15 4x4 Drivers We Admire
We often focus so hard on the parts that make a good 4x4 we sometimes forget about the people that drive the 4x4. After all, a 4x4 is a machine that must have a person behind the wheel and that person must have the skills to make the machine work to its full potential.
The 4x4 community is, and has been, comprised of some very talented individuals. Like you, each staffer here at Four Wheeler has members of the 4x4 community that we admire. Call 'em heroes, icons, idols, or whatever, they're people who have had a direct positive effect on our lives from a four-wheel-drive perspective.
In this story, Four Wheeler Editor John Cappa, Technical Editor Ali Mansour, and Senior Editor Ken Brubaker each share five of their "off-road heroes." We're actually in agreement in most cases, but we had to limit our choices to five and we didn't want to duplicate. What you'll find is a wide range of folks from the 4x4 community-some you may know and some you won't. What they all have in common is that they've influenced us and four-wheeling in general.
In the '80s I read about the unbelievable trail repairs Granville King had done in the pages of Off-Road and Four Wheeler. I still don't know if they were fact or fiction. Anything is possible, since Granville was originally a script writer from Hollywood. But it doesn't matter-even if it were all make believe it was that never-say-die ingenuity that stuck with me and so many other readers decades later. To this day there are very few trail failures that I can't come up with a solution for. I usually plan for the worst and have plenty of tools and spare parts when I hit the trail, partially because of this man. Of course, even my best mends don't hold a candle to some of the outlandish stories told by Granville King.
I remember reading the Nylund stories in Four Wheeler. They were real-world builds and adventures that I could easily replicate in my own backyard. These included being one of the first guys to take a fullsize Chevy Blazer over the Rubicon Trail, building an off-road rig out of a postal Jeep, and numerous Jeep and fullsize tech stories. When all of my friends had Toyota FJ40 Land Cruisers, I wanted something smaller and more capable. Jimmy Nylund was the guy that made me want to own a flatfender Jeep. He made the early Jeeps seem so simple and easy to work on and modify. Plus, there were still plenty of aftermarket parts available even though it was a 40- to 50-year-old vehicle at the time. Decades later, you can still find him wheeling the same old flatfender Jeep at many off-road events. In fact, it doesn't look much different than it did 30 or more years ago. If you meet him in person, you'll find out he is quite a bit more of an eccentric than how he reads.
Having been bit by the flatfender Jeep bug, I fell in love with the many versions of Ned Bacon's Killer Bee over the years. The version I especially liked was totally unconventional for the mid-'90s. It featured a GM 454ci big-block, an SM420 manual transmission, a tiny Spicer 18 transfer case, a spring-over lift, an eight-lug Dana 44 front axle, a 35-spline full-floater Dana 60 rear axle, and 39-inch Super Swamper TSL tires. Many years later I asked Ned how he kept the Spicer 18 alive. He said he didn't. Ned was the first head judge at Top Truck Challenge and was a successful competitor in the early rockcrawling competitions. You can still find Ned at many off-road events in the southwest either driving the snot out of a 4x4 VW Syncro Van or the latest version of the Killer Bee that looks more like a flatfender flatbed pickup, among other 4x4s.
If it has ever been broken off-road, it's very likely it has been welded back together on the trail by Pat Gremillion and one of his company's Premier Power onboard welders. Pat is by far one of the nicest, most humble guys you can meet up with on the trail. If you're busted and in a pinch he is often the first one under your rig with a welding rod in hand. In the '90s I read about him, and in the 2000s I was lucky enough to wheel with him many times. He once welded a steering box mount back together on one of my borrowed 4x4s. He used to roll around in a four-corner coil-sprung early Bronco that was later narrowed and painted his now-signature Dayglow Orange. Today you can still find Pat on the toughest trails behind the wheel of his latest creation (a Jeep), painted bright orange of course, that features a military H1-inspired independent A-arm suspension at all four corners with portal ends.
As a dedicated 4x4 magazine reader in the '90s, I often saw Rick's beat-up, turd-brown GPW show up in tech and event stories. I scoured the images looking for tech tips to use on my own Jeep. Little did I know that his vehicle was in far worse shape than anyone let on. It wasn't until years later when I saw the Jeep in person that I found out just how vandalized with repairs his Jeep was. Regardless, Rick's antics and unbelievable trail repair stories rival even those of Granville King. From eating pork burritos cooked on an oozing Buick 455 engine that barely runs at 160 degrees to welding a frame back together with batteries, there is never a dull moment with Rick around. If you wheel with him enough, you'll realize he is the worst at vehicle maintenance. If it can be fixed on the trail, why do it at home before you leave? Today you'll find him at the helm of our sister publication, Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road. He rarely takes out the old beat-up flattie anymore, but you can usually find him behind the wheel of a barely running beat-up vintage Jeep.