"Wild Thing" The 110 mph off road racing behemoth
Publicity and motorsport go together like peanut butter and jelly. Having your name on a race car means it will get seen by thousands of fans on the racetrack and possibly millions of people who watch the broadcast on television. When renowned diesel engine manufacturer Cummins released their brand new M11 engine in 1994 they turned to the world of motorsport to show just how capable it was.
Cummins had already made a name for themselves at the Indianapolis 500. In 1952 they entered the Cummins Diesel Special, the first turbocharged car to race on the brickyard oval. To this day it's the only diesel car ever to qualify on pole position.
A return to the Indy 500 was out of the question this time as the M11 was a full scale truck engine. Combined with a transmission it weighed in at a whopping 3000 pounds or 1360 kilograms. Instead they would compete in America's most gruelling off road race of the year: the Baja 1000.
Cummins had partnered with Navistar, a commercial truck manufacturer already using a wide range of Cummins engines. The M11 would soon find it's way in their new International 9200 semi-truck so the race car, or rather race truck would have to be based on that. Cummins turned to off road racing legend and innovator Bill Savage to build the biggest vehicle Baja had ever seen.
Bill opted to build an entire steel frame to save weight. Rules did not state the frame or chassis had to be used from the base vehicle but the overall wheelbase had to be the same. This was 152 inches or 3.86 meters for the 9200.
The custom built suspension allowed for 28 inches or 71.1 cm of travel at the back and 22 inches or 55.8 cm at the front. This was more than enough combined with the massive 42 inch/ 106.6 cm wheels that weighed 260 pounds or 117.9 kilogram each. Hydraulic jack stands were integrated at each side of the body to aid in any possible mid race tyre changes.
Meanwhile the drivetrain stayed entirely stock. The M11 was already good for 370 horsepower at 2200 rpm and an earth shattering 1350 ft/lbs or 1830 Nm at just 1200 rpm. It was mated to an electrically controlled Allison 6 speed automatic transmission. Two 80 gallon fuel tanks would ensure the truck would reach the finish line without having to refuel once.
The end result was covered in a fiberglass body resembling that of the international 9200 and dubbed "Wild Thing". The total package weighed in at 9000 pounds or just over 4000 kilogram. Despite being almost 3 meters tall the truck had no tendency to flip over due to it's relatively low center of gravity.
Ace driver Mike Lund and navigator Mary Seefried were tasked with driving the truck to the halfway point where Ron Stobaugh and Dave Rittenhouse would take over. Because they were competing in a league off their own, literally, they had to start dead last behind Baja's most charismatic competitors: the class 11 stock Volkswagen Beetles.
Most of these competitors spent the first part of the race anxiously staring at their rear view mirror as Wild Thing was bound to pop up sooner or later. The towering behemoth soon started passing everyone and everything at the back of the grid. The seating position allowed them to see much further than any competitor, it did however attract a vast amount of tree branches as the cabin soon started to full up with the local fauna and flora.
Mike Lund managed to get Wild Thing up to a speed of 110 mph or 177 kmh on a dry lake bed. One major unforeseen obstacle for all racers was the never before seen rainfall. Dry silk beds made way for deep mud. While other competitors were struggling for traction in the mud, Wild Thing plowed on through.
Meanwhile the team back at the pits and their 3 chase trucks could follow precise data from the GPS unit installed in the truck, a Baja first. The shock absorbers were starting the get worryingly hot. The first planned pit stop revealed the shocks to be valved wrong and not capable of coping with the harsh driving conditions.
The pit stop took longer than expected as some welding had to be done to repair more broken suspension parts. By the time Wild Thing headed back out it was already dark. During welding a brake line was struck resulting in a complete loss of stopping power on the front 2 wheels. Mike Lund found this out the hard way while barreling down a steep hill. With no other option Mike slammed the gearbox in reverse in a last ditch resort of slowing down.
Luckily the gearbox was strong enough to survive. Miles later sudden fog was harassing the drivers. It didn't take too long for the duo to realize it wasn't fog at all but steamed up hydraulic fluid from the replaced shock absorbers. With another pair of blown shocks, no brakes , no more spare parts and time, the team had no choice but to retire from the race.
The next day, while the race was still going on, Wild Thing was given a quick fix to be able to drive back on the highway to Mexicali where the start/finish line was. Despite the DNF both Cummins and Navistar were more than pleased with the unprecedented amount of interest Wild Thing created.