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Top Truck Challenge 13 Changes - Limited Articulation

Posted in Features on December 1, 2005
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This month, we return to Hollister Hills for the 13th installment of our signature event: Top Truck Challenge. As we recalled in the October issue, Top Truck went through quite a few mutations in its early years, but lately we've found ourselves in a bit of a rut, wondering why we were still running some events that nobody seemed to care about anymore, but not running others that might be more involving. And the more we thought about it, it dawned on us gradually that more change was in order.

As many of you know by now, we decided to radically revamp Top Truck this year to better reflect the changes that have occurred in the 4x4 marketplace. In the early days of TTC, most of the competitors' rigs were driven to Hollister Hills, then driven home afterwards, so we thought some kind of streetability test was in order. We called it the On-Road Ride & Drive, and it counted for a fair number of points. Nowadays, though, all of the rigs are trailered to the event-and have been for years-and virtually none of them see pavement of any kind. So last year, we ditched our longstanding street-legality requirement, and this year, we followed through and got rid of On-Road Ride & Drive altogether.

While we were reinventing the bead lock, we also eliminated the Show & Shine and Engineering judging. Losing the former-a holdover from the early years, when one or two bonafide trailer queens were sure to be in attendance-was a no-brainer, but the decision to dump the Engineering scores was the subject of intense debate between judges and staff. In the end, we decided that you don't "engineer" yourself to victory at Top Truck-you have to drive yourself to victory, and if your truck isn't properly set up, it won't need our judges' approval or scorn to manifest itself during the week. As long as your rig passed a basic tech and safety inspection, you were good to go at TTC this year.

Finally, we realized an important scenario that we'd overlooked-specifically, what do you do when (not if) you break down on the trail? Trail repairs are a situation that everyone runs into eventually, and if you don't know how to patch up your truck, or don't have the proper tools or parts on hand, your 'wheeling is likely done for the day.

Either way, the ability to effect a speedy yet sound trail repair is an essential discipline, and one that had been missing from TTC all along. So we decided to add a test of mechanical skills and teamwork to the curriculum. We called it the Trail Fix, and this year, competitors were required to pull and reinstall an axleshaft on their rigs. To be fair, we had to break down the field into two camps-Dana 60s being judged less time-consuming to pull apart than Rockwells-and because of the time differences involved, we didn't include the results in our final scores. (Call it a friendly exhibition, at least this year.) Still, watching 10 teams of guys competing side by side, with impact wrenches blazing and biceps straining to move 49-inch tires within a prescribed time limit, was a real kick, and everyone worked up a healthy sweat ... before we even got to any four-wheeling.

So now, Top Truck Challenge is All Dirt, All the Time. Is it perfect yet? We should hope not, for as long as 4x4 technology and driving styles evolve, we'll continue to work on fine-tuning the event, to keep it fresh for readers and challenging for competitors. For now, check out this year's coverage on page 38, and turn to page 65 to see how you can enter your rig for a chance to compete next year.
-Douglas McColloch

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