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19 Years of Top Truck Challenge Winners

Posted in Project Vehicles on February 1, 2012 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Four Wheeler Archives

The Four Wheeler Top Truck Champions’ Challenge (TTCC) is only a few months away and this means that past Top Truck Challenge Grand Champions will soon be converging en masse for this unprecedented event.

Let’s back up a minute. In case you’re not familiar with Top Truck, it’s an off-highway competition that we’ve been hosting since 1993. It’s held at the Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area near Hollister, California, and it pits regular folks and their rigs against some of the most challenging off-highway events ever devised. Every discipline of wheeling is integrated into the competition and through the years we’ve tweaked the event to reflect the latest trends in wheeling.

In honor of Top Truck’s 20th Anniversary in 2012 we’re inviting all of the past Grand Champions to return to Hollister Hills for a battle royale. They can bring the rig they originally competed in or they can bring something else to TTCC, it’s up to them. As a special bonus, one lucky reader will be invited to go head-to-head with the past champions and you can read about that in the accompanying sidebar.

So who are these past champions? What year did they win? What did they drive? How were their rigs configured? Read on for the answers to these questions as well as other fascinating tidbits from the past 19 years of Top Truck Challenge.

1993: It begins
Grand Champion: Jim Piatt, Manchester, Washington
Vehicle: 1984 Jeep CJ-7

Piatt owned our inaugural event with six First Place finishes. Back then, the Tank Trap was called the Stream Bed, competitors slogged through the weird Tire Pit, and some events had no time limit. Competitors also included the legendary Soni Honegger as well as Rick Pewe, who is now the editor of 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine.

The Details
Engine: Chevy 350ci V-8, Holley Pro-Jection
Transmission: TH400
Transfer case: Dana 300
Axles (f/r): Dana 44, ARB Air Locker/AMC Model 20, ARB Air Locker
Suspension (f/r): Skyjacker 3½-in-lift leaf springs, Skyjacker shocks/Skyjacker 3½-in-lift leaf springs, Skyjacker shocks
Tires: 33-inch BFG Mud-Terrains

1994: Say hello to the Tow Test
Grand Champion: Anthony Fox, Bremerton, Washington
Vehicle: 1979 Jeep CJ-5

Fox and his CJ went up against a variety of rigs including an early Bronco, a 4Runner, a Scout, an M38, and a Scrambler 6x6. This was also the first year for the Tow Test, which consisted of pulling Soni Honegger’s “War Wagon” Ramcharger. Fox won the on-road and engineering segments of the competition, which contributed to his win.

The Details
Engine: AMC 304ci V-8, Ford 2-bbl carburetor
Transmission: BorgWarner T-18
Transfer case: Dana 20
Axles (f/r): Dana 44, Detroit Locker/Dana 44, Detroit Locker
Suspension (f/r): Rancho 2½-in-lift leaf springs, Rancho shocks/Rancho 2½-in-lift leaf springs, Rancho shocks
Tires: 33-inch Super Swamper TSLs

1995: Readers choose the competitors
Grand Champion: Randy Ellis, Gilbert, Arizona
Vehicle: 1980 Jeep CJ-5

Ellis’ CJ was the first-ever TTC rig to sport a multilink (three-link) suspension and he maxed out the RTI ramp and won the engineering portion of competition. This was the first year that readers chose the competitors for TTC and the first year for the on-road Ride ’n Drive segment of competition. It was also the year Tim Hardy competed while pulling a trailer with his Samurai and took Second Place.

The Details
Engine: Chevy 377ci V-8, Holley Pro-Jection
Transmission: TH350
Transfer case: Dana 300
Axles (f/r): Dana 44, ARB Air Locker/Dana 60, ARB Air Locker
Suspension (f/r): Spring-over-axle, Rancho shocks/spring-over-axle, custom three-link, Rancho shocks
Tires: 35-inch Super Swamper TSL Boggers

1996: Obstacle Course makes its debut
Grand Champion: Shannon Campbell, Gilbert, Arizona
Vehicle: 1947 Willys CJ-2A replica

This was the first year for the Obstacle Course, which replaced the easier Slalom Course. Campbell won the Tank Trap and snared three Second Place finishes earning him Grand Champion. Since then, Campbell has gone on to dominate off-highway racing including winning the King of the Hammers event twice.

The Details
Engine: Chevy 400ci V-8, Holley Pro-Jection
Transmission: TH350
Transfer case: Dana 300
Axles (f/r): GM 10-bolt, ARB Air Locker/Dana 60, spool
Suspension (f/r): Wrangler leaf springs, Doetsch Tech shocks/custom four-link
Tires: 35-inch Super Swamper TSL Boggers

1997: Goin’ Hollywood
Grand Champion: Geby Wager, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada
Vehicle: 1986 Jeep CJ-7

Folks had never seen anything as extreme as Wager’s big-block-powered, 2½-ton-shod, independent suspension-equipped CJ and it left everyone speechless. Wager only won one event (Acceleration), but he was consistent in all the others finishing in the top four in each. For the first time TTC was videotaped for Four Wheeler TV.

The Details
Engine: Cadillac 502ci V-8, Holley 800cfm carburetor
Transmission: Ford T-19
Transfer case: NP205
Axles (f/r): Modified 2½-ton Gama Goat, Powr-Lok/modified 2½-ton Gama Goat, Powr-Lok
Suspension (f/r): Custom independent, air springs, Fox shocks/custom independent, air springs, Fox shocks Tires: 44-inch Super Swamper TSL Boggers

1998: Year of the tube chassis
Grand Champion: Heath Biggs, Fayetteville, Arkansas
Vehicle: Scorpion MK1

Biggs’ Scorpion was the first tube-chassis rig to compete in Top Truck and it left a lasting impression. Actually, it was a sign of trends to come, we all just didn’t know it yet. More than just a pretty face, Biggs’ rig dominated TTC ’98 with three First Place finishes and three Second Place finishes. It was the first time a non-Jeep-based rig took the TTC crown.

The Details
Engine: Chevy 350ci TBI V-8
Transmission: 700-R4
Transfer case: Atlas II, 3.8:1
Axles (f/r): Dana 44, Detroit Locker/Dana 60 ARB Air Locker
Suspension (f/r): AES multilink, Firestone airbags, Bilstein remote-reservoir shocks/AES multilink, Firestone airbags, Bilstein remote-reservoir shocks
Tires: 35-inch Super Swamper TSL Boggers

1999:So long, rattlesnake-infested tire pit
Grand Champion: Grady McLeod, Sacramento, California Vehicle: 1948 Willys CJ-2A

McLeod took command of Top Truck ’99 and won five events. No one saw it coming. He was up against an amazing collection of vehicles including a Viper-powered TJ, mid-engine minivan, and a Chevy K10 with a 557ci marine engine. Interestingly, he won the whole shootin’ match and took home the driving elegant award to boot. This was the last year for the rattlesnake-infested tire pit.

The Details
Engine: Chevy 350ci V-8, modified Quadrajet carburetor
Transmission: TH350
Transfer case: Toyota w/Marlin Crawler 4.7:1 gears
Axles (f/r): Dana 44, ARB Air Locker /Toyota V-6, ARB Air Locker
Suspension (f/r): Spring--over-axle w/Jeep Wagoneer springs, Rancho shocks/custom quarter-elliptic springs, four-link, Rancho shocks
Tires: 38.5-inch Super Swamper SXs

2000: Winning by sheer determination
Grand Champion: Sam Patton, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Vehicle: 1984 Jeep CJ-7

One of the most memorable moments ever from Tank Trap is of Patton straddling his Chevy V-8, spraying Chem Tool into the intake so his waterlogged engine would fire long enough to get him and co-driver Mike Cox (who was piloting the rig while peering around the open hood) the last few feet to the finish line. Patton barely edged out Steve Rumore’s Sniper buggy in points to claim Grand Champion.

The Details
Engine: Chevy TPI 350ci V-8
Transmission: 700-R4
Transfer case: Atlas II 4.3:1
Axles (f/r): Dana 60, Detroit Locker/Dana 60, Detroit Locker
Suspension (f/r): 2½-in-lift Superlift leaf springs, Currie shackles, dual Old Man Emu shocks/2½-in-lift Superlift leaf springs, Currie shackles, Sam’s Offroad traction bars, Old Man Emu shocks
Tires: 39-inch Super Swamper TSL Boggers

2001: A fullsize odyssey
Grand Champion: Brian Waddell, Vancouver, Washington
Vehicle: 1972 Chevy Suburban

Just when it looked like short wheelbase rigs were going to win Top Truck forever, along comes Waddell and his massive Suburban. He only won one event, but placed Second in three events and it was enough to eke out a win over another fullsize, the GMC Jimmy of Off Road Unlimited’s Stephen Watson.

The Details
Engine: Chevy 454ci V-8, Holley Commander 950 EFI
Transmission: TH400
Transfer case: NP203/205 Doubler
Axles (f/r): Dana 60, vacuum-operated McNamara Locker/factory Eaton, Detroit No-Spin
Suspension (f/r): 8-in-lift Skyjacker leaf springs, Rancho shocks/6-in-lift Skyjacker leaf springs, shackle flip, Rancho shocks
Tires: 44-in Super Swamper TSL Boggers

2002: A Bronco rides off with the prize
Grand Champion: John Reynolds, La Crescenta, California
Vehicle: 1973 Ford Bronco

This Bronco sported a variety of Ford components along with some that weren’t, like the tube chassis, custom Strange/Unimog axles, and a custom four-link suspension. Reynolds drove his quasi-Bronco to three First Place finishes and two Second Place finishes. This was also the year you voted in a competitor from Israel.

The Details
Engine: Ford 426ci V-8
Transmission: C6
Transfer case: Atlas II
Axles (f/r): Strange centersections, custom axletubes, Unimog portal ends, Detroit Locker/Strange centersections, custom axletubes, Unimog portal ends, Detroit Locker
Suspension (f/r): Reverse four-link, King coilovers/reverse four-link, King coilovers
Tires: 42x15.0-16.5 Super Swamper TSLs

2003: Only one Tank Trap finisher
Grand Champion: Toby Harrell, San Angelo, Texas
Vehicle: 1975 Chevy Blazer

Readers voted in a whopping six GM vehicles this year and one of them even won. Texan Toby Harrell only won two events in his Blazer, but with only three minutes to spare he was the only competitor to complete the Tank Trap in the allotted time, and that helped earn him enough points to take home Grand Champion honors.

The Details
Engine: Chevy 466ci V-8, Holley Pro-Jection
Transmission: TH400
Transfer case: NP203/205 Doubler
Axles (f/r): Dana 60, Detroit Locker/GM 14-bolt, Detroit Locker
Suspension (f/r): Spring-over-axle, leaf springs, shocks/spring-over-axle, leaf springs, shocks
Tires: 44-in Super Swamper TSL Boggers

2004: Street legality goes away
Grand Champion: Brad Austin, Mustang, Oklahoma
Vehicle: 1991 Jeep Wrangler

Austin’s big-block-powered Wrangler suffered no breakage during the entire week and it threw down a consistent performance in each event. Even though he only won two events he gathered enough points to edge out Chris Ross and his SuperScrambler. This was the first year TTC had no requirement that competitor rigs be street legal.

The Details
Engine: Chevy 454ci V-8, Holley EFI
Transmission: TH350
Transfer case: NP203/205 Doubler
Axles (f/r): Dana 60, Detroit Locker/Corporate 14-bolt, Detroit Locker
Suspension (f/r): Superlift 4-in-lift leaf springs, Pro Comp shocks/custom three-link, coil springs, quad Pro Comp shocks
Tires: 44-in Super Swamper TSLs (front), 44-in Super Swamper TSL Boggers (rear)

2005: A retiree takes it all
Grand Champion: Jerry Duffy, Twin Falls, Idaho
Vehicle: 1981 Jeep CJ-8

Retired and on a fixed income, 47-year wheeling veteran Jerry Duffy built this rig in his garage. He then brought it to TTC ’05 and totally dominated by winning four of the seven events. This was the year we ditched the Show ’n Shine, Engineering, and Ride ’n Drive portions of the event.

The Details
Engine: Chevy 502ci V-8, TPI
Transmission: 4L80-E
Transfer case: Atlas II 3.8:1
Axles (f/r): Dana 60, ARB Air Locker/Dynatrac 60, ARB Air Locker
Suspension (f/r): Triangulated three-link, King remote-reservoir coilovers with Eibach springs/triangulated four-link, Alcan elliptical springs, King remote-reservoir shocks
Tires: 44-in Super Swamper TSLs

2006: Big tires + Jeep = win
Grand Champion: Brent Burton, Colstrip, Montana
Vehicle: 1997 Jeep Wrangler

This stretched TJ was rolling on 53-inch tires, which was the largest diameter tire under a Champion rig up to that point. Despite a lousy run in our new-for-’05 Obstacle Course, Burton won three other events and took Second Place in the Tank Trap to gather enough points to claim Grand Champion.

The Details
Engine: Chevy 347ci V-8, EFI
Transmission: TH400
Transfer case: NP205, Klune V 2.7:1
Axles (f/r): 2½-ton Rockwell, factory locker/2½-ton Rockwell, factory locker
Suspension (f/r): Four-link, Sway-A-Way coilovers/four-link, Sway-A-Way coilovers
Tires: 53-in Michelin XZLs

2007: Big tires + Jeep = win (again)
Grand Champion: Matt Thorson, Santa Rosa, California
Vehicle: 2000 Jeep Wrangler

Big tires and a Jeep were the winning combination for the second year in a row. Thorson won three events, took Second Place in one, and Third Place in another. Despite a number of mechanical failures in the water-saturated Tank Trap he still gathered enough points to sneak by the Second Place S-10 of Donald Hadden to collect the overall win.

The Details
Engine: Chevy 502ci Ram Jet V-8
Transmission: SM465
Transfer case: NP203/205 Doubler
Axles (f/r): 2½-ton Rockwell, Ouverson spool/2½-ton Rockwell, Ouverson spool
Suspension (f/r): Four-link, Sway-A-Way coilovers/four-link, Sway-A-Way coilovers
Tires: 54-in Super Swamper TSL Boggers

2008: We have a tie
Grand Champion: Clayton Kraatz, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Vehicle: 2006 Evolution Warthog

For the first time in TTC history we had a tie for Grand Champion. Going into Tank Trap it looked as though Kraatz was a shoe-in for lone Grand Champion, but he didn’t finish the course due to engine overheating and transmission problems. Naeger, who was trailing by a few points, had an outstanding run in the Tank Trap, which gave him enough points to create the tie. We cut the Grand Champion trophy down the middle and gave them each a half.

The Details
Engine: Chevy 467ci V-8, propane injection
Transmission: Powerglide 2-spd
Transfer case: STaK 3-spd
Axles (f/r): 7-ton ITL SD-70/7-ton ITL SD-50
Suspension (f/r): Four-link, Knight Stalker shocks/four-link, Knight Stalker shocks
Tires: 54-in Super Swamper TSL Boggers

Grand Champion: Jeremy Naeger, Bloomsdale, Missouri
Vehicle: 2003 Avalanche buggy

The Details
Engine: Chevy 350ci Ram Jet V-8
Transmission: TH400
Transfer case: NP203/205 Doubler
Axles (f/r): 2½-ton Rockwell, Ouverson locker/2½-ton Rockwell, Ouverson locker
Suspension (f/r): Four-link, King coilovers/four-link, King coilovers
Tires: 54-in Super Swamper TSL Boggers

2009: A diesel takes the win
Grand Champion: David Green, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
Vehicle: 2004 homemade tube buggy

Despite almost removing a couple of his fingers with a Sawzall the day before TTC, Green swooped in (32 stitches and all) with his Cummins-powered buggy and narrowly edged out Brett Jerome to take the win. It came down to a great run in the Tank Trap, which gave him a one point lead to claim Grand Champion.

The Details
Engine: 5.9L Cummins I-6 turbodiesel
Transmission: NV4500
Transfer case: NP205
Axles (f/r): 2½-ton Rockwell, Detroit Locker/2½-ton Rockwell, Detroit Locker
Suspension (f/r): Four-link, King coilovers/four-link, King coilovers
Tires: 52-in West Lake CB 538s

2010: Truck and Buggy Classes make their appearance
Truck Class Grand Champion: Jason Gray, Amity, Oregon
Vehicle: 1975 GMC pickup

For the first time ever in TTC history the competitors were split into two classes to reflect the growing differences between trucks and buggies. The Truck Class was won by Jason Gray, who battled through major mechanical failures in the Mini Rubicon and a stubborn often-defecting power steering belt. The Buggy Class Champion was Mike Karwath, and his rig suffered no mechanical failures the entire week. We also welcomed a competitor from the island of Guam.

The Details
Engine: Chevy 468ci V-8
Transmission: TH400
Transfer case: STaK Monster Box, 3-spd
Axles (f/r): 2½-ton Rockwell, Ouverson spool/2½-ton Rockwell, Ouverson spool
Suspension (f/r): Triangulated four-link, Fox air shocks/triangulated four-link, Fox air shocks
Tires: 54-in Mickey Thompson Baja Claw TTCs

Buggy Class Grand Champion: Mike Karwath, Union, Kentucky
Vehicle: 2009 Sigma

The Details
Engine: Chevy 454ci V-8, propane injection
Transmission: TH400
Transfer case: NP203/205 Doubler
Axles (f/r): Dana 60, OX Locker/GM 14-bolt, welded spider gears
Suspension (f/r): Triangulated four-link, F-O-A remote-reservoir coilovers, pneumatic bumpstops/double-triangulated four-link, F-O-A air shocks
Tires: 46-in Mickey Thompson Baja Claws

2011: Mechanically similar rigs win each class
Truck Class Grand Champion: Steven Montpas, Roseburg, Oregon
Vehicle: 1949 Willys pickup

The Details
Engine: Chevy 350ci V-8, Holley Truck Avenger 670cfm carburetor
Transmission: SM465
Transfer case: NP205
Axles (f/r): 2½-ton Rockwell/2 ½-ton Rockwell
Suspension (f/r): Custom double-leaf three-link, Tuff Country shocks/custom double-leaf four-link, Tuff Country shocks
Tires: 54-inch Super Swamper TSL Boggers

Two classes of competition returned again this year. The mechanical similarity between this year’s winning vehicles was astonishing. Similarities notwithstanding, Montpas had to overcome significant breakage in the Mini Rubicon to earn the win, while Sanders earned his win by staying consistent in the Tank Trap while his closest pursuer, Shane Vizenor, succumbed to the evil Canyon.

Buggy Class Grand Champion: Alex Sanders, Salem, Arkansas
Vehicle: 2008 homemade buggy

The Details
Engine: Chevy 350ci V-8, carburetor w/homemade 30-degree forward-tilt adapter
Transmission: SM465
Transfer case: NP205
Axles (f/r): 2½-ton Rockwell, welded/2½-ton Rockwell, welded
Suspension (f/r): Custom “grader ball,” coil springs, homemade shocks/leaf springs, homemade shocks
Tires: 54-inch Mickey Thompson Baja Claw TTCs

Are You the Next Champion?
Do you have what it takes to go head-to-head with former Top Truck Challenge Champions? If so, submit your entry and you could be the one lucky reader who is voted into Top Truck Champions’ Challenge 2012, which will take place in early June near Hollister, California. Simply fill out and mail in the official entry form found in either the November ’11 or December ’11 issues of Four Wheeler. We’ll be publishing a collection of TTCC hopefuls in the April ’12 issue, and Four Wheeler readers will decide by ballot which lucky reader will be given the nod. We’re opening this contest to former TTC competitors too, so if you competed in the past and didn’t win, now’s your chance at redemption. So fill out those entry forms and please include a high-quality photo that shows your entire vehicle. Good luck!

Keep Up with TTCC 2012 News
Want to keep up with all the latest TTCC 2012 news? Hit up our blogs at www.fourwheeler.com because we’ll be posting news and updates as they happen.

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