Finish Lines
There's something undeniably appealing about climbing into the tall saddle of one of these pickups and feeling all those eager ponies waiting for a kick from your spur. The sport-pickup genre is still new enough that there's a high "What the--?" factor whenever you blow past an unsuspecting sport-sedan driver.

If the thought of doing so brings a wry smile to your lips, we unhesitatingly recommend the Dodge Ram 1500 Hemi. The Chevy Silverado SS has a slender edge in outright go-and-stop performance, and its all-wheel-drive system certainly adds points if you live in the Snowbelt, but its archaic cabin and rough-edged reflexes leave us cold--especially in view of its lofty $40-large sticker. For cash like that, there are many far more appealing vehicular alternatives.

The Ram Hemi is a savvy execution of the sport-truck concept. Take a stylish, sophisticated pickup, add a throbbing V-8 and athletic rubber, and keep the price where sport-pickup supporters (read: young guys) can actually join in. Our nicely optioned Ram Hemi (at under $28K) should wear a "V" for "value." Keep your pencil away from the options boxes, and you can even enjoy Ram Hemi power for considerably less than that.

Hey, you gotta smile when you can play the horses without losing your shirt.

Ford's New Harley
Ford is retiring its current F-150-based Harley-Davidson Edition pickup, but the Harley nameplate will return for '04 on Ford's all-new Super Duty F-250 and F-350 models. The limited-edition 4x4 (just 8000 will be built for '04) will feature such extras as 18-inch forged-aluminum wheels, chrome tubular step bars, leather captain's chairs with embossed Harley-Davidson logos, and lots of unique exterior-styling cues. Base sticker will start at just over $40,000. Get yours fast: The first 1000 buyers who opt for the Halloween-like black-and-competition-orange paint scheme will be entered into a drawing to win a custom-painted '04 Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Race Relations
Photos: Location courtesy Irwindale Speedway, irwindalespeedway.com

How does a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race machine compare with the sport pickups you can drive on the street?

Perhaps you're one of the millions of fans of NASCAR's Craftsman Truck racing--a series that's boomed in popularity since its inception in 1995. And you'd like to know: Is my streetgoing sport pickup anything like its NASCAR counterpart?

In a word: notreally. Like NASCAR Winston Cup cars, Craftsman Truck racers are purebreds. Sure, they vaguely resemble the Ford F-150s, Dodge Ram 1500s, and Chevy Silverados you can buy in dealer showrooms. But apart from the basic blueprints of their V-8 engines, NASCAR race trucks and production sport pickups are similar in name and shape only.

Craftsman Truck racers, like Winston Cup cars, use purpose-built tubular chrome-moly frames onto which "production-looking" body pieces are bolted (for 2004, the series will follow the lead of Winston Cup and move to a common body template for all makes). The rules call for a wheelbase of 112 inches. Suspensions are race-bred but conventional: unequal-length A-arms up front and live axles at the rear. No high-profile alloy wheels for these hard-working machines: The racers get 15-inch steel wheels wearing series-spec racing slicks. Brakes are steel discs with multipiston calipers. Overall vehicle weight: 3400 pounds.

Like their streetgoing counterparts, NASCAR pickups feature V-8s under their hoods; they're mated to four-speed manual transmissions. Displacement is set at 5.7 liters, with "low-tech" pushrod valvetrains and carburetors instead of modern fuel-injection systems. Don't be fooled: A good Craftsman Truck motor can deliver more than 700 horsepower. Which makes it a real shame that, even if you had the required $250,000 or so, you can't buy a Craftsman Series race truck for your home garage.

Toyota Joins the Good Ol' Boys
NASCAR rules specify that race machines competing in NASCAR events must be based on American-made vehicles. So much for the Japanese, right?

Guess again. Toyota's full-size Tundra pickup is built in Indiana. It not only qualifies for the series, it'll be making its 2004 debut at Daytona in February (as many as six Tundra race trucks are expected to compete). Toyota will have to build a new pushrod V-8 to NASCAR specs (Toyota Racing Development will design, develop, and build the engine at its Costa Mesa, California, facility), but for a company with billions in reserve cash that'll be the easy part. The hard part? Getting Japanese engineers to understand the meaning of the phrase, "That dawg won't hunt."