Building the Perfect Trophy Truck with Jerry Zaiden

Driving a vehicle fast on the pavement is a task in and of itself, but take away the consistency of asphalt, and you’ve got yourself a real challenge. For Jerry Zaiden, it's taken a lifetime to understand the off-road dynamics of a vehicle when pushed to its limits. Similarly, it's taken a lifetime to learn how to perfect a vehicle for that very task.

To learn more about the rugged high-speed off-roaders made for this specific type of driving, we asked Jerry to walk us through building the perfect trophy truck.


Jerry Zaiden and Jason Campbell attended middle school and high school together, where they bonded over a mutual love of trucks. Throughout high school, they enjoyed watching semi-professional truck racing like the Fireworks 250. Their passion for the sport incited a desire to build race trucks of their own, but they ran into a problem: they could never find the proper components.

After graduating high school in 1991, the pair decided that they would go into business to produce the parts they needed for truck racing. Jerry said, “our goal was always to be racing,” and in 1997, Camburg Engineering was born. With Jerry’s experience in sales and marketing and Jason’s engineering background, they began designing and manufacturing high-end suspension components for racing.

The business partners’ first purchase was buggy powered by a Volkswagen 1600CC engine. Its humble 85 horsepower wasn’t great for a drag start, but “desert racing is all about average speed,” Jerry explained. They soon added a supercharged Toyota V6 powered buggy to the garage with about 250 horsepower. At only 1,800 pounds, it was significantly faster than the VW mill.


After honing their racing skills, they began developing their first racing truck, a Ford Ranger. They used the I-beam truck to develop suspension parts, and by 2007, they were designing full-blown trophy trucks with computer-aided design (CAD) — they were some of the first in the business to do so. In 2009, Camburg entered its first Baja 1000, and as Jerry said, their goal that year was “just to finish the race.”

Today, Camburg Engineering is the leader in off-road suspension systems and an engineering trendsetter in the field. The same over-the-counter parts offered to customers are race-tested on its highly competitive trucks – that’s some serious R&D!


What is a Trophy Truck?

Jerry told us that a trophy truck is essentially an “unlimited four-wheel vehicle that runs a truck body, but there’s nothing really ‘truck’ about a trophy truck.” Trophy trucks generally feature a full tube chassis, a front-engine layout, independent front suspension, a solid rear axle, and two-wheel-drive propulsion. In the front, there are 24–26 inches of suspension travel, and at the rear, there are 28–34 inches of suspension travel. When it comes to power, levels generally exceed 800 horsepower, but the engines also have a lot of weight to carry. Unlike traditional racing where lightness is valued, a softly-sprung trophy truck needs weight to keep it planted during fast off-road sections and whoops. Jerry’s race trucks ring in at about 6,000 pounds — for reference, a Hummer H3 is just shy of 5,000 pounds.


Although the class is relatively open when it comes to modifications, there are a few rules. Jerry told us that all trophy trucks are permitted to run a maximum of 40-inch-diameter tires, a number recently raised from 37 inches. For the powertrain, there are specific part number engines that can be used, including a few variants of the GM Performance LS3 and Ford EcoBoost V6 for a class like 6100.


The Turbo 400

The Turbo 400 is the transmission of choice for most of these trucks, but it can be modified with different torque converters, gearing, underdrive kits and manual valve bodies. The automatic Turbo 400 was first introduced in 1964, and with only three speeds, it's relatively primitive by today’s standards. With that said, it's the perfect transmission for trophy truck racing because of its supreme durability; in this truck’s current configuration, the Turbo 400 can easily handle up to 1,000 lb-ft of torque.


Camburg uses a billet torque converter for the Turbo 400 that is designed specifically for off-road racing. The converter’s stall speed is raised to help the engine get into its powerband more effectively. On the other hand, changing the gearing affects the maximum speed the truck can achieve in a given gear. As Jerry explained, a stock Turbo 400 will max out second gear at about 55 mph, but with updated gearing, that number increases to 75 mph. “The time saved in not having to shift into third,” Jerry said, “could be the difference between first and second place.”

The underdrive kit has more to do with durability than performance. It decreases the speed of the driveshaft, which permits him to use a lower ring-and-pinion ratio, which increases strength. Lastly, a manual valve body allows the driver to shift the transmission instead of a transmission control unit (TCU) that provides automatic shifts.



Improving the suspension is an essential modification made to a trophy truck, and it just happens to be Camburg’s specialty. Camburg offers several upgraded suspension parts for trophy trucks, and through their premium brand Kinetic, they provide some of the most advanced components in the industry.


Camburg suspension parts have seen hundreds of race hours over the off-road course, and they’ve also been used on Toyota Olympic vehicles and even military-spec off-roaders. Jerry explains that all Camburg parts, whether they be from the standard or Kinetic line of products, are heat-treated for durability. Heat-treating each component allows the engineers to reduce weight and provide the same overall strength. When it comes to unsprung mass — especially when you’re moving 40-inch tires — keeping total weight down is vital. It makes a truck more agile and a better overall performer.

Camburg suspension parts are back-beveled before welding, which increases the mating surface area of different metal components. Back-beveling is a time-consuming process, but it ensures better weld penetration and durability. Kinetic suspension parts are differentiated by their billet construction and the use of TIG welding. The billet construction helps to keep weight down while providing impressive strength. Although we could go into the nitty-gritty details of the welding process, the critical takeaway is that TIG welding is the right process to produce high-quality, precision welds to complete these products. The process allows better heat control and ultimately better adhesion between surfaces. All Kinetic products go through several passes of TIG welding and feature 4340 heat-treated high-strength bolts.


Lastly, Jerry explained that Fox Shocks are the standard-bearer for most trophy truck race teams. Like Camburg, Fox uses its racing efforts for research and development purposes, and is continually evolving its shocks to perform better in the harshest conditions.



Although one might think that an off-road race truck wouldn’t need any form of exhaust, Jerry says, “mufflers are needed to make a race bearable for a driver.” A race like the Baja 1000 takes about 20 hours, so driver fatigue is a real concern. Camburg trophy trucks run two Magnaflow 5-inch bullet-style race mufflers to help reduce the overall volume of the exhaust. Additionally, the mufflers help to dampen annoying frequencies at specific engine speeds.


Jerry points out that when the engine runs at high speed for 20 hours, quality is paramount. The exhaust of a trophy truck will be glowing red by the end of a race, so running a product that withstands severe abuse is of the utmost importance. Here at Magnaflow, we design and test all of our products to be industry-leading in terms of quality and durability, so we’re glad to hear that they are holding up to the abuse of trophy truck racing.

The Future of Trophy Trucks

We ended our conversation with Jerry by asking him about the future of off-road truck racing, and he gave us some interesting information about the changes we may see soon. The number one advancement is all-wheel-drive (AWD). Where trophy trucks have traditionally been rear-wheel-drive (RWD), AWD allows for a whole new level of performance. The previous constraints of AWD were ground clearance, as the need for front axles reduces overall clearance by about four inches, a big sacrifice to make while off-roading at speed. With the advent of portal axles — where the half-shaft is above the center of the wheel hub and power is transferred to each wheel via a simple gearbox — ground clearance can be maintained while adding power to the front wheels.



We can’t wait to witness the future of trophy truck racing, and likewise, the future of Camburg Engineering. We’d like to thank Jerry for sitting down with us to explain the ins-and-outs of building a truck for this unique form of motorsports, and we’re glad that our exhaust parts have been serving him well in the heat of competition!
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