Having just returned from TTC 2013, I got to thinking about the event. If I were competing in Top Truck Challenge, I would do things differently than most of the competitors who show up for the annual competition. Every year I see a lot of the same mistakes made over and over again by the fresh faces. Now, granted, I have only attended the event a half-dozen times, but I have followed it fairly religiously since its inception in 1993. By far, the number one most common mistake I see is competitors showing up with new, untested modifications that they are unfamiliar with. And of those mods, rear steer has to be at the top of the list. What is unfortunate is that we have all seen some competitors use rear steering to a huge advantage when cornering in tight confines or wallowing out of a deep mud hole. However, these are typically the guys who have run rear steer for years and are as used to turning the rear tires with a joystick as they are using the steering wheel, throttle, and brake pedal. You can’t just hop in and expect to incorporate the rear steering into your driving technique without hours of experimentation to see how the rest of the vehicle reacts—or doesn’t. Interestingly enough, the failing generally comes from when the competitor forgets about the rear steer. For example, I can’t even count how many times I have seen competitors accidentally leave the rear wheels turned full lock one way or the other, causing them to blow a corner or flip over in the flat part of the Tank Trap canyon area, which is one of the easiest parts of that particular event.
By far, the number one most common mistake I see is competitors showing up with new, untested modifications that they are unfamiliar with.
I also got to thinking about the spotter/co-driver. I think you almost need to throw that title out the window. The spotter/co-driver becomes more of a winch monkey at TTC. That’s really his most important job. He needs to be able to efficiently operate the winch, quickly locate suitable and strategically beneficial winch points, and get the winch hooked up and disconnected fast. He typically needs to be in good shape. As a co-driver, there is a lot of running, rigging, yelling, and more running involved—no time for being winded. I always thought you would have the best TTC winch monkey if you went down to the local high school, grabbed a football player, and taught him how to use a winch. I was wrong.
This year Aaron Fava and his co-driver Spike were the only competitors to finish the Tank Trap within the allotted time, in a Crew Cab pickup no less. They seemed to work together very calmly and extremely efficiently. They communicated via wireless headsets; in fact, many competitors had wireless communication systems this year. After Aaron’s run up the Tank Trap, co-driver Spike hardly seemed phased (thanks in part to the fact that Aaron simply drove the massive truck through much of the course without winch assistance). Most co-drivers are about dead long before the half-hour time limit is up. That led me to ask Spike about his background. Apparently, both he and Aaron have Pacific Northwest logging experience. Spike is no longer a logger, but he still works in the forest industry. As part of his job he has to pass what is known as a Pack Test, which he had been training for and passed two weeks prior to TTC. He told me that to pass the test he had to wear a 45-pound vest and travel 3 miles in 45 minutes. It may not seem hard, but I’m pretty sure that would just about wipe me out, as well as most would-be TTC co-drivers.
I’ve since changed my ideal imaginary TTC winch monkey from a high-school football player to a choker or choke setter from the logging industry. If their job is anything like what I see on the television show “Ax Men,” these guys are used to running all over steep, unstable ground and rigging gear in less-than-desirable conditions for eight hours or more at a time. The half an hour needed to complete the Tank Trap would feel like a smoke break.
Ultimately, don’t ask me to be your co-driver in Top Truck. Find a logger, unless you plan to simply drive the whole thing without winching. And if that’s the case, let your co-driver stay back at camp so he doesn’t get poison oak.
Keep an eye out for ’13 Top Truck Challenge competitor features and event coverage in the November and December issues.