It was inevitable, but I really didn't expect it so soon. When we brought back the Sport Truck Challenge in a new format two years ago, we intentionally watered it down to attract as many participants as possible. We wanted real trucks racing heads-up, but we didn't want to see a bunch of clapped-out drag trucks ripping off quarter-mile times that no average sport truck owner could rival. We also didn't want a bunch of wannabe show trucks on the track that couldn't get out of their own way. Most of all, we wanted our readers to have fun, especially if it was their first time legging their truck for a full quarter-mile pass. So, we came up with the idea of a points system that rewarded going fast equally with looking good. We expected it to take a few years before word got around that this event was worth thrashing on your ride and the hassle of towing all the way to Kentucky for. With a field of 27 trucks in '08, our wish was granted... sort of.
In '07, we had a field of casual onlookers that signed up for the challenge because it was free if they were a part of our Havoc truck show, and it offered them a chance to find out how fast their trucks were. Mixed in with the show trucks were a bunch of local drivers of diesel-powered heavyweights from TS Performance who were focused on racing and tuning their rides and not so much the truck show. And then there were a handful of trucks that danced beautifully between both worlds. These were the trucks we were most interested in-the rides that could show and go. Todd Sherwood came out on top, winning most of the cash and prizes because his customized 454 SS C1500 not only looked killer, but it ran pretty good as well. His was the truck that defined what the new ST Challenge was about, and he came back in '08 with more traction to defend his title.
We didn't expect what happened next at our most recent event. During the commotion at our competitor registration tent, we didn't notice that William Lerner rolled his newly completed '96 S-10 out of the trailer and onto the Havoc show field. His bright-orange, body-dropped masterpiece immediately struck fear into the hearts of the participants. We made the mistake of passing off his truck as a beautiful show truck with an abundance of detail and fancy work instead of something that had a shot at winning the Challenge with. Sure, it had slicks, a rollcage, and a detuned Pro Stock motor, but the four-corner cantilevered airbag suspension and the fact that nothing in the cramped engine bay had more than a 1/4 inch of clearance led us to believe that this thing had never even seen the pavement except when it rolled off the trailer. Boy, were we wrong.
William signed up for the Challenge as a lark. He's a bricklayer by trade and spent years fabricating, painting, and building everything on the truck himself. Simply put, he built this truck on a completely different level and it was way too nice and untested to race. He knew he could take the field of challengers in the judged categories, but he'd have to lay down at least one decent quarter-mile pass to have a shot at Todd's title, the cash, and prizes. He decided to make just one pass.
With 700-plus horsepower between the framerails and bodywork so straight it belonged on a street rod, we tried to coax William into taking it easy during his first pass and then really getting after it on the next one to give everyone a run for the money. He elected not to make any runs during Saturday's test-'n'-tune session and was adamant about only running the truck once. After we'd judged every truck that afternoon, William had a clear advantage in the points race. He'd still have to run hard to win though. There were at least four other trucks that could make up ground by running quicker through the lights if William's truck turned out to be a wannabe show truck and not a real runner.
When William's truck finally rumbled into the staging lanes on Sunday, everyone was watching. Most of the other competitors had made their first runs and were checking out the competition while their engines cooled between rounds of racing. We were all thinking the same thing: It looked and sounded the part, but would this thing actually hook up and run a good number? If it did, he was going to single-handedly change the face of the ST Challenge, setting the bar ridiculously high if he won and chose to defend the title.
We had three cameras trained on the shaved and molded body of the S-10 as it leapt off the starting line after the Tree went green. I looked on in amazement as the suspension collapsed, the tires gripped the track, and the truck took off without a hint of wheelhop. At 600 feet out, I knew William could drive and his truck was on a tear. It was running straight and true, a testament to the suspension setup. A few hundred feet later something was amiss. The motor was up against the rev limiter, popping as the ignition system lit off every other cylinder as the truck went through the traps. When the smoke cleared, the scoreboard in the right lane put a dagger in the collective hearts of the other competitors: 11.76 seconds at 134 mph. The crowd roared and that's when it hit me-things will never be the same. It was the fastest pass of the weekend by a truck in the Challenge and more than quick enough for the win.
William didn't make another pass after determining that he had inadvertently left a 5,000-rpm rev limit chip in his MSD ignition box, which is what caused the misfiring. Except for his competition, a bent pushrod in the Pontiac-headed Pro Stock motor was the only real casualty of the pass. The pass earned him enough points to win the Challenge by a large margin. Todd Sherwood came in Second after picking up nearly eight-tenths of a second from his best pass in '07. Barry Phillipi's bitchin diesel-powered Dodge came in Third.
To underscore how insanely nice William's truck is, he also picked up the Editor's Choice trophy at the Havoc show, beating out nearly 400 other custom trucks. That should give you some idea how freaking high the bar just got raised in the Challenge. It was an easy choice to shoot his truck for the cover of the mag.
William says he'll be back next year with the right rev limiter for his motor. We're expecting 10-second passes out of him if he's got the stones to really push his masterpiece of a truck. The rest of you better get to work. You're gonna have to either build your own masterpiece or find enough horsepower and traction to run in the 10s to win. Either way, it's going to take a great looking and running truck to compete with the King.