The stage was set. The three previous 2001 series events in the Goodyear/Skyjacker Extreme Rock Crawling Nationals had left the leader board crowded at the top. With only four points separating the top Currie/Waggoner team from Shannon Campbell and four other teams within 20 points of the leader, the 2001 series points championship was still up for grabs. Twenty points is only two crushed flags in the ARCA series, and the leaders are always one mechanical failure away from being out of the hunt.
The course was set. ARCA's chief course designer, Phil Collard, was literally working in his own backyard in the sandstone confines of Chokecherry Canyon just outside Farmington, New Mexico. Phil was determined to expand his reputation for coming up with creative and often diabolical challenges for the competitors.
The crowds were ready. Nowhere is the sport of extreme rockcrawling more enthusiastically embraced than in Farmington. The local weather in late September usually cooperates, and the course location and layout always favor spectators. The competitors were encouraged by raucous, cheering throngs at every turn and climb.
The competitors were ready. The cream of the competitive rockcrawling crop descended on the chosen locale with their imaginatively engineered rides, their sponsor-bedecked haulers and trailers, and an unabashed enthusiasm for settling bragging rights out on the rocks. Many were in town as much as a week early, fine-tuning their rides and getting some valuable wheel time on the Farmington area's superlative sandstone.
As usual, the 14 stages were split into two courses. Competitors were split into two groups, each on one of two courses the first day, and then swapping to run the second course the following day. By Friday evening, it was pretty clear that the two courses had virtually nothing in common. Course A ravaged the competitors for high scores with tight, twisty gates and off-camber routes that rewarded nimble, maneuverable vehicles.
Course B generally rewarded longer-wheelbase vehicles with drivers who were willing to attack the near vertical ledges with vigorous abandon. The end of day one found almost all of the lower scores on Course B, and everyone knew that it would take the full two days to determine both the event and series winner.
When the tires finally stopped their distinctive chirp, chirp, chirp on the perpendicular sandstone in Chokecherry Canyon late Saturday afternoon, ARCA had completed another successful year. The series also had its fourth event winner, and the Goodyear/Skyjacker Extreme Rock Crawling Nationals had crowned its 2001 series champion.
The team of Currie/Waggoner weathered the pressure of being series frontrunners by holding off all challengers. John and Jeff were rewarded by being crowned champions and will wear the much-coveted No. 1 decal into the 2002 season. They won the series championship with a display of unyielding consistency, finishing no lower than seventh in any of the four series events.
The Farmington event proved yet again just how hard it is to dominate this sport. All four of the 2001 events were won by four different teams. Driver Ken Shupe and spotter Brandon Gillen smoked through Course B on Friday with a score of 12 (eighth best on B), and then followed that up with a superb 22 on Course A (second best score of the weekend). Fresh off the series win at the Utah Rockcrawling and Offroad Competition (UROC), this team is likely to be a force in next year's series.
The Shupe/Gillen total of 34 edged out the Second Place team of Jason Bunch and Steve Hastings by a mere five points. Jason and Steve had a superlative second day, accumulating only one point on Course B through the first six stages.
Then they managed to climb the final and fearsome B7 obstacle with relative ease. Unfortunately, their Tri-County Gear Wrangler leaned over just enough during the final ascent to brush a flag, earning them the dreaded 10-point penalty.
At the grand finale BBQ and awards ceremony on Saturday evening, it was announced that ARCA would be back in 2002 with Goodyear and Skyjacker again signing on as the marquee sponsors. ARCA also announced some significant rule revisions for next year, including the inclusion of two different classes of vehicles.
With flagship sponsorship, continued rule evolution, enthusiastic spectator support, and, most of all, the heart-pounding excitement provided by the preeminent masters of this nearly insane sport, the Goodyear/Skyjacker Extreme Rock Crawling Nationals will continue to be among the most exciting in motor sports venues.