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Meet the ORMHOF Class of 2023: Russ Wernimont

Meet the ORMHOF Class of 2023: Russ Wernimont

Russ Wernimont – Industry Pioneer

On his 19th birthday, Russ moved from Toledo, Ohio to Southern California to pursue his dream of building off-road vehicles. He started his career sweeping the floor of Cal Well’s PPI shop and within a year became the crew chief of Michael Nesmith’s Class 8 truck, starting his own shop and building pre-runner trucks for the likes of Parnelli Jones and Roger Mears.

“Russ was never an engineer. He never had a CAD program for design,” said ORMHOF inductee Bob Bower. “What Russ did have was white poster board, scissors, and a pile of map tacks.  He would cut out the shape of a suspension piece from the poster board, stick a map tack at what he reckoned the pivot point should be, and tested for travel by moving the poster board around the pivot point. Sometimes there wasn't time to cut, measure, and swing the poster board, and Russ just had to start welding things together based on his vision. An example would be the center seat Pro2 he built for Scott Taylor. It was the first Pro2 to win the Borg Warner Cup race at Crandon and went on to win many championships. There was no time for cutting poster board on that build. Russ built that truck in 90 days. To this day, there are no CAD programs for Russ Wernimont. Only poster board, scissors, map tacks, and the genius mind of Russ Wernimont. He is one of those unique people who have vision, passion, skill, and irrefutable results.”

Russ with Robby Gordon in 1992.

In the late 1980s, Russ got the attention of Jim Venable, and was given the opportunity to build a new Ford Class 8 truck, putting young Robby Gordon behind the wheel. They would go on to be the first 4-wheel vehicle to overall the Baja 1000 in 1989. In 1990, Russ would take one step further by building the first tube frame, purpose-built, off-road vehicles which we now know as the modern-day Trophy Truck. All these trucks were hand-crafted by Russ to include his custom-made internal bypass shocks, 10.5” rear end housings, custom hydraulic steering racks, and chassis platform which the modern-day Trophy Truck still mimics.  “I affectionately call him the Godfather of today’s Trophy Truck,” said Reid Nordin. “Russ has been a visionary in the off-road industry for decades. He ushered in a new era of the highest-performing vehicles that stand the test of time. His innovations are still being mirrored to this day.”

Baja champion Jim Smith said, “Russ’s precision engineering led to a majority of my success in off-road racing. The Trophy Truck he built for me was fundamental in how I secured the 1994 Baja 1000 overall victory. Designs like this shaped and changed the off-road industry as a whole forever. Russ’s innovations were always ahead of their time and changed the trajectory of what could be possible in racing for future generations.

Russ was recognized as the SCORE Mechanic of the Year in 1989, 1992, 1993, and 1994.

Matt Martelli, CEO of Mad Media and The Mint 400 said, “Russ Wernimont spent decades designing and building championship off-road race vehicles in desert and short-course racing that evolved and revolutionized the sport. He is one of a small group of people who evolved shock technology and shock setup to its modern-day form which has impacted race and street vehicles alike. Russ is one of the fathers of the modern-day trophy truck and continues to contribute to the evolution of suspension and vehicle technology via his son’s UTV race program and relationship with Kawasaki. His contributions and knowledge base should be viewed as a treasure of our culture.”

ORMHOF Class of 2022 inductee Scott Taylor said, “Russ has a lot of dignity and honesty when it comes to racing and engineering and is successful in whatever he does for his family, business, and being a crew chief to many other racers. He is a driven and determined individual when it comes to developing and engineering race trucks. Russ is a big part of my six championships and what I am today.”

“As a mentor to others, Russ would challenge those he worked with to their full potential,” said Scott Douglas, who is also being inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. “Russ had a skill for leading many future fabricators and designers to successful careers. With all his success, Russ remains one of the most humble people I know in the off-road industry.”

Trucks Designed/Built by Russ Wernimont Major Wins

  • 1989 Class 8 Ford F-150 Built for Venable Racing

1989 Class 8 Championship, Baja 500 and Baja 1000 Overall, SCORE Triple Crown (Robby Gordon)

1990 Baja 500, Class 8 Championship (Robby Gordon)

1994 SCORE Trophy Truck Championship (Rob MacCachren)

  • 1990 MTEG Stadium Trucks built for Venable Racing (Ford)

1991 MTEG Main Events, Seattle and Denver  (Rob MacCachren)

  • 1990 Jeep Grand Cherokee for Larry Maddox (First Trophy Truck)

1995 Baja 500 (Curt LeDuc)

1997 Parker 400, San Felipe 250, SCORE Primm 300, and BITD Vegas to Reno, SCORE Points Champion  (Curt LeDuc)

  • 1991 Simon & Simon “Rough Riders” Trophy Truck

1992 Baja 1000 Overall (Paul & Dave Simon)

1995 Fireworks 250 (Paul & Dave Simon)

  • 1992 Jim Smith Ultra Wheel Trophy Truck

1994 Baja 1000 Overall (Jim Smith)

1997 SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge (Ed & Tim Herbst)

1998 SCORE Primm 300, Silver State 300 (Ed & Tim Herbst)

1999 San Felipe 250, SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge, Firecracker 250, BITD Terrible’s Town   250, SCORE Points Championship (Ed & Tim Herbst)

2000 San Felipe 250, SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge (Ed & Tim Herbst)

2004 BITD Vegas to Reno

  • 1996 Scott Taylor “Center Seat” Pro-2

1996 and 1997 SODA Class 8 Championship (Scott Taylor)

1999, 2000, and 2001 CORR Pro-2 Championship (Scott Taylor) 

2002 Crandon Governors Cup - 2002 First 2WD Truck to beat the 4WDs Crandon (Scott Taylor)

2002 BorgWarner Cup - 2002 First 2WD Truck to beat the 4WDs (Scott Taylor)

2002, 2003, and 2004 CORR Pro-2 Championship (Scott Taylor)

  • 1996 Scott Douglas Pro-4

1997 SODA Class 4 Championship and BorgWarner Cup (Scott Douglas)

  • 2007 Scott Taylor “Skyjacker” Pro-2

2007 WSORR Pro-2 Championship (Scott Taylor)

  • 2021 Kawasaki Pro N/A UTV

2021 BITD Parker 250, BITD Vegas to Reno, BITD Laughlin UTV World Championship (Carson Wernimont)

2022 Legacy Pahrump Desert Showdown, Legacy Stateline Shootout, Legacy Desert Rebellion, Legacy Battleground Overall UTV, Legacy points championship (Carson Wernimont)

Trophy Truck is a trademark of Baja Trademarks, LLC

About the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame

The Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame was established in 1978 by racing promoter and NORRA founder Ed Pearlman to recognize and honor those individuals and organizations whose lifelong contributions to off-road motorsports have set a standard for others to follow. In 1995, legendary off-road racer Rod Hall became ORMHOF chairman, a position he held for more than twenty years, before selecting current chairman Mark McMillin as his successor.

The mission of the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame is to educate and inspire present and future generations of the off-road community by celebrating the achievements of those who came before.  Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame inductees represent excellence and achievement in many areas of off-road, including advocacy, journalism, industry, rock sports, desert racing, short course, and rally.  

ORMHOF maintains a collection of vintage off-road vehicles that are displayed at museums around the country, as well as an extensive online archive of print, images, and videos, with more content added as funds become available.  The Hall of Fame Off-Road Registry invites clubs, organizations, events, businesses, and individuals with fifty years or more of history in off-road to apply for Hall of Fame heritage status in the official archives of the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. 

The Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame is funded through donations, individual memberships, and industry partners. A 501c non-profit organization, ORMHOF has earned a GuideStar Non-Profit Gold Seal of Transparency for 2023.

ORMHOF is guided by an all-volunteer board of leaders in the off-road community, including chairman Mark McMillin and board members Frank ‘Butch’ Arciero Jr, Dave Cole, Frank DeAngelo, Bud Feldkamp, Jeff Furrier, Bob Ham, Josh Hall, Gary Haugley, Rich Klein, Rafael Navarro III, Fardad Niknam, Bonnie Vessels, and Rory Ward.

Links to 2023 Gala tickets, discounted room rates, and Gala sponsorship opportunities are available on the 2023 Ceremony tab. We invite you to browse the ORMHOF online collections of print, images, and video, and to learn more about how to join, partner, or donate. Legends live at