Twenty-six years later, O.J. Simpson still has onlookers flocking to the fence to get a glimpse as he goes by.
No, not the real Orenthal James Simpson, but a two-door Ford Explorer grudge machine with one of the best vehicle names in the game.
Ironically enough, on the anniversary of the famous chase through Los Angeles, we sat down with Mississippi native and street/grudge racer Chris Jones to talk about his gnarly 2002 Explorer that is already earning a reputation and gaining ample attention — albeit on a bit lesser scale — like Simpson did in Al Cowlings’ white Bronco all those years ago.
Jones’ Explorer truly stand out from the pack — few would suspect an Explorer pulling in the gate of a drag strip to be there to race, not spectate, and no doubt it’s the tallest vehicle in the lanes. But not only is it there to race, as it proved in its debut on nitrous, it can really boogie.
“If you go the racetrack right now, you’ll see 2,000 Mustangs, 3,000 Camaros, you’ll see old and new body-style S-10s….it’s just something that you don’t see every day, and I like for other people to think outside the box, so that’s what I tried to do,” Jones says. “When I was building it, everyone was telling me it was too heavy, it’s crazy, it’s not going to work, why would you waste your money? But I wanted to build it show everyone that, look, you can have your idea, stay true to what your idea is, don’t detour because someone is saying this and saying that, and look how good it turned out.”
Topping the whole thing off is the name — a comical reference to the white Ford SUV made eternally memorable on our television sets back in 1994.
“I came up with the name before I even bought the truck. I wanted to find a white vehicle, a newer model two-door Explorer. I own a small salvage yard and I said if I could find one, I was going to build it. I looked on Facebook Marketplace and found one in Memphis — the lady that owned it said something happened with the motor, and so I ended up buying it for $800 and brought it back here and started working on it,” Jones says.
Power for the 3,391-lb. machine is supplied by a 465 cubic-inch small-block Ford with 10.5:1 compression built by Craft Race Engines, with a 200-shot nitrous plate kit from Induction Solutions. The setup, freshened by Barnes Racing Engines, is topped with a 950 cfm Quick Fuel carburetor, and an MSD Power Grid handles the ignition duties. Jones runs the truck on 93 octane pump gas on the street and swaps over to 112 or 116 when he needs to spray it at the track. A PTC Powerglide and nitrous converter transfer the power and torque to an 8.8 rear width 4.30 gears. Weld Racing Alumastar wheels turn Mickey Thompson 275 Pro Drag Radials.
Armed with a plasma cutter, Jones removed the factory traction bar setup and then called up Viking Performance for a set of custom coil-over shocks he paired with factory leaf springs and Caltrac bars. Viking coil-overs are also used up front. All told, aside from the engine and transmission, Jones performed virtually the entire build himself in his garage.
If what you see on the outside isn’t impressive enough, wait’ll you open the door and look inside.
Jones has left everything factory — the seats, the carpet, the dash, the door panels, even the floormats. A TCI shifter is located between the seats, and aftermarket gauges and switches have been wired into the dash, so it looks a bit like a racecar, but it also looks a whole lot like a 2002 Ford Explorer you’d put the family in, too.
“I didn’t want to cut out the dash or anything in it. The only thing that doesn’t work is the radio and the air-conditioning…it’s got full carpet, all four seats, the dome light works in it, the hazards, the horn, it is fully functioning,’ Jones explains. “Even the back hatch, that windshield wiper, it’s just spraying water on the window. It is stock….everything looks original. I think that’s why the spectators love it. Ryan Martin, Murder Nova, Chuck [Seitsinger], they were at the track Saturday and I made my pass and they came up there with their cameras and were taking pictures of it and looking at it.”
Jones adds, “It just took off. The name, the look of the truck…the crowd just took it and went with it. You wouldn’t believe it….people came over with their markers, wanted me to sign their shirt over their hat, I was just blown away.”
Jones has made appearances on “Street Outlaw: Memphis” and hopes to get back on the popular Discovery Channel program in the future with his new ride. He’s also been invited by racer Jamie Otts to join the “Memphis 10” street racing group.
After a debut a week prior on motor, Jones made his first run on nitrous last weekend at Byhalia Raceway in Mississippi with the Memphis 10 and immediately won over the packed house of spectators with a wild double-wheelstand unlike anything O.J. and Cowlings did on the L.A. freeway.
“Out on the road, it’ll pull the wheels about 2-inches. With a progressive set at 30-percent at the hit and the ramp at 1.8-seconds, there’s barely any nitrous being sprayed early. As I got off the gas, it reset the progressive and started the cycle over again, so it went back up into a wheelstand a second time. I told people it’s gonna’ fly, and we’ll keep working at it until we can see what it will do.”
All told, Jones says he will be “highly disappointed” if O.J. doesn’t run in the 5.40s in the 1/8-mile.