Along with the rest of the automotive press, Air Ride Technologies invited Custom Classic Trucks to attend their third annual Street Challenge hosted on the outskirts of Indianapolis at the Putnam Park Road Course September 2006. Although we had never attended the event before, we knew from talking with our friends at Primedia's other automotive titles that the Street Challenge was one of the most fun one-day events around. The principle behind it is "to expose the hot rod world to the performance benefits of air suspension." Having owned and still owning trucks equipped with homebuilt air-ride setups, we weren't averse to air suspension, but frankly, the thought of taking an old truck packing a high-horsepower engine on airbags around a race course sounded a little bit risky. Our old trucks are cut to lay hard, but good handling just wasn't part of the equation when we were (not to make a pun) laying things out.
After a quick blast around Putnam behind the wheel of Air Ride Technologies' conventionally sprung '68 Camaro powered by a blown 500-plus-horse 327, we didn't even have to complete the first lap to realize a guy could easily go through a turn on this track backward if he wasn't careful. The next vehicle we jumped in was Air Ride Technologies' '56 Ford F-100 pickup. This time, instead of one of our guys driving, former NASCAR Busch Series driver Mike McLaughlin was behind the wheel. The little '56 went around the course like a hot knife through butter, but we attributed every bit of this to Mike's driving ability. For the next round one of our guys was behind the '56's wheel. With Mike's coaching, our guy shaved time off of every lap. It was a real eye-opener for us-that darned little '56 was the best-handling truck we had ever driven. Interestingly enough, we weren't the only ones who formed that opinion. After driving the '56, NASCAR driver Boris Said announced that he was going to buy a Tri-Five F-100, "and one of the first things I am going to do is put air suspension on it." All day long we noticed guys like Scott Pruett and Ted Musgrave kept gravitating back to the '56, exiting it with a smile. At the end of the day we left Putnam Park with a whole new outlook on air suspension.