Wherever you find race cars, you'll find trucks, usually pulling double duty as a push truck and a support rig. The push truck is an integral part of any high-speed pursuit at Bonneville. Top-speed runs require high gear ratios to achieve maximum velocity, but these ratios make acceleration from a standing start extremely slow or even impossible on the many early Bonneville cars that did not have transmissions, relying instead on high-gear-only direct drive systems. To early hot-rodders the solution was simple: use a truck to push the race car up to speed, engage clutch, and blast off.

In fact, the cover of the May '54 issue of Hot Rod magazine featured the SO-CAL Speed Shop push truck, famous in hot-rodding circles, sporting its trademark red and white colors, posed behind the racing team's record-setting coupe. For the GM Performance Division's land-speed record attempt in a Saturn Ion, the crew decided to honor the hot rod way with an '04 GMC Canyon reprising the role of the original SO-CAL Speed Shop's push truck. The SO-CAL Speed Shop crew, working under the direction of GM Performance Division, transformed the Canyon support truck into what it likes to call a "professional grade" high-performance vehicle. After speeding across the desert between L.A. and Phoenix (see sidebar) we can say without a doubt the result was a dependable workhorse with the speed and spirit of the Bonneville Salt Flats.

"Our intention was to build on the strengths of the production GMC Canyon to create a fully functional and extremely capable race team support vehicle," said GM concept vehicle project manager David Bolognino. "By combining the heritage of the SO-CAL Speed Shop push truck with the technology of the '04 Canyon, we created a modern interpretation of a classic design."

From what we can see, the all-new Canyon Crew Cab is a great platform to build on. It's got a rigid ladder-type frame, a powerful Vortec 3,500cc inline-five (I-5) engine, and a four-speed Hydra-Matic 4L60-E automatic transmission. The production Vortec 3500's technical features include dual overhead camshafts, variable valve timing, and electronic throttle control. In stock trim, the five-cylinder Vortec 3500 produces 220 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque, comparable to many six-cylinder engines. The Saturn LSR team boosted the customized Canyon's output to 350 hp and 350 lb-ft torque with the addition of a GM Powertrain-developed prototype turbocharger package.

The customized Canyon's interior is prepped racer-style, with a full rollcage, competition five-point seatbelts and shoulder harnesses, and a fire control system. A special gauge cluster and console-mounted CB radio keep the driver informed. The driver and copilot are supported by race-inspired high-side-bolster Recaro sport seats.

The Canyon's distinctive red-and-white SO-CAL Speed Shop paint scheme represents the flying colors of the ION Red Line and belly tank Bonneville racers. The ride height was also dropped, with custom-fit coilover spring perches on the nose and lowering blocks for the rear. The team also whipped up a prototype body-molding package and fabricated a soft tonneau cover to give the push truck a clean, high-performance appearance that's finished with six-spoke Budnik aluminum wheels.