So if you’ve ever been to a rock bouncing event you’ve got to witness what I like to refer to as the coolest thing in the world. You watch as these custom built machines, one after another hit hill climbs faster than you’d believe on hills some would have thought impossible to climb. But nonetheless time and time again these machines have proved you and also myself wrong. But if there’s one thing that stands out among all other things involved in the sport. It has got to be the camaraderie. If you’ve been to a race you probably by now have noticed and/or picked up on the relationships these drivers have with one another. Which in my opinion is the best part of this whole scene. From the very first race that I ever attended there was something more to it that had me hooked. Whether it be drivers running out on the course when another driver had flipped or broke and was unable to continue. To pulling parts out of one buggy to run another. Watching from atop the hill as one driver who has completed his run would make his way back down to the bottom of the hill. Pulling himself from the seat of his bouncer and then strapping in another driver that was unable to race his machine due to mechanical issues that day. To last minute triple safety checks down on the starting line followed by a quick word of prayer.
Each and every event I witness something that makes me fall more in love with the sport. From the first time I ever seen it I was already hooked but time and time again as I make a return to these events I’m reminded of why I’m addicted over and over. As you can see, above all in the sport of rock bouncing is the people. Which leads me to my first story. One of many I plan to bring to y’all. Today I’ll share with y’all the story of Mr. Shelby St
claire the world renowned internet famous rock bouncer driver that until last Saturday had only run 1 race and in a rental! So let’s go back to where it all began and learn a little bit more and understand why this story is worth telling.
A little over four years ago Shelby had his first thoughts of building a bouncer that could not only compete in a race but also that he would be able to trail ride. After doing some research, and then posting online Shelby came into contact with Shane Robertson owner of SWR welding & fabrication through the glorious social platform of Facebook. After responding to a comment Shelby made the three hour trip one way trip to meet with Shane and discuss the build. After a brief conversation a deposit was made and Shelby’s dream began to transform into a reality.
Tasked with building Shelby a five seater Rockwell crawler. Shane, With some creativity came up with a chassis design that would have an aggressive rat rod style to it, resembling a 1934 dodge sedan with rolled tub fenders and running boards. With the parts provided by Shelby; Shane got to work on the chassis. About 5 months into the build tragedy struck. In March of 2016 a devastating flood that caused numerous road closures throughout the town of Shreveport put a dead stop to the build. With over five feet of water in his shop Shane lost nearly everything he owned. Including a few of Shelby’s parts that were unrecoverable. With this being within the first year of starting his business Shane took an incredibly brutal hit financially. After salvaging what he could when the waters receded to help cover the cost of reimbursements to his customers. An agreement was made to refund Shelby everything he had spent up until this point. With Shane no longer being able to continue building the bouncer given his current situation. It was time to find another builder to carry out Shelby’s dream.
After contacting multiple other builders online. George Allen Lynn of Angry Fab told Shelby he would get him taken care of in the time frame Shelby was wanting, under one circumstance. George doesn’t build four seater bouncers, so Shelby would have to downsize to a two seater build. After acquiring more parts and replacing would could not be recovered the buggy started to come together under the eyes of George. Nine months from having dropped it off and it was ready for action. On the weekend of R2R2 Shelby picked up his brand new build that was to be considered a crawler, trail rider that he would also race from time to time. But times had changed, and so had the off road racing industry. With the sport rapidly evolving like 90s computer technology. So much had changed very quickly. Shelby by now had completely ditched the idea of the trail buggy and wanted to gear it more towards a full blown race bouncer.
With his freshly built buggy back in his own hands Shelby immediately began changing parts. Since making the decision to just race the buggy. The next call was made to pull the Atlas transfer case and replace it with an SCS. After pulling and selling the Atlas and replacing it with the SCS yet another and rather large speed bump presented itself to Shelby. With the chassis being built around the Atlas case not everything was lining up right with the new case. Quickly arriving at the conclusion that the frame rail would have to be cut to make it work. Shelby not having the fabrication skill needed to pull off what needed to be done. Was now discouraged and half tempted to sell off the SCS case and purchase another Atlas.
After posting about his frustrations on Facebook both Danny Smith and Heath Day two reputable guys in the off road scene reached out to Shelby and explained to him exactly what needed to be done. Seeing this as his opportunity. He asked which of them was coming down to Texas to lend a hand. After messaging back in forth with Heath for a few hours, plans were made and a solution had been developed. A few weeks go by Heath and his wife Kerri hop in the truck and make the three hour road trip South to Weatherford, Texas to meet with Shelby for the very first time in person.
The next morning Heath got his first look at what Shelby had now been putting together for nearly three years. With no more than a glance Heath knew what needed to be done. He hastily made his way over to the corner of the shop. Grabbed the Acetylene torches, cranked up the gas and with a smile on his face. He got to cutting. With tears on stand by Shelby bit his tongue and hoped for the best.
A few hours, some bent tube, and a few more welds later. Heath has got the SCS case right where it belongs in the buggy. Everything worked out as he knew it would. Shelby more than overwhelmed with joy couldn’t thank Heath enough for getting him back on the high ground and that much closer to the race hill. Several IOUS were exchanged, and then Heath and Kerri were back on the road headed home. With Shelby’s biggest problem solved it was an enormous weight lifted off his shoulders. But as we all know, once you change one thing your just bound to change all kinds of things. That's when the real transformation began.
By this time it was around March of 2018. Seeing online that a lot of racers were running an ISP seat in their bouncer. Shelby decided that’s what would also be best for his. After a few weeks of hee and haw, some choice motivational slurs for the seat and some oomsakapow she was in there! Right where it needed to be and still comfortable for the driver. Satisfied with his new containment it was time to get some power in this machine.
The next few weeks were spent running and plumbing wire. With great attention to detail ,meticulous and well calculated zip tying it was starting to look like a true race machine. But just not quite what Shelby had in mind. Having looked over his suspension once more. It was time to make one final change. Having his eye on a set of Dana 80s off in the corner of his shop. Shelby decided if he was going to use them they had to be built right. After talking with some fellow racers and once more doing some research of his own. A phone call was made to Jeff Smith with S&S fabrication. Knowing this was the man for the job Shelby wrapped and boxed up his axles and shipped them off to central Missouri. Jeff re-tubed the axles and also built a set of his very own prototype knuckles for them.
Fast forward just a couple months and it was time to get the axles are back on there way to Shelby. With it being a near ten hour one way drive. It was a trip Shelby was not looking forward too. That’s when Anthony Yount a fellow racer stepped in and offered to pick them up and deliver them to Shelby at the Outlaw off road racing finals at Hawk pride mountain in October of 2018. As it seems to be normal in the community Anthony would not accept payment for his service and just wished Shelby the best of luck with the rest of his build.
From the finals Heath took Shelby’s new axles back to his house where Shelby’s buggy was already sitting, waiting for the new Dana 80s. It was time to begin the makeover. After putting the axles underneath the buggy where heath believed they would perform the best. It was very apparent the real work had only just begun. With everything taken into consideration. Every possible alternative considered. There was no avoiding what needed to be done. After pleading and begging to Shelby for a while that it would be easier to build an entire new chassis then it would be to put these axles under his current chassis. There was no budge from Shelby. As he was now in fear of living out in the dog house if he even mentioned a new chassis to his wife. With respect to Shelby’s wishes once again the torching began. This time without a big smile on Heaths face.
What needed to be done was not a job for the novice fabricator. Originally the buggy was built to sit on top of a four link, front and rear suspension. With 2.25” single shock coil overs. This sat above a Chevy 14 bolt rear end, and a Dana 60 Kingpin up front. Now with the custom Dana 80s every suspension and shock mount front or rear had to be cut off and replaced. The new plan was to completely back halve the buggy. Torching off everything from the back of the driver seat and so on. With the time that had passed Shelby had decided to change the entire suspension. Now to radflo coilovers, with 4tube bypasses and trailing arms in the rear. A new fuel cell,cooling system, bump stops, and a sway bar would also be added to the rear. As for the front of the buggy the front axle was going to be moved forward to accommodate the new 2.0” radflo coilovers and 2.5” 4tube bypass shocks. Which would gain about 3.5” of up travel in the front. Also changing the placement of the carrier bearing. By then both heath and Shelby had decided it was time to beef up the driveshafts. The 1410s has been set aside and swapped out for built 1480 driveshafts on 4 bolt flanges.
After Hours of bending, and countless test fits. Weld after weld the buggy began to present an entirely new attitude. First arriving with a 22” belly height, 120” wheelbase and only 8” of up travel front and rear. The buggy now sat with a 19” belly, 120” wheel base, 11”of up travel in the front and 14” of up travel in the rear. With the difficult task of completely changing the suspension a chassis was built around. Heath had done what needed to be done to ensure the best performance out of the new suspension as well as respect the original lines George had created for the buggy. With all the major changes out of the way it was all downhill from here. Only minor items remained on Shelby’s checklist.
We are now two weeks away from the 2019 Outlaw off road racing season opener. Shelby hops in his truck and heads back up to heaths place to get everything wrapped up and checked for race day. With a rather uneventful weekend with no surprises. Everything seemed to be looking great for race day. With only a few essential parts missing. A call was made to Scott Morris from Sunfire off road. As well as Eric from Wide open designs to get the remaining parts. Purchasing overnight shipping to ensure everything arrived in time.
The next weekend, seven days from race day. Shelby loads up and heads back up to Texarkana to make the final push, and get the remaining parts installed. After discovering they were missing two fittings for the brake system. A quick call was made to Kevin Taylor who had just the fittings they needed. A quick road trip over to Kevin’s was made where he picked up the fittings. Knowing it’s all gravy from here. Shelby stops by the parts store and gets all the necessary fluids for his buggy. After getting back to the shop Shelby quickly realizes the fittings that were “just right” were not so right after all. Having a -3 male, and needing a ⅛ NPT fitting. Moving on Shelby decides he will deal with the fittings later and work on fixing the hard lines into place to keep the progress moving forward.
Sometime later in the afternoon the buggy is ready to start accepting fluids. Shelby gets back in his pickup and drives to three different part stores in search of the right brake fitting. With no luck he phones his buddy Dana, no answer. Now onto the great wide web he goes. Locating the part he needed through summit racing. Not having the biggest time frame before race day. The 4 hour one way trip to the nearest summit racing is considered to get the four dollar part by Sunday. At that time Dana begins calling. He offers to pick up the parts and meet Shelby halfway. Immediately after picking up the parts as well as a few precautionary extras. Dana finds himself in stand still traffic. After hitting surface streets and a few backgrounds he arrived in Rockwall, Texas. One hundred and fifty five miles from Texarkana. Where parts were exchanged in return for a #1 with cheese from Whattaburger. As Dana would not except a single penny for the parts, gas, or his time. In total disbelief Shelby began his drive back to the hotel. Arriving at 1 am he’s able to catch a brief amount of sleep before the smoke detector began announcing it has a low battery. With a swift relocation of the nightstand Shelby got himself some shut eye.
Sunday morning Heath is already working like a madman by time Shelby arrives. Finishing up just a few welding tasks. Shelby installs the brake fittings and rechecks his prior work. Soon after Kevin arrives with his nitrogen tank to fill the shocks and bump stops. Fluids are added to the motor, helping them find a few small leaks that were quickly addressed. At last she’s ready to fire. They slapped the tires on and pulled it out of the shop for the first time since September. As you can only suspension tune so much in a shop. It was time to see what the new set up was capable of, and what last minute adjustments needed to be made. Shelby straps in for the very first time and takes off. This is the moment he’s been waiting years for. After jumping the driveway a few times and running through the neighbors creek. No major issues presented itself. As well as no binding or clearance issues, All good! Shelby is tickled to death, and just cant believe hes finally made it. Heath hops in and takes it for a few hot laps around the yard. At which point the shift solenoid blows out the side of the transmission. Sending transmission fluid everywhere. After parking the buggy and walking back to the shop they are able to find a new one laying around. It’s replaced and the buggy is pulled into the shop for the night and everyone heads home.
Monday morning Heath jumped back in the buggy and fired it up one last time to insure there are no issues with the transmission after losing fluid the night before. Gets about a mile down the road when he realizes the motor is getting really hot and losing oil pressure. So heath parks the buggy and walks back to the shop to grab the truck and trailer to load up the buggy just to be safe. After getting back to the shop. He attaches a wet oil pressure gauge to the motor to find out there is absolutely zero oil pressure. Knowing the motor had just been gone through and reworked the first thing to mind was the oil pump. A quick run to the parts store, and with the help of a friend the new oil pump was installed on the trailer and everything is wrapped up around 10 pm. Heath turns the motor over only to discover there is still zero oil pressure, and making matters worse the motor begins to knock. After receiving the video from heath of the motor. Shelby once more discouraged and beyond frustrated sends it to a few buddies to let them know he’s out of the races Saturday.
Now this is where the heart and soul of rock bouncing really comes out... This is why we are all in this... This is what this sport is all about... Tuesday morning after seeing a Facebook post made by Heath of Shelby’s motor knocking. A few people reached out to help perform a swap if he could provide an engine. One being Shane Robertson, and the other Shawn cross. Frustrated Shelby refused to let anyone help as he had no intention of buying another used motor. At which time a friend of Heaths, JD offered up a motor he had in a pickup truck in his shop for free. Shawn having only met Shelby just 2 months ago offers up his shop about and hour and a half away for the swap. Heath agreed to drop the buggy off first, then make the trip back and pickup JD's truck. Shane hops in his truck and makes the one hour trip to Shawn’s. As soon as heath arrives, the buggy comes right off the trailer. Shane makes short work of pulling the old motor out within the hour and awaits the return of Heath and arrival of the donor motor this is around 2 pm. Not long after Heaths return Shane has the front accessories tore off the new motor, yanked out and ready to stab into the buggy.
After thrashing away for a few hours Shawn and Shane have the new heart stabbed into the buggy with no issues. Late Tuesday evening Shelby gets the text from Shawn “she’s alive!”. Quick to reASSure himself, Shelby asks if there is oil pressure. At which point Shane sends him a video of the buggy running with Shawn sitting inside of it. With an oil pressure gauge and with a big smile on his face. You wouldn’t of known who was happier to get that buggy to the line Saturday. But would you have guessed Shawn would be racing against Shelby Saturday? That’s right! Another racer not only offering his time, but a place to perform such an act. Even after working a full day at his job. Only to bring more competition to the line against him come race day. When asked what puts this above the payout on the podium for Shawn his response was “ I used to be super competitive. But in motor sports it's very hard to do on a limited budget. Racing with these guys is a dream come true for me and to see one of my friends, fans, competitors not going to make it because of something silly like a bad engine just doesn't compute to me. I don't want to win by fault, I want to compete side by side with good people that are better than me and will challenge me to be better. Also this sport needs racers, we're a very small group that hasn't caught on yet. I want this to grow as big as possible. It wouldn't matter who it is to me, if I can help someone accomplish their dreams then I'll give whatever I can”.
The next day with everything buttoned up the buggy was loaded up onto the trailer and headed back to Shane’s house in Shreveport. Where it was going to be tuned Wednesday Morning by a close friend. With everything lined out with the tune. Thursday morning came around and Shane was headed back up to Heaths place to meet up with Shelby to head to the races. Now it was time to start the 10 hr trip to Tuscumbia, Alabama for the Outlaw off road racing season opener. Through all the heartache and headache Shelby was on his way to the very first race in his now 4 year long bouncer build. Long awaited, Shelby just could not wait to get behind the wheel and put a beat down on some hills. After arriving at hawk pride around 5 am Friday morning, unloading the buggy, and setting up camp it was time to get a few hours of sleep.
Waking up around noon, Shelby decided to get some seat time. He climbed in, strapped up and took off up the main trail for some test n tune. The roar of the motor, the slight vibrations from the tires as the buggy carried itself over small rocks reminded Shelby of all the hard work that had led up to this moment. Making every hurdle and obstacle in his way seem much worth it now. He had made it at last! Satisfied he hooked back around to camp. Where he met up with Shawn and the one and only Steve Howell. For those of you that don’t know Steve is a famous rock bouncer driver that does not have a rock bouncer himself. Competing in rental bouncers over the past several years. Steve has proved himself to be one hell of a driver behind the wheel of well any bouncer. Hoping to keep true to that statement this weekend. Behind the wheel of you guessed it “VooDoo Child“ Shelby’s bouncer. Yep, you heard that right. Without even having run it’s first race. Shelby has already offered to let another racer and competitor get behind the wheel of his fresh build and race against him tomorrow. Now how’s that for sportsmanship?
But as any racer will tell you any seat time is better than none! So it was Steve’s turn to hop in the buggy and take it for a hot lap. After admiring Shelby’s and many others hard work, and expressing how grateful he was for the chance to race it. He finally strapped himself behind the wheel of the machine and took off. But what was soon to follow was more devastating news.. not more than 1,000 yards from camp. The last thing that you’d expect. But the worst news you could get. As Steve came back into sight. It was apparent that something was definitely wrong. Considering he was brought back by his own two legs and not in the seat of a bouncer. With three words he broke the heart of three grown men “No oil pressure”. Baffled and insisting he be joking Shane, Shawn, and Shelby all can not believe what they have heard. But he was right. After getting to it was quickly proved via the good ole oil pressure gauge there was once again zero pounds of pressure.
After getting the buggy back to camp Shane once again steps in to give everything he can to fix the oil pressure issue. After an hour or two he fires the motor back up. But there is obvious other issues right away. At this point it’s nearing nightfall and Shelby makes the decision to park it. Let it sit until morning. Then drive it to the race hill after the drivers meeting and hope for the best. All he knew was his foot was going through the floor and the motor was going with it! But after pulling the valve covers off the motor there was absolutely no oil on the top end of the motor. Not wanting to be in a bad spot and Grenade the motor. Shelby had to accept the devastating news that he would not be racing his buggy tomorrow.
With having heard the news Shelby was not going to be able to race. Shawn spoke with Aaron Miller the owner of the new Cockroach buggy. A build Shawn has an Extreme amount of time and work into. That he himself would be racing that day. He asked Aaron if he would be willing to let Shelby run double duty in the buggy. With no hesitation Aaron was happy to allow Shelby to race in his machine. Giving Shelby the chance to still compete in today's race and get himself in the points race for the series. Even with everything that had happened in the past week. With the eventual outcome of still not being able to race his buggy. Shelby was reminded of why he chose to be a part of this sport in the first place. The same reason many have. The camaraderie and fellowship of man. Everyone mentioned in this story wants to push their own limits, push the limits of others, and help out when someone needs a hand. These are the characteristics of an off-roader.
Rock bouncer, or shit box Cherokee. Daddy’s wangler or an ole beat up yota truck. When one hits the bottom of a hill or a trail. Not one on looker is hoping he doesn’t make it. Not one person wants to see you fail. Everyone from complete strangers to a Facebook friend you finally got to meet that weekend will be standing watching with anticipation as you give your machine the ultimate test of your hard earned dime and time. With the roar of the crowd carrying you out and over the top of the hill. You experience what off-roading is all about.
Shelby would like to give a special thanks to Heath and Kerri day, Shane and Michelle Robertson, Shawn Cross, JD, with the biggest thank you of all going to his wife! Without them it wouldn’t be possible to pursue his racing dream. Also this would not be possible without the help of great sponsors like angry fab, S&S fabrication, East coast gear supply, Radflo shocks, Hostyle racing, Roberlo, and Thompson motorsports of Texas.