Jimco Racing is known for its 40 years of innovation, but off-road racing was very different when Jim Julson began building cars in 1975. Desert racing was in its infancy, but at the same time, it was hugely popular. Malcolm Smith and Dr. Bud Feldkamp were the fastest on four wheels at the Baja 1000, driving a Hi-jumper VW.
Gene Hirst teamed with Rick Mears to win the Mint 400 in their Sandmaster, Hustler. Both Hi-jumper and Sandmaster are no longer in production, but the Julson’s Jimco race cars are still in high demand.
Jimco has managed to thrive for 40 years by setting the pace in competition and leading the way in innovation. They also take care of their customers, with complete repair and preparation services.
Jimco has many championships to their credit and the list of names who have piloted their cars over the decades is practically a who’s who of off-road racing.
Jimco, the race car manufacturer that builds Trophy Trucks, Open Wheel Class 1 cars, Class 10s, Aussie Prolites, 6100 Spec Trophy Trucks, Short course trucks, Dakar/Rally Raid vehicles, truck and buggy prerunners, even UTVs, came from a humble beginning.
Jim decided to try his hand at off-road racing with a purchased race car. The first time out, he broke it. A civil engineer by trade, he figured he could do better. Jim had the perfect combination of creativity, technical knowledge and hands-on experience needed to excel at building competitive race cars.
The desert has humbled many car builders who relied on theoretical physics alone. Jim proved his theories in remote desert terrain instead of on a calculator. His first car was fast and soon became popular. As he built cars for himself and others, Jimco became established as a premiere manufacturer.
Jim’s son, Mike, started working for his dad in 1981. Jim had been running the business as a sideline, but Mike had to support his family through the race shop.
“We needed to make it more of a business, not just a hobby,” said Mike, “We were the first manufacturer to fully develop the A-arm front suspension for buggies. Our successes lead to other things like Dakar, the Australian market, and custom prerunners. It went nuts, we were selling a ton of cars and winning a lot of races. Our research and development is never-ending but we live and breathe racing.”
Our successes lead to other things like Dakar, the Australian market, and custom prerunners. – Mike Julson
Jimco’s independent front suspension designs soon made the beam setup obsolete on unlimited vehicles. As the cars became more refined, speeds in the desert increased.
“Ten years ago the average speeds were 50 to 60 mph,” said Mike, “Today it’s 90 mph and top speeds are way over 100 mph. People get excited about supercars like Lamborghini and Ferrari. When you consider the materials, engineering, craftsmanship and performance of our Trophy Truck, it’s on par with an exotic supercar.”
However, while supercars have to perform on flat roads, Trophy Trucks are entirely dynamic. They have to respond to driver inputs while traversing four-foot deep holes, rocks and ruts that would destroy a supercar in no time.
With the influx of high-tech materials and sophisticated components, top speeds are not the only things that have skyrocketed. The cost of a turnkey Trophy Truck is around $500,000. A Class 1 car is somewhat of a bargain at only $275,000 to $300,000.
The technology is the same on both but Trophy Trucks are larger and include the rear axle assembly that can cost $15,000. Engines are $50,000 to $60,000 each and you will need a few of them if you want to make it to each race prepared.
It’s kind of ironic that I can’t afford to buy one of my own trucks – Mike Julson, Jimco Racing
The same methods Jim pioneered are used at Jimco to this day. “Our success in racing has helped us learn what works and what doesn’t,” said third generation car builder Matt Julson, “Racing expedites our R&D process. We have always done extensive testing in the dirt and while competing. We have our preferred test loop that has seen countless hours of testing.”
“Any little change we make can be felt; we know instantly when the slightest changes have made an impact. We are constantly refining our designs.”
“Take Justin Lofton’s new Trick Truck that won the Mint 400. It’s our third generation design and the next one we build will be different. We built eight first gen trucks, then we took a bunch of weight out when we went to the gen two; about 700 pounds.”
“We went lighter to save wear and tear on the driveline which reduces costs for the team. The Gen Three like Lofton’s has two spare tires and a new gearbox based steering system.”
Something you will notice about Jimco’s cars over the years; they are varied. Many different chassis designs, drivetrains, suspension configurations and body styles exist in every type of car. While some manufacturers have a signature look, Jimco’s are incredibly diverse.
They do share one trait, they are all competitive. Many Jimco builds that are 10 or more years old, are still running up front. Their lasting performance makes Jimco owners extremely loyal to the brand.
Justin Lofton is a second generation racer that like his Father Bob, has never raced anything but a Jimco. He started in Jimco buggies before stepping up his gen three Trick Truck.
“A new truck spends about six months in fabrication,” said Matt, “It takes roughly 1,500 man hours to complete. It takes time when you are paying attention to every tiny detail. Even in a slow year we will build eight or nine vehicles from scratch; 15 when we are busy.”
“The last couple years have been healthy. Trophy Truck fields are around 40 or 50 entrants and Class 10 will have 45 cars; racing is in a good state.”
“In addition to the new builds, I would say about 25 percent of our customers also have us do their race prep. A lot of them are hands-on and prefer to do their own. They like the entire operation under the same roof.”
Matt continued, “Our shop is split into two sections, one for new builds, the other side is for prep.
When the cars or trucks come in after a race they are in all different conditions. Typically it will cost in the range of $30,000 to $50,000 for a full prep. If there is damage, it goes up. Johnny Buss had a mild rollover at the Mint 400. The damage was only to a couple panels so we didn’t need to do anything major.
Typically it will cost in the range of $30,000 to $50,000 for a full race prep. – Matt Julson
That can run to $100,000 depending on what components need to be replaced.”
Jimco’s chassis designs and construction techniques have been proven countless times but the crashes sustained by Troy Vest at the Mint 400 and a pair of rollovers suffered by Lofton have demonstrated the structural integrity built in.
Tubing wall thickness, diameter, pick up points and tube junctions are all optimized to provide safety and durability. Jimco’s chassis and suspension design process has been augmented by the use of solid modeling and computer analysis.
Finite element analysis is only beneficial if used correctly. Accuracy is entirely dependent on the stress and loading data used.
Jimco has the real world experience to back up what they simulate in the virtual world. It shows when they end up on the podium or unfortunately, when things go sideways. Vest and Lofton survived brutal crashes without serious injury.
The enhanced safety built in is not readily seen, but if you spend time looking around the shop, you will find all kinds of tricks and proven technology.
Jimco truck bodies have a very pronounced slope to the hood that allows excellent vision out the front.
Reading the terrain is critical at high speeds; greater vision is a huge benefit. Inside the vehicle, some of their seats are built on sliders.
If the driver or co-rider needs to get out during the race, they can slide the seat back and unbuckle. When they get back in, they buckle the belts and slide the seat forward.
They don’t have to fumble with tensioning the belts. Electronics have become substantial on these vehicles. Cooling fans, lighting, and engine management all put a huge draw on the electrical system.
Jimco uses specially designed power distribution modules and breakers. Breaker switches will shut off, but unlike fuses that blow, they can be re-set.
The power distribution units are smart enough to shut down non-critical systems so the vehicle can limp to the pits. Once there, a quick diagnosis via laptop computer will pinpoint the problem.
Jimco has been at the forefront of competition and design for three generations of the Julson family. After a tour of their facilities and insight from Mike and Matt Julson, the next 40 years look to be just as successful as the last.