23 years ago Larry Roeseler wheeled the 4 wheel drive Team MacPherson Chevrolet to the Overall win at the 1999 Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno event. Big Mac, as the Trick Truck was affectionately named, had shown flashes of greatness over the 2 years since the truck was introduced at the Laughlin Desert Challenge in 1996, but had never really displayed the dominance that they had hoped for.
Joe MacPherson started his infatuation with off road racing at the 1968 Baja 1000 sponsoring a friend in a buggy. It didn’t take long for the racing bug to bite and next thing you know ol’ Joe was all in. Over the years Joe and longtime friend, employee, team manager, racer, fabricator Jerry McDonald would build Team MacPherson into one of the most dominate teams in off road racing. With the help from people like Jeff Lewis, Barry Beacham and designer Bryan Kudela, Team MacPherson would rack up championships in multiple classes, mostly in the mini pickup and full size truck classes.
Of course, 4 wheel drive isn’t new to desert racing, it’s actually what pretty much started off roading. When it comes to competition the 4X4 has been very successful, and in off road racing, highly successful in the production classes. When it comes to the highly modified classes like class 1 or TT, most people stayed away from the 4X4 platform as trying to get the parts to live for 1000 miles or more seemed to be quite the chore and VERY expensive. A few teams gave it a go like Nissan in the early 90’s with Frank Scoop Vessels but they too had many issues before Corporate pulled funding on the project.
In 1994, the TT class was created and at the time Joe was content with sticking to class 7, 7 4x4 and class 8. Bryan Kudela remembers sitting around the race truck after the Baja 500 and trying to bend Joe’s ear about building the ultimate TT, but using 4 wheel drive instead of what everyone else was doing with 2 wheel drive vehicles. With the success over the years with their 4X4 race vehicles and the funding from GM it seemed like the next logical move. The conversation must have worked because next thing you know GM gave the green light to design and build the first 4 wheel drive for the TT class.
Bryan Kudela and Jerry McDonald would be in charge of designing the truck and were given creative freedom except GM wanted a front engine truck utilizing Bilstein shocks. The truck was designed with the 80 gallon fuel cell mounted behind the driver and co-rider to help with weight distribution. Since the fuel cell was located mid ship, the rear of the truck needed as much weight to the rear as possible so batteries, spare tires, oil sump tank and other misc. items were mounted as far back on the truck as possible to help the truck from “kicking”. Big Mac would also be one of the first trucks to run a 512 cubic inch big block engine with 800 plus horsepower. Suspension would have a whopping 25” of front wheel travel (with 50 degrees of CV angle) and 30” of rear wheel travel with its highly sophisticated cantilever suspension. The truck was enormous at 130” wheelbase and just over 20’ long. It would take approximately 18 months from design on paper to the last tube welded to the chassis before the truck rolled out to its first event at Laughlin in 1996. Jeff Lewis was promoted from the class 7 4x4 Chevy S10 (Little Mac) and named the driver of the #72 Team MacPherson TT.
Things were looking good for the new truck as it won the “Laughlin Leap” jump contest the night before the race with a distance of 107’, beating the next truck by 4 feet. The new truck blues would plague Big Mac for the next 2 seasons with Transmission, steering and CV issues. They showed they could run with the big boys when everything was working but something would always spoil a good run and it was back to the drawing board.
With the class 7 and class 8 still preforming well out of the Team MacPherson camp, the TT was still trying to get over that hump and in 1999 it seemed like they finally got everything figured out after much input from Jeff and Jerry McDonald. Jeff was doing well in Big Mac but Joe decided to give multi-motorcycle champion Larry Roeseler a chance behind the wheel after winning a couple championships in “Little Mac” so they switched seats.
Larry would have a great season in the TT, winning the SCORE Primm 300 and then the highly competitive BITD Vegas to Reno event 1st Overall! Larry would also rack up a couple 2nd place finishes at the Fireworks 250 and the season ending Baja 1000.
1999 was to be the last year of the GM contract for Big Mac but Bryan Kudela wrote a strong letter to the brass at GM to give them one more year. After some thought, GM said okay and the 2000 season would be the swan song year for Big Mac. Larry Roeseler was courted over to the PPI Toyota camp to race with Ivan Stewart for the highly anticipated BITD Nevada 2000 and the Baja 2000.
Doug Fortin would step into the driver’s seat for Team MacPherson in the TT with a nice 2nd place finish at the season opening Laughlin Desert Challenge with little to no test time. He would have some problems at the next couple races and then the season was cut short with an accident in Barstow while testing.
Big Mac was parked in the back of the race shop for years until Carl Renezeder purchased the truck as a prerunner. A few years later it was sold to Rob Reinertson (ProTruck fame) who rebuilt the truck and raced it at a few events and now is in the process of restoring it back to its original glory.
TT’s have come a long way in a short period of time. 2 wheel drive trucks were the dominate force up until about 3-4 years ago, now it seems you almost have to have a 4 wheel drive to have a shot at winning…….ALMOST. Team MacPherson was ahead of its time with Big Mac, after overcoming the first batch of CV’s that plagued the truck, they overcame those issues and showed they could run with anyone. Who’s to say if they would have had a few more years of R&D to perfect the 4 wheel drive in the TT class, maybe more guys would have built 4 wheel drive trucks a lot earlier.
Funny how fast changes happen in off road racing. If you would have told me 5 years ago that 4 wheel drive TT’s would be dominating the TT class I would have asked you to lay off of the Devil’s Lettuce for a while. Mason Motorsports has really done their homework and figured out the weakness in the 4WD system. Personally I think one of the major advances that Mason figured out was the front portal hubs and the drivetrain.
Dan McMillin was the first in his family to go to the Mason 4 wheel drive platform and he says it was a game changer right away. The truck was purchased from Jesse Jones after a stellar performance by Nasser Al-Attiyah/Toby Price finishing 2nd at the 2019 Baja 1000. Testing started almost immediately at the “McMillin loop” in Plaster City and results showed he was making up 30 to 60 seconds (if not more) going from his old truck to the new 4WD. “They’re deceiving how fast they are, and the quicker exit speed adds up for all the corners, plus the 0-60 is MUCH faster obviously”. Dan is a true believer in the Mason platform and I guess you could say the rest of the McMillin family including brother Luke and cousin Andy think the same way. Dan was finally able to put to rest his string of 4th place finishes and ALL the memes that came along with it at the 2020 Baja 500. He beat a stacked field of TT’s in his “new-to-him” 4WD Mason in convincing fashion on his way to his first TT win.
It will be interesting to see Dan behind the wheel at the Best In The Desert Vegas to Reno event, wheeling that familiar livery of one of the very best off road teams to ever complete, Team MacPherson and the Big Mac colors. 23 years ago, Larry Roeseler won Vegas to Reno in Big Mac, is it a coincidence that the #23 Dan McMillin Mason truck is running the Big Mac colors for Vegas to Reno? Ask me on August 14th.
Chassis: Mason Motorsports AWD
Tires: Bfgoodrich 40” KR3
Engine: Big Block Chevy, 555ci, built by Kroyer Racing Engines. 1100HP, 850 TQ
Gear Box: X Trac, 5 Speed Sequential, paddle shifted
Front Diff / Transfer Case: Mason Motorsports
Suspension: Fox Shocks, tuned and serviced by SDG Suspension. 24” travel up front and 30” in rear.
Steering: Steering Box by Power Steering Solutions.
Cooling: Radiator, Oil coolers and heat exchanger by CBR Products
Brakes: 6 piston caliper, Brembo Brakes
Body: Walker Industries Carbon
Paint: Lil Michael's Customs