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jueves, septiembre 28, 2023
HomeOff-Road VehiclesSimon & Simon Truck Returns to its Former Glory -

Simon & Simon Truck Returns to its Former Glory –

The Rough Riders were considered the most dominant force in both desert and short-course off-road racing from 1991 through 1995, responsible for over 20 driver and manufacturer championships. The Rough Riders were also the first factory-backed team in the sport, with the full support of the Ford Motor Company and BFGoodrich. But one truck stood out among the rest that would go down in the history books to be considered the first-ever Trophy Truck. That was the Simon & Simon Ford Rough Riders truck, designed and built by Russ Wernimont. It is an iconic piece of off-road racing history that won the Baja 1000 in 1992, setting a record as the fastest truck down the Baja Peninsula, a record that still stands true today at 16 hours and 53 minutes. But what made the Simon & Simon Ford Rough Riders truck so iconic? How was it restored back to its former glory?

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Paul and Dave Simon were fresh off their third championship in class 7 4×4 that first year under the Rough Riders colors but soon moved to the highly competitive unlimited class (class 1). Russ Wernimont, an established fabricator in the early 90s, was commissioned by the Simon Brothers to build the Simon & Simon Rough Rider’s Trophy Truck in 1991. Prior to this project, Russ had already built a few other notable trucks, such as Larry Maddox’s A-arm Jeep Grand Cherokee and Robby Gordon’s Class 8 Ford F150. However, the Simon & Simon Ford Rough Riders truck was his most influential creation, as it was the first true unlimited tube chassis A-arm truck with no constraints on how it was built to compete in Class 1. The Trophy Truck Class wouldn’t be introduced until three years later at the 1994 SCORE Baja 1000.

Russ built the truck alongside Eddie Frisk and John Hoffman, developing the full tube chassis based on a 120″ wheelbase to have it finished in December 1991, and the result was nothing short of a masterpiece, something with many firsts in our sport. The truck ended up as a tube chassis complete with a 4-link rear suspension and boxed front A-arm suspension. Wheel travel was approximately 25″ in the front and around 28″ in the rear. For 1991, those numbers were impressive, but if you don’t have the shocks to handle that much travel, it doesn’t really matter. Bilstein was able to supply him with some parts, but Russ really took the shock package to a whole new level. Complete with a custom smooth body reservoir shock and coilover internal bypass shock on each corner, Russ built the first internal bypass shocks with titanium springs but also the first to introduce the slapper arm bump stop, as seen on many other trucks decades later. 

A 700hp Ford engine sourced from a Sprint car was pushed back about 10″ of the way into the cab to help with weight distribution sending that power through a Dana 60 axle with a 70-gallon fuel cell hanging off the back. With the fiberglass body and custom paneling to increase aerodynamics, it was reported that the Simon & Simon truck had a top speed of 130 MPH, weighing in at just shy of 3800 lbs. It was fast and is still fast by today’s standards. At the time, Robby Gordon and Bryan Kudela were developing their unlimited trucks, which would go on to be known as the Valvoline F150 and the MacPherson Big Mac. Rumor has it, Robby went for a ride in the Simon & Simon truck and went back to the drawing board on a few things. But we don’t blame him; those changes led him to develop the winningest truck ever, the Valvoline truck that is now owned by Mark Post, known as Black Diamond. 

The first race for the Simon brother’s new Rough Riders truck was a few short months after the truck was finished to take on the 1992 Parker 400, which resulted in a DNF. They were often seen up front with barely any body panels left on the truck on, battling it out with Ivan Stewart, Robby Gordon, and Larry Ragland but constantly ran into a string of bad luck. The team believed it to be superstitious and blamed it on ESPN reporter Spencer Lowe, who would interview the Simon & Simon crew during a race and would DNF shortly after that every race he talked to him. They believed it so much that they eventually banned him from their pits during the 1992 Baja 1000, it worked out for them in their favor taking the overall win. Paul and Dave would set a record as the fastest truck down the Baja Peninsula, a record which still stands true today at 16 hours and 53 minutes with an average speed of 61 mph.

What made this truck so innovative was Russ’ imagination to push the boundaries of what was possible in off-road technology, essentially creating something out of nothing. Instead of conforming to a factory chassis, he had a blank canvas that he built into a race truck that was well-balanced and capable of winning races. We can confidently say that this truck set the stage for what a modern trophy truck would become. 

The Simon brothers were able to sustain their racing endeavors and reportedly achieved decent outcomes. However, when the Rough Riders disbanded, the Simon brothers only competed for one more season before ultimately calling it quits towards the end of the 1996 season. They cited the significant amount of time required for racing and the demands of their concrete construction business as reasons for their decision. This marked the end of Simon & Simon Racing.

30 years have passed since the inaugural race for the Simon & Simon Rough Riders F150 raced in Class 1 at the 1992 SCORE International Baja 1000. It raced in Class 1 because, at the time, it was truly unlimited, as the Trophy Truck class wouldn’t come until 1994, coincidentally, the year a Wernimont truck also won that race which was the exact replica of the Simon Truck built within three months for Jimmy Smith of Ultra Wheels.

After the 1996 season, the Simon & Simon truck was sold to a team in Mexico, where it raced for many years at local races afterward with a different body on it. Enter Pedro Perez Pliego Ongay, the man who gave this truck a second life; he found the truck near his hometown in Cabo San Lucas and traded a class 10 for the rolling chassis and was originally going to go a different direction with the truck but decided to restore the truck back to its former glory. 

Pedro’s goal for the truck was to make it period-correct and aim to make it original as possible with modern touches such as an LS3 drivetrain. But it is one thing to restore it for a museum, but it is another to build it into something you can go race, and that is exactly what he did. The restoration process of the Simon & Simon Ford Rough Riders truck was not easy, especially when it came to sourcing original or period-correct parts. 

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Pedro was able to source brand new 37″ BFG Projects for this truck by working directly with BF Goodrich on the project. Working with Russ, they rebuilt the original shocks for the truck and ensured everything was working perfectly. The level of detail that was taken to ensure this truck was brought back to its original glory is incredible. Everything from sourcing the original fiberglass molds to finding the original titanium springs for the suspension, Pedro went through this truck with a fine tooth comb, including the original livery most similar to that was used in 1996 painted with the PPG Ford blue. The team even managed to source brand new BFGoodrich Project tires, the same tires that the truck ran during its historic win at the 1992 Baja 1000.

The truck has a few updates here and there but remains mostly original and period correct. The powerplant is now a spec GM LS3 engine backed to a Turbo 400 Culhane transmission complete with Pro-Am hubs, Jamar Brakes, and a Tubeworks rear end. Pedro finished the restoration just in time to race the 2022 NORRA 1000 and is racing again this year, except this year, he invited Russ and his son, a well-seasoned UTV racer, Carson Wernimont, to tag along and drive the truck down to La Paz.

The Simon & Simon Ford Rough Riders truck holds a special place in off-road racing history as it was the first actual tube chassis A-arm trophy truck that was truly unlimited. Its innovative design and engineering paved the way for modern-day trophy trucks, and its success on the track helped to establish the Rough Riders as one of the most dominant teams in off-road racing during the early 1990s.

Today, the restored Simon & Simon Ford Rough Riders truck is a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of the off-road racing community. It serves as a reminder of the sport’s rich history and the many individuals and teams who have contributed to its evolution over the years. The truck is a true icon of off-road racing. Its innovative design and engineering, along with its historic win at the 1992 Baja 1000, have earned it a place in the annals of racing history. The recent restoration of the truck by Pedro Perez and his team is a testament to the enduring legacy of this remarkable vehicle, and a tribute to the many individuals and teams who have contributed to the sport of off-road racing over the years.

Bonus Images:

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