Ford Ranger has had plenty of variants in its 40-year history, but a special Ranger that goes under the radar is the Rocket Ranger. With the launch of the all-new 2024 Ford Ranger and Ranger Raptor, we’re looking back at the time a NASCAR engine powered an otherwise stock Ranger to a land-speed record.
Mark Bill, then the assistant chief engineer for Ranger programs, piloted the Rocket Ranger to a speed of 205.208 mph in the flying mile at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, a record at the time for pickup trucks. Bill had an extensive automotive background, having worked for Ford for 25 years in both Vehicle Engineering and Advanced Powertrain Planning at the time of the record run.
“The experience gained through the high demands of racing pays off in everything we do,” Bill said in a press release announcing the feat. “You can't make a mistake out here on the salt. We bring that approach back to the office, where our teams work hard to ensure Ranger is highly capable across a broad range of disciplines — from world's fastest on the salt to the winningest off-road.”
While the exterior of the Rocket Ranger was nearly identical to that of a stock 2002 Ford Ranger, the interior and the pickup’s engine were anything but. The inside of the cabin had been stripped bare, and a racing seat and roll cage were installed in place of the original components by Ford collaborator SPAL Advanced Technologies. An engine swap, courtesy of Roush Industries, gave the Rocket its launching power — with a 372-cubic-inch V8 fit for one of Ford’s NASCAR Cup Series cars, capable of producing nearly 800 horsepower.
Fittingly, Bill’s record run came just days after the 100th anniversary of Ford’s involvement in racing, which saw company founder Henry Ford, still a struggling entrepreneur in 1901, driving his “Sweepstakes” race car to an upset victory over the country’s top racer in a 10-mile race at Detroit Driving Club. The win helped Henry Ford secure the seed money he would use to help create Ford Motor Company.
Bill’s record-setting run was actually the second time the Rocket Ranger had eclipsed 200 mph. It had previously reached 202.434 mph on Aug. 14, 2001, with another driver behind the wheel. The truck’s front end was slightly lowered, and a new front air dam was added for the second run on Oct. 19 when it reached 205.208 mph. Its rear axle gear was also shortened, which allowed the engine to turn slightly faster.
Equipped with a Power Stroke diesel engine, Rocket Ranger reportedly returned to Bonneville multiple times and claimed the diesel pickup truck speed record in 2007. As for the modern-day Ranger, it and the Ranger Raptor this week were revealed for the North American market. Click here to read more.
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