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The ragged, rocky trails found all over the American Southwest are not the place for a racer with a tame heart. Your happiness must come from the feeling that you get by ripping down a gravel road lined with creosote bushes, barrel cactus and rocks big enough to stop an out-of-control 18-wheeler dead in its tracks at speeds that only fellow desert racers and rally racers can comprehend. What looks like unforgiving terrain to most should look like a playground. Names like Parnelli Jones, Walker Evans, Ivan Stewart, Colin McRae and the like should be on your list of teachers. You should be able to tell when the surface is about to switch from hardpack to the soft, talcum-like powder at over 100 miles an hour. Your vehicle should be overbuilt, because that’s the only way it’ll survive.
For Steven Olsewski, these scenes are a second home. He’s known off-road racing for years and his 2005 GMC Canyon showcases his commitment to his craft. Purchased as just a used Canyon SLE in 2007, the truck initially saw a mild lift kit, wheels and tires, and that’s where it stayed for a bit. In 2017, however, the Canyon started the metamorphosis from a street-going off-road rig into a proper desert racer. First came the long-travel suspension up front. Then the cage. You know how this story goes…a little here and a little there…and the next thing you know everything is blown apart and the whole program is being re-written with a new goal in mind. From those humble beginnings, the Canyon is now a Class 2000 racer. For those unfamiliar with off-road racing, the sportsman Class 2000 requires that the cab remain steel, that the doors work, and that the rear suspension is composed of leaf springs.
“It was always a dream to have a truck like this,” Olsewski told us. “The truck started out with the idea of being a daily driver pre-runner, but as the build progressed and it could be seen how close to a fully built race truck it was, we decided to go racing. We knew that we had the best parts from the top manufacturers in the industry and figured we would give it a shot.”
Knowing that a mildly modified Canyon won’t survive in the desert long, everything that could be built up to survive the abuse was. The original engine was dumped in favor of a Chevrolet Performance LT376 6.2L V8 that is kept cool with a Champion radiator and Derale transmission, oil and power steering coolers with Earl’s Plumbing hardware throughout. A Chevrolet Performance Connect and Cruise engine management system keeps everything in check. An MSD Atomic intake manifold helps the fuel that is pushed up via the Holley VR2 brushless fuel pump mix with the air, while a Holley fuel pressure regulator and Earl’s fuel lines keep the good stuff flowing to the injectors from the Fuel Safe 70-gallon fuel cell. The Gen-V LT is sparked with MSD coil packs and plug wires, and a Powermaster alternator keeps the energy flowing. That V8 bark exits through Flowmaster Pro Series Outlaw Race mufflers.
That grunt is sent out through a TCI Automotive TH400 automatic with a reverse manual valvebody and a JE Reel driveshaft to a Currie Enterprises F9 full-floating housing packed with 4.57 rear gears from Motive. A set of custom rear leaf springs from Atlas Suspension work in conjunction with King 4.0x16 five-tube bypass shocks and 2.5 4-inch bumpstops, while Bartact limit straps keep the suspension from over-extending. Up front, a custom-built J-arm suspension with swing steering and FK Rod ends survives with the help of King 2.5x12 coil-overs, King 4.0x12 five-tube bypass shocks, King 2.5 2-inch bumpstops and Bartact limit straps. Wilwood brakes are used all around, with six-piston calipers up front, four-piston calipers out back, and Earl’s brake lines at all four corners.
Inside the Canyon, a Racepak IQ3 Street Dash and Holley EFI analog gauges keeps Olsewski informed of what is going on in the engine bay, while a Racepak SmartWire sends power to wherever it is needed via a Racepak switch pad, which leaves items like any of the Rigid lights accessible with just the touch of a finger. Olsewski and his co-driver stay safe and contained in Mastercraft 3G seats, harnesses and window safety nets, while Rugged Radios equipment, a 1Life trauma kit and Safecraft fire suppression systems are on-board in case things go wrong. A Pro Eagle OG jack and ActionTrax recovery ramps are on-board in case the dirt gets a bit too deep. The exterior of the Canyon certainly strays from it’s original look. Trailer Products is responsible for the custom one-piece front clip and the rear fenders, and there is no missing the Raceline 17” Avenger beadlock wheels on Falken 37x12.5R17 Wildpeak M/T tires.
But for all of the beefing-up, it’s still a four-door truck. Just one that gets used in a manner that would kill a stock Canyon in a matter of minutes. 2021 was the first year of racing and with each race the team learned more and more, including the outer limits when at the last race of the season that November, when after they hit a g-out situation, the Canyon pushed its way into a berm and rolled three times. The roll cage that was designed using Bend-Tech's software and cut using their Dragon plasma tool/pipe cutter was a big part of the Canyon coming back after an accident like that.
Says Olsewski, “The rollover at the end of last year was tough. You never want to end up in that predicament, but it brought the team closer. Tyler, my co-driver, and I were able to walk away from the crash unharmed. The truck took a beating, mainly on the drivers’ side. We had to replace the front suspension completely…shocks, control arms, spindle…everything had to be replaced. We also had to replace the driver-side doors, fiberglass and the whole roof of the cab. Repairs started the week following the rollover and continued until the week leading up to the first race this year. It was a huge sense of accomplishment to have the truck finished and take the green flag two and a half months after the accident.”
The team had repaired the Canyon by February and saw action in places like the MORE McKenzies 250 race in Barstow, California, the MORE GG Lighting Freedom Cup at Glen Helen, Califorina, and the PCI Race Radios 300 in Johnson Valley, California. More recently, the Canyon was the feature vehicle at the Bend-Tech booth at the 2022 SEMA Show and the final race of the year will take the team to the MORE Transaxle Engineering Challenge in Barstow. The schedule for the team’s 2023 season is filling up as well, with the Duel in the Desert and the Mint 400 planned.
“We have made some huge improvements to the truck recently,” he says. “Shock and steering upgrades have turned the truck into a whole different animal. The truck has become more predictable driving through the rough stuff, not to mention that it has been able to soak up the bigger hits where we struggled at the beginning of the year. These changes came late in the season this year, but with more off-season testing we are going to be set up for success. We are looking forward to another year of racing and competing in more events!”