By Nancy Schilke - motorsport.com

April 7 - SMD Motorsports, Ford Motor Company, and International Engine Group (Navistar) launched the Excursion at the Best-in-the-Desert (BITD) 'Terrible Town 250' event. The event is part of the BITD 'Silver State Series' held in the rugged desert of Nevada. The launch was preceded by 'The Concept' - "part of the strategy to race one of everything we sell," as stated by Phil Schilke.

On hand for the launch were:
Ed Hightower - Chief Engineer - Excursion, Ford Motor Company
Phil Schilke - Chairman - Ford Truck Motorsports Technical Team
Mark Hanson - Truck Motorsports Program Manager Ford Motor Company position under the direction of the Ford Truck Motorsports Technical Team
John DeCotis - 4x4 System Engineer, Ford Motor Company and member of Ford Truck Motorsports Technical Team
Dave Strader - Super Duty Engine Calibration, Ford Motor Company and member of Ford Truck Motorsports Technical Team
Jim Dopirak - Ford Racing
Steve Scaroni - Owner, SMD Motorsports
Brenda Scaroni - Hospitality, SMD Motorsports
Matt Scaroni, - Driver - Excursion, SMD Motorsports
Tom Watson - Driver - Excursion, SMD Motorsports
Bob Rath - Vice President, International Truck and Engine Corporation
Mark Wildman - Field Service Engineering, Navistar.


Phil Schilke (Ford), Steve Scaroni (SMD), Matt Scaroni (SMD), Jim Dopirak (Ford Racing). Photo: Dave Churchill

'The concept' of racing an Excursion SUV in off-road competition in the desert series' was the brainchild of Schilke. Schilke heads the technical team of motorsports volunteers from various areas of Ford Truck. The idea is to give technical support to the Ford off-road racing teams and to use off-road racing as a developmental test bed for Ford Truck. Schilke has been involved with the Truck Motorsports team since he, Andy Gordon, Cliff Irey and Rob Stephens developed a Ford Ranger as a road-course vehicle for a Road & Track challenge at Lime Rock Raceway in the early 80s'. That concept led to the Sports Car Club of America's Racetruck Challenge series. That series was highly successful in the promotion and abilities of the Ford Ranger. Schilke currently holds the position at Ford as Supervisor, Ranger Vehicle Engineering.

S. Scaroni is the builder/creator of 'the concept' who turned the Excursion into a unique off-road vehicle. S. Scaroni's background in off-road racing extends back into the 70s. In 1996, S. Scaroni made the commitment to field his own racing program in the off-road desert series' by campaigning the Ford Explorer formerly raced and owned by Swift Motorsports. In 1998, S. Scaroni purchased a Ford F-150 to compete in the Protruck series. However, he has turned the driving of the Excursion over to his son M. Scaroni and brother-in-law Watson and will continue to campaign his Protruck..

The final piece of the 'the concept' was when Rath and Wildman representing International (Navistar) as a technical partner with Ford, brought the high performance of the Power Stroke diesel engines onboard. Using the Navistar International turbocharged diesel powerplant in this project will allow testing and development of new ideas for the company as will as demonstrate the high performance of the diesel engines.

'The concept' has concluded in providing a new 2001 Ford Excursion in rugged off-road competition. The launch of the Excursion created a long-term product development test bed and a unique brand awareness campaign for all involved.

<pre> Schedule: April 6 - 8 BITD Terrible Town 250, Pahrump, Nevada June 1- 3 SCORE Baja 500, Ensenada, Mexico June 22 - 24 BITD Tonopah 300, Tonopah, Nevada Sept. 27 - 30 BITD Las Vegas to Reno, Las Vegas, Nevada Nov. 8 - 11 SCORE Baja 1000, Ensenada, Mexico Dec. 1 -2 BITD Las Vegas 200, Las Vegas, Nevada

Statistics: Entrant: SMD Motorsports, Herber, California

Driver: Matt Scaroni Co-Driver: Tom Watson

Vehicle: 2001 Ford Excursion SUV Engine: Navistar Powerstroke Turbocharged Diesel Horsepower: 400 hp, 850 ft. lb. Torque Chassis: Ford Excursion featuring full roll cage by Jim Weitzel Wheelbase: 137.1" Weight: 6000 lbs. Fuel Capacity: 60 gallons Suspension: Front: Ford I-Beam with 11" of wheel travel Rear: Solid axle by Ford Trucks/Visteon with 16" of wheel travel Tires: BF Goodrich Project T/As, 37.12.50x17 Shocks: 8-3" bypass by Fox Racing Shox Springs: Rear by National Spring Front by Hypercoil Transmission: Ford 4R1000 by Ford Motor Company, Auto trans Engineering Brakes: Racing discs, both front and rear Interior: Custom seats by Mastercraft