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Top Truck Challenge 2008 - Shake, Battle & Roll

Posted in Events on December 1, 2007 Comment (0)
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Photographers: The Four Wheeler Staff

For those of you unfamiliar with Top Truck Challenge, we'll bring you up to speed. The easiest way to explain the event is by describing what it is not. It is not a truck show. It does not care if your rig is a proven chick magnet. It's not impressed by how many spherical rod ends your rig has. It's indifferent to whatever "unconquerable" obstacles you've conquered in the past. It doesn't care if you're a shop owner or a shop sweeper.

Now here's what Top Truck is. Its seven vastly different mega-events that represent almost every discipline of four-wheeling. It culminates with an event that is spoken of in hushed, reverent tones; the Mother of All Events, the almighty, nightmare-inducing Tank Trap. Quite simply, Top Truck is extreme calisthenics for your rig as well as your body and mind, and there is nothing else like it.

Since we introduced Top Truck Challenge 16 years ago, wheelers have lined up for the 10 coveted spots each year. We choose the candidates from entries sent to us by the readers and you select the actual 10 competitors by ballot. The competitors you choose travel to the Hollister Hills SVRA near Hollister, California, in early June to compete in the weeklong event.

This year, you selected a radically diverse group of vehicles, which we profiled in depth in last month's issue. Nice work, by the way. When it came time to compete, one of your choices was AWOL, so we ran with nine teams in competition. It became obvious early on, more than ever, that the teams entered the competition with a clear-cut strategy for each event. It's clear that many had studied past Top Truck DVDs. Some were able to adhere to their strategy for a little while, but ultimately the brutal courses forced most everyone to abandon whatever plan they had in an effort to survive. This year there were some major surprises, shocking outcomes, incredible examples of teamwork, and of course, off-the-hook action. We've summarized each event for you in detail and the action begins on the next page.

Morris' Buggy

Day 1 Event 1
The Tow Test
What it is and how it works: Ever been to a truck pull? You know how it works. Truck is tethered to sled. Truck pulls sled on flat groomed track. Weight on sled moves forward, creating resistance. Truck stops. Well, we think that's boring. Our Top Truck Tow Test forces competitors to tow a 38,000-pound cement mixer from a dead stop. Uphill. On dirt. Yep, we've taken the classic truck pull and made it better. This year, no one got a full pull on our 170-foot track, so each team was ranked by the distance they pulled.

View Slideshow

Finish Line Quotes
"We're just trying to be smart about every event."
-Randy Swartz

"That's a heavy truck."
-Clayton Kraatz

"I wish we would've kinda picked a different gear-we didn't even have our tires spinning."
-Cheston Beck

"I didn't take off as fast I was hoping to. That's pretty hard to pull."
-Byron Hair

"I started in too high of a gear, that's for sure. It's all livin' and learnin'."
-Scott Morris

"We didn't throw a piston out the bottom, and it's still running, so we're alright."
-Hoby Hulbert

The Nitty-Gritty
Beck's International: Slow, controlled run with very little wheelspin. A high gear selection bogged the propane-fed 460ci V-8.

Hair's Wagoneer: Ran the custom-cut Mickey Thompson Claws at 5 psi front and 6 psi rear. The Quadrajet-topped 455ci engine sounded like it was misfiring but still carried the rig to a Second Place finish.

Hulbert's Willys: Ran the SM420 trans in First gear and aired the tires down to 8 pounds. Slow run with a little suspension hop and blue exhaust smoke along the way.

Kraatz' Warthog: Unwound the 467ci Chevy engine and threw down a great run with only a slight pull to the left of the track. Spun to a stop when the Boggers broke loose. Posted a pull only 61/2 inches shy of Team McGilton's winning pull last year.

Naeger's Buggy: The 350ci Ramjet V-8 and soft four-link suspension translated to a fair amount of body lean and some suspension hop.

Lammers' Bronco: Ran with 10 psi in the Mickey Thompson Baja Claws. With the Atlas 2 4:1 transfer case in low-range and the C6 transmission in First gear, it was a slow run with little wheelspin.

Morris' Buggy: Toggled between gears several times in an effort to keep momentum, which seemed to work. Eventually the IROKs lost traction.

Swartz' Chevy: First competitor. Ran the NP205 in low and the SM465 in First gear. Very docile and restrained run that didn't really gather enough momentum.

Wood's CJ-5: Cummins diesel pulled strong. Even with the rear axle bouncing a bit, the driver stayed on the throttle to finish slightly behind Morris.

RESULTS (distance traveled)
1 Kraatz' Warthog 104 ft. 4 in.
2 Hair's Wagoneer 88 ft. 2 in.
3 Morris' Buggy 84 ft. 8 in.
4 Wood's CJ-5 82 ft. 9 in.
5 Naeger's Buggy 82 ft. 3 in.
6 Lammers' Bronco 76 ft. 7 in.
7 Beck's International 75 ft. 4 in.
8 Hulbert's Willys 74 ft. 1 in.
9 Swartz' Chevy 71 ft. 7 in.
Wood's CJ-5

Day 1 Event 2
The Frame Twister
What it is and how it works: Last year, the Frame Twister lived up to its name and trashed both framerails on Jeff Fink's TJ. Naturally we made the course harder this year. We added a 250-foot section that included an S-turn that forced competitors to travel over rocks and other brutal terrain before even getting to the evil, strategically-placed, car-sized boulders. Once they battled through the boulders, the competitors had to travel through water and dirt before coming face to face with the Frame Twister's most dreaded obstacle: logs placed perpendicular to the direction of travel with gaping chasms filled with mud and water. Time limit: 10 minutes. Penalties in the form of seconds were assessed for infractions such as winching. This year, three rigs powered through the course without winching.

View Slideshow

Finish Line Quotes
"I've been waiting 16 years to do that. That was awesome. That was worth the whole entire trip and the whole entire event."
-Clayton Kraatz

"A little disappointing, but you know what? We're here to run it. I'm happy that the suspension actually held."
-Cheston Beck

"Pedal on the right, man. Pedal on the right. That was great. I loved it."
-Hoby Hulbert

"We were hoping to hit the middle, bounce, hit the last set of logs and goon through. I don't know what happened, but it didn't happen that way."
-Jeremy Naeger

"Oh man, what a rush."
-Brandon Lammers

"That's a good time. I almost want to do it again."
-Byron Hair

View Slideshow

The Nitty-Gritty
Beck's International: Crunched the passenger door in the boulders. The team was only 10 seconds behind the Warthog's time when entering the logs. Unfortunately, the suspension bumpstops were too short, and when the rig hit the second log, this allowed the front-axle suspension links to smash the oil pan, which also damaged the sump and pump. The team chose to end their run less than 12 feet from the finish line.

Hair's Wagoneer: Easily crawled the boulders and attempted to power through the logs several times. A violent bounce off a log bent the tie rod and threw the rig slightly sideways, forcing the team to winch across the finish line.

Hulbert's Willys: Slow calculated run at the beginning. Came close to rolling over in the boulders. Hit the logs under power and floated the big 49s over the logs and the side-marker posts for a winch-free finish.

Kraatz' Warthog: Incredibly fast run. Used front "dig" on tight corners. Tipped precariously in the boulders and caught major air after charging the logs at full speed. Only penalized 8 seconds for two back-ups.

Lammers' Bronco: Ran with 3 psi in the front tires and 2 psi in the rear tires in hopes the tires would fold and pull over the logs better. Slow run with rear steer problems and lots of penalties. Winched over the finish line while on the clock.

Morris' Buggy: Great run utilizing rear steer with only one 4-second penalty for backing up in the boulders. Powered through the logs with no problem.

Naeger's Buggy: Ultra-fast run through the course until entering the logs. Attempted to power through, but a bad bounce off a log actually pushed him backwards, causing him to get stuck. The team salvaged the run with quick winching to earn a Fourth Place finish.

Swartz' Chevy: Ran with the traction bars removed. Tried to power through the logs but was disqualified when the rig took a bad bounce and the right front tire went out of bounds only 18 feet from the finish line.

Wood's CJ-5: First competitor. Ran with 5 psi and 4 psi in the front and rear tires, respectively. Rear steer helped make quick time through the twisty first part of the course. Major wheel lift coming through the boulders. Good speed into the logs but got stuck with the front tires up against the last log. Had to deal with a knot in the winch line. Winched over the finish line.

RESULTS
(time with penalties or ranking order if DNF)
1 Kraatz' Warthog 1 min. 30 sec.
2 Morris' Buggy 1 min. 40 sec.
3 Hulbert's Willys 2 min. 51 sec.
4 Naeger's Buggy 3 min. 28 sec.
5 Wood's CJ-5 4 min. 15 sec.
6 Hair's Wagoneer 4 min. 48 sec.
7 Lammers' Bronco 5 min. 55 sec.
8 Beck's International DNF
9 Swartz' Chevy DNF
Hair's Wagoneer

Day 1 Event 3
The Mud Pit
What it is and how it works: The one constant to our mud pit is that it's constantly different. Each year, we tweak our demented recipe of ingredients to keep competitors guessing. This year we threw everyone for a loop when we made it narrower and easier. Easier? Yep, we figured with all the powerful engines in this year's lineup, we'd make it a race instead of a bog. As we expected, everyone who competed made it through the goo. The straight-line course was approximately 150 feet in length and competitors were ranked by their elapsed time.

View Slideshow
Naeger's Buggy

Finish Line Quotes
"I think that mud has something in it."
-Jeff Wood

"You can't get that ride at Disneyland."
-John Griffin

"That was messy. I like it."
-Brandon Lammers

"This is a pretty humbling event."
-Clayton Kraatz

The Nitty-Gritty
Beck's International: Did not run due to damage incurred in the Frame Twister.

Hair's Wagoneer: Came to the event with a hastily straightened tie rod. Last competitor to run. Tried to follow a line down the right side of the track but ultimately the ruts chose his path. Good run that netted a middle-of-the-pack finish.

Hulbert's Willys: Third competitor. Chose a new line down the right side of the track away from the ruts made by the previous two competitors. Progress was slow as the 49-inch IROKS clawed for traction.

Kraatz' Warthog: The big 54s pounded the mud into submission.

Lammers' Bronco: Hung to the far right side of the pit. The ruts from previous rigs kept trying to pull the rig into the middle of the pit, necessitating lots of sawing at the steering wheel.

Morris' Buggy: First competitor. At the start command, he reversed from the starting line several yards before going forward to get more momentum. Hugged the left side of the course and held high speed the entire course.

Naeger's Buggy: Strong run with the Ramjet 350 singin' and the TH400 trans locked in Second gear.

Swartz' Chevy: Lightning-fast run with the monster 540ci engine screaming. The Chevy had so much speed, it was barely visible through the flying mud.

Wood's CJ-5: Second competitor. Reversed off the starting line to gain momentum like Morris. Followed Morris' ruts.

RESULTS (elapsed time or DNS)
1 Swartz' Chevy 8.50 sec.
2 Kraatz' Warthog 9.75 sec.
3 Morris' Buggy 12.05 sec.
4 Naeger's Buggy 12.18 sec.
5 Hair's Wagoneer 13.60 sec.
6 Wood's CJ-5 16.00 sec.
7 Lammers' Bronco 18.40 sec.
8 Hulbert's Willys 28.47 sec.
9 Beck's International DNS
Hair's Wagoneer

Day 2 Event 1
The Obstacle Course
What it is and how it works: One thing you can expect with the Obstacle Course is that it's not going to be what you expect. This year was no exception as we overhauled the event and added some new features never before seen. We retained the course's twisty layout and deep water holes, but we added a new section that required competitors to start at the top of our old Hillclimb hill. Starting competitors at the top of this massive, steep hill meant that nothing was visible to the drivers over their rigs' hoods except blue California sky. Further, we didn't let competitors walk the course. Instead, we provided them with a route map. This meant that teamwork and communication was essential. To make things even more interesting, we halved the time limit to 5 minutes, which forced the teams to think fast and run hard. Finally, we made hitting a cone a 20-second penalty to force teams to have a clean run.

View Slideshow

Finish Line Quotes
"That was interesting, not really knowing the course at all."
-Cheston Beck

"Nice little holes you guys had there. We handled it. The Willys made it again."
-Hoby Hulbert

"I probably could've done better using the rear steer but I'm not familiar with it so I figured I'd better leave it alone."
-Clayton Kraatz

"I didn't think it was going to be this tight, so I wasn't ready for all that rear steer. It can get you out of trouble but it can get you into trouble."
-Scott Morris

"That was a good course. You guys involved the hillclimb, which is good. Really like that."
-Randy Swartz

"Oh those drop-offs, man that was crazy. I like my stinger."
-Brandon Lammers

The Nitty-Gritty
Beck's International: First competitor. Came into competition after pulling an all-nighter to fix damage from the Frame Twister. Dropped hard into water hole three and broke a bumpstop. Strong run with only one cone penalty.

Hair's Wagoneer: Ran with 7 psi in the tires to "improve handling." Decent run, but the team lost a few seconds due to a three-point turn near the last water hole. Overall time was negatively impacted by a 60-second penalty for hitting three cones.

Hulbert's Willys: Slowest run of the competition. Their time was further hurt when the big 49-inch tires killed four cones to add 80 seconds to the teams overall time.

Kraatz' Warthog: Fast run, but the team hesitated a bit between the first and second water holes. Executed a front "burn" to quickly align the vehicle with the last water hole. Penalized for hitting two cones.

Lammers' Bronco: Last competitor. Came into the event with a bent hydraulic ram on the rear steer. Slow, calculated run, but they hit three cones for 60 seconds in penalties.

Morris' Buggy: Fastest run of the competition. Easily won the event on raw time and still won by 4 seconds, even after a 20-second penalty for hitting one cone.

Naeger's Buggy: Careful, calculated run, and the team only hit one cone. This was pretty good, considering that for a while they were looking at their course map upside-down.

Swartz' Chevy: Fast descent down the big hill. An average run with a multi-point turn near the last water hole and two penalties for hitting cones. Broke the front Dana 60 ring-and-pinion.

Wood's CJ-5: Only competitor to complete the course without hitting any cones. Fast run. Lost a bit of time with a three-point turn before the last water hole.

RESULTS (overall time including penalties)
1 Morris' Buggy 1 min. 35 sec.
2 Wood's CJ-5 1 min. 39 sec.
3 Naeger's Buggy 2 min. 11 sec.
4 Kraatz' Warthog 2 min. 24 sec.
5 Beck's International 2 min. 30 sec.
6 Swartz' Chevy 2 min. 31 sec.
7 Hair's Wagoneer 2 min. 45 sec.
8 Lammers' Bronco 3 min. 05 sec.
9 Hulbert's Willys 3 min. 58 sec.
Hair's Wagoneer

Day 2 Event 2
The Hillclimb
What it is and how it works: Our 600-foot Hillclimb is pretty typical as far as hillclimbs go. Or not. This one-of-a-kind, heart-pounding event combines a steep natural hillclimb with gobs of loose dirt and a few sweeping turns for good measure. Oh, and did we mention the deep, strategically-placed holes? This event rewards those who can think on the fly and it punishes those whose minds have already wandered to the next event. Rigs are ranked according to how fast they climb to the top. Rigs that don't make it to the top are ranked in order of how far they traveled. This year, more than half the field failed to reach the top. Also new this year, we let competitors bask in the glory of continuing up the hill after they DNF'd if they wished.

View Slideshow

Finish Line Quotes
"That is a crazy hill. This is the mother of all hills."
-Randy Swartz

"Man, a lot different than I expected. Lots of fun. What an adrenalin rush."
-Brandon Lammers

"I didn't realize we were gonna have off-cambers and all that."
-Jeff Wood

"It was pretty scary for me. I was shakin' a lot down at the bottom."
-Clayton Kraatz

"That's pretty nasty. I didn't think it was going to be that rough."
-Scott Morris

The Nitty-Gritty
Beck's International: Last competitor. Great run until the last hole, when a bad line flipped the truck completely onto its top.

Hair's Wagoneer: First competitor. Came into the event with a borrowed tie rod installed to replace the one that was bent in the Frame Twister. Rolled onto the passenger side in the final hole and broke the tie-rod mount from the passenger-side knuckle.

Hulbert's Willys: The carburetor on the 327ci engine didn't like the incline of the hill, and it sputtered to a halt at the 103-foot mark.

Kraatz' Warthog: Flew up the hill to easily post the fastest time of the event. Came close to rolling in the final hole, but the driver stayed on the gas and drove out of it.

Lammers' Bronco: Came off the line strong but lost momentum at the 223-foot mark and was marked there. Driver continued on and flopped the rig onto its passenger side in the last hole, but drove out of it to the top of the hill.

Morris' Buggy: Tried to shift from First to Second gear, but the rough course caused the driver to shift into Reverse, which caused the rig to come to a momentary complete stop at the 261-foot mark, thus ending his run.

Naeger's Buggy: Third competitor to run, and even though the driver was suffering from an excruciating old back injury, he took honors as the first rig to top the hill this year.

Swartz' Chevy: Replaced the front-axle ring-and-pinion with the help of all of the other teams during the lunch break before the Hillclimb. The lack of a front locker hurt him, though, and he lost momentum and stopped at the 216-foot mark.

Wood's CJ-5: Slowest of the rigs that made it to the top, but not by much. The Cummins 4BT pulled strong and the rig crawled through the final hole with just a bit of front wheel lift.

RESULTS (time or distance traveled if DNF)
1 Kraatz' Warthog 32 sec.
2 Naeger's Buggy 40 sec.
3 Wood's CJ-5 47 sec.
4 Beck's International 326 feet
5 Hair's Wagoneer 320 feet
6 Morris' Buggy 261 feet
7 Lammers' Bronco 223 feet
8 Swartz' Chevy 216 feet
9 Hulbert's Willys 103 feet
Hulbert's Willys

Day 2 Event 3
The Mini Rubicon
What it is and how it works: When we saw the incredible rigs you chose for Top Truck this year we knew we had to bump the Mini Rubicon up a notch. Besides, seven of the 10 rigs made it through last year, which is an unacceptably high number. With that said, our psycho course builders spent days tweaking the 125-foot rock course in an effort to make it even more evil and miserable. The result was a work of art. This year, it sported four strategically-placed large holes that created chaos. It also sported some gnarly drop-offs at the edges of the course as well as a collection of loose boulders. Each competitor had 20 minutes to crawl, winch, or flounder as far as possible. This year, only two rigs made it through. Competitors who completed the course were ranked by elapsed time while those who did not finish were ranked by distance traveled. Competitors had seconds added to their elapsed time for infractions such as stopping, backing up, winching, and so on.

View Slideshow

Finish Line Quotes
"They're huge. Look at those holes. They're big."
-Byron Hair

"I finally got something to go right. For the rest of my life that log [in the Frame Twister] will haunt me."
-Jeremy Naeger

"That was awesome. I thought I was done like three, four, maybe 10 times in there. That was insane. That was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do."
-Clayton Kraatz

"They were evil. It was fun. Never seen anything like that before."
-Hoby Hulbert

The Nitty-Gritty
Beck's International: Last competitor. Two minutes in, they had the hood open to investigate a power steering fluid leak. They continued on and fought for every inch of forward progress. Numerous back-up maneuvers to try new lines. Eventually blew the low-pressure power-steering hose and chose to end their run with 13:48 on the clock.

Hair's Wagoneer: Entered competition with a hastily-swapped front knuckle borrowed from another team. It took the team several minutes just to get up on the course. Fought for every inch of forward progress and the co-driver stacked rocks. With 10 seconds left on the clock, they entered the first hole. Timed out 79 feet into the course.

Hulbert's Willys: No issues climbing onto the course. Made quick forward progress. Tried to skirt the first hole to the right but got stuck. With three minutes on the clock they were winching. Ended up out-of-bounds and were disqualified 6:07 into the run. Bent the front driveshaft.

Kraatz' Warthog: Incredible run. Only winched once and that was only to move a rock out of their path as they came out of the second hole. The rig actually rolled onto its side numerous times, but Kraatz drove out of it each time. Got through the course quickly with a raw time of 11:26 before penalties.

Lammers' Bronco: First competitor. About 8 minutes into the run, they were stuck and winching. Five minutes later, the rig's rear suspension suffered catastrophic damage under torque that also damaged the rear driveshaft. The rig was so damaged, it was lifted from the course by an excavator. To add insult to injury, as the team winched up a hill on the way back to camp, the winch solenoids burned up.

Morris' Buggy: Aided by rear steering, they climbed quickly onto the course. Progressed to the first hole in 3 minutes. Ran into problems in the hole and spent the next 8 minutes trying to devise a way to climb out. They ended up out of the hole on the right side of the course, tipped to the passenger side. The co-driver tied a strap on the rig to try to keep it from tipping. Traveled out-of-bounds and were disqualified with 16:50 on the clock. Damage report: One of the driveshafts suffered a deep gash, and a boot on one of the rear knuckles ripped.

Naeger's Buggy: Blew through the course to the second hole then had some issues and almost rolled. Began winching. Completed the course with a raw time of 13:13 but gathered 2:16 in penalties.

Swartz' Chevy: Entered the first hole with 1:20 on the clock. Got stuck while trying to skirt the second hole. With 6 minutes on the clock, the co-driver unspooled the winch cable and connected it directly to the bulldozer at the end of the course. Almost rolled with 10:37 on the clock. They were close to the finish line with 1:10 left on the clock but timed out. Damage report: Cracked a passenger front main leaf spring, fried starter, bent traction-bar tabs, cracked headers, and slipping clutch.

Wood's CJ-5: Second competitor. Shortly into the run, the rig was tipped precariously on the right side of the course and the co-driver was using a strap to steady the rig. About 14 minutes into the run, a rock snagged the drain plug on the transmission pan and tore the corner of the pan out. The team chose to end their run with 17:30 on the clock.

RESULTS
(overall time with penalties or feet traveled if DNF)
1 Kraatz' Warthog 12 min. 54 sec.
2 Naeger's Buggy 15 min. 29 sec.
3 Swartz' Chevy 156 ft.
4 Wood's CJ-5 117 ft.
5 Morris' Buggy 101 ft.
6 Beck's Scout 95 ft.
7 Hulbert's Willys 79 ft. 6 in.
8 Hair's Wagoneer 79 ft.
9 Lammers' Bronco 75 ft.

Day 3 Final Event
The Tank Trap
What it is and how it works: There really aren't enough words in the English language to describe the Tank Trap. You can pore over the photos and study the videos, but Tank Trap alumni agree that the only way to appreciate, or fear, the Trap is to try to conquer it. Over the years it has easily humbled some of the most well-built Top Truck rigs. The Tank Trap is held in an evil quarter-mile-long narrow valley that climbs 195 feet in elevation from start to finish. This valley is scary in stock form, but we make it worse. Our demented track builders work their black magic on it for days before the event, and the result is a lurid collection of outrageous off-camber sections, ultra-slippery rock waterfalls, ridiculously loose dirt climbs, and seven deep and slimy water holes. We're not kidding when we say that every inch of the course is designed to test competitors and their vehicles. The obstacles come hard and fast, and leave you breathless quickly. Naturally, an event of this caliber deserves special treatment, so the Tank Trap is worth double the points of the other six events. This means it offers competitors the opportunity to gather much-needed points or extend a lead. The only rule is that a competitor must travel through the marker cones when they appear. Time limit: 30 minutes.

View Slideshow

Finish Line Quotes
"Well, at the bottom, one of us shut off the fans or I forgot to turn 'em on, so we lost all of our water right away and we ran the whole entire way with the needle pegged on the gauge. It's TTC, I don't care, we'll blow the motor up. I'll build another one when I get home."
-Clayton Kraatz

"Just had to bump it in a few places and back up to get a good straight line and keep on it. The tires worked great."
-Byron Hair

"I've been wanting to do this my whole life. Ever since I seen this on TV. I've wanted to run this damn hole. I'm just so happy it went this well. Couldn't ask for a better spotter, couldn't ask for a better day."-Jeremy Naeger

"We expected the worst because every event was getting harder and harder. They pulled out the stops on this canyon. The canyon is brutal. The water holes are brutal. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for those other eight competitors who helped me put that front end together yesterday. I love these guys. I'd wheel with 'em anytime."
-Randy Swartz

"Just a dream come true. That's all I can say. My motor's toast, my tranny's slipping, and we still got up here. We're here at Top Truck Challenge. I know I didn't do the best. I know I'm not even close to number one, but you know what? We did the best we could."
-Cheston Beck

"It was just a blast. It was just too fun. First time we've ever been in deep water. That's the deepest I've ever been. We're from the desert."
-Jeff Wood

"Loved it. I was still having fun even getting pulled out from it."
-Brandon Lammers

View Slideshow

The Nitty-Gritty
Beck's International: Made it through Water Hole 4 with no winching. Winched out of Water Hole 5 with 8:40 on the clock. Winched again on the final hill. Completed the course.

Hair's Wagoneer: Second competitor. Awe-inspiring run. Drove the entire course without having to winch. It took three attempts to climb out of Water Hole 2, but they cleared it with 2:00 on the clock. Entered Water Hole 5 with 6:00 on the clock. Easily captured First place in this event. Lost a rear coil spring somewhere along the line.

Hulbert's Willys: Winched out of Water Hole 2 with 7:10 on the clock. With 10:51 on the clock, the team was winching in the Canyon. With 18:50 on the clock, the truck was not running and the team was swapping in a fresh battery. The team chose to end their run in the Canyon with a few seconds left on the clock.

Kraatz' Warthog: First competitor. Winched out of Water Hole 2 with 5:14 on the clock. With 7:51 on the clock the rig was overheating in the Canyon because the electric cooling fans were inadvertently shut off in Water Hole 1. This boiled all the coolant out of the engine. Entered Water Hole 3 with 14:00 on the clock. Stopped in Water Hole 5 to let the engine cool and add water from bottles and then the water hole itself. Drove out of Water Hole 5 with 3:00 remaining. A bolt in an auxiliary-pump hole in the transmission fell out, which allowed all the fluid to drain and the transmission to fail. In a weird turn of events, the transmission sucked sand through the hole, which gave the plates something to grip and allowed the team to continue on. Timed out in Water Hole 6.

Lammers' Bronco: Had some problems with Stan's Log before Water Hole 1. Winched through Water Hole 2. With 11:05 on the clock, the truck was stalled and smoking in the Canyon with a broken front driveshaft. Tried to winch further up the Canyon but the winch solenoids failed. Eventually timed out in the Canyon.

Morris' Buggy: Flew through the course. With only 7:00 on the clock, the team was at the final hill. Somewhere along the way, a rear inner axleshaft broke. The team winched up the final hill and finished on the clock.

Naeger's Buggy: Traveled all the way to the final hill without winching. Driver and co-driver were laughing coming up through the Canyon. Blew an O-ring on the rear steer pump near Water Hole 7, and this allowed fluid to contact the engine and start a small, brief engine fire. With 9:00 on the clock, they were spooling out the winch cable to ascend the final hill. Completed the course.

Swartz' Chevy: Made it all the way through Water Hole 5 without winching. With 11:00 on the clock, the truck succumbed to some clutch problems that forced the team to winch in Water Hole 6. Lost time after reversing to travel through some marker cones they missed. In Water Hole 7 the clutch problems continued, and the winch cable got wrapped around the front axle. Eventually the team timed out on the final hill.

Wood's CJ-5: Winched out of Water Hole 2 and with 6:38 on the clock began the climb into the Canyon. Cleared Water Hole 6 with 11:37 on the clock. Winched up the final hill. Completed the course.

RESULTS (time or finishing order if DNF)
1 Hair's Wagoneer 8 min. 08 sec.
2 Naeger's Buggy 11 min. 43 sec.
3 Wood's CJ-5 14 min. 50 sec.
4 Morris' Buggy 14 min. 55 sec.
5 Beck's International 15 min. 56 sec.
6 Swartz' Chevy DNF
7 Kraatz' Warthog DNF
8 Hulbert's Willys DNF
9 Lammers' Bronco DNF

Day 4
Grand Champions!
Top Truck Challenge 2008 will go down in history as the first time two teams tied for First Place. In this unprecedented turn of events, Team Kraatz and Team Naeger got to split the winner's trophy. Quite literally, might we add, but we'll get to that in a moment.

No one expected a tie though everyone knew it was certainly possible. Going into the Tank Trap event, Team Kraatz was way out in front of everyone with 56 points, thanks to First Place finishes in four of the six preceding events. Team Morris and Team Naeger were tied for Second with 46 points. This is where the double points of the Tank Trap came into play in a big way. Team Kraatz had a slew of mechanical problems and didn't finish the competition, which forced them to settle for only 8 points. Team Morris finished the course in Fourth Place, but the 14 points they gathered wasn't enough to counter Team Naeger's outstanding run, which netted them 18 points. Suddenly we had a tie for First Place. This momentous occasion forced us to ask Top Truck judge Toby Lavender to take the custom First Place trophy to his shop, Triple-X Traction in Seaside, and cut it in half so we could award each team a portion. What did the winning teams think of the tie? Clayton Kraatz says; "It's awesome. This is something I've spent about 16 years trying to get and I got it. Splitting it with Jeremy, I mean honestly it couldn't be better."

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Jeremy Naeger says; "He didn't have to show up for Tank Trap I didn't think, and I couldn't get anything right until the Tank. This is it right here. He [Kraatz] is the man. I'm shaking. I don't believe it. I'm just blown away."

FINAL RESULTS (points)
1 Kraatz' Warthog (tie) 64
  Naeger’s Buggy  
3 Morris' Buggy 60
4 Wood's {{{CJ}}}-5 58
5 Hair's {{{Wagoneer}}} 53
6 Swartz' Chevy 40
7 Beck's International 37
8 Hulbert's Willys 28
9 Lammers' {{{Bronco}}} 26

How It's scored
Top Truck scoring is straightforward and simple. There are no secret formulas or complex computer programs involved. The winner of each event gets 10 points; Second place gets 9 points, and so on. The Tank Trap is worth double points, so the winner gets 20 points; Second place gets 18 points and so on. At the end of competition each team's points are tallied and that is their final score. The team with the most points wins. It just doesn't get any easier.

Get the DVD!
The Top Truck Challenge 2008 DVD is a must-have for all serious truck lovers and Top Truck fans. This high-definition DVD is shot and edited by our professional film crew and it chronicles all the action and drama from this year's seven incredible Top Truck events. There's only one place to get this DVD and that's through 4Wheel Parts Wholesalers, so call 800/213-5668, visit www.4wheelparts.com, or get to your local 4Wheel Parts Wholesalers retail location.

Bonus coverage!
Who says there's no such thing as free stuff? Just head on over to www.fourwheeler.com to see even more photos from all seven Top Truck Challenge events.

Four Wheeler Would Also Like To Thank The Official Top Truck Sponsors:
Official Retailer: 4Wheel Parts www.4wheelparts.com
Official Tire: Mickey Thompson Tires www.mickeythompsontires.com
Official Suspension: Tuff Country EZ Ride Suspension www.tuffcountry.com
Official Axle: Yukon Gear www.yukongear.com
Official Oil: Amsoil www.amsoil.com
Official Winch: Warn Industries www.warn.com
Official Clothing: Blanco Basura Clothing www.blancobasura.com

Last Word
"Good group effort. We kept all nine trucks running through every event."
-Randy Swartz

"For anybody who ever gets the chance to do this, they need to come and give it their all and just have a blast."
-Clayton Kraatz

"The experience was great. I still can't believe we're here. All the years of watching the videos and reading the magazines, this is one of the best weeks of my life."
-Hoby Hulbert

Our Favorite TTC Moments
The competitors left Hollister with their favorite moments and the Four Wheeler staff left with some too. Here are ours.

Douglas McColloch: There certainly were plenty this year. As always, we were treated to the best darn barbeque in the entire Central Coast. (A trip to Mansmith's alone is worth the pilgrimage to Hollister.) There were no Truck Ballz to hand out as booby prizes this year. (Whew!) And the new chief ranger at Hollister Hills who went wheeling around the competitors' campground in his lifted Chevy Malibu was pretty awesome too. But if I had to choose one truly mind-boggling moment, it hadda be the sight of Brandon's disabled Bronco being hoisted out of the Mini-Rubicon, all wheels up and levitating a'la David Blaine. We've employed all sorts of recovery methods at Top Truck over the years, but I can't recall ever airlifting a vehicle out of an obstacle before. That was a first for us.

Sean P. Holman: When the team sat down with the news at the end of scoring, it was only then that we realized we had no contingency for a tie. The brainstorming session immediately started and we had ideas ranging all the way up to how to get a second trophy made and delivered before the awards ceremony. How would the winner (now winners) react? In the end, we decided to split the specially constructed (with previous year's TTC broken parts) trophy down the middle, and we couldn't have had a better result from the guys who were seemingly enamored with each getting a half of the only TTC winner's trophy to be shared between two winners.

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Greg Smith: This year, it was when the team of Randy Swartz was in the last water hole of the Tank Trap. With time running out, the Blazer's engine cutting out, their batteries almost dead, barely a working winch, backing up to get back on course, they still pressed on cool and collectively. Nothing seemed to put a dent in their enthusiasm, which was very impressive and showed true teamwork.

Robin Stover: Each year at TTC, the Four Wheeler staff sets up base camp inside the city limits of Hollister, California, at a nice clean resort called the Ridgemark Inn. Meanwhile, competitors and judging staff rough it out in tents and RVs surrounded by dirt, poison oak, and wild boar inside the park. Over the years, I've often wondered what went on back at camp while our distinguished staffers enjoy evenings out, dining with sponsors and film crew. So this year I stuck around for some unadulterated fun with the judges and competitors in the competitors' campgrounds. The evening fun proceeded with a bonfire surrounded by good folks sharing memories of fun times wheeling. Needless to say, I'll be camping out every year from now on.

Ken Brubaker: I think it was when all of the competitors skipped lunch on Wednesday to help Team Swartz repair their front Dana 60 axle ring-and-pinion. The parts broke in the Obstacle Course and there was only a small window of opportunity to get the axle fixed before the Hillclimb. Every competitor converged on the Swartz camp to help wrench, and in only 45 minutes the broken parts were removed, the new parts installed, the backlash set, and the axle buttoned up. It was an impressive display of camaraderie.

Thumbs-up
The Four Wheeler team would like to send our heartfelt thanks to the following people and companies who helped with Top Truck Challenge '08. We raise our glasses to you.

Heath Biggs, Dan Black, Toby Lavender, Stan Pruiett, and Jack Shelton. These guys were the official judges. Their job description was all-encompassing and included track building, scoring, logistical management, and pretty much whatever else needed to be done. These guys were the masters of multitasking while exhibiting the highest levels of professionalism.

Jeff Arabia, Mike Bleck, Chris Brown, Nick Burgess, Jason Finstad, Nick Gilman, Rodney Hill, Jerry Sparkman, and Danny Williams. These gents comprised the official extraction team. When they swung into action you had better just get out of the way. Whether a simple tug or a major extraction they were instantly on scene and they were creative, quick, and safe.

Kawasaki. Thanks for letting our camera crew use the incredible '08 Teryx 750. We gave that back, right?

Chris Finstad, our medic. From doling out Band-Aids to major injuries, he's a very good person to have around.

Ned Bacon, for once again creating a work-of-art winner's trophy from remnants of last year's carnage. Sorry we had to cut it in half, buddy.

Jessy Bishop, for supplying the judges with a slew of firewood.

JJ, for doing the thankless job of driving the water truck all week long

Southbay Driveline of San Jose, for going above-and-beyond by quickly providing Team Lammers with a new driveshaft so they could get back in competition.

Mike Pearson, for his extensive efforts to keep Team Beck's Scout running and in competition.

Mansmith's Barbeque for once again providing a slew of outstanding meals including the wood-fire-cooked welcome dinner.

John Valent, Jeff Gaffney, Kris Plank, and all the other Rangers and staff at the Hollister Hills SVRA. Without these folks, Top Truck in Hollister wouldn't happen. These hard-working folks are professional, friendly, and incredibly dedicated and knowledgeable.

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