “A real PreRunner is basically a race vehicle that a racer uses to prerun the course. That is not feasible for most, so we wanted to bridge the gap. When we started, you could not just go out and buy the parts, so we started making them on our own.
“At the time the best off-road trucks used I-beam suspension. Coilovers were pretty hard to come buy and only racers had mostly custom stuff until Bilstein began mass production. They were making them for Ivan Stewart’s Pro Trucks. We began making components, paired with those shocks, and it snowballed from there.”
“In 1997, the 1998 Ford Ranger model came equipped with an a-arm front suspension. We started making long travel kits for the Rangers and F-150s. The trucks needed wide fenders, so we partnered up with a fiberglass manufacturer. With our suspension, the shocks, the wheels, the tires, and the wide bodies, the look was complete. The whole scene had mass appeal and was obtainable to the younger crowd. It blew up and took off.”
“Back then, there were only a few other brands that were interested in this category. There was Downing Off-Road, Fabtech which was mostly lift kits, and Autofab. All of these guys were pretty set in their ways. We wanted to go in our own direction and build high quality performance products that the category demanded.”
Camburg’s Main Business Both Thrived Off Of And Helped Build The PreRunner Scene
ORX: What was the main influence with Camburg as a company and a brand?
JZ: “We were all about building rad parts and pushing the envelope on high quality off-road components. We set up relationships with leading brands in the same category to offer the complete package and having the parts on the shelf. It worked because everyone wanted to get away from big lifted trucks and were moving towards performance. They were tired of turning into a parking lot and having their truck fall apart.”
ORX: What are the most important functions of a PreRunner off-road vehicle?
JZ: “Most important is the vehicle’s reliability, comfort, and safety. After that it is the ride quality, and of course the performance ability. If it covers these categories then it is good to go. There are several categories and things to consider beyond that. It should be low cost to operate. Will it be vintage I-beam style suspension with a raspy V8, or a modern Trophy Truck style PreRunner?”
ORX: That is leading to our next question. What is an Ultimate PreRunner to you?
JZ: “Its the one we are building now. We are taking a vintage cab and putting it on our Kinetik Trophy Truck chassis. It will have all the key parts; Fox, Moruzzi, It will be a true trophy truck with a cab!”
ORX: What do you see for the future of these vehicles?
JZ: “Four-wheel-drive has always been around in the off road scene. There are more and more racers going to four-wheel-drive. Camburg Engineering has developed some impressive all-wheel-drive portals that are the perfect addition for a million dollar PreRunner.”
Jason McNeil – FiberwerX and Off Road Racer
“Most people have no idea how much time it takes to build one of these trucks. You could easily build a complete custom home and move in with months to spare before you could ever complete a Luxury PreRunner.”
“They are tools in our desert racing tool box. A legit PreRunner is an essential tool to achieve success in Baja style off-road desert racing. The ability to prerun in comfort and not beat myself up has changed the game for my program. I have a couple vehicles that we use to prerun now, and it completely enhanced our performance. We were always competitive. Now I feel like we are heading into each race with a good chance to win.”
“PreRunning has to happen only days before the race instead of weeks ahead of time like it used to. The course changes very quickly. Being fresh is critical to race day success.”
“There are only four to five manufacturers in the world that are building super legit PreRunners. I am talking about off-road Ferraris.”
ORX: That is funny Jason. We have heard that same terminology used by your pal Jason Duncan. I understand you actually purchased that truck he built and raced it a couple of times.
Jason McNeil FWX: “Oh man! Yes. That truck was awesome. We got it and upgraded it a little here and there. We put a new clip on the front and then a new cab after that to convert it to the current body style. It turned out great and was exactly what I needed for the race program and to help brand the company. We took it to a CODE race for support. The Trophy Truck ended up having issues, and I ran the PreRunner in the Unlimited Class. We won!”
McNeil’s First Ultimate PreRunner Went Through Several Evolutions
ORX: Tell us about what you got in the stable now.
JMFWX: “My FiberwerX blue Raptor took four years. Three truck builders were involved. Jimmy Wietzel built the chassis. Mark Newhan handled the plumbing, accessory plate, and performance. TSCO did all of the finish work. The truck was used to prerun for only two races and already has over 2,300 hard off-road miles. I also have a Truggy that I like a lot. It really helps to have one we can go run hard and not have to worry about beating up the Raptor all of the time.”
ORX: How has the PreRunner scene influenced your company FiberwerX and the products you make?
JMFWX: “That is easy. FiberwerX would not be the company it is today if it was not for the off-road PreRunner category. Way back when we started, ninety percent of the products we made and sold were going on street driven off-road style trucks. It was completely essential to our business and we became very successful offering products that the marketplace desired.”
“Since then, FiberwerX has become a trend setter designing body panels that cover all truck makes and models. Our late model street products are especially popular, but we sell a lot of race products too.”
Ultimate PreRunner Conclusion
After hearing from the experts, the general consensus is that an Ultimate PreRunner must feature three things. Performance, reliability, and comfort. Off Road Xtreme would like to add form to the end of that, we think that a vehicle of this caliber should most definitely look rad to match.
Thank you to all of the industry experts that took the time to share with us and make a contribution.
Studio Photography Provided by Bryant Lambert and BW Production Studios.
Photography of Alan Pflueger’s JVRP Built Race Truck Provided by Art Eugenio and GetSome Photo.
Photography of FiberwerX PreRunner Trucks Provided by FiberwerX.