Seventeen years ago, we created Top Truck Challenge as a test of "engineering smarts and driver acumen." Well, even after all these years, Top Truck has stayed true to the original goal of testing machine and driver in some of the most extreme conditions imaginable. This year was no exception.
In case you're not familiar with the event, Top Truck takes place over the course of almost a week near Hollister Hills, California, at the Hollister Hills SVRA. Ten rigs, chosen exclusively by Four Wheeler readers, compete in seven extreme off-highway events. These events represent almost every discipline of four-wheeling and consist of the Tow Test, Frame Twister, Mud Pit, Obstacle Course, Hillclimb, Mini Rubicon and Tank Trap. All of these events are challenging to one degree or another, but the Tank Trap is the crown jewel of Top Truck. The Trap is a one-of-a-kind, incredibly taxing event that pushes vehicles to the very edge of their design parameters. It can also push teams to their breaking point as they battle the unrelenting obstacles while racing against the clock.
Speaking of the teams, each rig is manned by a driver and a co-driver. Typically, the owner of the rig is the driver, though this year we saw Chris Smith, the owner of the F-350, voluntarily turn the wheel over to his buddy Kevin Stearns, while Smith assumed the co-driver duties. In addition, Fred Williams and John Hughbanks in the FJ Cruiser swapped seats often throughout competition.
It quickly became clear that this year's competitors had done their homework and studied past TTC stories, photos, and DVDs. It was obvious that they were fully aware that Top Truck wasn't just about the truck. They seemed to have their heads around the fact that while a well-built, versatile rig was mandatory, strategy was also critically important. What came as a surprise to some was that there were, well, many surprises. For instance, the running order for each event played a big factor in the outcome of some of the events. In addition, an eye-opener for some was the fact that we had tweaked almost all of the courses to some degree. Finally, some found that sheer luck, or the lack thereof, was also a major player in Top Truck.
Throughout the course of the week, there was incredible teamwork, fascinating drama, and riveting action. We've summarized each event for you in detail and the action begins on the next page.
Day 1 Event 1
The Tow Test
What it is: If a truck pull and a hill climb competition could spawn a child, this would be their innocent-looking, but deeply troubled offspring. You see, our Tow Test is a twisted amalgamation of the two that requires competitors to tow a 35,280-pound cement truck from a dead stop, uphill, in the dirt. This first event is a litmus test for the stoutness of each rig's drivetrain, and it weeds out weak components fast.
How it works: Each competitor is allowed one pull. There is no time limit. A pull is completed when the competitor crosses the finish line or when forward momentum ceases, whichever comes first. This year, no one even came close to a full pull on our 125-foot track, so each was ranked by the total distance they pulled.
(ranked by overall distance traveled)
| Smith's F-350
||88 ft. 2 in.
| Green's diesel buggy
||70 ft. 0 in.
| Jerome's TJ buggy
||64 ft. 7 in.
| Sheeley's FC-170
||55 ft. 9 in.
| Latham's buggy
||55 ft. 8 in.
| Eulberg's CJ-7
||55 ft. 3 in.
| Kahlstrom's Power Wagon
||55 ft. 0 in
| Graf's X-Chassis buggy
||54 ft. 4 in.
| Sidwell's Ranger
||50 ft. 7 in.
| Williams' FJ Cruiser
||50 ft. 6 in.
Finish Line Quotes
* "I never really pulled before, so I didn't really know what to expect." -Wayne Sheeley
* "It ain't broke, what's there not to smile about?" -Leroy Latham
* "We decided to take it easy and not just throw the kitchen sink at it and see if we can crawl it up. We didn't want to tear it up just yet."-Scott Sidwell
* "We had the horsepower, but the bouncing got us."-Doug Kahlstrom
* "We crossed the line, didn't we? I mean the starting line." -Fred Williams
Eulberg's CJ-7: First competitor. Ran with 8 pounds of air in the tires and "drew down" the front axle with the winch in an effort to keep wheelhop to a minimum. Downshifted once during the run and encountered some wheelhop near the end of the run.
Graf's X-Chassis buggy: Aired the 54-inch Boggers down to 6 psi in the front and 8 psi in the rear. They also drew down the front axle with the winch and they locked the rear suspension in place. Still suffered a bit of axle hop.
Green's diesel buggy: Ran with 10 psi in each of the West Lake ag tires and drew down both axles. Started with the NV4500 in Second gear and held that gear throughout the pull.
Jerome's TJ buggy: Lowered the pressure of the Mickey Thompson Baja Claw TTC tires to 8 psi, locked the rear suspension in place, and drew down the front axle with the winch. Manipulated the rear steering during the run.
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon: With the Mickey Thompson Baja Claws aired down to 18 psi in the rear and 12 psi in the front and the 408ci V-8 making 500hp, the only wrench in the works was suspension hop, which forced the driver to back off the throttle.
Latham's buggy: Strategy was to run a little higher tire pressure of 12 psi in an effort to allow for wheelspin and to not suck power out of the motor. Hooked a little to the right at the end of the run.
Sheeley's FC-170: A little wheelhop right off the starting line. The 383ci V-8 made good, smooth power. Great run, especially considering the 44-inch Boggers were aired to well over 30 psi.
Sidwell's Ranger: Practiced by pulling an end loader at home in Minnesota before coming to the event. Light on the throttle, no wheelspin.
Smith's F-350: A classic example of pulling done right. The modified 6.0L Power Stroke turbodiesel and the 54-inch Boggers helped earn the best pull of the event by far.
Williams' FJ Cruiser: Slow start off the line, but eventually gathered decent momentum until the 42-inch Goodyear Wrangler MT/Rs broke loose. Run accompanied by the smell of burning clutch.