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Top Truck Challenge 2001

Posted in Events on June 27, 2003
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Photographers: Ken Brubaker
Scott Ellinger Scott Ellinger
Chris Moeser Chris Moeser
Jim Hall Jim Hall
Ferris McCollum Ferris McCollum
Brian Waddell Brian Waddell
Robin Hood Robin Hood
Stephen Watson Stephen Watson
Eric O'Sullivan Eric O'Sullivan
Bob Kelly Bob Kelly
Mike Kasmarek Mike Kasmarek

Yes folks, once again it's time for the Top Truck Challenge. Like the players in some WWF super match, our competitors traveled far and long to meet in one location so they could duke it out to see who was the best. They came ready for battle with some of the trickest and weirdest rigs out there. Of course, you already know about the rigs of Top Truck Challenge because we featured all of them in last month's issue.

As always, we headed to the Hollister Hills SVRA in Hollister, California, to put the 10 rigs through five days of Top Truck torture. The carnage was high, as axles snapped and driveshafts blew apart, but in the end, there was one rig that was able to survive and finish each event with the most points, earning ultimate victory at Top Truck Challenge 2001, sponsored again this year by 4Wheel Parts Wholesalers. For those that didn't win, there was still the honor of being among the Chosen Few to compete. Plus, the whole deal was plenty of fun, and that was how Top Truck Challenge started in the first place.

To get a first-hand look at all this fun on your very own television, check your local listings on Fox Sports East and West, Action Sports Network, and the ComCast Cable Network. And to obtain your copy of the Top Truck Challenge 2001 video, see the video ad that follows our Top Truck Challenge coverage.

Days One and Two

The Top Truck Challenge starts off fairly easy for our competitors. For the most part, they don't even have to get dirty. Our judges, however, spend their time running around taking measurements to figure out who has the most ground clearance, the tightest turning radius, the best approach and departure angles, and who can get the farthest up the RTI ramp. After all the measurements are taken, the judges crawl in, around, and under every vehicle, using their trained eyes to figure out who did the best job of building his vehicle.

With all the measuring and scrutinizing done, it is finally time for the competitors to fire up their engines and navigate the twisty paved roads through the hills of Hollister for the ride-and-drive portion of Top Truck. Each judge rides in every vehicle to see how the rigs can handle the pavement, with the idea being that all rigs should be able to drive to the trail.

Finally, things get exciting because it's time for the acceleration and braking portions of our competition. We take over a runway at Hollister Airport and the competitors blast down it under the stopwatch to determine who is the quickest. Good brakes also are important, so we run the rigs up to 40 mph and have their drivers slam on the brakes to see who has the best binders.

Once we're finished at the airport, we head back to Hollister Hills SVRA for the Tow Test. Here, the contestants are attached to the heaviest object we can find [Ho-ho-ho, did we ever find a heavy one! --Ed.] and we see how far they can drag it up a hill before coming to a stop.

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Days 1 and 2

Ground Clearance (Inches)

Big Bad 'Burb: 13.75
F-150: 13.75
Jimmy: 13.62
Moeser Dozer: 13.50
S-10 Hybrid: 13.25
Jolly Green CJ: 12.50
Hot Rod: 12.00
M-37: 10.62
Jeep 5.0: 10.50
Toyota: 10.25

Approach and Departure Angle (Degrees)

Hot Rod: 89.0/49.7
Big Bad 'Burb: 67.5/68.8
Jolly Green CJ: 65.5/66.6
S-10 Hybrid: 49.9/56.5
Jeep 5.0: 58.7/47.1
Jimmy: 52.6/48.0
Moeser Dozer: 59.2/40.4
Toyota: 53.4/44.2
F-150: 47.5/39.2
M-37: 45.1/39.2

Wheelbase (Inches/RTI Score)

Jimmy: 110.0/863
Jeep 5.0: 94.5/813
S-10 Hybrid: 122.0/812
Jolly Green CJ: 96.0/794
Hot Rod: 102.0/703
M-37: 112.5/635
Big Bad 'Burb: 117.0/544
Moeser Dozer: 133.3/484
Toyota: 103.0/480
F-150: 117.0/445

Engineering (Points)

Jimmy: 34
Jeep 5.0: 25
Hot Rod: 24
Big Bad 'Burb: 22
M-37: 18
Jolly Green CJ: 17
S-10 Hybrid: 11
Moeser Dozer: 9
F-150: 5 (tie)
Toyota: 5 (tie)

Turning Radius (Feet)

Jolly Green CJ: 33.0
Jimmy: 36.9
Jeep 5.0: 38.7
Big Bad 'Burb: 43.1
F-150: 44.0
Hot Rod: 44.6
S-10 Hybrid: 44.7
Moeser Dozer: 57.2
M-37: 60.3
Toyota: 62.0

Acceleration (Seconds)

Jimmy: 13.43
Hot Rod: 14.55
Jeep 5.0: 14.86
Big Bad 'Burb: 15.12
Jolly Green CJ: 15.33
Moeser Dozer: 16.29
F-150: 16.89
S-10 Hybrid: 16.95
Toyota: 17.17
M-37: 17.21

Braking (Feet)

Jimmy: 13.43
Hot Rod: 14.55
Jeep 5.0: 14.86
Big Bad 'Burb: 15.12
Jolly Green CJ: 15.33
Moeser Dozer: 16.29
F-150: 16.89
S-10 Hybrid: 16.95
Toyota: 17.17
M-37: 17.21

Ride and Drive (Points)

Jeep 5.0: 31
Toyota: 28
S-10 Hybrid: 21 (tie)
Hot Rod: 21 (tie)
Jimmy: 20
Moeser Dozer: 19 (tie)
Big Bad 'Burb: 19 (tie)
M-37: 17
F-150: 9
Jolly Green CJ: 8

Tow Test (Feet)

F-150: 87.1
Moeser Dozer: 85.0
Big Bad 'Burb: 83.0
M-37: 82.9 (tie)
Jimmy: 82.9 (tie)
S-10 Hybrid: 79.94
Jolly Green CJ: 70.5
Hot Rod: 68.7
Toyota: 65.8
Jeep 5.0: 5.9

PhotosView Slideshow

Day Three

The Frame Twister

Consisting mainly of logs and mud, the Frame Twister gives many vehicles fits. It gives their drivers fits, too. The main culprits are the logs that are positioned to maroon as many rigs as possible. Whether your rig has a short wheelbase or a long one, there are a couple of logs out there with your name on them. Of course, it doesn't help that right before the event, we dump as much water as possible into the Frame Twister to make the holes even deeper, the logs slipperier, the mud gooier, and finding traction next to impossible.

On top of this, factor in our judges and their "Driving Elegant" point system. If a rig runs over a cone, leaves the course, or winches, it receives a hefty penalty of 20 points. Stopping or having someone exit the vehicle is a penalty of two points, while backing up is a more minor infraction costing only one point. The idea behind the penalty-point system is to discourage throttle jockeys from simply hammering through the Frame Twister, destroying everything in their path. Rather, the point system rewards those who actually drive the Twister. In the end, the vehicle with the fewest penalty points and the quickest time is the winner. Oh, and just to keep things interesting, the Twister has a 10-minute time limit.

Course Notes: The Frame Twister

Jeep 5.0: Started to winch immediately upon reaching the logs.
S-10 Hybrid: Blew through the pit in the quickest elapsed time ever.
Jimmy: Got hung up about halfway through log section. Broke out the winch and got out fairly quickly.
Big Bad 'Burb: Made it a little farther than the Jimmy. Was on the gas hard and looking a bit tippy. Finally had to break out the winch to make it out.
Hot Rod: Had to be pulled out by the tractor after winch broke.
Toyota: Got hung up a lot. Tried using the winch but timed out.
Moeser Dozer: After hitting the gas got way out of shape and timed out.
M-37: Broke rear driveshaft after lots of throttle. Had to winch out.
F-150: Took out some cones and had to winch out after getting hung up.
Jolly Green CJ: Made it to the third log. From there had to winch out.

Day 3 Results- The Frame Twister

(Penalty Points/Seconds)

S-10 Hybrid: 0/29
Big Bad 'Burb: 48/73
Jimmy: 51/113
M-37: 31/192
Jeep 5.0: 76/230
F-150: 99/209
Jolly Green CJ: 53/279
Toyota: 77/DNF
Hot Rod: 92/DNF
Moeser Dozer: 138/DNF

The Mud Pit

The Mud Pit is exactly what it sounds like. It's a 130-foot-long trough of some of the nastiest, gooiest, stickiest mud that we can find. Even better is the fact that the mud is just plain deep. There is no hope of clawing down to the bottom of this pit and finding traction. We've seen plenty of competitors try. They wind up hopelessly mired in the goo. Luckily, every competitor is already hooked up to a tractor with a long tow strap, so nobody has to try to swim around in the muck.

So what is the right strategy for the Mud Pit? Most just punch it down the center, and hope for the best. Others try clawing along the outer walls. Of course, big tires and lots of horsepower improve your chances in the Mud Pit immensely. Still, it is very rare that we see a vehicle make it all the way through the Pit and out the other side. Most wind up getting yanked out backwards. Figuring out who wins the Mud Pit is fairly easy for the judges. The winner is the guy who goes farthest. Those rare individuals lucky enough to make it all the way through the muck are judged on the quickest time.

Course Notes: The Mud Pit

Jimmy: Made it through three-quarters of the pit before coming to a stop.
Moeser Dozer: Was going pretty good but managed even less distance than the Jimmy did.
Jolly Green CJ: Halfway across the pit came to a stop. He tried to dig down to find traction but didn't get any farther.
Big Bad 'Burb: On the gas hard and made it all the way through the pit.
S-10 Hybrid: Had a really bad run. The ignition cut out right when Robin entered the pit.
Jeep 5.0: Smaller tires did not help and he wasn't able to get far.
F-150: Almost made it all the way through, but came to a stop just shy of the exit.
Hot Rod: Ferris instantly became a mess as he powered through the mud.
M-37: Too low and not enough power to make it far.
Toyota: Powered through farther than we thought it would and did not break anything.

Day 3 Results- The Mud Pit

(Feet/Seconds If Full Run)

Big Bad 'Burb: Full distance/20.0
F-150: 90.6
Jimmy: 88.3
Moeser Dozer: 79.2
Toyota: 78.1
Hot Rod: 68.8
Jolly Green CJ: 68.4
Jeep 5.0: 63.7
M-37: 60.0
S-10 Hybrid: 55.9

The Mini-Rubicon

The Mini-Rubicon is our compact version of the famous Rubicon Trail. We use it to terrorize TTC competitors. While diminutive in size compared to the real Rubicon, the Mini features massive rocks and is probably more difficult than most sections of the Rubicon. There are no easy lines and no bypasses. Breakage is high, as the rocks tend to do their best to find the weak link of a competitor's rig.

As if that wasn't enough, our pesky judges go in the night before and jumble as many rocks as possible to increase the difficulty and confound those who attempted to get a sneak peak at the Mini-Rubicon. The same "Driving Elegant" point system in effect for the Frame Twister is used here, but with some modifications to the number of penalty points that can be awarded. Stopping will net you one penalty point, backing up is a two-point fine, having a person exit the vehicle is a five-point penalty, and using a winch costs 10 penalty points. In the end, the team that went the farthest in the least amount of time and with the lowest amount of penalty points is the winner. All rigs have a maximum of 20 minutes to run the 135-foot-long course.

Course Notes: The Mini Rubicon

Big Bad 'Burb: Cruised right through the rocks with little trouble.
S-10 Hybrid: Ran out of time. Got high-centered about a quarter of the way through and snapped a front driveshaft.
Moeser Dozer: Got hung up a couple of times but made it through. Good effort.
Toyota: Broke a front hub right in the entrance. Team declared that they were finished.
Jeep 5.0: Had problems in entrance. Tried to winch a bunch of times and timed out.
F-150: A quarter of the way through broke a left-front hub. Then broke a right-front stub-axle. Timed out.
Jolly Green CJ: Tried to bulldog it through and slid off the course. Timed out.
M-37: Winched a couple of times but made it through.
Jimmy: Cruised right through with absolutely no problems.
Hot Rod: Ferris' experience in the rocks showed as he walked right through.

Day 3 Results- The Mini Rubicon

(Feet/Penalty Points/Seconds)

Jimmy: 135/0/185
Big Bad 'Burb: 135/12/240
Hot Rod: 135/14/287
Moeser Dozer: 135/62/814
M-37: .135/62/912
Jolly Green CJ: 70/85/DNF
S-10 Hybrid: 51/26/DNF
F-150: 45/20/DNF
Jeep 5.0: 23/54/DNF
Toyota: 12/28/DNF

PhotosView Slideshow

Day Four

The Hill

Every year we have to find another hill for our Top Truck competitors to try to conquer. The park's neighbors, who mostly grow grapes for wine, sometimes complain about dust from our activities falling on their crops. While this might seem like a bit of a bummer, we are happy to oblige them as it gives the park rangers an opportunity to find a new and even more challenging hill. And certainly we're in favor of keeping the wine crop safe.

This year, the rangers once again outdid themselves (as they seem to every year) and found a nice, steep hill for our competitors to climb. Big ruts at the bottom of the hill were bound to give our challengers some headaches. Worse yet was that the hill was very slippery, with a thin layer of loose dirt on top of hard-packed soil. This meant that traction would be hard to come by. Concerned that the hill might be a little too much, our judges decided to have an ideal time to the top. The idea here was to keep the competitors from attempting full-throttle assaults on the hill to get the quickest time which, we hoped, would eliminate the chance of a roll. It would also change the Hillclimb from a horsepower contest to more of a test of driving skill, something we always endorse. After running the hill themselves, the judges deemed that getting to the top in 1 minute and 30 seconds would require plenty of skill. The competitor that came closest to the ideal time would be the winner.

Course Notes: The Hill

Toyota: Cruised right up without any problems. Just took it nice and easy.
Moeser Dozer: Big ruts were narrow for this fullsize truck, but it still cruised up. Seemed slower than most of the others.
Jimmy: Suspension worked well and it found traction without any problems. Good pace.
M-37: Had a little trouble finding traction but still made it up.
Big Bad 'Burb: Seemed really tall going up the Hill, but Brian must be used to it.
F-150: Was from the Texas flatlands and didn't like the idea of climbing the Hill, but still made it up.
Jolly Green CJ: Lots of air pressure in its tires and huge spare tire on the back made it look scary, but it had no trouble.
S-10 Hybrid: Putted right up and propane-injection made the Hill smell like a barbecue.
Jeep 5.0: Ran out of steam, missed a downshift, and rolled. No injuries.
Hot Rod: Big-block 460 V-8 had no problem getting to the top.

Day 4 Results- The Hill

Results (Seconds Off Ideal Time)

Jimmy: 5.5
Toyota: 7.4v S-10 Hybrid: 8.3
M-37: 8.4
F-150: 11.5
Big Bad 'Burb: 13.8
Hot Rod: 28.4
Moeser Dozer: 32.3
Jolly Green CJ: 37.4
Jeep 5.0: DNF

The Obstacle Course

The Obstacle Course is like an amusement park for our competitors, with plenty of wild rides. The tight little course winds up, down, and through what resembles a gravel pit but without the gravel. To keep things interesting for the competitors, the judges and rangers construct as many obstacles as possible, giving the event its imaginative name. Plenty of mud, water, and dirt mounds can be found sprinkled throughout the course to test the driving skills of the competitors.

After the course is constructed, the judges make a path of cones that guides the competitors through the most difficult sections of the course. Hills, ruts, and tricky off-camber sections all must be traversed. The cones also make the course very tight, which means that smaller, nimbler rigs are the favorites while those with big turning radiuses find themselves doing lots of three-point turns. Of course, the competitors can always decide to take out a few innocent cones but every cone that gets knocked down brings a two-second penalty. With the winner judged on the quickest time, every second counts, so the fewer the cones killed, the better.

Course Notes: The Obstacle Course

S-10 Hybrid: Took the course very slowly.
Jolly Green CJ: Also putted through the course.
M-37: Broke a hub right away coming down the first hill. Got stuck in mud and timed out.
Toyota: Almost wiped out coming down the off-camber section. Mud hole was too big for it and it got stuck and timed out.
F-150: Was very big for the course. Made it through, but not quickly, and took out four cones.
Moeser Dozer: Impressive run for such a big truck. Was making good time until it lost a rear tire, but still finished.
Jimmy: Very nimble for a truck of its size. Made fast progress and blew through the mud hole.
Big Bad 'Burb: Didn't hit any cones, which was impressive for such a huge truck.
Hot Rod: The little pink roadster was fast and nimble.
Jeep 5.0: Did not start the event. Was busy checking for damage from rollover on the Hillclimb.

Day 4 Results- The Obstacle Course

(Time Through Course)

Jimmy: 1:24
Hot Rod: 1:34
Big Bad 'Burb: 1:37
Jolly Green CJ: 2:04
Moeser Dozer: 2:18
S-10 Hybrid: 2:36
F-150: 3:31
Toyota: DNF
M-37: DNF
Jeep 5.0: DNS

PhotosView Slideshow

The Tank Trap

We have always wanted an actual tank to attempt the Tank Trap to see if this Mother of All Obstacles could live up to its name. So far, we haven't had any volunteers from the military. So instead we make our 10 competitors run through this awesome gauntlet.

What makes the Tank Trap so hard? Giant earthen berms must be climbed, and once competitors reach their summits, they instantly drop into massive bodies of water. The unlucky ones, those who can't escape these quagmires--we poured 12,000 gallons of water into the Tank Trap this year--get to swim for their winch cables. Usually competitors are feeling pretty good when they make it through the first couple of holes. Too bad they have four more water traps to cross, with the last one resembling a small lake.

On top of this is the long, No Man's Land canyon section between holes 2 and 3. This place basically is a mess. Massive ruts are everywhere and there isn't a square inch of level ground. Competitors can always try to winch through this section, but finding anywhere to winch to can be a challenge, as the walls of the canyon are tall and vertical.

Figuring out who wins the Tank Trap is easy. Those lucky few that make it through before the 30-minute time limit expires are given a time. The quickest is the winner. The rest are judged on the distance traveled before their rigs blew up or they timed out.

Course Notes: The Tank Trap

Moeser Dozer: Done in Hole 2 when a tire bead blew off.
F-150: Carburetor gave him a lot of trouble going through canyon. Finally timed out with broken steering.
Big Bad 'Burb: Blew through with no problems. Used the winch to get through Holes 5 and 6.
Toyota: Started broken and timed out, but the guys were still having fun.
Jeep 5.0: Tried to winch through most of No Man's Land but ran out of time.
Hot Rod: Both driver and co-driver seemed experienced and worked well as a team.
Jimmy: Too much time spent trying to save body. Timed out.
S-10 Hybrid: Used winch once in Hole 6 and blasted through the rest of the Trap.
M-37: Had problems but never gave up.
Jolly Green CJ: Lots of problems with fuel injection.

Day 4 Results- The Tank Trap

Results (Time/Points)

S-10 Hybrid: 7:06/25
Big Bad 'Burb: 8:49/22.5
Hot Rod: 22:43/20
M-37: DNF/17.5
Toyota: DNF/15
Jeep 5.0: DNF/12.5
Jimmy: DNF/10
F-150: DNF/7.5
Jolly Green CJ: DNF/5
Moeser Dozer: DNF/2.5

Day Five

Finally the dust settled, the Tank Trap's waters became still again, and the Trap's sides were returned to the quiet of poison oak and rattlesnake. After a long week of battling it out, our weary competitors could finally rest. However, the judges and the rest of the staff were busy tabulating the points into the wee hours of the morning to figure out who won what. Besides the obvious First-, Second-, and Third-place finishers, there were plenty of other categories that the judges and staff spent most of the night debating about. Here is what we came up with before we decided it was time to go to bed:

Best Engineered: This award is actually decided by the points given during the engineering judging on the first day of activities. The judges spend plenty of time looking at each vehicle and its construction to determine who has done the nicest job of building their vehicle. Stephen and his super-trick '82 Jimmy won easily.

Team Spirit Award: The Team Spirit Award does not involve any points. Instead, it is up to us figure out what team worked together the best. Besides teamwork, this award also goes to the team that had the best competitive spirit. With their never-say-die attitude, the M-37 team definitely deserved this award.

Driving Elegant Award: Another award that doesn't involve points but rather a decision by the judges and staff. It goes to the driver who shows the most finesse and skill when traversing the many obstacles of Top Truck Challenge. For his smooth-and-steady driving, Ferris received the Driving Elegant Award.

Long Distance Award: Figuring out the Long Distance Award is fairly easy. We look at who had the longest trip out to compete in Top Truck Challenge. This year the award went to Chris and the Moeser Dozer. Chris and his friends made the long trip out from Penndell, Pennsylvania.

People's Choice Award: This award is the only one decided by the competitors. They pick which rig besides their own that they would most like to take home with them. This year the competitors decided that they would love to load up Robin's S-10 Hybrid on their trailers.

Most Records Broken Award: This was a new category for this year. It is rare that somebody breaks a record. Even more rare that they break two. Robin and his S-10 Hybrid did just that. He set fast times for both the Frame Twister and the Tank Trap, so naturally this award went to him.

With all the awards finally handed out, Top Truck Challenge 2001 came to a close, leaving us to prepare for next year's event. If you want to check out all the loot that the competitors won for each award, check out Top Truck Gear on page 58 of this issue.

Day 5- Final Results


Big Bad 'Burb: 90.5
Jimmy: 88
Hot Rod: 78
S-10 Hybrid: 67.5
M-37: 61
F-150: 55.5
Jeep 5.0: 53
Toyota: 49
Moeser Dozer: 48
Jolly Green CJ: 42

PhotosView Slideshow

Special Thanks

As always, with an event this large there are some people to whom we give our heartfelt thanks. At the top of this list are the park rangers at Hollister Hills SVRA. Without their help and skill, the Top Truck Challenge would never happen, let alone be the event it is today. Another group crucial to the Top Truck Challenge consists of the event's staff of hard-working judges. Our non-staff judges for this year's Top Truck Challenge were Jim Piatt, Ned Bacon, Tim Hardy, and Pat Gremillion. These guys busted their butts all week to make sure Top Truck went off without a hitch.

And last, but certainly not least, thanks to these special sponsors:

Official Top Truck Challenge bedliner
Rancho Suspension
Official Top Truck Challenge suspension
Superior Axle & Gear
Official Top Truck Challenge axles and gears
Pro Comp Tires
Official Top Truck Challenge tire

Thanks once again to all those who made Top Truck Challenge 2001 a success.

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