The thrill of speed and slides, the challenge of a dynamic dirt course, and the incredible action fender-to-fender off road racing is about to get a lot more accessible thanks to a group of enterprising Ultra4 racers. Introducing “Bro-Lites;” an upcoming spec-Ford Ranger racing series that could be your ticket to affordable off-road competition.
Bro-Lites are born from American-market 2WD Ford Rangers; 1989 to 1997 trucks generally referred to as second and third generation models. After welding the rear differential they get stripped, fitted with a robust roll cage, long-travel suspension, a fuel cell, and they’re good to go. No engine modifications outside maintenance are allowed.
These pickups are cheap, easy to find, cheap, easy to work on, cheap, and I don’t think anyone’s ever felt a pang of remorse taking an acetylene torch to one. And once an old Ranger is stripped down, it feels way faster than they have a right to be. What better base for an entry-level off-road racing series?
Bro-Lites are the brainchild of Ultra4 racer Scott Decker. I caught up with him shaking his Ranger down with some of his friends and competitors after the Ultra4 event at Rausch Creek, a 1,000 acre off-road park in eastern Pennsylvania with a “high-speed” area for race truck testing. Here’s what he had to say about getting the idea of an accessible Spec Ranger series off the ground:
“Inspiration came from the TORC series in Charlotte a few years back. We are always looking to have more racing experience. Time behind the wheel is what wins races. We were looking for another way to fine tune driving skills as well as satisfy our competitive spirits. A level playing field of a true spec class like the Bro-Lites is the best way to have door to door competition. (In our practice run) all three trucks were basically exactly the same pace once we got used to the track. This brings out driver skill and will be very interesting once there are 10-15 trucks at a time.”
Ultra4 trucks are expensive to complicated to build and expensive to race. That high cost of entry keeps a lot of potential talent out of off-road racing. Even if you can afford the sport, not too many folks are keen to drop $120,000 on something they may or may not enjoy.
Bro-Lite Rangers offer an easy way for you to casually race for the sake of experience, or get a taste of dirt before you make the commitment to a full-on racing effort in bigger leagues.
Fellow Ultra4 racer and Bro-Liter Tim Diekmann said the trucks can come together “for a couple grand if you know where to get parts,” and that he and his co-founders hope to set up a system where people could get involved for even less money by renting them.
Diekmann went into a little more depth on how the truck comes together:
“Roll cage geometry on mine specifically was built 100% based on ease of manufacturing. The major safety items in these trucks are good triangulation behind the seats and solid door bars. The probability of a true rollover isn’t as high as contact hits to the doors from other trucks. That was the focus of my design. Otherwise, nothing really special about it. Shock placement is basically ‘where it fits.'”
What kind of driving experience does that leave you with? With a full-face, bugs-in-your-teeth smile on your face.
2012 King Of The Hammers champion Erik Miller, another Bro-Lite supporter, brought his own Ranger around the Pennsylvania corn field for some shakedown with Diekmann and Decker. More importantly, he let me have a shot behind the wheel of his rig.
I booted the throttle. What was left of the Ranger bodywork rattled like the crushed PBR cans that were rolling around the floorboards, but the seats were rock-solid to the reinforced frame. The shocks soaked up every rut and rock I could hit (pretty much “all of them”) and throwing down a big, satisfying power slide was as easy as modulating the throttle and flicking the wheel.
Had Erik and I been on the track together, I’d have had a much a chance to win the race as the KOH winner. Well, not really… I’d be in the weeds or in last place by lap one. But the prospect of being door-to-door with a pro on the same equipment has got to be enticing to those of you who have the skills to win races, but not the cash to enter them.
Of course, the trucks at Sunday’s practice event spent more time with their hoods up than their throttles to the floor, but there’s still time to work out the kinks.
The first official Bro-Lite event is going down in September, which the organizers you just heard about hope will inspire you to order a Spec Ranger of your own over the winter. They’re hoping to line up a few tracks come spring time and get a real 3 to 4 race series for next season.
Bro-Lite races will probably be piggybacked on established events to get more spectator action and attention, and hopefully more competitors. In the long term, there might even be a short-course scene on the East Coast!