Jesse Haines lives and breathes rockcrawling. It is literally his life. He has competed in rockcrawling competitions for the last decade, winning several championships. He also builds custom rockcrawling buggies for a living. In his free time, Haines searches for the most challenging trails and canyons he can find. So it is only natural that he would want to share his passion for rockcrawling with others in his community.
Haines worked with the owners of the Wild West Motorsports Park in Reno, Nevada, the same place that holds Lucas Oil short course races and the Ultra4 Nationals, to put on a rockcrawling competition using everything that Haines has learned in his years of experience. So just what made the Silver State Rock Crawling Championship (SSRCC) a success? For starters, Haines approached the event from the position he is most familiar with, that of the competitors. He used the golden rule, figuring that whatever he would appreciate as a driver other competitors would appreciate as well. Also, the SSRCC was a single event rather than a series, so participants don’t have to spend time and money driving all over the country in search of a trophy. This approach has proven successful at Idaho X Rocks and the Old School Rock Crawl in Utah.
“We tried to keep things easy with low entry fees and simple rules,” Haines explained. There were no penalties for using rear steer, and even in the top tier classes many of the vehicles were recreational buggies being used for competition, not dedicated comp buggies that are difficult for spectators to relate to.
Haines set up courses on natural terrain that were challenging to all without huge, nearly vertical climbs that could destroy buggies and threaten the safety of competitors. “Every cone on every course was cleared by at least one team,” Haines said after the event. In fact, Justin Keilman earned the Unlimited Class victory only after completing the last bonus on the last course—one that no one else managed to conquer. Even with all of his planning, Haines couldn’t have orchestrated a more tense finish if he tried. This dramatic result will be difficult to top next year, but Haines already has some tricks up his sleeve to make his event even better for 2016.
Justin Hall’s diminutive single-seat buggy only weighs 2,600 pounds and is powered by a 350hp turbocharged Ecotec engine that runs on race gas. Rock Hard Racing has enjoyed tremendous success in both rockcrawling and Ultra4 competition, but this wasn’t Hall’s day in Reno.
Kevin Carroll made the trip out from Moab in his Red Dot Engineering buggy. While this buggy was built for recreational wheeling and is longer and wider than most competition-specific vehicles, he held his own against the moon buggies.
One of the little things that set this event apart was the rule cards that were handed out to spectators to help them understand what they were watching. Without an understanding of the nuances of competition, past rockcrawling events sometimes devolved to the lowest common denominator: rollovers and breakage.
There were a few rollovers at the Silver State Rock Crawling Championship, but surprisingly this was not one of them! Dakota Converse made one of the greatest saves we have ever witnessed. He may have hit a cone on his way off the course, but he kept his CJ-5 in one piece.
Spotter ropes, spotter rides, and rear steer were popular with competitors and fans alike. Here Nick Poudrier tries to pull Matt Messer’s moon buggy to the top of the course.
Guys like Chris Borowick have built buggies for trail wheeling, not competition. There are a lot of vehicles out there just like this though, and the minimal rules in the Trail Class made for healthy competition. In fact, the Trail Class was the most popular at the event, with over 20 entries.
Things got rough for Kevin Reimer when going down this obstacle. With all of the weight on the front end and the wheels at full lock, his buggy was bound up bad. Something had to give, and in this case it was a suspension mounting bracket on the front axle.
Jesse Haines had a portable welder on hand to allow teams to fix their vehicles between courses. Kevin Reimer was thankful for the equipment after ripping the upper link off of his front suspension.
This was the biggest rockcrawling competition we have seen in years, with 60 registered teams showing up to try their luck at Wild West Motorsports Park. Despite the huge number of teams, Jesse Haines and his team of volunteers did an excellent job keeping the event moving smoothly through both days of competition.
James Treacy was leading the competition at the end of the first day in his super clean Jeep buggy. Treacy brought his family down from Oregon and made a whole vacation out of the trip, with a stop at Lake Tahoe in addition to competing at the SSRCC.
Jeff McKinley took delivery of his new Red Dot Engineering buggy when he arrived in Reno. Despite the lack of seat time, McKinley made it farther through this bonus course than any of the other competitors. His buggy uses steering Spider9 axles at each end with huge 3-inch-bore PSC double-ended rams.
Last season Denis Volkov scrapped his moon buggy and put the drivetrain into a more practical two-seat buggy with a chassis from Jesse Haines Fabrication. Volkov and spotter Kyle Congdon came in first in the Pro Modified class in the Ecotec-powered Jeep.
Knowing that he could not drive his own buggy in the competition, Jesse Haines held an online contest with voting to allow a past rockcrawling competitor the chance to drive Haines’s buggy at the comp. Matt Deas won the voting and came all the way out from North Carolina to compete. He did an incredible job in a vehicle that he had never driven before.
Can you imagine tackling the pressure of competition with your significant other? Kaitlin Yates and Graeme Tydeman were calm and cool all weekend long. Their efforts in their G-Fab Samurai buggy earned them a First Place finish in the Legends Class.
Justin Keilman attributes much of his success to his spotter, longtime competitor Jody Everding. The two have worked together consistently all season. Everding doesn’t seem to have any problem moving boulders to get the team through the course.
The SSRCC event appealed to people like Kolt Mieras, who had never considered competing in the past. He came in Third Place in the Legends Class in his heavily modified Toyota pickup. The 22RE, Toyota transmission, and dual transfer cases multiply torque running to the Dana 60 front axle and 14-bolt rearend.
Justin Keilman backed up his win in Texas at the 2015 WE Rock Grand Nationals with another victory at the Silver State Rock Crawling Championship. Despite the low entry fees, Keilman still took home a good-sized chunk of change for his efforts.
Kevin Carroll’s Red Dot Engineering buggy runs the biggest parts on the market. Spidertrax Spider9 axles are filled with high-pinion Gearworks 10-inch third members and 40-spline 300M axleshafts. The exotic axle components are necessary in order to withstand the places Carroll puts the 42-inch BFGoodrich Krawlers and 20-inch Trail-Ready beadlock wheels.
Attendance for the event was significant, particularly considering that this was the first time it was held. Shuttles were available to take people from the parking area to the competition site throughout the day.
Flatfenders are pretty short for competition, but Jesse Haines set up the courses to be challenging without destroying vehicles in the Street Stock Class. Josh Wilkins placed in Seventh out of 13 competitors in the Street Stock class.
Kyle Witherspoon’s TJ Wrangler is a perfect rig for both recreational wheeling and competition. A custom suspension with coilover shocks and 1-ton axles ensure that Witherspoon doesn’t scatter parts when the 38-inch Falken Wildpeak M/Ts get bound up.
Longtime rockcrawling competitor and past King of the Hammers champion Jason Scherer even made an appearance at the SSRCC. He spotted for friend Jeff Mello in the Pro Modified class in Torchmate’s rockcrawling buggy.
Even with his father, Mark, pulling him up the hill, Justin Hall wasn’t able to complete this course. He wasn’t alone. Even in the premiere Unlimited Class, only one team was able to complete this obstacle.
Glenn Bonner did an excellent job on the mic. He kept fans entertained and explained to them the backgrounds of the teams, the rules, and the scores throughout the day. This kept spectators engaged and clued them in with regards to rivalries and pressure on certain teams.