As soon as the second-generation Dodge Dakota came into being, Shane Albright of Plainfield, Illinois, knew he had to have one. As soon as the newly restyled trucks hit showroom floors in December of 1996, Shane put his '90 Honda CRX to the side to make more time to change the appearance of his new V-8-powered, '97 Dodge Dakota Club Cab.

Over the course of the next few years, Shane worked steadily to maintain his truck and to keep it looking new while ever reaching toward custom greatness. First, he and his friend Andy McDonough shaved the door handles, making the truck that much smoother in appearance. Next, they moved to the rear of the truck and added a roll pan that Shane had ordered from F.B.I., which displaced the original bulky rear bumper. In the following months, the gas filler door, the antenna, and the factory emblems all met the same fate when they were shaved in turn. Knowing he was on a roll, Shane contacted Jody Hall who is the proprietor of the world-renown Drop Shop in Pikeville, Kentucky. When Hall gave Shane the go-ahead, Shane brought his Dakota into Hall's shop where the doors were re-engineered to swing effortlessly in the opposite direction -- suicide style.

After some time, however, he realized that no one had taken a Dakota to the extreme by body dropping it. This would all change when the world finally saw its first body-dropped new-style Dodge Dakota. Better yet, that first of a species would belong to him. Soon, he and his father were rebuilding the truck's suspension. With the help of a few friends, the floor of the cab as well as the floor area in the bed were raised to displace the amount of drop that the body had received in total. While the air-actuated Firestone airbags that he used to make the suspension adjustable was somewhat typical fare, they noticed quickly that something was up when they began to make the severe change in height that would come with a body drop. He and his friends began to make the changes to the truck that would allow it to sit more than 4 inches closer to the ground naturally. They found that body dropping a Dakota was a much more demanding job than usual. The job entailed making more radical changes to the firewall and other areas of the truck to make room for all the vital components than they had first realized. After finding it more than typically difficult to body drop the Dakota, they finished the job three months later and added a fiberglass hood from Terry DeLong Pro Finish in Avilla, Indiana.

Next, Shane contacted ATM Creations in Oswego, Illinois, to perform the final body prep and paint to put his truck back into show condition. They blocked and sanded all of the custom bodywork that Shane and Andy had completed and sprayed it completely using PPG Emerald Green pearl paint and plenty of PPG Clear for a deep shine that surfaced once the truck was cut and buffed.

When Shane got his completely smoothed-and-body-dropped Dakota back from ATM in Oswego, he was happy with the results, but still had some ground to cover before he would be able to confidently display his truck at an event. First, Shane installed the wheel and tire combination that he'd been waiting to bolt up -- 18x8-inch Enkei wheels with 215/35ZR18 tread. Shane purchased a pair of Honda Prelude bucket seats from a local junkyard that he handed over to Chapman Creations in Bolingbrook, Illinois, along with his truck. He instructed the staff at Chapman to use plenty of beige tweed and vinyl to redesign the interior of his truck. They reupholstered every square inch of the Dakota interior, making the all-plastic door panels actually look like upholstered items. They re-sculpted the original vacuum-formed panels and added three-dimensional flame patterns and billet armrests from J&B Microfinish. The flame interior theme was carried further when they included them in the design of the headliner and the rear wall of the Club Cab.

The day after he tightened down the last bolt, tucked the last layer of cloth under his sill pate, and gave his truck one last good polishing and wipe-down, Shane found himself sitting at Indy Truck Bash 2000. It didn't take long before hundreds of hungry-eyed custom enthusiasts bore down on his Dakota, the first ever that sits body-to-ground and the first of a species. We hope that it comes as no surprise when Shane finds that other Dakota owners have stepped up to the plate to give him and his exclusive Dakota a run for their money next season. For now, he's tops in the Mopar lowlands, but will he have the ability to withstand the coming barrage?