Thursday, September 18, 2014

How the dream became The StormCruzzer

Growing up, I was the child whose parents would always have to say "shut the door" or "get off the porch" or "come inside now," as thunderstorms rolled in. It was some kind of combination of their raw power, yet beauty, that was so enticing. The first powerful weather event I can remember, was Hurricane Floyd in 1999. I was only 9 years old, but clearly remember sitting  by my den window, watching the trees bend and hearing the crack of branches as they came crashing down. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel made landfall in North Carolina, and tracked straight over my hometown of Poquoson. We had moved into our new house the night before, and had nothing unpacked, so I sat on the only chair in our Forida room and just watched the wind batter the trees for over six hours. I was hooked. From that point on, I made it my goal to study meteorology in college, and pursue some kind of hands on career dealing with storms. Once I was old enough to get my license, I would drive around in and "intercept" every tropical cyclone and snow storm I had the chance to. I had been brainstorming some ideas to make a vehicle to be able to withstand more powerful storms, until I found the Discovery TV Series, Storm Chasers. I watched all 5 seasons, and my ideas changed enormously. I learned much more about storm chasing, and became interested in chasing super cells, and not just tropical cyclones. In 2013, I was lucky enough to take part in a storm chasing class/trip with Virginia Tech, and learned more about the ins and outs of chasing. I went into the chase contemplating whether or not I should really put all the time, effort, and money into building a storm chasing vehicle, but I made my choice 3 days into the chase. On May 31st, 2013, we were in El Reno, Oklahoma, trying to decide whether we should go north or south to get out of a dangerous chase terrain area, and decided to go south. Just hours later, a massive 2.6 mile wide tornado devastated El Reno, and killed and injured many experienced storm chasers, including my "storm chasing idol," Tim Samaras. After this incident, I put safety to the top of my priority list. 

I had been comparing potential base vehicles, using price, durability, stability, and reliability, and opted going for a big 4x4 truck. Chevy's silverado 2500/3500s have the lowest center of gravity stock, so I was hoping to find a good diesel and dually to start off with. Again, I went with the dually for stability. It just so happened that later that fall, my uncle was looking to sell his 2011, Silverado Duramax Dually. It was a dream come true. Not only did I find the truck I wanted, but I knew its history, and how well he maintained it. In September of 2013, it was mine. 

I started working out the specifics of what I was going to do with the truck, and in what order. Once I figured out the basics of what I wanted, I started to contact companies to see if they would be interested in sponsoring. I sent out roughly 15 emails to 15 different companies, and was shocked when I got quick responses with offers in the range of 10-50% off! With only 6 months until the chase, I made a list of the most important modifications to work on first. These included; Rhino Lining Extreme Paint Job, Lift kit and tires, CB and Ham Radios, Camper Shell, and side steps. 

The first thing we did was go to a local truck shop, as they had the A.R.E. Z-Series Camper Shell that I was interested in. They ended up having the side steps I wanted, so we ordered those as well. We dropped the truck off a week later, and it was ready in no time.

We then decided that the next best step was to add the protective bed liner. We ended up going with Rhino Lining, because of their warranty, and the durability of their "Extreme" version.

After talking to several companies about lift kits and tires, we decided to go with a Cognito Motorsports 4" lift kit, with 35x12.5x17 Mickey Thompson Baja ATZ P3 tires. Many people question why I would want to lift the truck, when I'm going to be in higher winds. After watching hundreds of hours of storm chasing videos on TV and YouTube, I decided that having the capability to get to any storm, and get out of any sticky situation, was more important. This came in handy multiple times when we chased in May of 2014, as we were the only ones capable of getting close to a few storms as they were forming, and we didn't have to worry about getting stranded on a dirt road like most other chase vehicles.

Next, we installed our CB and HAM Radios, antennas, RAM Laptop Mount,  Kenwood Navigation System, and wireless internet signal booster.

At this point, we had everything we needed for our first chase session. We traveled 5000+ Miles in 8 days, and had a blast.

Since then, I have been communicating with potential parts companies, and have gained 3 full sponsors! Magnaflow has come aboard and is helping sponsor with a DPF back exhaust kit. Iron Cross Automotive has offered to provide heavy duty bumpers, side steps, and lights. And EFI Live has provided us with hardware for their Flash Scan system!

We have added our sponsors decals to the camper shell windows of the truck, and will hopefully have many more to come!

To be continued...

- Travis