Legendary action, a bit of drama ... and a few surprises
We're not sure who's crazier-us smart-alecks at Four Wheeler for devising the grueling Top Truck Challenge or the 10 competitors who actually show up with their 4x4s to compete in 92 hours of insanity in some of the worst terrain imaginable. Actually, the casual observer would probably say we're all nuts, but what do they know?
Since 1993, Top Truck Challenge has been held annually at the Hollister Hills SVRA outside of Hollister, California, and has dutifully evolved to mirror the changes in off-highway technology. With that said, we streamlined the event this year by retiring the acceleration, braking, mechanical, and ride and drive portions of the event, which gave us more time in the dirt. We also added a surprise event, which caught a few competitors off-guard.
The action and drama was as good as it gets, and it continues on the following pages.
We began with a brand-new event, the Trail Fix. This year, teams would compete in a front driver-side axle change competition, with the fastest time winning. Competitors were not pleased at first, but all groaning quickly disappeared when it was announced that the winners would each receive $500 cash courtesy of Yukon Gear. Three competitors' vehicles sporting Rockwell front axles competed in one group, and the remaining seven vehicles-six with Dana 60s and one with a Ford 9-inch-competed in another.
This competition is legendary, and over the years it has largely remained unchanged. We fixed that this year by adding over 100 feet of mind-bending misery to the start of the course. Competitors now had to endure a high-speed start, a 180-degree turn, car-sized boulders, and a 90-degree turn before even getting to the infamous rocks, water, and truck-swallowing mud of the Frame Twister. Expectedly, some vehicles had more trouble with the Twister than others.
Last year, our 150-foot mud pit was way too hard, and no competitors made it more than halfway down its evil length. Guess we shouldn't have added all the dirt and water. We're slow learners, but this year we did leave the murk mostly alone, and some competitors almost made it all the way through. Some competitors attempted to back up and punch through the mud when they started to get stuck, which turned out to be a tactical error, as they couldn't fight their way to their previous position.
As usual, the objective of this event was to climb the steep, loose 600-foot Hill of Doom as quickly as possible. This event rewards horsepower and lightning-fast reflexes. Interestingly, almost all of the competitors flew right up the hill like it wasn't there.
We lovingly refer to this event as the "Obstacle Curse," because every square inch is designed to create the utmost challenge. This 1/8-mile Mass of Misery is a timed event, so speed is of the essence. It features deep mud holes, off-camber berms, eroded gulleys, and slippery slopes.
In the past, we've used dump trucks and a 920 military truck as dead weights in our Tow Test. This time around, we bumped it up a notch and used one of San Benito Supply's 40,300-pound cement mixers. Even though the weight came in a new form, the objective was the same---competitors had to drag the monster up an incline in an effort to get the furthest pull. This event tests horsepower, traction, and durability.
Our rock course is approximately 125 feet in length, and like its namesake, is packed full of boulders. In this competition, standard rockcrawling rules apply and points in the form of seconds are assessed for infractions. Naturally, when it's all said and done, the lowest overall time wins.
The beauty of the Tank Trap is that it's consistent year after year. Consistently difficult, that is. This evil trail treks though the bottom of a natural gorge. It features loose dirt climbs, steep rock waterfalls, sick off-camber sections, and seven deep, ridiculously murky water holes that are lovingly filled by the Hollister Hills SVRA staff. The Tank Trap is approximately 1/4 mile in length (though it seems much longer when you're driving or walking it), and increases 195 feet in elevation from start to finish. This event is worth double the points of the other competitions. Do well here, and you can bolster a good score or make up for bad luck in another competition.
That may be a cliche, but it's true at Top Truck Challenge because we show up with a truckload of prizes. Hey, everyone leaves with something ... even the staff and judges. We usually leave with a stellar case of poison oak. After a killer barbecue breakfast on Friday morning, we broke our silence and announced the winner. To see America's Top Truck for 2005, and the final results, turn to the next page.
Spielberg has nothing on us when it comes to action videos. Our Top Truck Challenge '05 video will leave you riveted and will alter life as you know it. TV-melting action will put you in the driver's seat and the minds of the competitors as they battle each other and the gnarly California terrain. To get one, call 800/213-5668, visit www.4wheelparts.com or get to your local 4Wheel Parts Wholesalers retail location. If you want to see still more off-the-hook Top Truck Challenge action, go to www.fourwheeler.com for streaming video and in-depth pictorials.
Fleetwood's GearBox trailers are some of the hottest trailers around. What makes them so desirable? Simple. They combine the all-the-comforts-of-home benefits of a travel trailer with the functionality of a cargo trailer. Naturally, this best-of-both-worlds design is a boon for those who eat, sleep, and drink the great outdoors. Thanks to Fleetwood, we had the opportunity to spend a week with the hot new '05 GearBox ASV S4 at Top Truck Challenge. We used this awesome rig to haul gear from Los Angeles to Hollister, and then we put it in service as an office for the staff.
The ASV S4 is a fifth-wheel model that measures 31 feet, 4 inches. It has a base price of $27,775, though ours was loaded with options. Up front, there's a bedroom with a Queen-sized bed, a couple of roomy wardrobes, a toilet, a shower, and a lavatory. We liked the generous number of windows and the skylight over the shower, as the natural light could pour in during the day. The main portion of the trailer featured a full kitchen with a three-burner stove, a sink, a refrigerator, a pantry, a loft, a ceiling fan, a sofa/sleeper, a dinette, and a mind-boggling number of overhead cabinets. The rear area (this is where your "toys" would go) offered a generous 14 feet, 6 inches of cargo space. "Toys" can be driven into the trailer via a nonskid 7-foot, 2-inch folding ramp with concealed spring ramp door construction. The ramp is rated at 2,500 pounds. There's some cool stuff outside the rig too, like the seamless, one-piece rubber roof; exterior shower; ice chest/toolbox, and patio awning. Ours had the optional exterior speakers and floodlights too.
The GearBox ASV S4 is only one of a full line of GearBox trailers. Fleetwood offers a slew of towable trailers, luxury and diesel coaches, motorhomes, luxury fifth-wheels, and folding camping trailers. For more info on the ASV S4 or to peruse their entire line visit www.fleetwoodrv.com.
Like you, I've been an outsider reading about Top Truck Challenge each year, anxiously awaiting the competitors' issue, then sucking up every word and photo of coverage of the Top-10 smackdown a couple issues later. Top Truck Challenge seems like a VIP event in the four-wheeling world, so when I was able to crash it (with permission and a wristband), I knew it had to be the day of Tank Trap. Here's what I learned:
* Drivers and co-drivers aren't always in sync. That's never more apparent than when judges shout out the remaining time during a stuck or trail fix and the spotter decides that's not long enough to win, choosing to stroll with the winch and stop to enjoy a beverage along the way-while the driver is still scrambling.
* Everyone's a spotter-and it's gotta be tough on the driver. Could you, in the heat of chaos (read: rolled, stuck, or broken), be able to pluck your co-driver's voice out of the 30 shouting at you, a voice far away at the other end of a winch, and the one with the correct solution?
* To prevent orange-shirt competitors from sneaking peeks at the trail and seeing what the other drivers are doing, they're kept in a fenced-in area until their turn, after which they're free-range attendees. It looks a lot like a TTC petting zoo. When the lunch wagon pulls up with sack meals, they gather like goats to a pellet machine.
* The Tank Trap is "Guys Gone Wild" until a Rockwell breaks and it takes half the morning to extricate the vehicle. After an hour, TTC is more like a church service. After two, people sleep.
* Poison oak is like dog poop-it''s everywhere. Don't know what it looks like? If you spend one iota of time trying to ID the leaves around you, it's too late-you're standing in it. Basically, avoid anything green. And good luck with that.-Tori Tellem
A big hug goes out from the Four Wheeler staff to the following folks for their generous dedication and assistance in this year's Top Truck Challenge:
* Judges Tim Hardy (Head Judge), Dan Black, Toby Lavender, Stan Prueitt, and John Stewart.
* Extraction technicians Rodney Hill, Jason Finstead, Chris Finstead, and John Lockwood.
* Jack Shelton, for the judging and recovery help as well as use of the ATV.
* Mansmiths' Barbecue for keeping judges and competitors well-fed with rockin' gourmet meals (as trail food goes) all week long.
* Sammy Schipper from San Benito Supply for providing the cement mixer for the Tow Test.
* A&S Metals for the equipment usage.
* Muffler Bob and Fulcrum Fabrication for design and construction of the winner's trophy.
* San Juan Rock Crawlers for general logistics assistance.
* All of the rangers and staff of the Hollister Hills SVRA.
* And of course, a very special thanks to the product sponsors of Top Truck Challenge 2005.