Round two of the Goodyear/Skyjacker Rockcrawling Nationals took place in Vernal, Utah, and the RCCA crew outdid itself. A significant change in the points system - the negative extra-credit gate - contributed to some interesting action. These gates are placed at various points on the course and are intended to make things much more difficult (as if that were necessary).
The competition was really tough. Mike Shaffer and Lance Clifford had emerged victorious from round one in Farmington, New Mexico, but John Gilleland, Joel Randall, Ken Shupe, and Jason Paule had all finished in the Top Five and were eager to close the gap. Friday's competition saw some very high winds that made an already difficult course even more challenging. At the end of the day, course A had proven to be the harder of the two. Mike Shaffer took the lead with a score of 27, followed closely by Tracy Jorden at 32, Chris Durham 52, Jason Paule 53, and John Gilleland 62; remember, low score wins.
Those on course B had an easier time of things and produced some notably low scores. Ken Shupe and Kevin "Moose" Nawly finished the day with a score of negative 13. Apparently those negative extra credit gates paid off handsomely. Closing out the Top Five field were Joel Randall at 5, Don Robbins 24, Neil Lillard 26, and Chris Forenbarher 39.
On Saturday, the competition became even more fierce. The first obstacle on course B had a negative gate that had yet to be tackled by anyone, so John Gilleland decided to blaze the way. Unfortunately, his second attempt to drop a few points on B2 left John on his side adding another 40 points to his score.
Shupe seemed beset by mechanical difficulties throughout the day, the worst of which was a broken shifter cable that hampered his efforts. Although he would emerge as the points winner for the day, it would prove not enough to take the competition. Everything seemed to come down to gates 7A and 7B. The first is a steep hill climb with a 90-degree right-hand turn at the top that drops you back down the slope. A great many vehicles either rolled on this hill or took out a cone at the top. Here, Amy Bulloch did the unthinkable: As she crested this hill, she made a left down the hill, pulled a U-turn at the bottom, then came up through the gate to finish with a zero. As the first competitor to complete 7A with a perfect score, she set the benchmark for the other teams.
On 7B, Shaffer worked his way through The Devil's Fishbowl, a kind of Mickey's Hot Tub that defeated more than one team over the course of the weekend. Shaffer was up to the task, though, and finished with a perfect zero. On 7B, Shupe and Nawly had everyone's attention as the final competitors of the weekend. Trying to follow Amy Bulloch's lead, Ken cut just a little too hard at the crest of the hill, which upset the frontend and sent him into a hard roll. With the crowd cheering, Shupe and Nawly tried frantically to right the vehicle, but it proved to be too heavy for even the mighty Moose.
It was another great weekend of rockcrawling action that saw a tight field of competition and some amazing driver skill.
Round Two: Vernal, Utah