Story: Rodney Wills
Photos: Scott Roberts & Rodney Wills
I personally have been a fan of Rory’s art for a long time. My first Racers Only shirt was a Robby Gordon design when he was racing a Ford. It had a cool stars and stripes flag waving through it and that iconic warp-speed comic look that Rory draws into his trucks. I thought that warp-speed look was very fitting for Robby’s driving style. Later I use to work for a little off-road magazine called Dirt Pilot Magazine. The magazine did an interview with Rory and I have always liked his artwork. Being a Toyota fan, my favorite issue was the one with Ivan Stewart on the front cover and it had a Rory drawing of a buggy driving through the logo. It has been quite obvious that a lot of folks within the off-road industry like Rory’s art, starting with the most famous off all off-roaders, Ivan “Ironman” Stewart! And from my own personal perspective, Rory’s art represents the off-road industry like Ed “RatFink” Roth does for the hot rod scene.
Rory said his passion for art started like it does for all of us, he even said we’ve all done the same as him… Rory started drawing his favorite hero’s and favorite trucks. But the difference is, Rory kept drawing and then later he saught out the guys at the races and started having them autograph his drawings. He was doing that purely for his own personal collection. Then that “spark” came in 1988 while attending the SCORE Off-Road Show when he approached Ivan Stewart to sign a drawing he did of his rig. Ivan must have liked what he had seen as he asked if Rory would like to draw a T-shirt design for Team Toyota.
While on our desert location scouting mission that had us close to Rory’s place I wanted to drop in and visit him, so we pre-arranged a meeting. Rory is more than just an t-shirt artist, he is also a bona fide off-road enthusiast. He is more that just a side-line fender lizard enthusiast, Rory wheels a Class-12 2-Seater desert buggy and has been known to dabble in restoring vintage desert race vehicles. Rory also owns a very special Dodge Pre-Runner.
And if that is not enough, Rory is also a full-time fireman for the past thirteen years with four years in reserve, all within the same department. Add in his creative arts side that is time consuming as well!
While we came to see his artwork, we learned more about his racing habit as we never made it inside the studio for all the off-road jewelry sitting in the driveway and garage. Rory campaigns a Class-12 2-seater buggy. It is powered with a Major Performance built 1910cc VW motor nestled in a 2004 Suspensions Unlimited Chassis, built by Billy Gasper originally, then the rear-section was rebuilt in 2009 by Mark Fusting. Rory’s Sponsors are Racers Only, BFGoodrich, MSD, Vision X, Method Race Wheels, RacerX, B&R Buggies. Class-12 & Class-8 [single seat buggy] are the fun economical ways to get into off-road racing. Trucks are always cool, but cool comes with a larger price tag and more weight.
We asked what series or sanctions does Rory run in; SCORE/SNORE/BITD/HDRA?
Rory stated that he runs a little bit of everything but he has not been racing as much due to the economy and the restoration projects.
Rory’s recent race results snap shot as follows:
SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge- 1st place
BITD Parker 425- DNF (taken out by a Trophy Truck).
SNORE MINT 400- 1st place
MDR California 200- 6th place
SCORE Baja 1000- 1st place
SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge- 1st place
SNORE Rage At The River- 4th place
NORRA Mexican 1000- 1st place
Rory’s next race plans will have him pitting for Terrible Herbst at the Baja 1000 and he will personally be racing the SNORE Rage At The River (RATR) in his Class-12 buggy.
Shows where Racers Only T-Shirt merchandise trailer will be at?
BITD TRANSWEST FORD HENDERSON “250″- Dec 2-4. Henderson Nev.
SNORE RATR- Dec 9-11. Laughlin Nev.
To dig a bit more into the Rory racing archives, we asked him what was his first race? He first entered as a co-rider (right seat) at the 1987 SNORE 250 in a Class-5 1600cc rig. First DRIVING stint was in a friends Class-5 Unlimited at the 2000 AVI 250 in Laughlin, NV., as both split the driving duties resulting a 1st place finish.
His first race in his own vehicle was at the 2005 Laughlin Desert Challenge in a 4-seat play buggy. He DNF’d after running out of fuel on day one, but finished 2nd on day-2. Racing with spare gas on the roof rack must not have been allowed…
Rory’s first TRUE race car was the Trophy Truck Killer, a 1989 Chenowth DR2V chassis. It was Pat Deans old Factory sponsored “Barbary Coast” Class-1 Unlimited rig.
Click for story on the TT-Killer on RacersOnly Blog
It was impossible to miss this shiny silver beast of a pre-runner that was sitting in the driveway as we drove up; and it’s how our conversation started. Rory’s 1977 Dodge Pre-Runner, for those of us that hold history and hero’s dear to our hearts, is very special. It belonged to a particular cowboy-hat-wearing gentleman by the name of Walker Evans.
As Rory is telling us about his truck, I asked Brad “Bender” Dumont to snap a quick picture with his smart phone and shoot it over to our buddy ScottG. ScottG quickly texted back, “is that Walkers Evans old truck? It’s one of two trucks and both used to have the race livery to match the race truck.” Rory stated it was in fact the same truck but was painted silver by a previous owner. ScottyG also texted us, “THAT TRUCK ALMOST GOT ME FIRED!”
That was grounds for a phone call to our man ScottG for full disclosure. According to him, back in 1995 the Baja 1000 was starting on the eastern side of Mexico, in Tecate. ScottG was working for Walker Evans Racing at the time and was in route to the race with the team. While driving the support rigs they stopped for food near the border. While in the restaurant all the guys sitting around the table spotted what looked to be a sweet jump. It didn’t take much encouragement from the team to get ScottG to go hit this potential jump! And as a result of his text to us, we know the outcome of the event. With “almost fired” it is now easy to see here where youth is naive when it comes to “bosses bluff” or is it the bosses re-living their youth through the young. Or was it the team encouragement of which the boss sits back to see the results and then reprimands. Regardless, it was a funny story just by sending over an image of a truck.
The truck is a beast with a 408 Stroker Motor, EFI, roller rockers, Edelbrock manifold, custom headers, aluminum heads…approx 500HP, pump gas/Pemex.
Suspension Front: 15″ travel, double A-Arm, 3.0 Coilover shock with 2.5 bypass, Cone hubs, Wilwood brakes, Henry’s Ball Joints.
Suspension Rear: 20″ travel, 2.5 Coilover and 2.5 triple bypass, on 3-linked custom trailing arms.
All suspension work done by Mark Newhan.
Little tidbit: As the truck was built for Walker Evans as a prerunner, it was later traded to Frank Vessels for a NASCAR Super Truck, then sold to construction contractor in San Diego (friend of Frank Vessels).
Rory loves the truck very much, but yes, it is for sale. WHY?! There is another project in the stable now.
Check out the Mickey Thompson vintage buggy – The Challenger IV.
While there are miles and piles of history around Mickey Thompson, the interesting note about this rig is that this could very well be the first “Truggy” and if not the first, then we think it’s safe to say that Mickey probably built the most competitive Truggy up to that point and ONE of the first true truggies!
The Challenger IV was built in 1977 and first raced at the 1978 Mexicali 300. John House was the crew chief and lead fabricator with project help from Danny Thompson and Bruce Parrish. Mickey Thompson was well ahead of his peers at the time on technology.
Shocks alone were so far ahead of it’s time that no one built anything like them until the early to mid 80′s. The Challenger IV had almost twice the suspension travel as the top competitors in his class and probably 3 times the horsepower since he was running a V8 while the competition was running VW motors.
Mickey’s main problem with the car was it was never fully developed and did not get the test time it needed to work all the bugs out of it. Mr. Thompson always had 100 different things going on and never spent a whole lot of time on one thing. This car could have DOMINATED if it was given the time and effort needed. Also, Mickey ran as hard as he could, would never lift even if he had a big lead. Off road racing is about personal management of that skinny pedal and saving your equipment.
1980 MINT 400 sticker on the side wing panel of the Mickey Thompson Challenger IV. History…
More info on the legendary Mickey Thompsonhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mickey_Thompson
After a lot of tire kicking in the garage, we finally make way into Rory’s studio that is more like the library of off-road congress!
Here is a drawing / sticker Rory did for the restoration project of the Mark Stahl Chenowth 1000 that was originally built in 1977. Click on the link to the build thread:
Rory is a true historian of off-road with a nice personal collection of memorabilia as well as his contributions!
Rory breaks out the history of where and how it all started for him; the original fan drawings:
Then Rory shows us the more recent stuff, some of which I spy around the office and shop:
OH YEA! I already know what you are thinking by seeing this COOL art! YES, we will be talking to Rory about making us some drawings of the SCX10′s, XR10, AX10 and WRAITH!!! What else will be cool about that is to see what Rory can do with our Rock Crawl/Race rigs as he has not done anything for our sector of the world. It will be a fun collaboration!
WILD CARD: How cool would it be if the drawing Rory was working on is a new rig for Axial? How about those green apples!?
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