Junkyard Challenge Ep. 2: Time To Build

As we left off with Episode 1, the teams of the K&N Junkyard Challenge were getting their hands dirty tearing down their vehicles. Some trucks were practically falling apart, while others put up a fight. At the end of Day 1, no truck was left unscathed, but the old was gone to make way for the new.

Now that the teardowns are done, it’s time to build. Tools, hardware, and parts are flying around in a mad frenzy to get the trucks done before the clock runs out in six days. Strategies take shape as the guys have to determine who is doing what, where, and when, all in the name of getting the job done.

With teardowns out of the way, it's time to get fabricating!

Who will get there, and who will be left out in the lurch? Let’s dive in and see how RSO, Damage Inc, Race Anything, and NexGen got started on the builds.

A special thanks to this episode’s sponsors – K&N for filtration needs on all of the trucks, Toyo Tires for the incredible tires, Moroso for supplying battery boxes and emergency shutoffs on the trucks, Hawk Performance brake pads, and more.

Damage Inc. Gets Framed

Bright and early, Team Damage Inc hit the ground running.

Over at Damage Inc, the stripped-down F-250 was already getting tinkered on. “We set a good pace yesterday, and we want to keep that going,” said Tyler Mitchell. The guys toyed with the idea of cutting the frame and then acted on it. Taking the plasma cutter, Rylee Walker went to work on the frame and got it to the new length before welding it back up with some plating for added reinforcement.

A shortened frame is a significant time sink. On the surface, it sounds almost absurd. Why spend time on cutting up the truck’s backbone when other areas could be addressed? However, the reasons for this are actually sensible.

As Rylee Walker put it, shortening the wheelbase makes the truck “more capable, look cooler, and improve its handling.” All of this is actually true. A shorter distance between the front and rear axles tightens up the reaction time from the front’s input of steering direction to the rear’s following said direction. This makes for better handling and cornering, which could come in handy during the barrel and short-course races. And yes, shortened trucks just look cooler; it’s a fact of life.

The decision was made – Rylee would cut out 18 inches of the truck’s frame rail. He located stretches of straight metal on both frame rails that spanned 18 inches. These sections were just behind the cab. He used a Sawzall to hack apart the frame, making sure jack stands were in place to prevent any collapses. Once he made the cuts, he welded the newly-shorn frame rails back together, but that wasn’t the end of it.

The freshly shortened frame, now welded back together.

“We still need to plate the frame,” said Tyler. “We’ll use 6×6-square-inch plate steel to keep the rigidity in the frame. We want to make sure we don’t break this thing in half when we’re up in the air!”

It was time to start thinking about the cage and front end of the truck. Damage Inc did all of the cage measurements with measuring tape and Sharpie ink. Almost all of the teams – Damage Inc, Race Anything, and NexGen – used 1.75-inch-diameter tubing to make the cages, and each team received 100 feet of .120-inch wall DOM tubing from Competitive Metals to meet safety specs at most popular off-road events.

Damage Inc puts together the cage, piece by piece. Note the placement of the B-pillar architecture behind the cab. This was so the team could install the driver's seat where it would be comfortable for all four members while driving.

Something else to consider for Team Damage Inc was the driver size. No two team members on Damage Inc were the exact same size. To accommodate for this, the B-pillar portion of the cage had to sit outside the cab. “We think it’ll be easier to fit the driver’s seat inside the cabin if we put the B-pillar outside,” commented Matt.

For the front suspension, the team kept the twin traction beam (TTB) setup that the truck came with but modified it by swapping out the old radius arms for custom-fabricated ones with a heim end. To make installing the coilover easier Team Damage Inc. used Artec Industries prefabricated shock towers which they ordered from Summit Racing.

TTB is a solid setup for off-roading, affording dynamic shock loads to either side of the truck. And TTB is also a great platform to start with compared to the trucks of today. Too bad they’re only found on old-body-style Fords.

Damage Inc cycled the front suspension to figure out how much travel was available. New shock towers were welded in to fit the Dirt Logic coilover shocks.

RSO Performance Goes High-Tech

RSO Performance went ahead with getting their truck ready. For the front suspension, the team had to use a set of Airbagit A-arms as part of their $1,000 cash budget. These arms weren’t the ideal choice for fitting the custom-spec Fabtech coilovers, but could be modified to make them fit. Getting that done was Billy’s job, and his weapon of choice was the Miller plasma cutter.

Using the cutter, Billy trimmed out the coil buckets in the control arms. This left enough room to fit a coilover in the space left behind. Having high-level shock absorbers upfront instead of the ordinary struts would mitigate the harsh landings and quick jolts at high speed.

After plopping in the new control arms, the shocks got test fitted to figure out where to put the upper mounts.

As for the cage, Tyler was taking lead on the project. Tyler did things very differently from the other teams. Instead of going by eyeballs, measuring tapes, and Sharpies, he used a software program called Bend-Tech on his laptop.

“I wanted to get my measurements and design going,” explained Tyler. “But instead of drawing it on the concrete or with a stick in the dirt, I pulled up Bend-Tech on my computer. This is a program we’ve been using for 20 years.”

If the game is efficiency, then Bend-Tech is a winning strategy. Using this software program allowed Team RSO to use their tubing more efficiently and with much less guesswork.

Bend-Tech took a lot of the complexity and guesswork out of the equation. Using its built-in features, Tyler was able to see not only the shape and lengths of tubing he’d have to construct, but also get an idea for the notching. Notching is important in building cages, since getting a piece of metal to come in at an angle and still be rigid after welding (and off-road abuse) is critical. Bend-Tech provides a printout that a user can apply to a piece of metal as a template, and then make cuts as necessary.

Also of note, RSO was the only team to use 2.00-inch tubing, which is required for any vehicle over 4,000 pounds according to SCORE. Given that each team wound up using about 90 of the 100 feet of tubing they received, this meant that RSO’s cage weighed about 40 additional pounds compared with the other teams. The added weight may hurt them in certain competitions, but the benefit is the added safety means they could enter the Baja 1000 next year with the junkyard Ram.

Team RaceAnything Deals With The Axle Of Evil

Orie from RaceAnything checks out the junkyard-sourced Dana 60. This would take the place of the stock IFS setup on the white GMC build.

Team Race Anything was in charge of the wildest build of the bunch. Part and parcel of this was the massive Dana 60 axle, fresh from the junkyard, getting swapped in place of the stock front axle. To get it there, the team had to make heavy modifications. “We’ve got the front of the frame ground down and ready to weld on,” said Jack Taggart. “We’re going to install a Super Duty Dana 60 up there instead of the IFS setup it had before.”

Going with a solid front axle showed Race Anything’s true colors. As NorCal guys, where rock crawling is far more prevalent than prerunning, it was a radical departure from the other teams’ build approach. Jeff explained, “Solid front axles are our bread and butter. We know rock crawling the best, and we work on Jeeps typically, so this is what we know and what we’re going to run with.”

Jack shaved off old mounts on the GMC's frame and prepped it for plating. Elsewhere, Trevor and Orie went to town on the Dana 60, straightening out its control arm mounts with a torch and a mighty sledgehammer.

As interesting as the axle was, it wasn’t perfect. A survivor from a frontal accident, it had bent mounts for the control arms. The solution was clear – heat up the mounts with a torch, and hammer them back into shape. Orie and Trevor were happy to oblige.

Underneath the truck, Jack and Trevor took turns shaving the stock control arm mounts and other suspension components from the frame. They then plated the frame with new metal to reinforce the affected areas, and mocked up the Dana 60. Using a parts made by Trevor’s shop, WFO Concepts, the Dana 60 would have its suspension needs taken care of. Everything from new links to new trackbar brackets were used to get the Ford axle under the Chevy.

Orie holds up the lower link of the long-arm kit on the GMC. The kit was sourced from teammate Trevor’s shop, WFO Concepts. Above the axle, extensive fabrication gave the Dana 60 its new home.

But the truck’s radical departure from build norms – gutting the body panels for weight savings, swapping in a solid front axle – were at odds with the tame approach to the cage. In this task, the guys went pure and simple.

“We want to keep it strong and rigid for what we’re gonna do,” said Orie. To that end, he and Jack made cuts in the floor for the cage to link to the frame. On the roof, the cage formed triangles from an “X” with a cross-bar through it from side to side. They cut off the gutted roof structure of the body to get great penetration on their welds, 360-degrees around (without having to build outside of the truck). By the time it was finished, the rear would arch down to the frame and reinforce with a cross-bar to the C-pillar hoop.

RaceAnything did their cage in a simple and straightforward fashion.

NexGen Gets Racy

Don Knight, armed with an angle grinder, went after the cabin with extreme prejudice.

Team NexGen played Doctor on their multicolor F-150. Whatever they didn’t need inside the cabin went out. On the front suspension, the guys cut out the old strut mounts to make way for hoops to mount the coilovers. “We just want to get the front mocked up,” commented Kris Steele. “We’re going to drill out the mounts for the radius arms so we can put a uniball on them.”

Don was given the measurements needed to construct new radius arms for the beams. These arms run from the frame to the beam, affecting up and down range of travel. Compared against the old radius arms, these Don-made arms were much longer, and thus provided a greater range of travel for the beams.

NexGen took the old radius arms and fabricated new ones. These gave the twin-traction beams a greater range of travel. Damage Inc used a similar approach, but used one-off custom radius arms welded to the beams.

Inside the cabin, Don Knight was already busy with planning out the cage. His design called for 1.75-inch-diameter tubing.

What was interesting about NexGen’s build was that the truck was fulfilling two roles. On the one hand, it was getting built to compete in the Junkyard Challenge. But the guys had their sights beyond JC; in fact, they wanted to race the truck in professional events.

Team NexGen took care of the twin-traction beams, boring them out for new sleeves to mount uniballs. Supporting the beams were radius arms, now using uniballs for greater durability and articulation over the stock bushings.

What they had in mind was a Class 2000 truck as defined by MORE and SNORE. This class requires a mini-truck chassis with the factory chassis, factory front suspension pivots, leaf springs, and an unlimited engine. This explained why the team chose to keep their rear leaf springs.

That does it for Episode 2. All four trucks are in the opening stages of construction, but only one of them will come out on top! Who’s your money on? Let us know in the comments below.

Like a gigantic LEGO sculpture, Team NexGen mocked up its fabricated tubing. This was to get an idea of how the cage would look once complete.

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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