By Ray Alexander • Also see Jeepspeed Allpar Outlaws at the 2012 BlueWater Desert Challenge
One evening, several men sat around a lonely campfire in the Mojave Desert. They were members of a team that experienced less than stellar execution during the race. With no finger pointing or calling anyone out, these gentlemen concluded, “We could do better than this team.” About a half-cord of wood was burned in bringing this idea to fruition; in California that wood had a street value of $200. Purely conjecture on my part, but possibly some alcohol was consumed prior to reaching this decision. Behold, the All J race team came to life.
During 2013, the All J Team built a Jeep; if things go well on February 6, 2014, they will race in the Ultra4 event King of the Hammers in Johnson Valley, CA. This place was selected for the difficulty that some rocky areas present. Most people would look at the rocks; note the sizes and numbers before saying, “I can go around that.” Meanwhile, a true Jeeper had already made it over the first two boulders, the first one the size of a water buffalo, the second was more like a semi-tractor.
The team is large. My access to the group is through “MoparNorm,” that is, Norm Layton. The vehicle number is 4540 owned by Quinn Thomas, who is also the co-driver. The driver is Mike Bedwell; he raced sprint cars at Ascot Park and Perris. (Two things that I would like to do; fly a new crop duster with a turbine engine, and drive a sprint car. The sprint car is doable, but the crop duster not so much. I have talked to people that own them, and I think taking one without permission is the only way.)
Norm Layton is a member of this team and a long time Mopar guy; he owns Sweptline Products and is a sponsor for the vehicle as well. Sweptline restores Power Wagons and does modifications to Jeeps. Norm was directly involved in the vehicle fabrication spending 3-4 days per week at All J in Big Bear, CA. Every detail about this vehicle resides in someone’s head. There are no schematics, no CAD drawings, no written specifications. The design goal was to meet the technical requirements for Hammerking Productions Incorporated’s modified class. The team was unable to obtain a Hemi engine and this vehicle was fitted with a LS1 engine from Fast.
The team carries a collective reputation that has secured them several sponsors; Currie, Yukon, and Falken Tire are all needed for major components. Falken Tire claims to be in the performance tire business to stay. The tires on this vehicle have a one inch thick sidewall, because in off-road racing, the sidewall is a vulnerable area. I have already decided on my next tires for the Dodge, but I might look at Falken for my Corvette providing that they have the proper sizes and speed ratings.
The electrical system is almost totally redundant. It has two batteries, two ignition boxes, similar to NASCAR, two fuel pumps, and two complete electrical distribution systems. I believe it has a single alternator. Maybe a solar panel could be roof mounted. The systems normally run in parallel, but if one system develops a fault it can be isolated from the functioning system via manual switches. It also has two GPS systems, one for close up and the other for looking farther out.
The vehicle was built to have a 50-50 weight distribution with an equal load on all four wheels. To facilitate this load distribution some components are not where you expect to see them. The radiator is in the rear and mounted quite high. The coolant inlet and outlet is via long aluminum tubes, which will aid in bringing down the coolant temperature.
A Detroit locker locks, or causes both wheels to drive, by inflating a bladder. If air pressure is lost, it reverts to an open differential or one-wheel drive. These guys have Yukon Zip Lockers and these lock with the absence of air pressure. If this vehicle suffers a compressor failure it defaults to a locked differential; air pressure is required to unlock the gears. Especially in desert racing, a locked differential is much easier to manage than an open differential.
If you want to win you are going to have flats, if you want to ride around and finish last you might avoid getting one. These tires and wheels are heavy; on this vehicle, the bottom portion of the spare tire carrier is removable, and the tire is secured with a ratchet strap which can lower the tire almost to the ground. This is a time saver and a back saver. Another given is that a lug nut will be dropped, they come off hot! At each wheel there are two extra lug nuts positioned so that the impact wrench can get a straight shot at them. So if a lug nut goes down a rabbit hole or between rocks you have spares readily available, eight in total.
By race time, they will be able to monitor all gauges and a myriad of other things from the pits. Two that I like is speed and that the car is still on the wheels. One of the members is a communications expert and he will assure that the car has constant communications.
The frame is from a TJ, with the wheelbase slightly lengthened. The co-driver is tall; one of the rules requires a 3 inch space between an occupant’s helmet and the roof, so this vehicle is taller than most. Norm thinks that the extra height hides the longer wheelbase. It is all legal, Norm just doesn’t want the competitors to stretch their wheel spacing. At Best in the Desert, the same driver won with a short wheelbase, then won the next race in a Grand Cherokee.
When I arrived everyone was out on a short run. When they came back, all were happy. Norm said, “We out ran and handled better than an unlimited class.”
I heard the owner say, “It’s perfect, I really don’t want to run it any more.”
Well, the Fox Shocks guy was scheduled for a ride, I suppose for shock evaluation. He saddled up and he and Mike went out; in less than two minutes, an alarm sounded and everyone left. A shocking evaluation was performed when Mike rolled the Jeep four times, dislocating a rear control arm. Later I told Mike, “You could have just told me that you didn’t want to take me for a ride.”
Note: The team later discovered that a support for the rear control arm was broken and worn smooth, so it was a mechanical issue rather than driver error.
This vehicle was rolled in the previous test session and suffered more damage that what was apparent today. Two outings, two roll overs, I think they are putting enough effort into covering terrain quickly. Racing harnesses, window nets and other safety gear have been tested. The hood was sectioned to reduce the height, each roll-over removed a little more height. This accident also wiped out a $9 mirror. A few scratches on the framework were the only other visible evidence. The last event started with the vehicle traveling at 80 mph. Wait, the door hinge scooped up a bit of dirt.
Engine power is delivered via an automatic transmission, which will outperform the best clutch-slipping gear-head with a manual transmission every day. The rear brakes can be activated independently via a manual system. The hydraulic brake system has a master cylinder with a transparent reservoir, the brake fluid is so clear it is difficult to determine the level. This car averages 4.5 mpg.
The specifications for vehicles competing in Hammerking Productions Inc. events are stringent, aiming to make the vehicles safe. To aid in your understanding of difficult words like “shall” and “must,” they explain their expectations when they use those words. I am not going to detail the build; I will say a lot of thick metal is welded with good looking beads. I love the rear sway bar; it goes directly through the frame, no loss of motion there.
When I think of security, it is in terms of preventing damage or physical loss. Pit security achieves that, but not in a conventional manner. A five minute penalty is accessed for any non-team member found in the pits. With only team members in the pit nothing is going to walk away or be sabotaged.
The 4540 qualifies next to last in a class of about 50 vehicles, and traffic doesn’t usually improve a desert trail; but if it qualifies mid-pack, it could be a surprise on race day. The trail is 100 feet wide, defined by a GPS track across the desert; while this year’s course hasn’t been announced yet, in a previous year, the course length was 165 miles, with two non-identical laps.
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