Baby Trophy Truck

Baby Trophy Truck

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What started out as a 1981 Toyota 4x4 Pickup morphed after five years into a Class 7 Desert Race truck during the 80s based out of Reno, NV. It was later sold and garaged for some years or used as a play truck, but the heart of the truck was yearning to race. Now, it’s living life again as a race truck in the Ultra4 Spidertrax 4600 Stock Class at King of the Hammers (KOH) with Rock Tech Racing.

Photos by Ashley Eriksen

“What I love most about the truck is the history—the fact that it has been a race truck its whole life,” says Josh Patt, current owner of the truck. “It's had two lives in racing and not often do you find a lot of documented race vehicles that have been able to live two lives.”

Josh is not only an Ultra4 truck racer and rock crawler since 2007, but he’s a racing aficionado and specifically loves the history behind some of these vehicles. He’s even aware that some of these vehicles have souls.

Baby trophy truck toyota pickup ultra 4 racing king of the hammers

“I realize that I’ve owned a lot of vehicles and I've raced a lot of stuff and some vehicles just aren’t destined to be race vehicles. People don’t think vehicles have a soul or a heart, and from a biblical stand point they don’t, but vehicles are destined to be certain things and this truck is absolutely destined to be a race truck. It loves to race. It doesn’t fail. The only thing that ever fails is when we fail it. That’s definitely my favorite part—it's a racer’s racer for sure.”

For me, I understand when Josh talks about the soul of a vehicle. I often joke that my 2008 FJ Cruiser has a “race car heart”.

When Josh went to check out the truck in southern Colorado, just over seven years ago, he wasn’t sure what to expect. He knew a little of the history behind it and was definitely intrigued. When he showed up to look at the truck, the owner took him for a spin in it. “He just thought it was so cool how fast it went down the road. We drive to this small-town gas station and we’re in this full-blown race truck—it's loud, it’s rattling, everything’s hard bound on it and we’re going down the highway, at like, 70 mph in this truck, with no windshield or anything and we’re wearing goggles. I’m thinking we’re either going to roll this thing or we’re going to get busted by the cops. After he pumps the gas, he takes off, and I mean, he’s peeling out and he’s just driving this thing like a bat out of hell and I’m thinking, this is the best thing ever.”

Baby trophy truck toyota pickup ultra 4 racing king of the hammers

Josh was looking to get into another race class and needed a vehicle that fit the requirements. The truck’s history included multiple VORRA (Valley Off Road Racing Association) championships and a Baja 500 finish in its class. It was built to the Class 7 standards of those days, so when Josh finally got his eyes on it, he realized it was like a time capsule.

There were just a couple of problems though—it was missing a fender and grille, something that wasn't missing in the original sale post. The owner admitted that he had hit a pine tree and when Josh opened the hood, pine needles were scattered everywhere. They managed to agree on a final price, but what Josh didn’t know was what else the truck came with—something far more important than the missing fender and grille. “So, I’m loading my trailer and I’m thinking I got a really good deal, and the owner comes over and asks if I want the rest of the stuff that goes with it. I head over to a small shed with him and I didn’t realize he got the entire race package with it. He has the spare race engine, the spare race engine parts. He has all the totes with all the gaskets, all the extra parts, the extra harnesses. He also has all their (the original Reno race team’s) notebooks with all their notes—the tuning they had done, the receipt from the original race engine—and it’s all labeled. I’m thinking, this stuff is worth more than the truck!”

After Josh brought the truck home, he wanted to evaluate how this truck would fit into the class he wanted to compete in and how he was going do it. The truck sat patiently for about two years while Josh figured out a plan to reinvent his KOH race program.

First thing Josh did was take his friend, Tyson, for a ride in the truck. Tyson was wowed. They loaded the truck onto a trailer and took it to Tyson’s house to do a thorough cataloging of the truck—inside and out, front to back. “We wrote it all on a dry erase board. We didn’t take anything apart. We just evaluated every single component on the truck to see what would stay, what would go, what had to go, and would it pass tech. That was kind of the beginning of it all right there,” says Josh.

After adding what was needed for safety for the truck’s first run at KOH, Josh and his co-driver, Shawn, promptly break it almost right out of the gate. “We broke it at KOH. But I didn’t stop. We broke the shock mounts off of it and at certain race miles, we would pull a shock and then pull another shock, and I went 83 miles with no front shocks.”

Baby trophy truck toyota pickup ultra 4 racing king of the hammers

“The race was brutal when we broke those shocks off. I mean, no front shocks are worse than a flat tire or anything like that, especially in an off-road race.” After they arrived at Remote Pit 1, they had already driven over 50 miles without front shocks. The truck was still running great and hanging on. Shawn, on the other hand, was not.

“When we get there, we’re running really, really close on time, and not sure if we were going to be able to finish even lap one before the cut off time. So, when I pulled up to the pit, our remote pit team assumed I’m just going to stop and give up at that point so they were just taking their time. I started screaming at them to check fluids, check fuel, check everything and they got right to work. Shawn bails out—he's like, “I’m done.” He takes his helmet off, unzips his suit, and grabs a snack and starts eating.”

Shawn had assumed Josh was quitting too, because, who is crazy enough to continue an off-road race without front shocks after already going over 50+ miles without them? Shawn is confused seeing Josh still sitting in the truck. “Are you getting out?” Shawn asks.

Josh doesn’t hesitate one bit in his response--“Hell no! I’m getting to the main pit. We are finishing lap one. I am not giving up on this.”

At this point, the rest of the crew and Shawn realize Josh is crazy and determined enough to continue on. He had a goal to finish the race, but now, it’s just to finish the first lap. To Josh, he’d gone this far and another 20 miles was nothing at this point.

Shawn decided he’d had enough and motioned for Josh to continue on without him—he's not going to get back into the truck. The beating was more than anything Shawn had dealt with before, even after competing in physically demanding, back-to-back soccer games at the collegiate level many years ago. The punishment was more than enough for him. But after seeing Josh’s determination and intestinal fortitude, he begrudgingly scrambled his gear together and jumped back into the truck, knowing full well the abuse and torture laying ahead in his path.

“It was more brutal then when I burned my feet (that’s a whole other story),” says Josh. “I’ve never seen him look so exhausted after a one-day race,” says Niki, Josh’s better half, and undoubtedly aware of how painful the race must’ve been.

Baby trophy truck toyota pickup ultra 4 racing king of the hammers

Shawn later admitted he wanted to get out of the truck during the race because of the shocks—to the point he almost had Josh just pull over somewhere, during the race, so he could just jump out. He would figure out a way to get back to camp, or walk to the nearest pit, because the ride was so painful. To decide you’d rather take your chance and walk in the heat of the desert, however many miles it may be, is testament to the caliber of pain they were dealing with. But he also knew, if he didn’t get back in, the hell he would get from the team might be even worse.

At Race Mile 17, they broke the first shock and at Race Mile 31, they broke the other shock. Due to the class rules, they had to keep the inner fender wells and it complicated the front shock mounts—they just sheared off. “Later we found out we had used, by accident, the wrong wall thickness of tube. Somehow during the late nights, someone had grabbed the wrong ones—it wasn’t a safety issue it was just we didn’t catch that it was the wrong wall thickness.”

What they did prove, however, was that they were way faster in the class in the open desert. “The desert truck core was showing itself. Had we not ruined the front shock mounts on the truck, we would’ve been fine. But we proved we were way faster, and the truck was able to survive the brutality of that race and that’s what I took away from it.”

The concept and strategy Josh and his team had planned for years was finally coming to fruition. “This was the moment I realized this is the real thing and not only is this going to work, this is going to dominate.”

Josh and his crew took the truck home and started over--rebuilding it even better, knowing what was in the heart and soul of the truck. “We rebuilt everything, made it better, and that October, we went to the Nationals and got 3rd place. Our second race and we destroyed them. We absolutely would’ve had 2nd but had an electrical gremlin that took us out of 2nd. When I went back and reviewed the split times, had we not had that issue, we had the potential to even take first. We were so much faster than those guys in the desert. So, our second race, we exponentially grew to the podium.”

Now, they were true contenders and the truck was getting a second chance at race life.

“Every race and every qualifying that we’ve had this truck in, we have absolutely been beyond faster than anyone in our class, this year (2021) included,” says Josh, beaming with pride. His most favorite memory of the race truck was when it was lovingly nicknamed “Baby Trophy Truck” by the course marshals at Nationals, harkening on its Class 7 history and looks. Its ability to hit table tops and jump them like a jackrabbit, and continue on without a glance back, didn’t hurt either. “That just means to me that we’ve kept the core nature of this desert race truck and that we haven’t disturbed the original integrity of it and we haven’t changed it to the point that you can’t see that any more. For those guys to comment on that while we’re at a rock race, that’s pretty cool.”

The race truck meant so much to them, they kept the original paint scheme on the truck and made it part of their current race team’s colors. “Some of the original vinyl decals are still on this truck underneath the existing wrap, because we actually thought it was kind of cool,” says Niki with a big smile of pride.

Baby trophy truck toyota pickup ultra 4 racing king of the hammers

Josh and Niki express though, even with the podiums and the future of the truck, none of this is possible without the immense support from their family and friends. “This isn’t a ‘Josh and Niki’ program,” says Niki. “We have a really good, core group of people that support us by coming to races by volunteering their time, their effort, their energy, into the program. That's a really important thing to point out is that you can’t just do it with just Josh and I—there's no way. I think it’s really important to share the success with the people who help you get there. It’s a very important thing for us.”

I believe as much as it’s important to Josh and Niki to have this help, it’s just as important to the people that help and want to support them. They’re just good people, and I can vouch for that.

“My brothers and my dad came this year and it’s the first time they’ve ever been (to KOH). We were talking on Saturday night, after Josh raced Friday and the big race on Saturday, and we watched all of it. On Saturday night, we were just sitting around the campfire having some beers, just me, Josh and both of my brothers. My brothers brought up a really good point and they asked Josh, “What motivates these people to come out here with you?" and Josh says, “They want to be a part of a winning race program.” And my brothers say, “No, it’s not”. It makes me very emotional because they say, “That is not why they’re here. That’s why you’re here. That’s your intrinsic motivation. These people are here because you created a family environment and these people want to be a part of that. They want to support you to become the best,” Niki says, getting choked up.

What is the one thing Josh would do to the truck? Without hesitation, “I would say make it faster. And for the record, I would make it faster.”

“There’s stuff we’re working on to get there. Each time we race it, each time we do testing and tuning, it’s getting better and better. At some point, we’ll find the limit, but we’re not there yet.”

Josh’s love for the history of this truck shows in his grit and determination to win with it. Any of the podium wins, past, present, or future, may be more for the Baby Trophy Truck and its chance at a second race life. Although, the wins probably won’t hurt Josh either.

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