Beyond Reasonable Limits at the ARCA Rock Crawling Nationals
Photography by Jon Thompson, Mike House, Trent Riddle
An example of small-is-beautiful, or at least practical, was team 56. Randy Ellis and Rob Bonney pushed this little Samurai through to take Fourth Place overall.
Dan Brown and Tom Weaver made a valiant attempt to conquer this obstacle, but slipped sideways and found themselves high-centered and down for the count. Don’t count them out yet as they finished in 27th Place.
Team 113, Dave Knight and Andrew Marshal, were not the first team to turn turtle at the event. Everyone knows that keeping the rubber side down is best for traction, but that wasn’t as easy as one might think at this extreme event. Still, they pulled in a respectable 28th Place for the first event.
This damage resulted from the Can Opener. The price of passage through this obstacle was an expensive one for this TJ driver.
In case you’re not convinced that rockcrawling is a serious motorsports event, here is a picture of Walker Evans competing at the event. This is Walker’s second season and he’s surely among the front runners, with an 11th-place showing for round one of the season.
Here is a view of the Can Opener. As you can see, the spot is so tight that competitors had to drive up the wall just to make the corner. Watch out for the big boulder, it likes the taste of sheetmetal.
OBroken parts were the norm at the season-opening ARCA event, and teams were quick to fix their rigs so that they could continue onto the next stage. The point system encourages teams to at least make the attempt at an obstacle rather than quit. After two severe rollovers, the team of Jason Bunch and Steve Hastings had to band-aid their Wrangler YJ together to continue. Their choice to struggle on gave them a 41st-place position out of 59 competitors. Their spirit had everyone wishing them, “Better luck next time.”
Driving vehicle 219 was Kathy Crook teamed with her spotter Rene Lebaron. With very little experience at rockcrawling competition, this all-woman team placed 33rd overall. Watch out guys, they’ll only get better.
First, two or more guys get together to do something they all like to do. Then they begin arguing about whos better at the activity. The next thing you know its a full-blown competition. The best-known result of this type of competitive evolution is NASCAR, which in its humble beginnings was just a bunch of moonshine runners out for fun on the weekends. The newest sport to evolve into true competition is rockcrawling. The inevitable urge to compete has lead to the formation of the American Rock Crawlers Association (ARCA).
Now in its second year, ARCA held its first event of the 2001 season, the Goodyear/Skyjacker Rock Crawling Championship, last February, at the Johnson Valley OHV area in Southern California. Last season a few of the competitors grumbled about some of the obstacles being too easy. This season started off with very difficult obstacles and lots of vehicle carnage, and the crowd loved it. And by the end of this event not a whisper was heard about anything being easy.
Weve been to several of these events and we have to say that this one was the toughest weve seen. In fact, if it gets much tougher, were not sure that anyone will be able to finish, but then under ARCAs time-trials-type rules, competitors dont have to finish. And while we might question the sanity of building a $50,000-plus rig that assuredly will be damagedpossibly even destroyedon its first outing, we do enjoy the spirit of competition. We witnessed 15 rollovers and heard about many more. We also found a myriad of broken parts on virtually every rig. This was one tough course. One obstacle was so tight and difficult that many drivers peeled the sheetmetal back on the drivers side of their rigs. This quickly lead to the spectators naming it the Can Opener. Everywhere you went, spectators, and a few competitors, were whispering about how insane it all seemed. All the while they cheered the drivers on through spectacular rolls and amazing feats of driving skill. And skill was needed to negotiate these obstacles, not to mention a little blind luck now and then.
The pop of broken U-joints and the crash of sheetmetal against rock rang across the canyon for two days while the crowd cheered and the participants chased the prize.
What prize, you ask? Well, each of the top-10 winners would get a percentage of the purse. One thing is sure, with total purse for the event of just $15,000, no one was doing it for the money. They had to be there for the personal satisfaction, and thats something you cant put a price on. If youre interested in motorsports and are fascinated by people doing what seems impossible, check out ARCA and the Goodyear/Skyjacker Extreme Rock Crawling Nationals. You wont believe what these guys are doing, but youll love it for sure.
BY THE NUMBERS
Scoring at an ARCA event is simple. A perfect score for a stage is zero. You accrue points for every infraction. An infraction can be running over a flag, using your winch, backing up, and so on. With this in mind, the team with the lowest score wins. Of course, there can be ties. You can go to the ARCA Web site, www.rockcrawler.org, to see how the competitors are doing throughout the season.
THE TEAMS AND THE RIGS THAT WORKED
Last season the two top ARCA winners drove stock-looking trucks to First and Second place. The team of Cris (Trigger) Durhan and Kevin (Moose) Nally took first place using a Jeep CJ-10. This truck was equipped with high-clearance Dana 60 axles front and rear, a Chrysler 360 V-8, and an Atlas II T-case but still used the stock Jeep frame. The team of Jeff (Ice Man) Waggoner and John Currie was a close Second with its modified Jeep TJ. This wild Wrangler was equipped with Currie 9-inch axles, a Currie long arm TJ suspension, and an Atlas II T-case. Both teams ran 37-inch Goodyear MT/R tires.
This year the season began with two different teams tying for First Place. The first, composed of Tracy and Jason Jordan, used a mostly stock (compared to the other rigs on hand) 67 Toyota Land Cruiser upgraded with Dana 60 axles front and rear, a 383 Chevy small block, an SM420 manual transmission and an Atlas II T-case. Tying them for First was the team of Shannon Campbell and Brett Eperly. This teams steed was a specially built tube-frame rig the teammates called a 1953 Jeep CJ2A. This rig has a Chevy 350, Turbo 350 auto, and Dana 60 axles front and rear. Both these teams ran 37-inch Goodyear MT/Rs.
As you can see, these were not stock 4x4s, but you can still build one for about the price of a ski boat. If youre thinking about grabbing the tiger by the tail, be sure to go and watch these cats at play. Youll then be able to decide if youd find it fun to put $50,000 or more worth of sweat and steel into a blender.