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2009 Top Truck Challenge - Shaken & Stirred

Posted in Events on December 1, 2009
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Seventeen years ago, we created Top Truck Challenge as a test of "engineering smarts and driver acumen." Well, even after all these years, Top Truck has stayed true to the original goal of testing machine and driver in some of the most extreme conditions imaginable. This year was no exception.

In case you're not familiar with the event, Top Truck takes place over the course of almost a week near Hollister Hills, California, at the Hollister Hills SVRA. Ten rigs, chosen exclusively by Four Wheeler readers, compete in seven extreme off-highway events. These events represent almost every discipline of four-wheeling and consist of the Tow Test, Frame Twister, Mud Pit, Obstacle Course, Hillclimb, Mini Rubicon and Tank Trap. All of these events are challenging to one degree or another, but the Tank Trap is the crown jewel of Top Truck. The Trap is a one-of-a-kind, incredibly taxing event that pushes vehicles to the very edge of their design parameters. It can also push teams to their breaking point as they battle the unrelenting obstacles while racing against the clock.

Speaking of the teams, each rig is manned by a driver and a co-driver. Typically, the owner of the rig is the driver, though this year we saw Chris Smith, the owner of the F-350, voluntarily turn the wheel over to his buddy Kevin Stearns, while Smith assumed the co-driver duties. In addition, Fred Williams and John Hughbanks in the FJ Cruiser swapped seats often throughout competition.

It quickly became clear that this year's competitors had done their homework and studied past TTC stories, photos, and DVDs. It was obvious that they were fully aware that Top Truck wasn't just about the truck. They seemed to have their heads around the fact that while a well-built, versatile rig was mandatory, strategy was also critically important. What came as a surprise to some was that there were, well, many surprises. For instance, the running order for each event played a big factor in the outcome of some of the events. In addition, an eye-opener for some was the fact that we had tweaked almost all of the courses to some degree. Finally, some found that sheer luck, or the lack thereof, was also a major player in Top Truck.

Throughout the course of the week, there was incredible teamwork, fascinating drama, and riveting action. We've summarized each event for you in detail and the action begins on the next page.

Day 1 Event 1
The Tow Test
What it is: If a truck pull and a hill climb competition could spawn a child, this would be their innocent-looking, but deeply troubled offspring. You see, our Tow Test is a twisted amalgamation of the two that requires competitors to tow a 35,280-pound cement truck from a dead stop, uphill, in the dirt. This first event is a litmus test for the stoutness of each rig's drivetrain, and it weeds out weak components fast.


How it works: Each competitor is allowed one pull. There is no time limit. A pull is completed when the competitor crosses the finish line or when forward momentum ceases, whichever comes first. This year, no one even came close to a full pull on our 125-foot track, so each was ranked by the total distance they pulled.

PhotosView Slideshow

(ranked by overall distance traveled)
Smith's F-350 88 ft. 2 in.
Green's diesel buggy 70 ft. 0 in.
Jerome's TJ buggy 64 ft. 7 in.
Sheeley's FC-170 55 ft. 9 in.
Latham's buggy 55 ft. 8 in.
Eulberg's CJ-7 55 ft. 3 in.
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon 55 ft. 0 in
Graf's X-Chassis buggy 54 ft. 4 in.
Sidwell's Ranger 50 ft. 7 in.
Williams' FJ Cruiser 50 ft. 6 in.

Finish Line Quotes
* "I never really pulled before, so I didn't really know what to expect." -Wayne Sheeley
* "It ain't broke, what's there not to smile about?" -Leroy Latham
* "We decided to take it easy and not just throw the kitchen sink at it and see if we can crawl it up. We didn't want to tear it up just yet."-Scott Sidwell
* "We had the horsepower, but the bouncing got us."-Doug Kahlstrom
* "We crossed the line, didn't we? I mean the starting line." -Fred Williams

The Play-By-Play
Eulberg's CJ-7: First competitor. Ran with 8 pounds of air in the tires and "drew down" the front axle with the winch in an effort to keep wheelhop to a minimum. Downshifted once during the run and encountered some wheelhop near the end of the run.
Graf's X-Chassis buggy: Aired the 54-inch Boggers down to 6 psi in the front and 8 psi in the rear. They also drew down the front axle with the winch and they locked the rear suspension in place. Still suffered a bit of axle hop.
Green's diesel buggy: Ran with 10 psi in each of the West Lake ag tires and drew down both axles. Started with the NV4500 in Second gear and held that gear throughout the pull.
Jerome's TJ buggy: Lowered the pressure of the Mickey Thompson Baja Claw TTC tires to 8 psi, locked the rear suspension in place, and drew down the front axle with the winch. Manipulated the rear steering during the run.
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon: With the Mickey Thompson Baja Claws aired down to 18 psi in the rear and 12 psi in the front and the 408ci V-8 making 500hp, the only wrench in the works was suspension hop, which forced the driver to back off the throttle.
Latham's buggy: Strategy was to run a little higher tire pressure of 12 psi in an effort to allow for wheelspin and to not suck power out of the motor. Hooked a little to the right at the end of the run.
Sheeley's FC-170: A little wheelhop right off the starting line. The 383ci V-8 made good, smooth power. Great run, especially considering the 44-inch Boggers were aired to well over 30 psi.
Sidwell's Ranger: Practiced by pulling an end loader at home in Minnesota before coming to the event. Light on the throttle, no wheelspin.
Smith's F-350: A classic example of pulling done right. The modified 6.0L Power Stroke turbodiesel and the 54-inch Boggers helped earn the best pull of the event by far.
Williams' FJ Cruiser: Slow start off the line, but eventually gathered decent momentum until the 42-inch Goodyear Wrangler MT/Rs broke loose. Run accompanied by the smell of burning clutch.

Day 1 Event 2
The Frame Twister
What it is: Many competitors have told us that this is the event they fear the most, other than Tank Trap. Well, that's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to us. This year, we made the course even more excruciating by adding some strategically placed dirt hills and holes to the already impressive collection of obstacles. What stayed the same was the legendary boulder field (known to gouge sheetmetal and/or catapult rigs onto their sides) and the gnarly ending of the course, which features five 2-foot-diameter logs placed opposite to the direction of travel, each separated by gaping chasms filled with mud and water.


How it works: Each team is allowed 10 minutes to get as far as they can. Penalties in the form of seconds are jovially awarded by the judging staff for infractions such as stopping, reversing, winching, etc. Ranking is by elapsed time (for those who finished), or distance traveled (for those who didn't).

PhotosView Slideshow
PhotosView Slideshow

(time with penalties included or ranking order if DNF)
Jerome's TJ Buggy 1 min. 57 sec.
Green's diesel buggy 2 min. 51 sec.
Latham's buggy 3 min. 15 sec.
Williams' FJ Cruiser 4 min. 15 sec.
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon 4 min. 18 sec.
Graf's X-Chassis buggy 4 min. 31 sec.
Smith's F-350 4 min. 59 sec.
Eulberg's CJ-7 5 min. 15 sec.
Sheeley's FC-170 DNF
Sidwell's Ranger DNF


Finish Line Quotes
* "Momentum is the key. Once you get it going, you got to keep your foot into it. If you stop, you're done."-David Green
* "Never seen anything like it other than on the tape... to see and to live it are two different things." -Scott Sidwell
* "We dreaded the logs, so we're glad that's over." -Doug Kahlstrom
* "We could've got a little better bounce over there, but I don't care. Gotta use the winch once in a while, right?" -Leroy Latham
* "That's wild. I love it, though." -Wayne Sheeley
* "Did we look good? That's the point." -Fred Williams

The Play-By-Play
Eulberg's CJ-7: Utilized the rear steering often and made steady, quick progress through the course, reaching the logs with approximately 2:20 on the clock. Got stuck in the logs and briefly tried to maneuver out, but ended up winching out on the clock.
Graf's X-Chassis buggy: Nosed into the last boulder hard and the 427ci V-8 died. It took a while to restart, which sucked up valuable time. Caught big air off the first log, but got stuck between the logs and the team chose to winch the rest of the way.
Green's diesel buggy: First competitor. Utilized the rear steer frequently and gathered only 10 seconds in penalties. Never used the Warn M12000 winch and flew over most of the logs. Due to a hand injury suffered in camp the night before competition, the driver used a steering ball to simplify one-handed steering. Unfortunately, the steering ball loosened on the steering wheel during the run, making control difficult.
Jerome's TJ buggy: Fastest run of the event. Turned the 8.1L V-8 loose on the logs and caught major air. The rig crossed the finish line under its own power, but with two flat rear tires due to bent rims from an impact with one of the logs. They quickly repaired the wheels in time to compete in the Mud Pit.
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon: At the starting line, the team found that the dash-mounted toggle switch that controls the Warn 9.5ti winch had failed, but fortunately the team had the factory Warn controller in the rig as a backup. Good thing, because the team got stuck in the logs and had to winch.
Latham's buggy: Made it to the logs with only 1:25 on the clock, but got stopped cold between the logs just shy of the finish line and had to spool out the Warn 8274's winch cable.
Sheeley's FC-170: Slow, calculated run. Actually had a good run going until they got to the logs. After several tries, the right rear wheel ended up going out-of-bounds, resulting in a DNF.
Sidwell's Ranger: Second competitor. Got stuck in the new hole just past the boulders and had to winch. Overran the winch cable shortly thereafter, which resulted in the cable wrapped around the front axle. With 7:22 on the clock, they were untangling the winch cable from the axle. Timed out in the logs.
Smith's F-350: Tipped on two wheels coming out of the boulders and damaged the passenger-side sheetmetal and rear side window. Got stuck between the logs and chose to winch the rest of the way.
Williams' FJ Cruiser: With the V-6's rev limiter limiting and the 42-inch Wranglers wrangling, the team cruised through the course until the logs, where they got stuck. Quick winching ensued to earn a respectable finish.

Day 1 Event 3
The Mud Pit
What it is: Last year, this event was more of a mud race than a mud bog, and all of the competitors made it through. This year, we decided to make the last event of Day One an experience that would stick with the competitors (no pun intended), so we had our demented track builders create a deep, gooey bog, designed to effectively stop everyone. The mud was glue-like and unforgiving, and it tested cooling systems, drivetrain stoutness and tire function.


How it works: There's no time limit. Competitors are ranked by their overall distance traveled and their run ends when forward momentum ceases. This year, no one made it through, so each team was ranked by the distance they traveled.

PhotosView Slideshow

(distance traveled)
Graf's X-Chassis buggy 143 ft. 0 in.
Jerome's TJ buggy 135 ft. 7 in.
Latham's buggy 100 ft. 4 in.
Eulberg's CJ-7 96 ft. 7 in.
Green's diesel buggy 87 ft. 5 in.
Smith's F-350 75 ft. 6 in.
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon 72 ft. 6 in.
Sidwell's Ranger 66 ft. 5 in.
Williams' FJ Cruiser 60 ft. 3 in.
Sheeley's FC-170 56 ft. 4 in.

Finish Line Quotes
* "It's very heavy. It's definitely going to take some power to get through it."-Scott Sidwell
* "You'd need 1,100 horsepower and paddles to make it through this."-Kevin Stearns
* "After chasing all those 54-inch tires we didn't expect to do a whole lot." -Doug Kahlstrom
* "That was fun. I've never been in the mud before."-Jamie Eulberg
* "That stuff is sticky. It just clogged everything up." -David Green

The Play-By-Play
Eulberg's CJ-7: The team's strategy was to get as far as possible with brute force and then manipulate the front and rear steering in an effort to travel further. It seemed to work. Their total run time was approximately 2:16.
Graf's X-Chassis buggy: Best run of the event. Incredibly fast start and then slow, steady progress as the 54-inch Boggers clawed their way through the goo. Stopped by our strategically placed dirt hill just before the finish line. The rig's power steering pump blew apart at the end of the run.
Green's diesel buggy: Last competitor. Hit the churned-up mud with good forward velocity, but the ag tires were quickly bogged down. Pistons five and six in the Cummins diesel were damaged by high EGTs during the run.
Jerome's TJ buggy: The team reversed several yards from the starting line to gather more momentum. The engine bogged in the deep mud due to the TH400 not downshifting properly from Third gear. The driver ended up manually downshifting to First gear to pull the 8.1L V-8's rpm up. Total run time was approximately 3:38.
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon: Deep ruts from the two previous competitors on 54s stopped the rig's 46-inch tires in approximately 38 seconds. The electric fan on the transmission cooler succumbed to the mud.
Latham's buggy: First team to back up several yards from the starting line to gain momentum. The team manipulated the rear steering during the run in an effort to gain a few extra feet of travel, which seemed to work.
Sheeley's FC-170: Second competitor. Great launch off the starting line, but the heavy mud quickly sucked the momentum from the Jeep.
Sidwell's Ranger: First competitor. Good head of steam off the starting line, thanks to the 514ci V-8. Even with no ruts to follow and the rear homemade "lead locker" not working correctly, the 54-inch Boggers helped the Ranger claw through the goo for over 66 feet.
Smith's F-350: The driver turned the modified Power Stroke turbodiesel engine loose and pointed the 54-inch Boggers toward the ruts made by the previous competitors.
Williams' FJ Cruiser: Co-driver John Hughbanks drove for this event. First team to try the left, un-rutted, side of the course, which really didn't work that well.

Day 2 Event 1
The Obstacle Course
What it is: Last year, we overhauled this event and added a slew of new features, including an eye-opening, long, steep hill descent right at the beginning. The result was a gnarly course that we thought was quite possibly the best ever. We were so proud of ourselves. Problem was, all the competitors made it through, dang it. Naturally, we had to add more obstacles to our Obstacle Course this year to make it tougher, so we made the water holes deeper and siltier. We also added more tight turns to the course's already complex collection.


How it works: Speed is critical, but so is accuracy. If a competitor hits any of the marker cones that dot the course, 2 seconds (per cone) are added to their overall time. Deviating from the course results in a DNF.

PhotosView Slideshow

(overall time including penalties or ranking if DNF)
Latham's buggy 2 min. 33 sec.
Graf's X-Chassis buggy 2 min. 48 sec.
Eulberg's CJ-7 2 min. 54 sec.
Green's diesel buggy 3 min. 5 sec.
Jerome's TJ buggy 3 min. 33 sec.
Sidwell's Ranger 3 min. 46 sec.
Sheeley's FC-170 4 min. 56 sec.
Smith's F-350 6 min. 14 sec.
Williams' FJ Cruiser DNF
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon DNF

Finish Line Quotes
* "That was fun. That was a great time."-Brett Jerome
* "It was a breeze. I can't believe how easy that was to get through."-Jamie Eulberg
* "I feel great now that it's over."-Wayne Sheeley
* "That has to be one of the toughest things I've ever done in this thing."-Scott Sidwell
* "I wanna go home."-Fred Williams

The Play-By-Play
Eulberg's CJ-7: Came into the event with 8 psi in the tires and a new Johnny Joint on the passenger-side rear lower four-link bar. The co-driver operated the rear steering during the run. Only hit one cone for a 2-second penalty.
Graf's X-Chassis buggy: Even after taking a wrong turn, they flew through the course to gather a Second Place finish.
Green's diesel buggy: Good run, even though the rear axle disengaged in Water Hole 1 and they had to rely on just front-wheel drive to get out.
Jerome's TJ buggy: First competitor. Fast descent down the first hill. Strong run, but hit four cones, resulting in an 8-second penalty.
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon: The front driveshaft broke in Water Hole 2, but the team limped along in two-wheel drive. Eventually timed out.
Latham's buggy: Fastest run of the event. Accurate too, netting only a 4-second penalty for hitting two cones.
Sheeley's FC-170: Ran with 10 psi in the tires. Not an overly fast run, but very dramatic with numerous wheel stands.
Sidwell's Ranger: Came into the event with newly stitch-welded spider gears in the rear axle to compensate for the failure of the homemade lead locker. Team earned a good time, especially considering the absence of rear steering.
Smith's F-350: Second competitor. Slow, calculated run. The frame of the long wheelbase truck took a big chunk off the top of the dirt berm between Water Hole 1 and Water Hole 2. Rear steering helped in the tight corners.
Williams' FJ Cruiser: Got stuck in Water Hole 2, which sucked up a bunch of time. Went out of bounds on the upper part of the course, which resulted in a DNF. Smashed the top of the windshield on a tree and ended up with a mud-packed alternator.

Day 2 Event 2
The Hillclimb
What it is: We think that plain 'ol hillclimbs are yawners, so we created a hillclimb worthy of Top Truck Challenge. Our 600-foot hill has an angle that saps horsepower and makes tires scream for their mommies. We integrated surprising curves, lots of loose dirt, and deep, off-camber holes to keep drivers on their toes. We saved the best for last and placed a mega-deep, off-camber hole a few yards from the finish line.


How it works: We love surprises, so we don't let competitors see the course in advance. Fastest time to the top wins. Those who don't make it to the top are listed as DNF and ranked in order of how far they traveled.

PhotosView Slideshow

(time or distance traveled if DNF)
Green's diesel buggy 43.8 sec.
Graf's X-Chassis buggy 45.4 sec.
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon 53.4 sec.
Williams' FJ Cruiser DNF
Latham's buggy DNF
Sidwell's Ranger DNF
Sheeley's FC-170 (tie) DNF
Jerome's TJ buggy
Smith's F-350 DNF
Eulberg's CJ-7 DNF

The Play-By-Play
Eulberg's CJ-7: The co-driver inadvertently bumped the transfer case lever into Neutral as they left the starting line, which caused an almost instantaneous loss of forward momentum and a DNF.
Graf's X-Chassis buggy: The rig's flexy coilover suspension swallowed up the course and the team finished less than two seconds behind Team Green.
Green's diesel buggy: The Cummins diesel and the ag tires contributed to the fastest time of the event. Green straddled the buggy over the last big hole.
Jerome's TJ buggy: After seeing Team Smith high-center on their run, Jerome nailed the throttle in an effort to avoid the same situation. Too much speed, a hard hit, and a steep drop caused the rig to veer off course, resulting in a 43-foot measurement.
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon: Worked through the lunch break to replace the front driveshaft damaged in the Obstacle Course. Strong run and deftly straddled the last big hole.
Latham's buggy: The 460ci big-block was running great and the finish line was in sight when the passenger-side tires rode up on the wall of the last hill the moment the driver-side tires dropped into the hole, resulting in a flop onto the driver side.
Sheeley's FC-170: Ran with a bent Antirock sway bar that was damaged in the Obstacle Course. Tried to crawl the hill, but the lack of momentum did 'em in.
Sidwell's Ranger: Got out of shape shortly into the course, and the driver felt as though the truck might roll, so he backed out of the throttle.
Smith's F-350: Ran with the truck drawn down using the front and rear winches to lower the center of gravity. Got high-centered on a dirt hill 12 feet into the course.
Williams' FJ Cruiser: With the V-6 engine into the rev limiter, the team made it to the last hole before breaking the passenger-side axle hub.

Finish Line Quotes
* "It's pretty gnarly through here."-Leroy Latham
* "That was a nasty, nasty hill."-David Green
* "I wasn't looking, I had my eyes closed."-Fred Williams

Day 2 Event 3
The Mini Rubicon
What it is: This wretched course is approximately125 feet in length and contains a variety of California's finest axle-bending boulders. They are strategically placed to challenge even the saltiest rockcrawler and throw the uninitiated into catatonic shock. This year, we created even more chaos by incorporating four deep crevices across the direction of travel.


How it works: Each competitor has 20 minutes to crawl, winch, or flounder as far as possible. Penalties in the form of seconds are added to a competitor's time for infractions such as stopping, winching, etc. Competitors who completed the course were ranked by elapsed time, while those who did not finish were marked as DNF and ranked by distance traveled.

(overall time with penalties or feet traveled if DNF)
Green's diesel buggy 3 min. 20 sec.
Jerome's TJ buggy 6 min. 1 sec.
Eulberg's CJ-7 7 min. 8 sec.
Graf's X-Chassis buggy 10 min. 34 sec.
Latham's buggy 143 ft. 0 in.
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon 103 ft. 3 in.
Sheeley's FC-170 81 ft. 4 in.
Sidwell's Ranger 33 ft. 0 in.
Smith's F-350 28 ft. 6 in.
Williams' FJ Cruiser 27 ft. 5 in.


Finish Line Quotes
* "When we walked through it I was thinking, holy cow, whoever built this was in a bad mood."-Tracy Graf
* "Once it started going up and over we knew it was done. I tried to hit Reverse and save it, but it was done."-Leroy Latham
* "Tough. Definitely tough. But we did better than I thought we would do." -Addie Sheeley
* "They're certainly bigger than anything I've come in contact with in my time."-Scott Sidwell
* "I hate getting hung up. It irritates me."-Jamie Eulberg
* "Waiting your turn to go, it just kills you. Your guts are churning and you just want to go."-David Green


The Play-By-Play
Eulberg's CJ-7: Entered the first crevice with 2:29 on the clock. Entered the last crevice with 4:25 on the clock. Clean run, very little drama.
Graf's X-Chassis buggy: Fourth competitor. Had a little trouble getting onto the course compared to the previous competitors, but then blazed through everything, arriving at the last crevice with only 7:00 on the clock. Winched though the last section.
Green's diesel buggy: Fastest run of the event. Co-driver exited the rig as soon as they got to the rocks. Cleared the second crevice with 2:10 on the clock, the third crevice with 2:22 on the clock, and the fourth crevice with 2:37 on the clock. The team never winched and accrued only 2 seconds in penalties.
Jerome's TJ buggy: Ran with 5 psi in the Baja Claw TTC tires. Entered the second crevice with only 4:23 on the clock. Blew through the rest of the course to earn an elapsed time of 6:01 after accruing 19 seconds in penalties.
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon: Got to the first crevice in 3:50. Made slow but steady progress down the course by methodically winching rocks into the crevices. Unfortunately, this strategy consumed a lot of time, and they timed out 103 feet into the course.
Latham's buggy: With only 4:13 on the clock, they were at the last crevice. While attempting to climb out, the rig rolled onto the passenger side. The team sprung into action and had the rig back on its wheels in only 3 minutes. Finished the course, but due to a broken hydraulic steering fitting, they went out-of-bounds just before the finish line while winching, resulting in a DNF at that point.
Sheeley's FC-170: Fought their way through the course and were tipped precariously to the passenger side a couple of times. Got stuck in the third crevice with about 3 minutes left on the clock and opted to spool the winch cable all the way to the bulldozer. Timed out with the front of the rig wedged in the third crevice.
Sidwell's Ranger: With 4:24 on the clock, the rear diff was hung up on a boulder, and the driver-side rear wheel was in the air. With 8:30 on the clock, the team was trying to get through the first crevice. The team chose to end their run shortly after, due to a slipping transfer case chain. They also bent the rear pinion brake rotor.
Smith's F-350: Second competitor. Stopped short of the first crevice to winch a boulder out of the way. Got stuck, so with 13:29 on the clock they used the rear winch for a backward pull. With 2 minutes remaining on the clock, the trucks front wheel's were in the first crevice and they were trying to winch boulders out of the way. They timed out a little over 28 feet into the course.
Williams' FJ Cruiser: First competitor. Co-driver piloted the rig in this event. With 10:30 on the clock, they were stuck in the first crevice and were attempting to use the truck to pull a boulder out of the way, in Reverse. Eventually they moved the boulder, but then the truck got stuck and couldn't move forward or back. With three minutes left on the clock, they were attempting to winch another boulder out of the way. Timed out a little over 27 feet into the course.

Day 3 Final Event
The Tank Trap
What it is: Tank Trap is a quarter-mile-long valley that climbs 195 feet in elevation from start to finish. It's loaded with natural obstacles like the Canyon. This area is only about 100 yards in length, but it contains enough obstacles that it could be a stand-alone event. The Canyon boasts steep, slippery rock waterfalls that thwart traction, and it has sick, off-camber sections bordered by sheer rock walls that almost guarantee competitors' rigs will bend sheetmetal. But wait! We up the challenge level even further by digging seven massive, deep holes and then we fill 'em full of water. The result is an event with unrelenting obstacles that come hard and fast. Every inch of the Tank Trap is designed to test team and machine.


How it works: Each competitor is given 30 minutes to get as far as possible. The only rule is that a competitor must travel through the marker cones when they appear. Rankings are by overall time or distance traveled if DNF. Because of its intensity, the Tank Trap is worth double points. This makes it strategically important to the competitors because it can help extend a lead or gather much-needed points.

PhotosView Slideshow

(time or finishing order if DNF)
Jerome's TJ buggy 6 min. 8 sec.
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon 9 min. 32 sec.
Green's diesel buggy 10 min. 44 sec.
Latham's buggy 13 min. 40 sec.
Williams' FJ Cruise 21 min. 31 sec.
Eulberg's CJ-7 DNF
Smith's F-350 DNF
Sidwell's Ranger DNF
Graf's X-Chassis buggy DNF
Sheeley's FC-170 DNF

PhotosView Slideshow

Finish Line Quotes
* "Very challenging. There's some nasty stuff in there, man."-David Green
* "We just tried to keep the wheels moving so we didn't dig ourselves in."-Brett Jerome
* "The obstacles come at you so fast, boom, boom, boom, as soon as you're done with one there's another one right there in your way." -Doug Kahlstrom
* "It's a lot tougher than it looks on the videos. You get up in there in person and you have to climb those sidehills and hook the winch straps up, you have no idea how much work that is and how hard it is." -Scott Sidwell
* "I would do Tank Trap again, but I wouldn't want to fall backwards again."-Wayne Sheeley
* "The hole in the Canyon that we fell into... you don't see that on the video."-Leroy Latham
* "It wasn't as hard as we expected. But we are pretty awesome."-John Hughbanks

PhotosView Slideshow

The Play-By-Play
Eulberg's CJ-7: The co-driver exited the vehicle with 2:12 on the clock and began the process of winching out of Water Hole 2. With 6:15 on the clock, the team was in the Canyon winching, and the engine was stalling regularly due to a detached vacuum line. With approximately 9:00 on the clock, the team spooled out too much winch cable and it detached from the drum. The team chose to run the rest of the course with no winch. They cleared the Canyon with 17:40 on the clock and entered Water Hole 3 with 18:50 on the clock. With 27:21 on the clock, they were stuck in Water Hole 6. They eventually timed out in Water Hole 7.
Graf's X-Chassis buggy: With about 1:00 on the clock, the rig was flopped on the passenger side, due to too much speed and a rear steer error in the Canyon about 50 yards past Water Hole 2. With 7:30 on the clock, the rig was on the winch cable and back on its wheels, though highly off-camber, and the team had re-fired the 427ci V-8. With 9:20 on the clock, the vehicle rolled over again a few feet further in the Canyon. The team chose to end their run with approximately 11:00 on the clock.
Green's diesel buggy: Cleared Water Hole 2 with 1:10 on the clock. Began winching in the Canyon with 2:45 on the clock and winched for about the next 5 minutes. Once out of the Canyon, they easily completed the rest of the course in a little over 2 minutes with no winching.
Jerome's TJ buggy: Fastest run of the event. Flew through the course with no winching. Cleared Water Hole 2 with 1:00 on the clock, exited the Canyon with 3:00 on the clock and entered Water Hole 3 with 4:20 on the clock. Co-driver never exited the vehicle.
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon: Entered the Canyon with 1:45 on the clock, Water Hole 3 with 3:05 on the clock, and Water Hole 5 with 3:45 on the clock. Had to winch out of Water Hole 6. Winched up the final hill, and disconnected the winch cable with approximately 9:15 on the clock. No body damage due to "spiderwalking" up the canyon walls.
Latham's buggy: Entered the Canyon with 1:08 on the clock, began winching in the Canyon with 1:48 on the clock and cleared Water Hole 3 with 9:45 on the clock. Blew through Water Hole 4 with 10:30 on the clock and finished the course a hair over 3 minutes later.
Sheeley's FC-170: After several attempts to climb out of Water Hole 2 the team was considering winching but the driver wanted to try it one more time. The rig flipped over backwards and came to rest on its top in the water. The team was quickly removed from the vehicle and the recovery team had the vehicle out of the Trap in about an hour.
Sidwell's Ranger: Winched out of Water Hole 2 with 6:00 on the clock. Couldn't make forward progress in the Canyon and chose to end their run with 30 seconds left on the clock. Damage report: bent tie rod, and bent driver-side front four-link bars.
Smith's F-350: Made it to the Canyon with only 1:30 on the clock and continued forward progress with no winching. With approximately 4:15 on the clock, the rig had rolled onto its side in the Canyon. Somewhere along the line, the bolts in the rear steering failed. The team chose to end their run.
Williams' FJ Cruiser: Blew through the canyon with no winching and entered Water Hole 3 in about 6 minutes. Broke a driver-side front axle hub in Water Hole 3 with 8:00 on the clock and began winching. Winched through Water Hole 6 with 16:18 on the clock. With 18:30 on the clock, the team was spooling out the winch cable to climb the final hill.

Grand Champion!
The winner of Top Truck Challenge 2009 is Team Green of Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. The team consists of the vehicle's owner, David Green (holding trophy in photo), and co-driver Nick Souchuk. Green's custom buggy has a potent combination of a 5.9L Cummins diesel, NV4500 transmission, twin-stick NP205 transfer case, Rockwell axles, and West Lake ag tires.

The team had an exciting path to First Place and they finished in the Top Three for six of the seven events. At the end of Day One, they were three points behind then-leader Team Jerome. On Day Two, they won two of the three events and Team Jerome had a rough day. The result was that Team Green took the lead by five points over Team Jerome going into the final day. It all came down to the final event, Tank Trap. And it was a nail-biter. Team Jerome poured on the coals and they earned First Place in that event. Unfortunately for Team Jerome, Team Green had a great showing in the Tank Trap as well, and it earned them just enough points to hang onto the lead.

Even more amazing about Team Green's win is that David Green competed all week with 32 stitches in his left hand, the result of a run-in with a Sawzall in camp the day before the event. Also, the Cummins diesel engine suffered damage to two pistons during the Mud Pit event. The engine knocked for the rest of the competition but held together.

So what did Green think of Top Truck? He says, "The event was unbelievable. Very well organized, very well put together." He also notes, "It was a blast. It was worth the trip down."

PhotosView Slideshow

Green's diesel buggy 67
Jerome's TJ buggy 66
Latham's buggy 58
Graf's X-Chassis buggy 47
Kahlstrom's Power Wagon 46
Eulberg's CJ-7 42
Smith's F-350 34
Williams' FJ Cruiser 32
Sidwell's Ranger 25
Sheeley's FC-170 24

How Top Truck is Scored
Straightforward and simple is our motto when it comes to Top Truck scoring. The winner of each event gets 10 points; Second place gets 9 points, and so on. The mega brutal Tank Trap is worth double points. When all seven events are completed, each team's points are tallied resulting in their final score. The team with the most points wins.

More Awards
As is our tradition, we handed out several specialty awards at Friday's closing ceremonies. Here's the tally of this year's winners:
Long Distance- Team Sheeley (2,983.04 miles)
Hard Luck- Team Sheeley
Team Spirit- Team Sheeley
Driving Elegant- Team Kahlstrom
People's Choice- Team Latham
Judges' Choice- Team Jerome

Get the DVD!
Shot and edited by our professional film crew, the high-definition Top Truck Challenge 2009 DVD is a must-have for all Top Truck fans and off-highway junkies. It covers all the action and drama from this year's TTC from beginning to end. There's only one place to get this DVD and that's through 4Wheel Parts Wholesalers, so call 800/213-5668, visit, or get to your local 4Wheel Parts Wholesalers retail location.

Want more?
If you want to see more photos of TTC '09, head on over to There you'll find scores of images from all seven Top Truck Challenge events.

Last Word
* "Hate to go back to work on Monday."-Doug Kahlstrom
* "I've had a great time. Awesome time."-Leroy Latham
* "Really good time. We're both really glad we did it. It's something we've always wanted to do."-Brett Jerome
* "I've had the best week of wheeling I've ever had."-Leroy Latham
* "It's the stuff. We loved everything. The people, the layout, the way it was organized and pulled off. Nothing bad, all good. I give it a 10."-Scott Sidwell

Top Truck Challenge doesn't just magically happen. The reality is that the logistics of this weeklong event requires the help of a number of people. For instance, the ratio of support staff to competitors was about 4:1 this year. With that said, the Four Wheeler team sends our gratitude and admiration to the following folks and companies who helped make this year's event a success.

Official judges: Dan Black, Dustin Chernoh, Toby Lavender, Stan Pruiett and Jack Shelton. These experienced wheelers left their families and real jobs to spend a week working in Hollister Hills in conditions that would make most folks recoil. They put in incredibly long hours and supervised everything from course construction to scoring. They did all of this while exhibiting a positive attitude and the highest levels of professionalism.

TTC extraction team: Jeff Arabia, Mike Blick, Chris Brown, Cody Kanuscak, Rodney Hill, Justin Langford, and Jerry Sparkman. These guys have years of wheeling experience and it shows. They exhibited excellent communication skills and they were quick and safe. They're the Royalty of Recoveries.

Event sponsor Hobart Welders, for furnishing on-site welding equipment and supplies for the competitors to use. Some of the equipment they provided included a Champion Elite engine-driven welding generator; Trek 180, Handler 140 with portable CO2 kit, Handler 187, Handler 210 with DP-3545 Spool Gun and Ironman 230 wire-feed welders; and Airforce 250ci and 400 plasma cutters.

Chris Finstad, our lead medic, and Robert Lund and Oscar Grimaldo from the San Juan Bautista Fire Department. Need we say more?

Ned Bacon, for once again crafting the one-of-a-kind winner's trophy from remnants of last year's carnage.

Phillip Indihar, for providing the pressure washers so the competitors could wrench on clean rigs.

J3 Excavation and Las Animas Concrete, for the equipment support.

California Site Services, for the safety fencing.

Mansmith's BBQ (, for providing the mouth-watering meals, including the wood fire-cooked welcome dinner.

Hollister Hills SVRA staff and rangers, including John Vallett, Jeff Gaffney, Crystal Sanchez and Kris Plank. These are some of the folks who keep the park up and running, and without the help of these folks, Top Truck in Hollister wouldn't happen.

Four Wheeler Would Also Like To Thank The Official Top Truck Sponsors:
Official Retailer: 4Wheel Parts Wholesalers,
Official Tire: Mickey Thompson Tires,
Official Axle: Yukon Gear,
Official Oil: Amsoil,
Official Winch: Warn Industries,
Official Clothing: Blanco Basura Clothing,
Official Lighting: Lightforce,
Official Welder: Hobart Welders,

PhotosView Slideshow
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