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Off-road Racing Answers: What Is a Prerunner?

A vehicle driving through water with long grass on either side

Off-road adventuring is a favorite sport for a core group of enthusiasts, whose 4×4 pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles tackle the toughest terrain, including mud, sand and shallow water. The courses they navigate are not only difficult but dangerous, requiring one or more knowledgeable drivers to scout the area before others join in.

That chosen scout has a particular name: prerunner. What is a prerunner? It loosely describes a vehicle that runs a course before an off-road race or other event begins. Once the site is “pre-run,” the driver shares those findings with all participants.

What Is a Prerunner?

A prerunner can be any type of vehicle, including pickup trucks, motorcycles, SUVs, dune buggies, all-terrain vehicles and even cars. Typically, these vehicles are heavily modified, just like the ones that will participate in an off-road race. But that doesn’t preclude anyone from navigating the course in advance, as long as they can take note of every bump, twist, turn and obstacle and report these to participants using GPS location.

To get the job done, a prerunner must finish the course intact. This means the ideal vehicle is equipped with a robust suspension system, performance shock absorbers and beefy off-road tires. Speed is an important factor for the prerunner to replicate, which rules out most cars.

Articulation is also the name of the game, where only those vehicles with a superior approach, breakover and departure angles are advisable. Where water is a factor, a high ground clearance to navigate shallow streams is another requirement. With this in mind, usually only a pickup truck or SUV will do.

The Ideal Prerunners

Arguably the best prerunner is a small pickup truck — one with a lift kit, fiberglass fenders and a light frame. Old pickups from the 1990s, including the Ford Ranger, are ideal both for their low cost and durability. The Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Chevrolet Colorado and Dodge Dakota are other models in that segment.

Toyota Tacoma PreRunner

Adding intrigue to the mix is the Toyota Tacoma PreRunner, a two-wheel-drive (rear) pickup truck introduced in 1998 and produced through 2014. This one shares the taller suspension and lug pattern of the four-wheel-drive model, along with additional structural bracing underneath.

A Toyota Racing Development off-road package, which is usually available with four-wheel-drive models only, was also offered with the PreRunner. It includes a locking rear differential which, when engaged, forces both rear wheels to turn in unison. Thus, a well-equipped Tacoma PreRunner might be the ideal prerunner on certain off-road racecourses.

Current Prerunners

Although the Tacoma PreRunner is no more, there are a few suitable stock models available, including the Ford F-150 Raptor. The Raptor comes from the factory outfitted with enormous tires, huge shocks, multiple skid plates and bulky fenders. A pair of Chevrolet models, the Silverado Z71 Trail Boss and Colorado ZR2 Bison, are also suitable for prerunning.

Although a prerunner can be any type of vehicle, an older truck that can take a beating, like some of those outlined here, may be the best choice. Once you have a suitable vehicle, it’s also vital that the driver is skilled in negotiating tough terrain and reporting their findings to the team.

Check out all the steering and suspension parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on prerunners, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Matthew C. Keegan View All

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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