By Rory Ward
The Rough Riders: In 1991 Dick Landfield pitched an idea to Ford on creating the Biggest SUPER TEAM to ever enter off road racing. The green light was given and a bidding process was sent out to 3 people and Frank DeAngelo would get the job of herding cats. The birth of the Ford “Rough Riders” program had a list of drivers handpicked by DeAngelo and was nothing short of spectacular. Check out this line-up: Rob MacCachren (class 8), John Swift (class 6), Chuck Johnson (class 7s), Manny Esquerra (Class 7), Dave Ashley (Class 4), Dan Smith (Class 3), Jack Johnson and even the legend himself Parnelli Jones. These racers would share the same sponsors, pit stops, logistics, resources and liveries.
One team that seemed to really stand out, to me anyways, was the Paul and Dave Simon entry or Simon & Simon as they came to be known. They would start out in class 7 4×4 but soon move to the highly competitive unlimited class (class 1). DeAngelo worked tirelessly to put all the right pieces in place and got this well-oiled machine jump started in only a short amount of time. The work load was staggering but they had the right guy for the job.
Simon & Simon: Oh sweet Jesus, watching the Simons race that unlimited truck was quite the treat, those two guys were so competitive it usually wasn’t the other racers they were competing against, it seemed it was more about who had the faster lap time between the two. The brothers would reel in their competitiveness to a point but boy could those guys throw a truck around the desert. The best I can recall, it all started in the mid 80’s driving a class 7s (stock) mini truck. Next thing you know they had 2 trucks so they could race against each other. Towards the late 80’s they had a new class 7 4×4 built and decided it would be better to team up together. They racked up the wins and some championships, all the while gathering the attention from Ford and BFGoodrich tires. In 1991 DeAngelo made the call to the Simons and offered them a spot on the Rough Riders team.
The Simons won a Championship in class 7 4×4 that first year under the Rough Riders colors but they were getting bored with the mini truck. Construction of the new class 1 unlimited truck had already started in early to mid-1991 and would be ready for the 1992 SCORE racing season. The Simons would raise some eyebrows at the first race in Parker, including mine. Remember, class 7 4×4 is a limited class and sometimes it’s like watching paint dry. I’m not trying to be disrespectful but after watching class 1’s and class 8’s go flying through the desert at 90 mph, watching a somewhat stock mini truck bounce its way down the race course at 35-40 mph isn’t what I call all that exciting. So keeping that in mind when I first saw the Simons and their new class 1, I thought to myself “these guys are outta their league”. Boy did I soon eat those words.
For the first half of the season the Simons showed a lot of speed, and I mean A LOT. They would usually come around every lap missing at least one body panel, then another and another. By the time the race was over these guys were lucky to have 1 body panel left on the truck. Erin Bryant (Turn 2 TV) and I use to go to the races together filming and taking pictures at each race. Our ongoing bet was usually what would be the first body panel missing off the Simons truck. The joke was soon on us when the Simons showed they were contenders and started winning. The 1992 season was filled with promise but something would always keep them from a strong finish. At the 25th annual BAJA 1000, the Simons shocked everyone (but themselves) and won the class 1 and Overall title, solidifying their spot in off road racing royalty and proving they were the real deal.
The Truck: The Simons hired Russ Wernimont, a guy who worked his way up from the Cal Wells Toyota PPI team, then onto the Timerider truck with Steve Kelley. He was a very talented builder with a few custom luxury prerunners under his belt, along with one of his best builds at that time, the Venable Ford for Robby Gordon. Russ, Eddie Frisk and John Hoffman would build the monster Russ had been thinking about in his head for quite some time. The truck was basically a full tube chassis, 4 link rear suspension and boxed front suspension with a fiberglass Ford body. Wheel travel was approximately 20” 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. Russ had to build just about everything for this truck by hand, and that included the shocks. Bilstein was able to supply him with some parts but the shock bodies (3.25” OD) and pistons were custom. The 800hp Ford engine was pushed back about a ¼ of the way into the cab to help with weight distribution.
The Simons would also be running the new 37” BFGoodrich Project tires that had only been out for about a year. Wernimont’s years of experience building and prepping off road vehicles were being proven in the deserts of the Southwest and Baja.
With the amount of new unlimited trucks being built for class 1, SCORE decided to create The Trophy Truck class for the 1994 season. Class 1 was essentially a buggy class, not a truck class and the buggy guys were complaining that technically these vehicles did NOT fit into their class. Over the years a few would enter class 1 in a truck but those vehicles were not as sophisticated as the trucks being built for Ivan Stewart, Robby Gordon, Jimmy Smith, Frank Vessels and Walker Evans. The Simons were in prime position by 1994 because their truck was well proven and they had plenty of seat time to vie for that coveted Overall win at the desert races.
As they say, “All good things must come to an end” and that was pretty much the truth for the Simons. The writing was on the wall for the Rough Riders after DeAngelo stepped down from running the team in 1994. They managed to keep it alive till the end of the 1996 season but now the majority of the funding was gone and the “Super Team” was no more. The Simons had been racing full time since the mid 80’s and were probably getting a little burnt out. Knowing they would have to start spending A LOT of their own money again, they decided that maybe now was the time to step back from racing and start focusing more on family and their striving construction business. The truck and the transporter was sold to a team in Mexico and has changed hands a few times over the years. Rumor also has it the truck is being rebuilt for the 6100 Trophy Truck Spec class and will be running the Rough Rider Simon & Simon livery.
Justin Lofton: How Method talks these guys into doing this stuff is beyond me but I couldn’t be happier. Their latest idea was to talk Justin into changing his older Jimco Trophy Truck to look like the 1992-1996 Ford F-150 body style and use the Simon & Simon Livery. After he agreed to that they then told him he should race it at the 2021 NORRA Mexican 1000. BRILLIANT!! What better guy to pay homage to the Simons than Justin Lofton, the guy who can also throw a Trophy Truck around the desert……makes my pants angry just thinking about it. To me, Justin reminds me of the Simons, the way he attacks the race course, taking chances with that checkers or wreckers type attitude. I’m sure I’d have some old school memories floating around in my head watching that truck being tossed around the desert as he throws caution to the wind. Maybe Erin and I should make it a point to head down to San Felipe during the Mexican 1000 and watch Ol’ Justin wheel that beast around the sands whoops while we bet on which body panel will be missing by the time he reaches us…..