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Rough Riders Off-Road Racing Team (1991-1995) - By Jim Oaks

Click Team Photos To Enlarge

(Dan Smith - Dave Ashley - Rob MacCachren - Manny Esquerra - John Swift - Chuck Johnson - Paul Simon - Dave Simon)

(John Swift - Dave Simon - Danny Thompson - Paul Simon - Dave Ashley - Rob MacCachren - Scott Taylor - Dan Smith)

(Paul Simon, John Swift, Dino Pugeda, Tudy Esquerra, Manny Esquerra, Dave Ashley, Dan Smith, Rob MacCachren, Dave Simon, Chuck Johnson, Johnny Johnson, and Bob Bower)

(From Bottom Left: Dave Simon, Steve Olliges - Second Row From Left: Dan Smith, Rob MacCachren, John Swift - Top Row From Left: Dave Ashley, Tim Casey, Paul Simon)


Ford & Desert Racing:

A form of racing where Ford had immediate bragging rights was in the deserts of the Southwest. Over the years, Bill Stroppe had advanced his reputation as a winning builder of off-road race vehicles. They weren’t always Fords, but in the early 1980s one of the winningest was a Ford Courier driven by Manny Esquerra. He won SCORE championships in 1980, 1981 and 1982, then Stroppe switched to a Ranger and Esquerra won four straight titles: 1984 through 1987.

By then, more teams had joined the Ford fold, and Ford Truck Operations helped with significant engineering support. They used off-road racing as a test-and-development lab for production components, and notable successes included durability improvements to the production E4OD automatic transmission.

The culmination of Ford’s off-road truck program came in 1991 with the announcement of the Ford/BFGoodrich Rough Riders. This was a superteam comprising top teams, drivers and trucks in several classes. The teams shared logistical and engineering support, as well as promotional campaigns on the parts of Ford and BFG. From 1991 to 1995, Rough Rider teams brought Ford more than 20 off-road driver and manufacturer championships.

The Rough Riders for all practical purposes ended after the 1995 season. It was originally a five year program from the get go. There was a little support in 96 but the greater part of the team was gone by then.

The team was bolstered somewhat in 1292 -1993 with the addition of the stadium racing program run by Venable Racing with Rob MacCachren and Danny Thompson as the drivers.

The Rough Riders also got some press at the 1992 Baja 1000 when, after Manny Esquerra left the team, Bill Stroppe was able to talk Parnelli Jones out of retirement to drive the class 7 truck for a short come back.

Richard (Dick) Landfield:

Dick Landfield could probably be considered the father of the Rough Rider Off-Road Team.

A Ford dealer in Yorba Linda, California, Dick Landfield became enamored of off-road racing in 1969 when a friend, Irv Hanks, invited him to race the very first NORRA Baja 500. Their race was long, difficult, and beset by mechanical problems. Landfield had to leave Hanks parked on one of the notorious “Three Sisters”, south of San Felipe, while he hitched a ride to Mexicali for replacement parts and another vehicle. This graphic demonstration of just how difficult it was for an independent racer, (as opposed to one associated with a factory team) to get to the finish, inspired Landfield to create the very first pitting organization for off-road racers.

Called the First Association of Independent Racers (FAIR), Landfield’s group at first was set up to service only Ford racers. Dick raised the money to buy generators and tools.He had the group set up and functioning in time for the Baja 1000 of the same year. FAIR is still in existence today, and after 38 years still helps to make it possible for an independent racer to compete successfully. Hundreds of racers, some of whom went on to become highly successful and affiliated with big teams, started their racing careers with help from the FAIR pit support team.

From that time on, Landfield was at the forefront of off-road history through his involvement in the sport. In 1974 he was a part of the introduction of the first mini-truck, a Ford Courier, to the off-road racing scene. He then identified and developed the market for “prerunner” trucks that looked like those of well known racers. He built Walker Evans style trucks and sold enough of them to make it possible for Evans to build himself a new race truck.

Landfield raced in the Mickey Thompson stadium series for a while, and fielded a team of luminaries including John Swift, Albert Arciero, Dave Ashley, Henry Arras, Al Unser, Al Unser, Jr., and Josele Garza, (who’d been the Rookie of the Year at Indianapolis). This brought the focus of the public’s eye on the sport. When he retired from racing in 1986 because of health problems related to dust, he continued as a team owner, fielding the first Ford Ranger to race off-road, with Dave Ashley as his driver.

In 1991 he added a second truck and brought in Dan Smith as his second driver, creating a highly skilled and successful team. That same year he recognized that Ford, which had six active teams racing off-road, could multiply their impact on the public by creating a united front. Landfield brought his vision to Ford. Ford embraced the idea and brought it to reality. The result was the Ford Rough Riders Team program. By painting all their race vehicles in the same Ford colors the six teams, Enduro Racing (Landfield’s), Bill Stroppe, Simon and Simon, Spirit Racing, Swift Motorsports, and Jim Venable Racing, became a huge entity in the public eye. In addition to a consistent paint scheme on all the vehicles, Landfield had the drivers wear matching drivers’ suits and dressed the pit crews in identical crew uniforms. The impact was unprecedented.


(Chuck Johnson)

(Steve Olliges & Tim Casey - Click to see the back)


Rough Riders Report NO. 7: (Courtesy of Steve Olliges)

(Click To Enlarge) (Click To Enlarge) (Click To Enlarge) (Click To Enlarge)





Manny Esquerra:

Throughout his career, which spanned over three decades, Manny earned countless race wins and a dozen major series championships. Some of his many wins include the Parker 400, thirteen times, the Mint 400, twelve times, the Frontier 500 five times, the Baja 500 five times and was a six-time winner of the Baja 1000. Esquerra was voted driver of the year in the SCORE Desert Series in 1980 and 81 and won the coveted Toyota “True Grit” award in 1986, which is awarded to those few drivers who complete every mile of every race in a season.

Much of his success behind the wheel was done under the watchful eye of ORMHOF member and legendary team owner, Bill Stroppe, who hired Manny as a contract driver to pilot his Class 7 Ford Ranger trucks in 1981. During the ten years that followed, Stroppe and Esquerra became good friends and one of the most formidable teams in off-road racing history. Manny helped to develop the Ford Ranger brand and was supported by many national sponsors whose brands everyone will recognize. Companies like 7-11, Chief Auto Parts, Ford Motor Company, Firestone Tires, Motorcraft, BF Goodrich and Coors Brewing Company were some of his many sponsors over the years. Later, as part of the Rough Rider team, Manny and Stroppe had the support of the best in the sport and were part of an elite group of racing teams that may never be duplicated. The Rough Rider teams were some of the best in off-road racing and all capable of winning any race they entered. Support from major brands like Ford Motor Company, BFGoodrich, Texaco and others made the Rough Riders the first large coordinated joint marketing program in off-road racing and has yet to be equaled in scope.

Manny Esquerra was a SCORE Baja 1000 Multi-Class Champion Leader in l981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1990.

Manny passed from an apparent heart attack doing what he loved to do; driving a Ford truck during the second lap of the Parker 425 on February 2, 2008. Shortly after his untimely death, a group of close friends gathered in the desert, near the spot where Manny drew his final breath and constructed a monument in concrete and steel. The plaque reads:

King of the Desert
Manny Esquerra
2/2/08....Makin’ Tracks

(Sign erected off of Shea Road by Manny's wife)

(Manny Esquerra before the Rough Rider days)

Dan Smith / Dave Ashley: 

Dan Smith and Dave Ashley collectively known as Enduro Racing continued to race after the Rough Riders split up. Their last F-150 trophy truck was sponsored by Duralast. Duralast dropped out of racing during the 2002 season. Smith/Ashley finished the season and as far as we know, they quit racing after 2002.

Dan Smith was a SCORE Baja 1000 Multi-Class Champion Leader in 1983, 1992 (2), 1993, 1994, and 2000.

David Ashley was a SCORE Baja 1000 Multi-Class Champion Leader in 1989, 1990, 1992 (2), 1993, 1994, and 2000.

(Dan Smith/Dave Ashley - Duralast Ford F-150)


Paul Simon - Dave Simon:  

The Simon's stopped racing after 1996. It has been said that they stopped racing because it was consuming their lives and taking time from God and family. They also reportedly said that the reason they were getting out of off road racing was because Ford was not offering the level of sponsorship they needed to comfortably maintain the team. 

Irregardless, they were very successful concrete contractors in the San Diego/Temecula area and did construction work.

They supposedly still have a pre-runner that is nearly identical to their Trophy Truck.

(Simon & Simon)

Scott Taylor:

Scott Taylor joined the Rough Riders in the later years to represent the Rough Riders in what was then called the SODA series, which would later become CORR, which at the time was a midwestern short course racing group.

Scott Taylor began his racing career 30 years ago and has been successful at every level of motorsports competition. His trail of victories includes wins throughout the United States and Canada. Scott Taylor is considered as one of the premiere off-road competitors of all time.

Scott Taylor has more wins and championships than we care to try and list here. Scott Taylor is still racing and currently races in CORR (Championship Off Road Racing) and WSORR (World Series Off Road Racing). You can find more information on Scott at

(Scott Taylor - 2008)

Rob MacCachren:

Born with an inherent love for off-roading, MacCachren established his penchant for kicking up the dust at an early age.  He began racing dirt bikes over the rigors of the terrain near his hometown of Las Vegas and by the time he was eight years old, won the Nevada State Motorcycle Championship.  Having earned more than 100 victories and 15 career championships since the beginning of his off-road racing career, MacCachren has consistently proven to be a formidable force in any off-road venue.

After forming his own race team, MacCachren Motorsports, in 1997, MacCachren has shown considerable strength and character in developing a first class operation run solely by family members. A few notable accomplishments for MacCachren include earning Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts (SNORE) Driver of the Year award four times.  He also achieved the Triple Crown in 1987 when he took the SNORE, SCORE International Off-Road Racing and High Desert Racing Association (HDRA) Driver of the Year awards.

As of 2008, Rob MacCachren is still racing off-road in 

John Swift:

John Swift was introduced to the excitement of desert racing by his father Ray. Ray Swift began racing back in the 1960s when the sport was in its infancy and instilled his passion for the sport in his son. John’s racing career was soon to become legendary. By 1984 John was already in the seat of his own race truck and well on his way to success. In 1986 John Swift had carefully chosen the Ford Ranger Platform as his weapon of choice for battling the Baja.  

John continued to work with the Ranger platform, perfecting its performance and his driving skills until 1989 when he won both the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 with a Class 7/ 4X4 Ranger. Not only did John amazingly take both wins, but also the team was pioneering new ground, by being the first to utilize Ford’s Electronic EEC-IV system. 


John Swift’s success continued as he piloted his Ranger to another Baja 500 win in 1991, finishing up second-in-class for season points that year. That same year, John joined the BFG/Ford Rough Riders Team and had a V-6 powered Ford Explorer built by Bill Savage. 

(John Swift)

The inaugural race for the Explorer landed it in the winner’s circle for the first time and it wouldn’t be the last. John claimed three successive Class-6 titles with the Explorer, making it one of the most successful icons of desert racing today.  

John’s success with the Ranger platform didn’t end there. In 1994 John decided it was time for a new truck and began to have it built. This new truck would be based on the same winning formula as the Explorer. The formula was simple: Build a reliable, durable, fast truck while keeping a perfect power-to-weight ratio. Using the Ford V-6 engine made for a quick and nimble vehicle, and that’s what the new Ranger would have. After almost 10-years of fabrication and perfection, the new Ranger was finally rolled out of the shop and ready for action just in time for the 2005 season. 

(John Swift)

John still loves to race and likes to jump behind the wheel whenever he feels like it, but the majority of the racing duties have since been passed along to his son Jonathan, in much the same way it was passed down from his father.

To learn more, visit

Steve Olliges:

Steve Olliges joined the Rough Riders (along with Tim Casey) in 1995 after racing a Ford F-150 Lightning with Tim Casey under the name La Paz Lightning Team. Olliges/Casey raced in the Full-Stock class.

Steve Olliges is still racing in BITD (Best In The Desert) along with John Swift. Steve is the owner of Team Ford in Las Vegas Nevada which has been a family owned business.

(Steve Olliges - 2007)

Tim Casey:

Tim Casey raced with Steve Olliges when they became part of the Rough Riders in 1995. Tim is still racing a stock fullsize F-150 with Solar Racing in SCORE desert racing.


Danny Thompson / Jerry Whelchel:

No information could be found for Danny Thompson, but we do know that him and Jerry Whelchel drove a Mickey Thompson stadium truck along with Rob MacCachren.

The photos below are of an old 1994 Ford Ranger Mickey Thompson stadium truck that was driven by Jerry Whelchel. The truck is currently owned by Steve Reeder. Steve was never a member of the Ford Rough Riders.

Chet Huffman & Jerry Whelchel's Trophy Truck

(Jerry Whelchel CORR racing)

(Jerry Whelchel)

Jerry Whelchel can still be found racing in the desert and in the CORR series driving trucks for Chet Huffman Motorsports.

Chuck Johnson:

Chuck Johnson was with the Rough Riders in 1991 & 1992. Chuck Johnson started off-road racing in 1973 at the age of 16. During Chucks career, he was a SCORE Baja 1000 Multi-Class Champion Leader in 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, and 1991. In 1991 he won the championship as a member of the Rough Riders in class 7s. In 1992 he was driving for the legendary Bill Stroppe. He actually has 6 Baja 1000 wins under his belt. In 1993 he won piloting a Jeep. Chuck continued racing in the SODA & CORR series until around 1998. From 1998-2000 he did a little stock car racing. In 2000 he turned driving duties over to his son Eric. Today, Chuck and his son are involved in Midget racing. 

Chuck won many other off-road racers other than the Baja 1,000 races. Talking to Chuck has been a fascinating trip in to off-road racings past. 

Check out our Chuck Johnson photo gallery HERE.

Parnelli Jones:

In 1968, Bill Stroppe convinced Parnelli Jones to get involved in off-road racing. Parnelli already had several years of experience racing and in 1962 was the first person to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 at over 150 mph. He won the pole position at a speed of 150.370 mph. In 1974, after wrecking at the Baja 500, Parnelli stepped away from full-time off-road racing to become an owner. In 1992, Bill Stroppe talked Parnelli Jones out of retirement to drive the Rough Rider class 7 truck for a short come back.

Parnelli is most famous in the off-road community for his "Big Oly" Bronco that was named after his sponsor Olympia Beer.

(Parnelli's "Big Oly" Bronco)

Bob Bower:

Most of you are familiar with Bob Bower from his TV announcing of various off-road events. Don't be fooled in to thinking Bob is just some announcer guy that doesn't have any experience inside of a race vehicle. Bob has had a long career serving as a co-driver for many great desert racers.

In 1988, 1989, and 1990, Bob Bower was the co-driver for Robby Gordon. In 1991, Bob became the co-driver for Chuck Johnson and Johnny Johnson as part of the Ford Rough Riders. It was a good team and that year they won the SCORE Class 7S Championship, and the SCORE Mini-Metal Overall Championship. Chuck and Johnny shared driving chores with Bob serving as co-driver for the entire race.

Bob is the current (2009) Executive Director of the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. He is also still involved in desert racing as a co-driver.

Bob Bower with Rod Hall

Geoff Dorr:

We don't much information on Geoff, but we know he raced a Class 4 Ford F-150 with the Rough Riders in 1995. He is currently the crew chief for his son Mitch Dorr who is racing a F-150 in the Midwest SRT TORC series.

Dino Pugeda:

Dino Pugeda was a co-rider in John Swift's Rough Rider Ford Ranger in the 1995 Baja 500. 

On June 3rd, 1995 at the Baja 500, Rough Rider driver John Swift experienced a violent rollover along with his co-driver Dino Pugeda. It is said that Swift tried to avoid a spectator and wrecked. Dino Pugeda of Oxnard, California, was airlifted to a hospital in critical condition. Dino had loosened his belts for a brief moment to get comfortable about the time the crash happened. He suffered head trauma and ended up in a coma. He is still in a hospital.

Have More Information?

If you have photos or information that you would like to contribute to this page, please email them to

Special Thanks To:

Chuck Johnson - Former Rough Rider Driver

Bob Bower - Former Rough Rider Co-Pilot / Executive Director of the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame

Jon Swift - Former Rough Rider Driver - Swift Motorsports

Bill Slaton - Swift Motorsports

Steve Olliges - Former Rough Rider Driver - Owner Team Ford

Monica Akerley - Executive Assistant - Team Ford

Chris Lay "canyoncritter" (Various photos)

Austin Cucci (Photos of Manny's sign & monument)

Check out these sites:

SCORE International

Chet Huffman Motorsports

Menzies Motorsports

Robby Gordon Off-Road

Swift Racing

Taylor Racing

Team Ford - #1 Ford Truck Dealer In Las Vegas


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