The Final Event in the 2001 ARCA Series
Thousands of spectators found their way into Chokecherry Canyon in Farmington, New Mexico, to watch 70 teams compete in the final event of the 2001 Goodyear/Skyjacker Extreme Rock Crawling Championship. The first three events of the season produced a different winner each time. The Johnson Valley, California, championship ended in a two-way tie between Shannon Campbell and Tracy Jordan. Matt Burkett took home the gold from the Las Cruces, New Mexico, event. Then in Cedar City, legendary Walker Evans won First Place. After Cedar City, Team Currie took the series lead from Joel Randall. All of the vehicles were finely tuned, and the teams had honed their skills for this final event. With only a small gap between the top five contestants, the competitors fought hard for their final positions in the series. But in the end, it was the team of John Currie and Jeff Waggoner who had accumulated the most points and won First Place in the 2001 Goodyear/Skyjacker Extreme Rock Crawling Championship.
Team Currie entered the 2001 competition with a custom-built TJ nicknamed Fire Ant. The Fire Ant's narrowed Jeep body sits on a modified TJ frame and is powered by a 2000 Grand Cherokee 4.7L V-8 engine and matching transmission. This motor produces a total of 300 lb-ft of torque, but it reaches 200 lb-ft at just 1,500 rpm -- perfect for rockcrawling.
"Be conservative. Don't break and always finish in the top of the pack at every event." That was Team Currie's strategy in the 2001 ARCA series. It worked. John Currie and Jeff Waggoner finished Eighth in Johnson Valley, Fifth in Las Cruces, Third at Cedar City and Third in the final event in Farmington. Team Currie accumulated 532 points from the four-event series, which was 22 points ahead of Second Place Don Robbins. Jason Paule finished third overall, Joel Randall finished fourth, and John Gilleland took Fifth Place. There was only 36 points between First Place and Fifth Place. That's not much of a spread when you consider that just using a winch will cost a challenger 30 points.
At the final event in Farmington, Ken Shupe from Travelers Rest, South Carolina, walked away with First Place, followed by Jason Bunch in Second Place and John Currie in Third Place. Chris Durham, last year's series winner, captured Fourth Place in the final event. Similar to the other series events, there are two seven-obstacle courses for the two days of competition. After check-in on Thursday, the vehicles are divided into two groups. On Saturday, one group runs Course A, while the other runs Course B. Then on Sunday, the groups run the opposite course. Each obstacle is assigned a maximum time and 40 points. Point deductions are made for such things as touching a flag marking the course, backing up, stopping longer than four seconds, or using a winch. After point deductions, the net points from each obstacle are totaled for both days of competition to arrive at a final score.
To give the courses a little more personality, names were given to each of the fourteen obstacles. For example, the tougher obstacles on Course A were Wrath of Sandy and The Grapevine. On Course B, The Fluke and Blitzkriek were the tougher obstacles. Wrath of Sandy began with a downhill, off-camber section. The vehicle continued to lean as the spotter used his body weight to keep the vehicle from rolling over. Then it was an uphill climb, providing the driver could turn uphill from an off-camber position without laying the vehicle on its side. On most obstacles, the driver would be done, but not on the Wrath of Sandy. After climbing to the top of the hill, the vehicles made a sharp turn and dropped into a crater. The finish line was at the top of the other side. However, there's one problem: Two ledges in the wall that catch the front tires and rear tires at the same time keep the vehicle from easily climbing out of the crater. It's the double whammy effect we so often find in Moab. If the competitor got this far, they usually made it to the finish line.
The Grapevine offered each contender two choices. The most direct way to the finish line was to aim the vehicle toward a 30-foot vertical wall and drive straight up. However, this method required the team to stack a few rocks at the bottom to give the vehicle a chance to transition from a horizontal to a vertical position. Some made it and some rolled over. The other way up Grapevine required the driver to work the vehicle up three very slick ledges, then back up along the top of the wall, turn the vehicle around without knocking over any flags, and drive through the finish line. Sound confusing? It was. The competitors were not likely to roll over going this way, just time-out.
On Course B, the Fluke caused its fair share of rollovers and breakdowns. Although the Fluke is a short hillclimb, the really, really, big, flat rock lying in the path caused problems. The rear tires would dig holes at the base of the rock. This required each competitor to bump the rear tires up onto the rock in order to get through the hole. But this flat rock is slick and slanted toward a wall on the downhill side. It was just waiting to catch spinning tires and slide a vehicle into the wall, which it did several times. For some competitors, the bump up onto the rock broke an axle or some other critical part, while other vehicles fell back and rolled onto their side. The Fluke was a tough obstacle.
Blitzkriek should have been renamed Rollover Hill. This slickrock with carved craters at the bottom large enough to catch a rear tire and kick up the front end, caused several rollovers. If a spectator wanted a picture or video of a rollover, they need only to stand at Blitzkriek. You didn't have to wait long. If the vehicle managed to get past the craters at the bottom without rolling over, the top section might snag them. As the vehicle approached the top, a large crevice would pull the vehicle over on its side.
There is no doubt that rear steering gives a driver an advantage. With the cost running near $10,000 to retrofit a vehicle with rear steering, ARCA has decided to create two classes of vehicles in 2002. The Open Class will include rear-steer rock buggies, while the Modified Stock Class will be limited. However, a competitor in the Modified Stock Class can also compete in the Open Class by paying the fees for both classes. The new classes just level the playing field.