Some 10 miles up the Smith River near Reedsport, Oregon, is a 600-acre cattle ranch tucked into a secluded valley rimmed with steep hills covered with thick stands of tall timber. Cattle graze on the flat fields while deer, elk, and bears roam the rugged woodlands. But once a year, during the first weekend of September, the quiet, idyllic setting on Oregon’s southwestern coast is shattered by the rumble of screaming engines, tires screeching for traction, and the crashing of metal on rocks.
That’s when the Eslick Creek Ranch’s bottom pastureland is cleared of cattle and replaced by motorhomes, pickups towing trailers, and a roaring herd of 4x4s ranging from junkyard dogs to custom big-tire mega-buggies brimming with suspension travel and mega-horsepower engines.
They come to “The Ranch” to be part of the annual Smith River Shootout where man and machine take on the newly designed Eslick Creek Rock Course—a challenging combination of obstacle courses and events that keep hardcore wheelin’ competitors on their toes and spectators thoroughly entertained. At this year’s 2017 event, big boys in the run-what-ya-brung “Warfare Class” came from as far away as Winnemucca, Nevada, to play on the hayfield and canyons in the woods.
The Smith River Shootout, sponsored this year by Sky's Offroad Design (SORD), is one of the best-kept secrets in the Pacific Northwest for anyone who thinks they have a badass 4x4 and wants to test both their driving skills and the capabilities of their machines against some of the best rock racers in the country—and is the perfect venue for families and friends to cheer them on. Our images captured only a very small portion of two action-packed, seriously fun days. We can’t wait to be there again next year!
2017 Smith River Shootout Results
1st Justin Haft
2nd Leroy Latham
3rd Brett Harrell
4th Jason Rehder
5th Jerry Stevens
6th Jason Arrien
7th Brian Clark
8th Chris Kaufman
9th Paul Passien
10th Cory Hawkins
11th Steven Montpas
Small Tire Class
1st Randall Fountain
2nd Brent Harrell
3rd Justin Moore
4th Chris Kaufman
It took Jason Arrien a little while to figure out how to handle the hills-and-hole course in his brand-new buggy powered by a blown 427 Chevy small-block, landing hard on the 54-inch Mickeys clearing the first jump.
“King Leroy” Latham, who took Second Place overall in the Warfare Class, piloted his big-block Ford buggy more than he drove it, ripping through the two hills-and-holes sections like a man possessed while riding on 52-inch ag tires.
Young Brent Harrell took his turn behind the wheel of dad Brett’s sleek LS-powered ride while co-driver/dad offered tips on landing techniques. The swoopy cage is the work of Krazy Cajun Kustoms.
Local four-wheeler Cory Hawkins joined in the fun, and he flat-footed the late-model 22R-E under the hood of his ’83 Toyota all day long. He runs 42-inch Swampers on a locked Dana 60 front, Dana 70 rear combo through dual Toyota T-cases.
Overall Warfare Class winner Justin Haft appeared as though he only knew one driving mode—foot matted for most of the events. The ORI coils and 2½-ton Rockwell axles work well with 700 Chevy horses coming from the 6.0L engine.
Brett Harrel gives his co-driver son a lesson on how to roast the barrel race. His buggy was one of the few running mixed tires, finding 43-inch sticky Swampers up front and Boggers in the rear—the best combo for both barrels and rocks.
Chris Kaufman’s lightning-quick reaction is the only thing that kept his LS1-powered ’84 Toyota from doing a lid dance as he misjudged the approach to one of the tire “barrels” during the truck’s maiden outing.
Jason Rehder exhibited some incredible driving in his big ’89 Wrangler, shod with 2½-ton Rockwells and 351W power.
Reedsport’s own Justin Moore slides his wheelchair into the space where the co-driver would sit and uses hand controls to wheel his ’85 Toyota with the best of the small-tire competitors. He has done a lot of the fab work himself, including swapping in the ’98 Tacoma 2RZ powerplant.
Hammer down. That’s about the only throttle position patriot Paul Passein knows when he gets behind the wheel of “UR Mom,” which from what we can tell from the grille is a street-licensed ’93 Jeep YJ. An LS1 V-8, 700R4 transmission, and a 3.0:1 Atlas T-case push power to a Dana 60 up front and 14-bolt in the rear.
Of course, at some point in time hammer-down results in wheels up, as Paul Passien discovered during the Smith River Shootout barrel race. No injuries to either ride or driver thanks to mandatory safety gear and equipment.
Steven Montpas always puts on a show with his Chevy small-block-powered ’49 Willys.
A blown left front tire near the end of the challenging quarter-mile-long rock course/hill climb turned into mechanical disaster for Steven Montpas as he tried valiantly to power on through the last big obstacle to no avail.
Justin Haft’s Team X-Rated buggy exploded the left rear tire early in the rock course, but he kept the throttle down and made it through to take First overall in the Warfare Class. A true testament to beadlocks and driver skill!
Randall Fountain’s Small-Tire Class “Toyota” buggy runs a carbureted 4.3L Chevy V-6 with a TH350 mated to twin Toyota T-cases to move the 38.5-inch Boggers.
A custom chassis with 54-inch Mickeys, 3-ton Rockwells, a TH350 transmission and a blown 427ci Chevy V-8 makes for a great rock running combo as Jason Arrien found out during his maiden run in his new buggy. The following day he learned rock racing will find the weak point even in the best of rigs.
Jerry Stevens’ hot-rodded ’95 5.9L Cummins-powered buggy was the only diesel in the mix. It spun 54-inch Boggers with ease, rolling on 2½-ton Rockwells (with Meritor outers) and a manual tranny. This is a rockcrawling demon—and it wasn’t too bad through the hills-and-holes and barrel-racing sections either!
Eslick Creek Ranch is a perfect setting for a good ol’ fashioned shootout. No cell service, but plenty of room to camp, and the Eslick Creek Rock Course offers challenges to all levels of four-wheelers.
Sometimes a little more throttle is all that’s needed to clear the next obstacle.
Brian Clark calls his rear-engine, Lexus V-8–powered wheeler a “1/2-price buggy” because everything he built it with was purchased or scrounged from other project builds. Even with sticky 40s, the skidplates took a beating on the big stones.
Here’s the next generation of competitors!