He competes in the rough and tumble world of Ultra 4 racing, a sport that combines desert racing with rock crawling. However he started racing later than most although he has a life long interest in things automotive.
“It’s something I’ve always been interested in as I’ve always been a car guy,” he said. “My grandfather, Clarence Trent, did a lot of things, he was always mechanically inclined, serviced his own cars and owned a trucking company.”
Growing up in the Portola Valley, located in the south Bay Area, he rode motorcycles but didn’t race them. After going to college in Oregon he returned to the Bay Area.
“I did a number of things, worked at a body shop, an auto repair shop and actually did structural steel for a little while,” he said. “I started my shop, Trent Fabrication at Tahoe City in 1999. It was right around the time the sport of rock crawling was evolving and there were a few local competitions so I started entering those in what was then a Jeep.”
Over the next couple of years the Jeep, probably after various adventures, slowly turned into a buggy. Then in 2002 Trent built his first buggy.
“In the beginning rock crawling was a competition that was very technical and wasn’t for speed or time. It was more points and kind of like golf,” he said. “But rock crawling has slowly evolved into what we call Ultra4 Racing.”
He explained that Ultra4 racing began with the King of the Hammers event, which promoters turned into a style that varies from flat out desert racing at over 100 mph to rock crawling where a competitor is lucky do to three miles per hour.
“The general auto repairs is what supported the business at that time,” he said. “But as we began to get more and more buggy orders, I started looking for a building to buy. I looked for several years and eventually bought this unit here in Sparks.”
His location on Hardy Drive also put him close to suppliers and has been very favorable to his business.
“I absolutely love Sparks. I try to do most of my business with other businesses in Sparks and most of the parts for our vehicles we actually purchase at Summit Racing,” he said. “This is a great area to be in as everything we need is within a couple of blocks away.”
Trent feels that Hot August Nights has had a lot to do with making the industrial area such a great place for his business.
“There’s a lot of hot rod builders that have been in town for years and years. And with that you get a lot of automotive specific type of businesses that can help each other out. There’s a lot of good machine shops in town and a lot of good tubing suppliers right here in the neighborhood,” he said.
After doing some checking, he feels that here and Phoenix are two Meccas for after market automotive equipment and parts.
“Phoenix has got a lot of resources like we do, because Hot Rodding and street racing are pretty big there,” he said. “But I would definitely think that a lot of this here is due to Hot August Nights.
“I compete with a lot of other buggy builders across the United States and I almost think it’s an unfair advantage for me to have Summit four blocks down the street. Because I can go get everything I want the same day and a lot of days I’m in Summit four or five times when we’re coming to the end of a project.”
Trent also appreciates other local sponsors that make his job easier.
“Yukon Axel and Gear has really stepped on board and helped us out this year with all our differential needs, gears, lockers and everything like that,” he said. “We get all our drivelines made locally over at Bayshore Truck and Equipment as it’s really tough to have drivelines made in a different city then shipped to you. Because, if there are any problems, it’s a complicated process to have them rebuilt.”
He is also high on Rigid Lights, which makes LED lights, FK Rod Ends, Ruff Stuff, a California firm that makes axle housings and local company R&E Fasteners as they’ve put together hardware kits Trent needs. And he appreciates the support Ultra4 racing receives from Goodyear Tires.
While the economy might not be the best in some areas, Trent Fabrication is doing well. The exposure from racing and the shop’s reputation for quality and durability are two reasons he feels the business is doing so well.
And introducing a popular four-seat buggy for recreation is another plus.
“I’m definitely not complaining but of course that could all turn around at any time,” he said. “But we’ve got plenty of orders to keep us busy.”
Business is so good there’s a six-month waiting period for an ordered buggy to be finished. After delivery it usually comes back after a couple of hundred miles for an inspection that usually turns out to be just a bolt check.
“Basically we stand behind our work and if it doesn’t work we make sure it does work right,” he said.
Trent Fabrication is a small operation with a couple of people helping Trent in the shop and another running the front office. Being self-taught Trent explained there is no school for this type of work but a person needs welding experience as well as skill in pipe bending.
“There’s no textbook for doing this stuff, a lot of it is just figuring out solutions to new problems. It goes hand in hand with the driving and the building so I’ll never stop learning.
At present a half dozen of his buggies compete in the Ultra4 series but occasionally he’ll see a video of one on You Tube that’s based in the east. Sometimes he doesn’t even remember building those buggies.
Besides the production models the shop also builds prototypes that Trent usually drives. What is learned from this vehicle is then incorporated into the ones the shop normally builds.
Race manager Dave Schneider, who has been a big help over the years, gets to drive the next prototype.
Due to knee surgery Trent, who usually races in every event he can, is on the sidelines and in his place he’s put desert racer T.J. Flores into a buggy.
Individuals competing in this sport must be able to adapt and many have a rock crawling background although Trent said more desert racers are moving into this type of competition.
The King of the Hammers gets its name from an area between Victorville and Barstow in Southern California. Trent said it’s a popular site for off road vehicles where areas known as Hammer Trails is located.
The event is either a week or 10-day long festival of races. Then on Friday, February 10, this year’s King of the Hammers well is run.
To compete in the King a driver must race and place high enough in a qualifying event. Although Trent was unable to compete this year he plans on making as many of these qualifiers this year so he can run in the 2013 King of the Hammers.
“Right now I’m concentrating getting all our team cars straight,” he said.
Look ahead Trent added that the sport is “going crazy” and there have been two Ultra4 qualifying Hammer races, which drew from 50 to 60 competitors at Exit 28 and was part of the Stampede series.
“I was telling somebody the other day, I can’t imagine living any other place now as everything I need for my business is here,” he said. “I love the climate, we’ve got year round 4-wheeling right here in the area and I think we’re going to have a lot of races coming here too.
Asked about how he feels about his career choice Trent said, “My story would be a person that wanted to make their passion into their career. I love coming to work everyday and I really enjoy what I do so that’s why I’m doing it.”
For Derek Trent, Sparks is the place to be.