Thrashing! Bashing! Flipping! Rolling! Air! Near death! And that's just us trying to photograph the events! The following photos relive some of the biggest races, the most infamous trails in rockcrawling and mud, and even some ne'er-before-trounced backwoods spots that made our pages breathe.
4-Wheel & Off-Road 4xFun Fest
This traveling show has been east, west, and in between, but the common threads have been the Extreme Truck Challenge, the mud bogs, the manufacturers' midway, and the most impressive show'n'shine on the planet. Each Extreme track has been different, so drivers and spectators never know what to expect-other than airborne trucks, the possibility of a vehicle rolling, and body parts a-dragging and a-dropping.
Every Type of Racing
This particular pileup was snapped at the HDRA Jeep Desert Championships at Willow Springs International Raceway. Through the years we've brought you the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 (be sure to check out the Baja anniversary story elsewhere in this issue), the Off-Road Sportsman Challenge, the Safari Triathlon, SCORE, SODA, the Mickey Thompson Series, Riverside, the Frontier 500, the Mint 400, the Parker 400, Brush Run 101, the Nevada 500, tough trucks, and other edge-of-your-seat off-road racing.
Dakota Territory Challenge
This South Dakota event turns 15 in 1998 and is becoming more and more popular with twisted rockcrawlers everywhere. We say that because it has an optional near-vertical waterfall on the 5-plus Hal Johns Trail, which nearly everyone opts for. Depending on how Mother Nature is feeling, she could turn Lower Buzzworm into a how-to on waterproofing. People love it. So do photographers. But don't be discouraged-the Challenge does run far less challenging trails, and they're far from dull.
The annual Panamint Valley Days five-waterfall climb is thrown by the California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs near Death Valley in November. Those who have driven (and watched) it say it's more scary than difficult, as there are no easy routes and it requires winching. We've yet to see a fullsize make it through.
The biggest four-day competitive event in the eastern U.S. is Gravelrama. Started by the Indiana-Ohio-Kentucky Four Wheelers (I-O-Kers) in 1971 and held the weekend before Labor Day each year, it has provided the best an event can offer in the shape of sand, dirt, and hill drags and obstacle-course romping. We've covered it plenty of times because it keeps getting bigger and better.
Here's an event that'll put hair on the bottom of your feet-Camel Trophy. Two-man teams compete with one another against the backdrop of a jungle (read: leeches, deadly snakes, and no potable water) in a circumnavigation to the finish. It's a race against the clock to do such tasks as retrieve a spare gearbox from the opposite bank of a river; make it over a log obstacle course with deep mud; recover wheels from a swift river; and build a raft to get from one end of a river to the other. Whew! We're wimps!
Fun in the Desert
Sledgehammer. Jackhammer. Aftershock. Hell's Gate. Sunbonnet Pass. Outer Limits. Clawhammer. We've broadcast from all of them, and nearly all of them are rated 5 out of 5, with a plus thrown in for good measure. The trail-building came courtesy of the Victor Valley 4 Wheelers, who have made visiting California's Johnson Valley ORV Area during October a necessity. The roll factor is ever present on the savage Jackhammer and Sledgehammer Trails (Jack even more so). So, if you own a fullsize, don't act shocked if you get bashed on any of the abovementioned trails.
It's known as the granddaddy of all difficult four-wheel-drive trails. Part of its charm stems from the fact that the terrain remains a mystery each year depending on how the snow melts. Located between Placerville and South Lake Tahoe in California, it's less than 15 miles end to end, but can take three days to complete. The Jeepers Jamboree has held an annual event there since 1953. If you're new to 'wheeling you'll probably find it exhilarating and super-challenging, while seasoned drivers with properly equipped rigs will be a little more relaxed and able to take in the view.
Monster Truck Madness
Whether you think monster trucks are stupid or not, they're like a train wreck. You're gonna look. And although you may claim your kid dragged you to a show, there's no denying that they're irresistible and hypnotic. "Non-stop car-crushing craziness" was how the events were billed, and they were just that. Huge truck after huge truck jumping, crushing, landing, bouncing, and landing again. They were spectacular feats of truck building, and just as riveting hullabaloo.
Foster Lake Mud Races
Must be the thrill of the bottomless bogs. That's the only explanation we can come up with for why so many people are drawn to wet dirt. The biggest gathering of mud lovers began nearly 20 years ago in a backyard and quickly evolved into a mega-mudmess that is the annual Foster Lake happening at Foster Lake, east of Sweet Home, Oregon. In 1997, 8,000 people and 3,000 trucks were claimed to be in attendance. While you're there, the hot ticket is the Santiam 4-Wheel-Drive Association's mud drags.
Nineteen ninety-seven marked the 31st year of the Red Rock 4-Wheelers' Easter Jeep Safari, and the action just keeps getting better. There are tame trails in Utah, but you're much more likely to see Jeeps, pickups, and nearly every other model rubber-side up, begging for traction, and grinding sheetmetal against slickrock on such obstacles as Wipe-Out Hill, Tip-Over Challenge, Double Whammy, White Knuckle Hill, and Hell's Revenge.
Some of the hippest events of the '80s were tractor pulls, including the shows put on by the National Tractor Pullers Association. One time the purse was $103,000. Many tractors weighed in at around 12,000 pounds and were powered by supercharged big-block V-8s that ran on alcohol. More than 8,000 horses wasn't unusual. For a tractor? We're not on the farm anymore, Dorothy! All that grunt was used to score a primo spot in the tug-of-war and the pull, which required the tractors to hook to a weight transfer sled and then yank it 300 feet. Yeeehaaaw!
4-Wheel & Off-Road Jamboree Spring/Fall Nationals
Before we subjected you to page after page of 4xFun Fests, we subjected you to page after page of 4-Wheel & Off-Road Jamborees. Nearly 100,000 visitors were recorded at some jambos, which featured monster trucks (complete with a chance to ride in one), tough trucks, a manufacturers' midway, mud races, and lots of food on a stick. These Jamborees gave us some of the best opportunities to meet the readers, find feature vehicles, and capture great action.
The Arizona State Associate of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs has put together a run that's bound to shed years from your life. Blame it on Woodpecker's 4-plus obstacles and Arizona's 100-plus temperatures-rockcrawling doesn't get much hotter. If you're looking for any kind of go-into-the-light moment, you've gotta do Firehole. Get vertical, then balance boulders. One slip and your doors are toast. Or be even more daring and go night 'wheeling. The Arizona Jamboree is a family run, so you will find some trails rated 1.5.
June '96 Although New Mexico's Guardian Trail is only a few years old, it's becoming one of the most famous rockcrawling sites in the west. It has also been the source of recent controversy: Has the BLM closed it off to four-wheelers or not? Well, for now, it's open, but to small runs rather than to the Southwest Four Wheel Drive Association's annual Winter Quarterly confab. It was the Las Cruces 4-Wheel Drive Club that first intro'd us to the trail, which is definitely one of the toughest boulder fests around. If you can get past the "easy" squeeze at the head.
Since 1966, the California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs has produced Sierra Trek, described as "the Rubicon with tons of trees." Now the biggest Cal 4 Wheelers event, the crème de la crème is the Fordyce Creek Trail, a tight grabber with about five winch spots, making it limited to the short-wheelbased. But Sierra Trek also boasts trails for bigger 4x4s, a night run called Star Trek, plenty of tire-up action, and weather that can bring snow even during this summertime event. It's held in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and draws swarms of daredevils from all over the United States.
Smoky Mountain Trek
The name has changed to Great Smoky Mountain Venture but the locale remains North Carolina. It's a 10-day deal that's been held for about a bizillion years in the Upper Tellico ORV Area in the Nantahala National Forest. Spare Tire Runs signify easier 'wheeling; Spare Parts Runs mean hold onto yer young 'uns. Trails rate from a 2 to a whopping 11, so everyone finds something to do, whether it's mud and pebbles or cliffhanging and hanking rocks. Trail-maintenance projects are also held during the event.
OBD-III is being discussed for model-year 2000 vehicles-that law will require onboard transmitters that broadcast your vehicle's speed, location, and faulty emissions equipment to the government.
-4xForward, Mar. '96
Pre-'74 Vehicles Exempt From Smog Inspection in CA.
-Drive Lines headline
The New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles may make it illegal to perform many standard tire, wheel, and suspension mods.
-Drive Lines, Oct. '97
Suzuki is fighting charges from the Center [For Auto Safety] that the Samurai is unsafe due to a high center of gravity that causes it to roll easily.
-Drive Lines, June '88
...Isuzu [has] filed a lawsuit alleging defamation and product disparagement by Consumers Union. The suit claims Consumers Union manipulated the testing to show that the Trooper was prone to rollovers.
-Drive Lines, Nov. '97
As it stands, there are currently no airbag standards for light trucks.
-Drive Lines, Jan. '92
Studies...show that airbags were responsible for the deaths of 32 children and 20 adults as of January 6, 1997.
-Drive Lines, Apr. '97
ABS isn't producing overall safety benefits....
-Drive Lines, May '97
The most exciting news involves cassette decks, which have now become the number one setup by surpassing the sales of the ol' standby eight-track deck in 1978.
-Traveling, May '79
Toyota was really onto a good idea when they made a single key to fit the doors, gas cap, and electric rear window.
-"Family Fun Wagon,"
The XJ-series Jeeps...will represent an entirely new idea of what Jeeps are all about.
-"Sneak Peek: 1983 Jeep XJ,"
Mitsubishi's New High-Tech Montero.
-Cover blurb, May '83
Not to be left behind by the likes of Chrysler Defense Corporation, AM General Corporation has delivered 11 prototypes of its 1 1/4-ton High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle to the U.S. Army for testing. The same company that came up with the original Jeep has dubbed its new version the Hummer.
-Tailgate, Sept. '82
The mini-truck not only survived but also evolved. It took Chevy 10 years to build its own little pickup-the S-10. And the truck world hasn't been the same since.
-"Muscle Madness," Mar. '88
Detroit's 3-Ds are downsize, diesel, and dynamite (performance). They're new enough to make us excited about new 4x4s for the first time in years.
-"Detroit in 3-D," Oct. '81
What is the Scrambler-a pickup, mini-truck, Jeep, or none of the above?
-"1981 Jeep Scrambler
Vehicle Test," Aug. '81
New For '80-Factory Turbo Scout.
-Cover blurb, Dec. '79
Taking a cue from Lamborghini, Chrysler is working on a high-performance V-10 engine.
-Drive Lines, June '88
Beginning next year, Ford will start offering driver-side airbags as an option on its light-duty trucks.
-Drive Lines, Jan. '92
Wow! The excitement at Chevy seems to be about the new Easy Access System third-door option....
-"'96 4x4 of the Year"
•All 4 Fun Week
•Carlisle All-Truck Nationals
•4x4 Off-Road Jamboree (formerly New London 4x4 Off-Road Jamboree)
•Mile High Jeep Club and Our Gang Ice Races
•Minnesota Go-4-Wheelers Shows
•New England 4x4 Jamboree
•Michigan's Silver Lake State Park Sand Dunes
•Pacific Northwest Four Wheel Drive Association Summer Convention
•Hank's 4x4 Jamboree