Junkyard Challenge Ep. 1: Meet the Players, Trucks & Competition

The saying goes, “A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” Similarly, a truck build of 100+ hours begins with a single wrench. The inaugural K&N Junkyard Challenge kicked off with a bang as the teams officially met for the first time, sizing each other up and realizing that they were in for a monumental struggle.

Four teams, four trucks, and seven days to get those trucks up and running. With a little luck and a lot of sweat, every team had to pull its weight and get its pickup from busted to badass. The late September weather at Southern California’s TCB Ranch was friendly for now, but that could change at any time. And speaking of time, seven days seemed like a lot at first, but the stress became more palpable as the days went on.

Using $2,500 in Summit Racing gift cards and $3,500 in cash to purchase their trucks and junkyard parts, this battle would require more than just fabrication skills. Each team was given a head-start to carefully select their own truck and build strategy to best utilize that budget for the off-road quadrathlon (barrel race, jump contest, tug ‘o war and short course) – taking place at the conclusion of the build phase. However, they still had a limited time to turn those dreams into reality – with no air tools and other limitations from building on-location in the desert.

Would all four teams manage to make the deadline? Or would someone get left out of the running? Host Chad Reynolds made it clear early on what was expected of the teams: “You guys have been given the tools. Now it’s your turn. It’s your time to go build ’em. Get after it!”

Initial Teardown

Teams were well into their teardown stages. Each of the trucks was running and driving, albeit with some concerns. Chief among these were Team Nexgen’s 1993 F-150 and Team Damage Inc’s 1989 F-250. The former suffered a possible spun bearing from a drive around town, while the latter had a very old steering pump that sounded on the verge of giving up.

Before everyone got into the swing of things, we went around and talked to the teams. We wanted to get a sense of where their heads were at, and what their build plans were.

The boys are back in town! Team Damage Inc, Team RSO Performance, Team RaceAnything, and Team Nexgen.

One thing every team was doing was removing the bed. This was an important step for these builds, as the beds were not only a significant amount of weight, but they blocked access to the frame, which was vital to the safety cage construction to come. [Note that teams had to have a truck with bedsides by the end, but what they did to the beds during the build phase was carte blanche.]

Team Damage explained that they were going to take off the F-250’s bed and remove the front suspension to mock up the shocks, as well as remove the auxiliary fuel tank and rear axle. Team RSO already had its bed removed and was taking on the interior, stripping it of everything, down to the last bolt holding the seatbelts to the floor of the ’96 Dodge Ram 1500. Team RaceAnything put their ’04 GMC 2500HD on jack stands and removed the front wheels, while Orie Harmon took on gutting the cabin. Team Nexgen was working on its bedless F-150 and taking care of the cabin and front suspension removal.

Teardown mode – removing the beds, gutting the interiors, and getting an idea on the suspension setups.

So far, everybody was more or less on the same page. Teardown was all about gutting the trucks to their bare essence and working from there. Everyone knew they had to have a safety cage, good shock travel, room for larger tires, and lighter weight.

Teams Talk Strategy

Rylee Walker of Team Damage Inc mocks up the F-250's new shock towers. The raised mounting point means a larger shock can be fitted, and thereby longer shock travel and better off-road performance. Afterwards, the shock tower was tack-welded in place. Sandy and team captain Matt Moghaddam later cycled the suspension to determine full bump and droop.

Things were moving along. Damage Inc was in the process of cycling the suspension on all four corners. “We want to see how much shock travel we can achieve once we have clearance,” said Damage Inc’s Tyler Mitchell. “On the front of the truck, we’re pulling stuff apart so we can get the shock towers set up. We’re going to need to build radius arms that connect to the I-beams, and we need enough clearance for the 37-inch Toyo tires.”

Cycling shock travel is important for an off-road truck like Damage’s F-250. “By figuring out the cycle, we have an idea of where full bump and full droop are,” said Tyler.

RSO's truck in teardown. James Doughty removes the radiator, while Mike Francis inspects the frame and son Tyler Francis tears apart the interior.

Over at RSO, the interior was completely gone (aside from the dashboard). The engine bay was partially deconstructed, with the radiator, A/C condenser, and core support removed. Outside of its missing bed and bumper, the rear of the truck was still in the planning stages, as RSO’s Billy Sykes explained. “The plan is for a four-link setup,” he said. “We still have the leaf springs and shocks in there at the moment, but we’ll take care of those. And we’re also going to swap the rearend gearing to 4.88:1 and weld it so we have a spool.”

Team RaceAnything’s trash pile began to accumulate little by little. Plastic trim, carpet, and more got thrown in as the guys tore into the pickup.

Team RaceAnything and their 2003 GMC 2500 took teardown to the next level. “So far, we’ve got this truck pretty much falling apart,” joked Orie. “We’ve still got to cut the roof off so we can do the cage.”

Yes, you read that right. RaceAnything’s plan revolved around drastic changes to the truck, and one such change was cutting the roof off. This was to be done in a way that it could slide back into position once the cage was finished, and then welded back to the pillars. “We also want to get rid of the independent front and switch to a solid axle,” commented Orie. “Solid axles are what we do up in NorCal, so that’s what we’re doing to this truck.”

As a rule, we required all teams to remove the glass from their builds. Here, Orie takes out the glass from the driver door.

Nexgen wasn’t slouching, either. Their bed gone and front end decomposed, the guys were working the stock axle out of the back. “Things are looking good,” said Nexgen’s Kris Steele. “We’ve got the rear gutted, including the bed and gas tank. The windows are gone, the cab is empty. The truck is pretty close to where we can start building on it. The next steps are mocking up the rearend, getting the leaf springs mocked up and in place, and tearing the bedsides off of the bed.”

Nexgen’s approach was fastidious and noticeably quiet. Where other teams were shouting over the sounds of grinders and hammers, laughing at jokes and teasing each other, Nexgen was silently working on their F-150. The trend continued over much of the build week.

Team Nexgen gets to work, removing the old rearend and knocking out the old leaf spring perches.

Time for Cutting

Damage Inc used aftermarket shock towers to fit their Dirt Logic coilover shock absorbers. All teams got to use these fantastic shocks, made from 304 stainless steel and utilizing Nitrosteel material for increased corrosion resistance.

After lunch, the teams got back to work. Damage Inc was in the midst of setting up the front shocks, having tack-welded in the taller aftermarket shock towers. Sandy Sausser, an expert fabricator for Damage Inc, was crafting shock tabs.

In the back of the F-250, Tyler was cutting off the spring perches of the leaf springs. He found the quickest way to do it using the Spectrum 875 plasma cutter provided by Miller. With the included 50-foot cable and capability of cutting up to 7/8-inch-thick metal, the Spectrum 875 was an asset to all K&N Junkyard Challenge teams as they refashioned their rigs into off-road masterpieces.

Tyler goes to town on the F-250. He's using a Miller Spectrum 875 plasma cutter, making quick work of removing the leaf spring perches.

RSO Performance was tinkering with the 5.9-liter Magnum V8 on their 1996 Dodge Ram 1500. The fan clutch was particularly aggravating, as it spun freely without a way to hold it in place. Billy and Mike Francis worked on that.

Meanwhile, Tyler ground away at the third member to get its old bearings off. “You’ll see the race peel away and the carrier underneath, and that’s when you take your chisel, and that’ll give it just enough room, and now it pops off,” he explained.

As Billy and Mike toiled on the Dodge Ram's engine, Tyler was grinding away the old bearings on the third member.

Team RaceAnything was giving its all on the white GMC. Weight reduction was the name of the game, as the team went around with angle grinders and Sawzalls. The bedsides were now removed from the bed, and next up was the roof. Trevor Huiskens, co-captain of RaceAnything, was busy melting the front IFS brackets from the frame. He opted to use an acetylene torch because A) it looked cool and B) it was his tool of choice.

Orie, now done removing glass and interior components, moved from the interior to the outside. He grabbed a trusty Sawzall on the way. Having marked the proper spots, Orie made the cuts on the pillars where the roof would separate from the cab. The rest of the team came over to help hoist the roof off, as everyone else at JYC looked on and scratched their heads.

No metal was safe from the slicing menace of Team RaceAnything.

Team Nexgen kept up their momentum, with the dashboard, front fenders, and windshield now removed. Kris had an angle grinder at full RPM against the front coil buckets, which he wanted gone yesterday. “These need to go so we can start making hoops for the coilovers,” he said.

Inside the cab, father and son Don and Dez Knight put their Mastercraft racing seat in a mock-up position. They seemed to be eyeballing how the cage was going to route around the driver.

Coil bucket removed and interior cage considerations.

Progress Concludes

Team Damage’s Rylee Walker was a master fabricator. Here, he welds on a shock tower to the frame.

Team Damage Inc was already fabricating on their truck, foreshadowing the sizable time advantage they would gain on the other teams. Rylee Walker had his welding mask on and was mig welding the shock towers to the frame. Meanwhile, Tyler was still knocking out bits of metal on the frame’s rear. “All I’ve been doing all day is plasma cutting,” he blurted. “It feels like there are 400 rivets all over this truck, and I need to plasma-cut all of them to get rid of the brackets.”

The goal, as Tyler explained, was to clean up the frame as much as possible. “We want to be able to weld on the frame and also look good if we can,” he said. “Our pace is feeling good, and therefore so are we.”

The fan clutch problem solved, Billy and Mike moved on to cutting up the front fenders for more shock travel clearance.

Team RSO finally cracked the code on the fan clutch by making their own removal tool. They got the hardware loose and the clutch out of the engine, so the engine was more accessible now. The plan was to put in a mild COMP camshaft that would squeeze some more power out. Elsewhere, the heater core was removed, taking out unnecessary weight from the truck.

“We’ve got the front fenders off now and my dad is clearancing those,” commented Tyler. By “clearancing,” Tyler meant using an angle grinder to cut out unwanted metal.

Jeff made the GMC's roof metal bend to his will. The idea was to strip it of the inner layers until it was more or less a shell that could just go back on the truck.

Team RaceAnything saw leader Jeff Mello hacking up the already hacked-up roof. It was now a giant metal onion, as Jeff made cuts and peeled back “layers” that would soon depart.

“This is still the first day, so things are going well,” commented Orie. “We cut off the roof pulled off, and the bedsides are my job right now. I’m making brackets so we can bolt them back on and have them stay there during the competitions. We’re pretty much running out of ‘little stuff’ to do today, so that’s good.”

Team Nexgen quibbled over how to set up the new distributor and spark plug wires.

The confidence wasn’t mutual over at Nexgen, however. “Progress has slowed down a little bit,” said Nexgen’s Chris Nissley. “We wound up getting the wrong distributor, and we’ve had some disagreements about the firing order and spark plug wiring. But we’re getting through it.”

It must not have been a great feeling – late afternoon on Day 1 and having these kinds of irritations. But Nexgen pressed on. Chris joked, “Anything we do to this truck is going to make it run nicer!”

End of the day highlights: RSO's engine, deconstructed down to the manifold valley; RaceAnything test-fitting its newly weight-reduced bedsides; Damage Inc models its aftermarket axle truss, intended to strengthen the rearend; and Nexgen changing the oil, courtesy of Lucas Oil and K&N.

Teams made all kinds of progress on Day 1, from cleaning up frames to tinkering on engines. But we still had six more days to go – six more days for victories, setbacks, flareups, cooldowns, and everything in between. Stay tuned for Episode 2, as the teams start to run into issues with budgets, builds, and each other!

The 2019 Junkyard Challenge is presented by K&N Filters but also made possible by some of the leading companies in our industry, including Summit RacingCOMP CamsTCIToyo Tires, MAHLE MotorsportsDyna-BattWeld RacingCorsa PerformanceFragolaHolleyDiabloSport, NOSE3 Spark PlugsTotal SealMoser EngineeringBMR SuspensionMiller ElectricAerospace ComponentsVictor ReinzMorosoUS GearHawk PerformanceLucas OilPRW IndustriesWeld RacingVP RacingNOSProCharger, and ARP.

About the author

David Chick

David Chick comes to us ready for adventure. With passions that span clean and fast Corvettes all the way to down and dirty off-road vehicles (just ask him about his dream Jurassic Park Explorer), David's eclectic tastes lend well to his multiple automotive writing passions.
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