What Is a Prerunner Truck and How To Build It

Prerunner is a truck modified for high speed off-road racing on a rough desert terrain. It is used by professional race drivers to prerun the track course, train and make the test runs.

Let’s find out what is a prerunner truck definition and what is the meaning behind this term. Many off-road magazines, blogs, and listings often speculate with this term and widely use it to describe beefy trucks or SUV modified for off-road racing. There are few elements though that make them stand out from the crowd of other modified rigs such as wide stance, large tires, bulge fenders, long travel suspension etc. To see the reason of such an outlook let’s take a closer look at the origin of this word and functional requirements of the vehicles used for desert racing.

The word prerunner came to us from the auto sport and desert races such as Baja 1000 in particular.

Unlike many road races like Indy 500, there’s no particular course and vehicles do not run on a track. Checkpoints are often located in the middle of nowhere and racers are up to decide which course to choose to get there faster than competitors.

Interesting fact: Spence Murray was the first winner of the Baja 1000 and he was driving a Rambler American, which was way too far from being the fastest truck in the race. Despite this fact, he actually won the race simply because getting lost in the desert less than all other competitors.

In order to learn the course and find the best way to the checkpoint racers pre run it. Better you know the track – better the chances to win. Depending on the track, pre-running the course usually takes from two to seven days.

chevy silverado prerunner duramax 3500

As you know, race trucks for such competitions like Baja 1000 or Mint 400 require very serious performance upgrades and therefore cost a lot. Sometimes the cost of such rig exceeds the amount of $1.000.000 and obviously it wouldn’t be the right thing for a team to use their primary trophy trucks to pre run a course. Race team usually has a couple of other less expensive and less modified tucks to do this job. There are usually 4 people in the team that are involved in prerunning – driver, navigator, team manager and mechanic, so they often use two trucks (two people in each).

A truck for pre-running must be capable on rough terrain, must have a good amount of suspension travel, hold necessary gear, such as shovels, lift jacks, canisters with fuel or custom tank and a pair of spare tires.

Check out a classic Ford F100 prerunner having fun in the Middle Eastern desert:

2WD or 4WD

Many say that prerunners can only be 2WD, but it’s not really a necessity, as both 2WD and 4WD can be easily used for this purpose. 2WD trucks are used more often because of the few factors: absence of the front axle and transfer case, which results in lighter weight, better suspension travel and easier modification / maintenance. 4WD trucks on the other hand are more capable on the rough terrain, which means that you have smaller chances to get stuck in the middle of nowhere. Additionally four wheel drive trucks run straight, and don’t get sideways in drift like RWD rigs sometimes do.

toyota tacoma prerunner

How to build a prerunner truck?

Truck body style is the most suitable for high speed deset racing, so the most common platforms are Ford Ranger, Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra, Toyota Tundra, Nissan Titan prerunner etc. SUVs are less popular however the most common models are Jeep Cherokee, Ford Explorer and Chevy Tahoe prerunners.

Chevy S10, Colorado
Dodge Dakota
GMC Sonoma, Canyon
Nissan Frontier
Toyota Tacoma
SHORT BASE SUVChevy Blazer, Tahoe
Dodge Ramcharger
Ford Bronco (FSB)
Jeep Cherokee XJ
FULL SIZE TRUCKSChevy Silverado 1500
Dodge Ram 1500
Ford F150
GMC Sierra
Nissan Titan
Toyota Tundra
HD TRUCKSChevy Silverado 2500/3500 (Duramax)
Dodge Ram 2500/3500 (Cummins)
Ford F250/F350 (Powerstroke)

Prerunner wheels and Tires - Toyo Open Country and Method Rims


It’s obviously one of the most important modifications that are done to a vehicle in order to run over extreme desert terrain. Occasional hills, rocks and other obstacles are very dangerous for a truck cruising at a high speed, so the wheels must be large enough to go over the obstacles without gettingt damaged.

Prerunners typically use 35″ – 37″ and larger tires, however on some smaller pickups like Ranger or Tacoma you can sometimes meet 33″ – 35″ tires.


To ensure safe cushioning and to absorb all the bumps that are met by large tires on a high speed – it’s required to have a long travel suspension with extended shocks and bypass. The height of a bump, hole or an obstacle that can be safely rolled over, directly depends on the suspension travel length. Professional trophy truck may have about 30″ of travel to run on the racecourse, other pre-runner pickup trucks may feature other length but it’s typically not less than 12″, however it may slightly vary, especially on smaller trucks.

Custom Prerunner - Suspension Control Arms


Ford Ranger Prerunner With 2nd Generation Ford Raptor Front End Conversion

Large tires and suspension kit will not fit under the stock fenders without modifications, so oversized bulge fender kits are widely used by professionals and enthusiasts. They are usually made of fiberglass or other automotive plastic like ABS or polyurethane and installed both on the front and the back of the trucks. Front fenders are often incorporated with the hood in a single shell for easier access to the engine compartment. Rear prerunner quarterpannels are also used to ensure normal clearance on the back.


As well as the fenders, stock bumpers will surely interfere with oversized tires and skid plates, so they are often swapped with beefy off-road bumpers. Tubular off-road bumpers are widely used because of the light weight, lower profile and ease of fabrication. Winch bumpers are also used on prerunner. Rear bumpers are often tubular for better weight balance.


Engine power plays a key role in a prerunner build as a truck must be capable to haul it’s own weight which is way off being light over the rough terrain at the high speeds of about 90MPH. The majority of the rigs runs on V8 gas engines, however diesel is sometimes picked as an alternative. Typical power adders are superchargers, turbo and twin-turbochargers paired with performance transmission, air intakes and exhaust systems. Cooling systems and A/C also play an important role.

Prerunner exhaust system is often straight pipe and features headers, downpipe, side swept or rear exist dual mufflers and resonators.


Full interior cage on Toyota Tundra prerrunner

Desert races are very dangerous because of the unpredictable terrain and high speeds, so every team takes care of proper safety measures. Rollcage is often installed on soft bushings and protects the driver from rollovers and other hazards.


dodge ram suspension seats

Proper sport bucket seats and multipoint harness will definitely do a better jub in holding your body on extreme turns and jumps, than a stock bench seats, So don’t even think to skip this checkpoint.

Overall prerunner truck interior lookes very spartan, and a dash is often modified to fit verious Gages, tumblers, buttons and monitors.


ford ranger prerunner spare tire carrier desert racing

Running wild in the desert without a spare tire can easily leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere, and the chances to get a flat tire are very high here. Keeping in mind that average prerunner wheels are pretty big and heavy, you got to think about a convenient spare tire holder.

Most of the prerunners utilize either one or two full size tires. Needless to say that you should be in a very good shape to be strong enough to take a spare from the holder and put a bad tire back on. Even though the lift jacks are often used it may be a pretty tough task to switch the wheels in a deep sand.


Since engines are often being modified with various performance components like superchargers and turbochargers the gas mileage will drop dramatically. Add bigger tire size and uneven terrain on top of that and you’ll see you truck turning into a thirsty gas gazzler.
The distance between checkpoints may be very big, so you should be very clear in your gas mileage calculations to finish your race cource. This is ecaxtly why high capacity fuel tanks are often used by professional racers and enthusiasts.


Another highly important device in the desert is a GPS navigator, that will always show you the right way out and keep you following the course, because it’s very easy to get lost, especially if there are no even landmarks.

Chevy Silverado prerunner burnout at hoonigan garage


Driving in the dark is always dangerous as the driver may not be able to notice large obstacles at the high speed even with the headlights on. Modern high mount offroad lights and LED light bars provide enough light to do this job, plus they improve the visibility of your truck, so it could be noticed from a long distance. Find out more about the types of auxiliary lighting for prerunner trucks here.

Prerunners For Sale

The elements described above are common for most of the prerunner truck projecs built by enthusiasts and professional shops, however there may be many other specific components that are designed to improve the off-road capabilities of these trucks.

Nothing will give you a better understanding of these trucks than experience of their owners and builders. Below are the in-deapth reiews of some of the best prerunner projects of 2018.  You will find detailed spec lists, pictures and video:


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