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2008 WEROCK Western Nationals Rock Crawling Donner Summit - Shootout In The High Sierra

Posted in Events on March 1, 2009
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Photographers: Rory Huber
Shannon Campbell has a reputation for stabbing the skinny pedal when in doubt. He gave the crowd and his spotter a scare when he launched off an obstacle and headed straight for out-of-bounds on two wheels. Performing a balancing act for a few seconds, he managed to bring the rubber side down.

In the past decade, the world of four-wheeling has taken on an entirely new dimension, and rockcrawling, or rock racing as it is now known, has lead the way. What was considered extreme just a few years ago, only to be found on full-blown competition rigs, now falls in the category of standard trail rig. The hard lines of the past have been replaced with insane lines of the present, and the driver's abilities have surpassed all expectations. In the process, several brands of rock racing have come, gone, or morphed, and one has risen to the top as the dominant force. Spun from the grassroots organization Cal ROCS, WEROCK (World Extreme Rock Crawling Series) has stepped up as a key player, transforming the sport from a rockcrawl to a rock race. This fall, we headed up to Truckee, California, for the WEROCK Western Nationals and some of the most heinous action to date.

More than 50 teams from across the west converged on the Sierra Nevada community of Donner for the 2008 season finale. The Ranch, which is privately owned and doubles as a ski resort in the winter, is the perfect venue for a competition of this type. Expanses of solid granite slabs, precipitous ledges, and narrow crags provide an unlimited number of Class X courses. WEROCK is not just for the well-sponsored and well-funded teams. The field was broken into four classes; Unlimited, Pro Modified, Modified Stock, and Formula Toy, which allows the low-buck guys to cut their teeth on the same terrain as the seasoned pros.

PhotosView Slideshow

Formats have changed a bit too. There are nine courses, eight regular competition courses and a ninth course, appropriately coined The Shootout, which is reserved for the top six finishers from the Unlimited and Pro Modified classes. Consisting of the most difficult lines of the event, this is where the big boys go head-to-head and it's worth the price of admission on its own. It is also worth enough points to make or break any and all comers. With eight courses in the bag and the WEROCK title on the line, teams pulled all the stops, hammering down on the skinny pedal when needed, and giving it everything.

The king of the rocks is Jesse Haines. Pulling off a First Place at the Shootout netted Haines a 2008 WEROCK championship in the Unlimited Class.

Rather than giving you a play-by-play on the event, we were interested in what it takes to run with the big dogs (or the not-so-big dogs): To live, eat, breathe, smell, and sweat the rock racing circuit from start to finish. For a big-sponsor pro's perspective, we hooked up with Monster Energy team manager and veteran racer Shannon Campbell. But what about the independents? How do you cut your teeth in rock racing? This view can only come from a newbie grassroots guy like Justin Hall, self-promoted and funded, and has dear old dad for a spotter.

We usually don't need an excuse to head to the Sierras, and checking out the wild action of the WEROCK Western Nationals just sweetened the deal. If we missed "attend a WEROCK event" in our "25 Best Trail Events" (Dec. '08), we're jotting it down now. Check out the sidebars for an insider's view on what it takes to shoot it out with the big dogs of rock racing.

PhotosView Slideshow

Behind the scenes with Shannon Campbell

FW: You were involved with some of the earlier rockcrawling events. What were they, and how did you do?
SC: The earlier associations were RCAA, ARCA, ProRock. I think I did pretty good. The events were spread out over the year and I was able to build a new buggy just about every other event and try new things.

FW: How many seasons have you been competing, and what are some of the highlights?
SC: Since 1998, 10 years. I won the first RCAA event in Farmington and the last ARCA event. Winning the 1996 Four Wheeler Top Truck Challenge was a highlight, as well as winning the 2005 UROC series, 2006 WEROCK series, 2006 XRRA series Championship, and the 2008 King of the Hammers. Receiving Dirt Sports 2005 Driver of the year was pretty cool as well.

FW: As a Pro, how many events do you compete in per year and how much time are you away from home?
SC: I average about 14-18 events per year.This year (2008) for rockcrawling, rock racing, and King of the Hammers, I'll be doing 15 plus 8 CORR races (two days each) for a total of 31. I'm away from home a lot but my wife Tammy and the kids are usually with me.

FW: How does the competition circuit work with the family?
SC: Tammy and our kids, Wayland and Bailey, are very supportive and try to go to every event. Traveling back east has given the kids the opportunity to see some beautiful country and meet new people.

FW: Monster Energy Drink is one of your sponsors. How did you land Monster, and how has it worked out?
SC: I was very fortunate to be introduced to Joe Parsons of Monster Energy and it just worked out from there. Having them as my title sponsor has allowed us to better our race program and do things I wouldn't have been able to do.

FW: Who are some of your other sponsors?
SC: BFGoodrich tires, Currie Enterprises, Hughes Performance, Turn Key Engines, Fox Shocks, Howe Steering, Walker Evans Racing, Warn, Advance Adapters, ARB, Ron Davis Racing Radiators, Wilwood Disc Brakes, Mastercraft, Powertank and Southwest Ground Control. Most have been with me since I started competing and I owe them a huge thank you for their superior products.

FW: With your shop, Campbell Enterprises, which fabricates turnkey custom race buggies, it looks like you have immersed yourself in the extreme scene. Can you tell us about the business end of rock racing?
SC: We started this as a hobby and it definitely turned into our jobs. Most of the time we use the shop to maintain our own race vehicles, and during the off-season we're busy building off-road buggies.

FW: Lance Clifford, the owner of Pirate 4x4 is your spotter. Tell me about that relationship and who is in charge.
SC: I've known Lance a long time. There isn't really anyone in charge, Lance has been doing this forever and we just seem to be on the same page. During a competition we both study the courses and discuss which way would be the best.

FW: In your opinion, what has changed in the competition scene in the past decade?
SC: I've seen a lot of changes, associations merging, the professionalism of the competitors, the technically insane courses, the cars/buggies have had to change, and the amount of media coverage.

FW: Where do you see it going?
SC: I think rockcrawling will always be around. WEROCK has stayed through the good and bad, and is stronger than ever. They have made some changes to better their association and I see it building back up and being very solid.

Independent racer Justin Hall tells how it is

FW: You are one of the newer competitors. How old are you, and how many events do you have under your belt?
JH: I am 19 and have been competing for about 3 years. I only have one WEROCK event under my belt but about 10 others; including amateur events, and the CalROCS series we are running this year.

FW: What was the driving force behind your decision to get into rockcrawling?
JH: My dad! We started a father-son project on our first Suzuki Samurai when I was 15, and slowly started getting into rockcrawling together. I first competed in that Samurai, but it got beat up too badly to drive to school on Monday. So we decided to build one just for competition.

FW: Did you think about stepping into the Unlimited Class from the start?
JH: No-we knew we weren't ready. The Stock Mod class is a great place to start. We are learning the ropes and growing as a team.

FW: Your dad, Mark Wittall, is your spotter and team partner. How does that work out?
JH: Great. I would not have it any other way. He is the person I trust 110 percent. He would never let anything happen to me or our rig. Sure, we have arguments, but in the end I know he is always there for me.

FW: How many events do you compete in each year, and how many weekends are you away from home?
JH: I am away 2 to 3 weekends per month, and go to as many events as we can afford. This year we ran just the Donner WEROCK event, the CalROCS series, and a couple of local events. Next year we'd like to run the WEROCK series. When I'm not competing, I'm wheeling, wrenching, or hitting the books for my college courses.

FW: Why did you choose a Samurai? Did you build the rig together and what do you like most about it?
JH: My first vehicle was a Samurai, and I've been hooked since! They're odd to build, but turn out to be great little rigs. My dad and I built it in our garage in 30 days. If I had to choose, I would say all the memories that have been made, from the long late nights working on it with my dad, to how supportive my mom and sister are.

FW: We understand you are mostly self-financed and promoted. Racing is not a cheap sport, how does that work out?
JH: It's a family effort. I work summers to fund parts, fees, and gas...and my mom even gave up a kitchen remodeling. We do have sponsors; Trail Tough, Allied Racing, and T-Max. And special friends like Harvey's Trench Shoring and The Barricade Co. who bought our tires and covered our entry fees. Without them we wouldn't make it.

FW: We were watching you this weekend when you almost did a nose-over on a steep, nasty obstacle. What are you thinking when facing a tough situation?
JH: Well I am not really thinking much, just listening to my spotter/dad, and trying to feel what the rig is going to do. When he says "you got to go," that means grab gears and find the skinny pedal.

FW: You placed 4th-how does it feel and what will you change for next year?
JH: It feels pretty good. We learned a lot from this event. Winter plans are to swap in an automatic and bigger engine, and to find more sponsors, as we're planning to run the whole series next year.

FW: Where do you see rockcrawling going in the next decade and will you be in it?
JH: The future lies in the popularity. Without the fans, this sport would not be growing like it is. You could hear the buzz through the crowd when Brent Bradshaw stood his buggy up on its nose. The sport will continue to grow, and I plan to be right in the middle of it all.

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