The first truck to compete in Targa Newfoundland is just about as badass as you would expect. When one thinks of a "racing truck", the first thing to come to mind is most likely the NASCAR Truck Series. But other than a slight passing resemblance to the millions of pick-ups we see on the road every day, I’ll let you in on a secret- they aren’t really trucks. To further refine our question, what immediately comes to mind with you think of a street truck that’s built for racing? Maybe a Ford Lightning? How about a GMC Syclone? Either way, one’s thoughts probably turn to a truck from the modern era. Well, Mark Bovey has built his street truck to also serve as a race truck, and it’s much older than you’d think.
That wasn’t really his intention, but it just sort of worked out that way. Mark lives in downtown Toronto. Upon first meeting him, you may just get away with thinking that he looks like a guy you’d expect to see sipping a pint on a Queen West patio. He’s the creative type, and a car guy who you’d expect to own a Porsche, maybe even a Lotus. Nope. The only vehicle he’s has ever owned is this 1971 GMC ½ ton long bed pick-up. The truck has actually been in his possession for the last 26 years, after his father purchased it for him for a mere $100. The little truck has since undergone several changes and many iterations. He states that he never planned on being a truck guy. He was 14 years old when it came into his possession, and he certainly didn’t expect to still own it at this stage of his life. “I toyed with the idea of building a vehicle that had better bones for competition but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’ve been through so much with this truck it just made sense to carry on. Even if it’s not the fastest, it’s so much fun to run.”
Mark has racked up over a 160,000 miles in his time with the truck. During that time, the truck has had 3 engines and 4 transmissions. It suffered collision damage on a couple of different occasions, been the subject of a graffiti attack and even survived a tornado. The truck’s current iteration is a formidable one, featuring a fuel injected LSX- based 427 cubic inch GM small block under the hood. Mark estimates it produces around 600 horsepower. All of that power is fed through a T56 6-speed manual gearbox. The engine is built with a Callies rotating assembly, Diamond forged pistons, AFR aluminum heads, an Edelbrock aluminum intake, a NASCAR distributor conversion and Wegner Motorsports front drive belt system. Said power is routed to the rear wheels via a chromoly drive shaft, which hooks up to a 12-bolt GM truck rear end with 3:73 gears and a limited slip. The engine had a mere 4 hours on it when Mark and his then girlfriend- now wife- Liz, decided to drive it some 13,500km across Canada to British Columbia, down the West coast of the United States and then all the way back. It’s been to the East coast several times and to North Carolina for some land speed racing. Mark has also drag raced the truck for many years. When looking for yet another outlet to subject the truck to, he discovered autocrossing through a friend in 2013.
Autocross is a motorsport where most new entrants start competing in whatever vehicle they have in their possession at that time, and Mark was no exception. Despite some initial reservations on the part of the organizers and some raised eyebrows on the part of his fellow competitors, Mark was quickly accepted after he asked for the opportunity to prove the trucks mettle. Canada has been behind the curve when it comes to the massive Pro-Touring movement that is going on in the U.S., where it is now a regular occurrence to see cars and trucks from the 60’s and 70’s dicing it up at an autocross event or on the racetrack. “People are very enthusiastic. Some just don’t get it, but then they see it blast around the track or autocross and then they understand. It’s big, it’s noisy and it’s just plain fun. Fun to watch, fun to ride in. Crazy fun to drive.” Quite often, autocross leads to a desire to go faster, so Mark began to dabble with higher speed events on an actual racetrack. Then he set his sights even higher. It goes without saying that first in anything is a big deal. You’re always remembered if you’re the first at something regardless of your result, and this past February, Mark decided to go all out and become the first truck to compete in Targa Newfoundland.
For the uninitiated, Targa Newfoundland turns public roads into high-speed, closed rally stages for 5 days in Canada’s most unique province. It’s on the bucket list of many automotive enthusiasts, Mark himself included. “Doing something like Targa Newfoundland is the kind of thing you will do some day, but based on the level of dedication it requires, I personally don't believe the timing will ever be right. This year is more open than any year I've had in the last decade, so it seemed like the small window of opportunity. Targa wanted a truck to run. I own a truck that I love to run. If that is not opportunity, I don't know what is.” Of course, if you want make a vintage truck turn, you have start with the steering, and the original 24:1 ratio steering rack just wouldn’t do. The truck now sports an internal Billet race box from AGR. It’s completely custom right down to the matched pump and cooler and a 14:1 ratio. Surprisingly, the chassis is remarkably close to what GM’s Oshawa, Ontario factory was producing during the early years of the Trudeau era. The frame, front cross-member with independent A-arms and the rear trailing arms are all stock. There are some bolt on modernization modifications though with the front suspension utilizing Classic Performance Products front spindles, dropped coil springs and front sway bar. Out back, the rear suspension also features dropped coil springs with the addition of 2 inch lowering blocks, Early Classic Enterprises shock relocation brackets and a Classic Performance Products adjustable pan hard bar. Shocks? Well the truck’s handling prowess comes from a suspension set-up developed specifically for Mark and his truck’s needs by Ron Sutton of Ron Sutton Race Technology. The shocks are Ride Tech HQ units with Ron’s proprietary valving designed specifically for the Targa Truck. Stopping is at least as important as turning, and the truck rocks disc brakes all the way around with Wilwood 4-piston calipers in the front.
At Targa, Mark plans to run sticky 295/35/18 BF Goodrich Rivals on a custom 18x10 wheel package. One of these tires is most likely as wide as all four of the original ones that came on the truck! Future plans call for an entirely new chassis built by Rob MacGregor from No Limit Engineering and engineered by Ron Sutton. “There is a new chassis plan in place. Ron will do the engineering and supply some very specific parts. He makes his own version of a NASCAR Grand National front hub for example. At the moment, No Limit is my first choice for the fabrication. Both Ron and Rob have worked together but this will be the first tag-team build for them. Not sure of the start date yet.” Oh and yeah Mark’s aware that a long-bed isn’t as ideal as a short-bed would but he doesn’t plan to change that, thank you very much. So what does the truck handle like on the track? I wanted to find out, so at a recent Sigma Time Attack event, I took the opportunity to be a passenger in the truck for some time at the track.
Slipping over the roll cage and into the interior, the aroma of fresh paint greeted my nostrils from the recently completed 8-point roll cage. It’s a work of art that extends into the bed and handily passed the critical eye of the Targa scrutineers. Settling into the Corbeau seat and strapping myself into the 5-point harness, what struck me immediately is how low the seats are compared to a stock bench in these trucks. There is room for another helmet on top of mine, and even then I have plenty of room up top. Mark mentioned that the Corbeaus are his street seats and he has a pair of Momo seats for Targa. It’s a one-of-a-kind rush when he hammers the throttle as we enter the track. The LS sounds awesome and has no trouble pushing you back into the seat. I’ve been in faster vehicles, but certainly none more visceral than this. I had a grin pasted onto my face by the first corner. Despite the aerodynamic efficiency of a moderately-sized town’s city hall and being forced to do something its engineers never intended it to do, the truck handles really, really well on the track. It corners pretty flat for 4083 pounds of American steel, which is a couple hundred more than a Nissan GTR. For a fleeting moment, my mind turned to thoughts of applying for the co-driver’s position.
With this year’s Targa Newfoundland arriving before you know it, Mark still has some work to do. He’s still waiting for his custom wheels to arrive and is also currently interviewing potential co-drivers to take up residence in the passenger seat. “I have every intension of building this truck into a monster, I plan for this truck to always evolve and take on the next challenge. You only live once.” Mark does point out that he is painfully aware of becoming complacent with owning a vehicle that has been yours for so long. “I've noticed that as people grow older with their cars they've had for a long time, the car sits in the garage and collects dust. No thank you. It's a truck, it's only worth something to me and it's worthless unless I use it.” Mark’s Targa philosophy follows that old adage that states to finish first, first you must finish. “I’ve broken everything down into a series of tasks that need to be finished to make the truck last. Targa is an endurance competition that only the strong survive. My goal is to cross that finish line, ideally in one piece.” When asked about what happens if the unthinkable occurs and the truck does suffer a crash, Mark immediately replied with “I’ll just build it again.” Now that’s proper dedication.
In September of 2014, a couple of months after this article was first posted (on a website that no longer exists), Mark and his co-driver Miles Markovic took the title of the first truck to attend Targa Newfoundland. Then they became the first truck to complete Targa Newfoundland. With 40 stages that take place over 5 days cover roughly 1800 kilometres (1100 miles) and a 30% competitor attrition rate, just finishing Targa Newfoundland is anachievement in itself. Their efforts were rewarded with a 2nd place in the Targa (Classic) Division, an incredible result for their first time out! After making history in 2014 the Targa Truck didn’t attend Targa Newfoundland in 2015 or 2016 but we certainly haven’t heard the last of it. What’s next? Follow Mark and his team at www.targatruck.com
For more information on Targa Newfoundland visit www.targanfld.com