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Part Thought, Part Thrash - 2001 Tennessee Off Road Challenge

Front Passenger Side View Car In Air
Ken Brubaker
| Senior Editor, Four Wheeler
Posted October 1, 2001

Surviving the Tennessee Off-Road Challenge

Step By Step

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  • The TOR Challenge’s last event was the high-speed obstacle course. Big air was the norm as competitors blasted out of a hole during their two-lap attempts at gathering points.

  • Kyle Updegrove and Eric Davis thrashed their ’01 Nissan Frontier around the paintball course to earn 65 points toward their final total, and their Nissan demonstrated that a vehicle doesn’t have to be heavily modified to compete in the TOR Challenge. It just has to be durable.

  • The mud-racing competition actually required the completion of two mud pits. The first one included a gnarly ramp at the exit point that launched vehicles skyward. This made for some dramatic action.

  • The interior of the Fitzgerald and Jones ’97 Jeep TJ looked like a NASA control room with all the electronics and gear the team has packed in there. Highlights include a laptop linked to a GPS, and a Terra Trip rally computer for TSD rallies. The pegboard mounted on the ceiling holds supplies, and a custom fuse panel handles the increased electrical draw from the gadgets.

  • The team of Noelkemper and Burt is no stranger to these types of competitions, and they let it all hang out on the high-speed obstacle course. Their ’81 Chevy pickup is powered by a big-block 454 Chevy engine, and it rides on beefy components such as a front high-pinion Dana 60 diff, and a Corporate 14-bolt rear axle.

  • Saturday’s special task required competitors to switch the driver’s-side front and rear tires while being timed. This provided a bit of drama as competitors had their own ideas about how to do this quickly. Conrad and Lloyd used a jack powered by an onboard air compressor to speed things up, and Boyte and King welded a nut onto the end of a hydraulic jack to rapidly lift their Ranger with an air wrench, which gave them the fastest time of the competition.

  • Saturday’s TSD rally took competitors deep into the Tennessee woods, where unexpected obstacles loomed in the trail. Some competitors blew tires on the brutal course and had to do quick fixes, while other competitors breezed through with no problems.

  • Even the sand-drag competition had obstacles. Course designers put a jump about halfway down the track to keep competitors on their toes. The result was some amazing high-speed air.

  • After thrashing their awesome ’67 Jeep Kaiser M715 across the bridge-building course (without a bridge), the team of Molitor and Cagle had to improvise with a large log to straighten out a bent bumpstop.

Extreme adventure is the siren that’s continually calling us four-wheelers, and that’s what separates us from most other sports. The personalities drawn to four-wheeling are those who loathe the thought of enduring a life dominated by sitcoms, minivans, and paved roads. Instead, we prefer the great outdoors, 4x4s, dirt roads, and seemingly impassible obstacles. We don’t have to tell you that, right? Hence, it’s no surprise that the sport has spawned a new facet: Multi-day competitions that push competitors and their trucks to the limit. One of the star events of this burgeoning new part of the sport is the Tennessee Off Road (TOR) Challenge, and the 2001 edition of that event offered up a bumper crop of gnarly challenges that satisfied the hunger of even the most adventuresome personalities.


Monteagle, Tennessee, is the home of the TOR Challenge, and it’s a perfect host area because of its diverse terrain and the genuine support from the locals, who welcome this event, and others, with open arms. As a matter of fact, to show their support, the town of Monteagle and Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse Restaurant provided lunch for all the participants and spectators during Sunday’s competition.

The TOR Challenge was created by the crew at Tennessee Off Road in Nashville, Tennessee, to replace the now defunct Safari Triathlon. That event was held through last year in Florida’s Ocala National Forest. But for this year permits for that event were denied to organizers due to National Forest Service policy changes created in response to pressure from environmental groups. The TOR Challenge filled the gap in grand form, and is drawing a number of past Safari Triathlon competitors. The event is held on more than 2,000 acres of private land that features a plethora of trails and obstacles. Event sponsors include Skyjacker, ARB USA, BFGoodrich, Premier Power Welder/Pull-Pal, Jeep Box, and JB Conversions.


If you’re not familiar with how these types of events work, here’s the deal: Each team in competition is made up of a driver and co-driver, who compete in land navigation, time-speed-distance (TSD) rallies, general four-wheeling, and special tasks. The teams are awarded points for completing each competition, and the team with the most points at the conclusion of the event wins. While four-wheeling is king at the TOR Challenge, there are events like kayaking and target shooting that require no ’wheeling, so you’re often asked to use your mind and body, instead of your truck, to accumulate points. Still, competitors spend a significant amount of time behind the wheel, and while there are no set rules for how the competing vehicles have to be modified, the most competitive vehicles are designed to be pretty good at everything. In other words, they can crawl rocks, pull through deep mud, handle satisfactorily on the road, and so on. Because the terrain around Monteagle is challenging, it’s also a good idea to have lockers and a winch on the vehicle. This does not rule out the use of a lightly modified truck though, and this year’s event included some not-so-modified trucks that were actually competitive and scored highly in certain competitions, beating out the built-to-the-hilt trucks. A three-day competition is hard on vehicles, so sometimes the key to finishing well at the TOR Challenge is just to finish.

This year’s TOR Challenge drew 13 teams, and the members came from eight states. After three days of competition that included three special tasks —like a timed tire swap, for instance—two Navigational Rallies (each required finding 27 “targets” within 300 minutes), one TSD Rally (105 minutes to compete a lengthy course and finish at a pre-arranged finishing point), and a number of other competitions (bridge building, mud race, sand drag, etc.), the team of Tom Fitzgerald and Chris Jones from Virginia accumulated 1,695 points to win the 2001 TOR Challenge. They were followed by Second-place finishers John Conrad and Mark Lloyd from Indiana (1,615 points) and Third-place finishers Travis Hickman and Dan Schwartz from Tennessee and Missouri, respectively (1,525 points).

The TOR Challenge is an event that will test you both physically and mentally, not to mention the fact that it’s the equivalent of calisthenics for your 4x4. If this appeals to you (of course it does), you can get info on the 2002 TOR Challenge, which will take place June 21-23, by contacting Tennessee Off Road, 866/248-8638,