The Great Smoky Mountains were dry in early October. A nice rain had reduced the dust, but the streams and reservoirs were still very low as four-wheelers from 10 different states began gathering near the Upper Tellico OHVA for the 14th annual Dixie Run. Situated between Murphy, North Carolina, and Tellico Plains, Tennessee, this event is one of the largest hosted by the Southern Four Wheel Drive Association, and the club members take full responsibility for every aspect.
The Plum Crazed Jeep Club of Crossville, Tennessee, handled registration, while the Rock Solid Jeep Club of Middle, Tennessee, performed tech inspections. Because the trails in Upper Tellico are difficult, the inspections determined which trails a vehicle could run. The SFWDA wisely required tow hooks and tow straps on all vehicles. Moderate trails required at least 31-inch tires, while the hard-core trails required 33-inch-or-taller tires, a suspension lift, at least one locker, and a winch.
Along with manufacturer displays set up by BFGoodrich, Four Wheel Drive Hardware, Jim's Off-Road Warehouse, Rancho, and a slew of others, the SFWDA also had its recently acquired military surplus 6x6 on display. The truck should prove to be a big help in maintaining the OHV trails.
The Extreme Ridge Runners Club of Athens, Tennessee, sponsored a new event at this year's Dixie Run: the Rock Challenge. They limited entries to 25 hard-core driver/spotter teams and stipulated that all vehicles had to run front and rear lockers, winches, DOT-legal tires, and safety equipment.
John Hawk, who oversaw the Rock Challenge, explained that their goal was to set up an annual event at the Dixie Run that would be fun and promote our sport. They chose the lower portion of Trail 2 for its difficulty. John said, "Several of us rode this trail the day before the Challenge. A few of us made it to the top in a short time with no hang-ups by picking our own lines. This prompted us to gate the trail with flags and cones." The gates made the contestants maximize their driving and spotting skills while pushing the envelope of their trucks' ability. The gates made it impossible for anyone to ace the hill, forcing the teams to study the rules and formulate a tactical plan.
The event rules forced the teams to drive smart. For example, sometimes it was better to take the points and go around a gate than to take the time to winch through or take a chance of snapping an axle. In several cases, teams with better tactics beat teams with superior trucks.
They divided the trail into three sections, which allowed three trucks to be on the course simultaneously. Running the trail in sections also kept the judges from having to run up and down the mountain with each truck.
There were two judges on each sec-tion, one for calling the violations and the other for recording the violations and the times. The point sheets were then passed on to the judges in the next section. A clerk at the top calculated the total points for each team.
Altogether, 21 teams entered the Rock Challenge. The first two teams broke drivetrain parts on the entrance gate and had to winch through section one. The following teams relied more on winching than on horsepower. One team, made up of Brent Galloway and his girlfriend Adrian Hall, made maximum use of the winching tactic. While Adrian pulled the cable and tree-saver strap up the hill, well past the tree the other teams had hooked up to, Brent taped a floor mat to the first tree. The floor mat protected the first tree from the cable, allowing them to winch twice as far in one pull.
Contestants were allowed to make repairs at the end of each section until the next truck completed that section. Some contestants successfully changed axles and U-joints during these down times. In all, 13 teams finished the event. And afterward, the club scoured the trail and spectator areas to collect every candy wrapper and soda can that had been left behind.
At the end of the day, it was Tommy Roller from McMinnville, Tennessee, who won the Rock Challenge. His '80 CJ-7 sports a tuned-port 350, 5.13 gearing, 42x15 Swampers, a Dana 60 frontend with a Detroit Locker, and a GM rear with a Lincoln locker. Tommy attributed his win to having the best spotter and a fast Warn 8274 winch. For tactics, Tommy said, "We winched the Jeep on its side for 20 feet to avoid taking a 20-point penalty for driving over a gate. And we finished section two in under one minute.
Scott Schapmann of Huntsville, Alabama, took Second Place in his '76 Bronco, while Lewis Eakes took Third Place in his 455 Oldsmobile-powered Jeep with 44-inch Super Swampers. Fourth Place went to Robert Johnson of Chattanooga, Tennessee, in his red Sniper that was equipped with 44-inch Super Swampers. Stephen Roth, president of Southern Four Wheel Drive Association, finished Fifth in his tan CJ-7 with 37-inch BFG Mud-Terrains.
Families from the 30 different clubs that comprise the SFWDA spend countless hours working diligently in the political arena, fighting to keep public lands open to public use. Their hard work has obviously paid off; Tellico continues to show that it offers some of the best trails east of the Mississippi.
For More InformationIf you would like to learn more about the trails and events in Tellico, Tennessee, and throughout the South, contact: the Southern Four Wheel Drive Association, Dept. 4WDSU, P.O. Box 50726, Knoxville, TN 37950-0726, www.sfwda.org