Have you ever sneezed with your mouth full of chewed-up banana? In a curious sort of way, it's pretty interesting to watch the millions of little pieces of fruit rocket at high velocity in all directions. Paul Armatis' from Wyandotte, Michigan, watched his Jeep CJ reproduce the same effect when it sneezed out its front left U-joint and ball joints when he attempted to power up a boulder during the first-ever Rock Fest Challenge at the Special Events Buckeye Jamboree in Canfield, Ohio. The competition may have been held in an unlikely place - Canfield, Ohio - and at an unlikely event - an off-road Jamboree - but the action and challenge was as hard-core as it gets.
The first-ever Four-Wheel-Drive Hardware Rock Fest Challenge was the brainchild of the Special Events staff, which was looking for a way to incorporate the challenge and excitement of the immensely popular sport of hard-core rockcrawling into the huge Jamboree Series. They envisioned a course that offered varying difficulty levels. They wanted it to be a legitimate competition, and they wanted spectators to be close enough to experience the intensity of the event. To accomplish these goals, they brought in the famed God-of-Rockcrawling Bob Hazel of Sports-In-the-Rough, who operates the National Warn Rock Crawling Championship as well as hard-core trail rides all over the country. Hazel and his crew put their experience in motion and constructed a course that met all of the Special Events criteria. Each morning, the course was available for open 'crawling; all registered participants were invited to fire up their trucks and give the course a whirl. It began with small rocks and progressed in difficulty as one advanced down the track; participants could exit the side of the course at any time.
Each afternoon, the actual Four-Wheel-Drive Hardware Rock Fest Challenge competition commenced, and the event followed the same scoring rules as the National Rock Crawling Championship. Judges scored the competitors when they moved along the course, and a crowd of several hundred gave a warm applause for each complete run (or attempt). After two days of great competition, Dean Wells had delicately traversed the rocks without vehicle breakage to accrue the most points to become the winner of the first-ever Rock Fest Challenge. His work earned him a huge trophy and a new Warn winch.
The beauty of the new Rock Fest Challenge was that it was added to the full plate of activities of the Jamboree. The infield was a non-stop area of action because monster trucks raced in side-by-side, freestyle, and S-course action; the Burnout Competition sent clouds of smoke billowing into the sky; Tug-a-Trucks sent dirt flying as they fought for forward motion; engines screamed in side-by-side mud racing; and carnage commenced when two classes of Tough Trucks battled on a lengthy S-shaped track.
In the show-'n-' shine, several hundred trucks gleamed under the mid-summer Ohio sun when thousands of spectators perused the scores of types, styles, and modifications of 4x4s. At least half of the show-'n'-shine vehicles were Jeeps, due in part to Jeep specialists' Four-Wheel-Drive Hardware's sponsorship of the event. The shop's mobile showroom and Jeep Corral quickly filled to capacity each day when Jeeps poured into the show-'n'-shine area, and the mix included many trail-prepped vehicles as well as some fine examples of rare, classic iron, including Butch Metzger's '49 Willys, which sported an actual onboard plow for field work.
Four-wheel-drive clubs were a big part of the Buckeye Jamboree; The Tall Cool Ones 4x4 Club won the Best Club Attendance award with more than 18 members' vehicles present, and the Ruff Riders 4WD Club from Goshen, Indiana, helped out wherever they were needed as the Host Club.
The Buckeye Jamboree not only offered the seat-off-your-pants action and the stunning trucks that it is famous for, but the new Rock Fest Challenge added yet another dimension of the sport that will return again in 2001. To get more information on this event, the Rock Fest Challenge, or any of the events in the Special Events Performance Series, visit www.familyevents.com, or contact: Dept. OR, 804 N. Delaware, Indianapolis, IN, 46204, (317) 236-6525.
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The Burnout Competition drew a score of competitors whose goal and desire was to roast their tires into oblivion to gain the favor (and votes) of the crowd.
Mark Hughes entertained the crowd by attempting to push this big boulder out of the way with his '81 3/4-ton Chevy. The result was a broken truck and an unmoved boulder. However, he got major style points from the crowd for his attempt.
Wider trucks found the course a bit difficult because they couldn't squeeze through the narrowly designed center. This resulted in some very stuck trucks. Jimmy Longely and his '86 Blazer are part of the In Too Deep Off- Road Club, which showed up with a number of fullsize rigs to challenge the course.
The Miss Buckeye Four-Wheel Nationals Contest offered the opportunity for ladies to answer really tough questions while under the watchful eye of judges and spectators. The ladies are judged on a number of criteria, and a top three are selected as the winners of the event.
Darren Fry was in his usual high-flying form when he thrashed his Ranger around the Tough Truck course.
The Performance Marketplace was filled with national and local accessory manufacturers, including Eastern Off Road, which had a number of products on display, from simple dress-up items to functional performance items.
Eric Huball pulled off one of the greatest high-speed Tough Truck saves we've ever seen when his Chevy was within inches of going end-over-end during an awesome finish line jump. Prudent use of the go-pedal, and quick steering wheel responses saved the vehicle from a spectacular crash.
Sometimes trucks become high-centered on the brutal course (like this Jeep), at which point, trucks were retrieved by either the winch cable of Bob Hazels Cat rock buggy, or if really stuck, by a heavy-duty wrecker.
Scott Kennedy attempted to coerce his '98 TJ up a boulder during Saturday's competition, but his Jeep broke a rear axle shortly after this photo was taken. That caused him to miss the first three runs on Sunday while the vehicle was repaired. He came back to score very high on the last section of Sunday's competition, which earned him enough points to finish in Sixth Place overall.
Vince Konicki eases his beautiful '68 Bronco off the end of the Rock Fest course during Saturday's qualifying for the Rock Fest Challenge. The post on his right represents a stage, and competitors had to travel between these stages to accrue points. Points were deducted for going out of bounds, stopping, backing up, and so forth.
Tom Campbell came out and gave the Rock Fest Challenge the Ol' College Try, but his Bronco II became hopelessly stuck in the brutal rocks, eventually smoking a clutch.