Click for Coverage
  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler

Top Truck Challenge 2013 - Strategy, Improvisation & Endurance

Posted in Top Truck Challenge: 2013 on October 14, 2013
Share this
Photographers: Four Wheeler Staff

Strategy. It’s a key element in almost all competitions, including 2013 Top Truck Challenge. It’s often the first thing to be kicked to the curb, too. Through the years TTC’s grueling events have swiftly and utterly destroyed the well-constructed plans of some competitors.

Improvisation. This is another key element in all competitions, and it’s what happens when strategy bites the dust. Through the years TTC competitors have come to know this well, and they’ve mastered the art of improvising. Top Truck Challenge 2013 was no different.

Top Truck Challenge, or TTC as its most often referred to, celebrated its 21st anniversary in 2013 with two significant changes. One was that all competing rigs had to be recognizable as production 4x4s. In other words, no buggies. The other big change was the termination of the Mini Rubicon event, which was replaced by the brand-new, wicked Coal Chute event. The Coal Chute joined TTC’s six other legendary off-road events, the Tow Test, Frame Twister, Mud Pit, Obstacle Course, Hill Climb and Tank Trap, to form the seven-event program. Each of these events tests the vehicles and competitors in different ways, and you can read a description of each event on the following pages. TTC is legendary for being tough. Each competitor is being timed or their distance measured in each event. This adds significant pressure one doesn’t find in recreational wheeling. Endurance is also a key factor in TTC and competitors must weigh the desire to do well in each event with the critical need to hold their rig together so they can compete in the remaining events. Add to all of this the scores of video and still cameras tracking competitors every move, and the incredible pressure is obvious.

PhotosView Slideshow

As usual, TTC was held in Hollister, California, at the amazing Hollister Hills SVRA. Throughout the week, some TTC competitors had to improvise mechanically. For example, Josh Middleton’s brand-new 468ci mill in his Bronco was dumping coolant into the crankcase. With no time to troubleshoot the problem, this meant he had to perform oil changes every evening after competition. For others, the improvisation took place during the events, when things didn’t go as planned. For Glen Green that happened at the very first event, the Tow Test. “Basically, I think the nerves got me a bit. All planning and preparation went right out the window. That’s what happens sometimes,” he said. One thing all of the competitors had in common this year was an impressive ability to improvise and it paid off. Each competitor that started the competition finished the competition.

Right about now you’re wondering how it all went down. Well, over the next several pages you’ll find a description of each event course, a play-by-play of how each competitor did in each event, scores of photos of the competitors in action, quotes from the drivers, and much more. You’ll also find out who won Top Truck Challenge 2013 and how he did it.


This is the only event in TTC’s seven-event repertoire that doesn’t require mud bogging, rockcrawling, or deep water navigation. Nonetheless, this kickoff event instills fear in competitors because it has the potential to annihilate weak components. The Tow Test is like a truck pull that drank a case of energy drinks. It takes place on a dirt hill that climbs approximately 13 feet in elevation over its 150-foot length and it has a maximum angle of approximately 16 degrees. Each competitor’s rig was fastened to a 36,000-pound cement mixer and each competitor was allowed one pull. There was no time limit and a pull was completed when forward momentum ceased or the front axle of the cement mixer crossed the finish line. This event favors heavy rigs with big power and grippy tires. This year, no competitors completed a full pull.


- “That felt pretty good. I started to hop, but had to let off a little bit. I did pretty good actually; I thought I’d start hopping farther back.” –Justin Middleton
- “I just let off on the clutch a little too soon. With the weight on the back I think I should’ve slipped the clutch a little tiny bit to get it rolling and then pin it. I think I just tried to almost pin it with the clutch all the way out.” –Pepe Palomo
- “That was our worst fear was doing poor at the first event.” –Aaron Fava
- “I raised up my pressure hoping it wouldn’t hop, but apparently I didn’t have it all worked out.” –Matt Huit
- “I actually wanted to spin a little. I got 1-tons, didn’t want to break something right here. I wanted to go on to the next event.” –John Retzloff
- “I was just hoping to beat my brother.” –Josh Middleton

RESULTS (ranked by overall distance traveled)

1. Josh Middleton 109 ft. 6 in.
2. Smith 102 ft. 3 in.
3. Retzloff 102 ft. 0 in.
4. Huit 101 ft. 7 in.
5. Fava 101 ft. 0 in.
6. Skopliak 100 ft. 6 in.
7. Justin Middleton 98 ft. 9 in.
8. Green 97 ft. 4 in.
9. Palomo 85 ft. 0 in.
10. Boundy 78 ft. 3 in.


Boundy: Unbeknownst to the driver, four-wheel drive was not engaged during the run due to a broken transfer case shift linkage. Ran with 11 psi in each of the 49-inch Interco Super Swamper Irok tires. Both alternators failed on the drive from camp to the Tow Test.

Fava: Issues with the front fuel pump caused the TBI 454ci V-8 to starve for fuel because it was drawing fuel only with the tank-mounted pump. Ran with both T-cases in low-range and the 54-inch Interco Bogger tires aired to 12 psi in the rear and 7 psi front.

Green: Unspooled the 540ci V-8 with the front 54-inch Interco Super Swamper tires at 4 psi and the rear tires at 3 psi. Both NP205 T-cases were in their lowest gear. Wheelhop forced the driver to let off the throttle momentarily, causing a loss of momentum. Tried to regain momentum, but lost traction.

Huit: Used the front and rear winches to draw down both ends of the truck to the bumpstops. Ran with 25 psi in the rear Mickey Thompson Baja Claw TTC tires and 20 psi in the front TTC’s. Both T-cases were in low-range. Some wheelhop during the run.

Josh Middleton: The brand new 468ci V-8 helped generate the longest pull of the event. Aired the 54-inch Interco Bogger tires to 15 psi front and 18 psi rear. Dramatic run with numerous steering corrections and occasional wheel lift.

Justin Middleton: First competitor. Ran with 22 psi in the Interco Bogger tires. Smooth, controlled power from the 6.0L V-8 engine. Slight front wheelhop.

Palomo: Second competitor. Ran with the Interco Super Swamper TSL tires inflated to 5 psi in the front and 4½ psi in the rear. The five-speed manual transmission was in First gear, the front Marlin Crawler T-case was in its lowest gear, and the rear Marlin Crawler T-case was in its highest gear. Slight engine sputter off the starting line due to quick release of the clutch.

Retzloff: Ran with the 46-inch Mickey Thompson Baja Claw tires at 32 psi and the T-cases in their lowest gear. Smooth, controlled pull from the propane-injected 454ci V-8. Skopliak: Straight run with very little steering corrections needed. Small amount of rear wheelhop, but the 496ci V-8 and 46-inch Mickey Thompson Baja Claw’s helped pull him to a mid-pack finish.

Smith: Years of truck pulling experience paid off and helped to generate the second longest pull of the event. The 46-inch Mickey Thompson Baja Claw tires were aired down to 15 psi front and 10 psi rear, the StaK three-speed T-case was in its lowest gear and the C6 transmission was in First gear.

PhotosView Slideshow


The brutal Frame Twister has evolved through the years, and for 2013 it changed again. In 2012 we cut almost 100 feet of fat from the Frame Twister for Top Truck Champions’ Challenge, and this year we hacked off another 100 feet or so, which left us with 201 feet of condensed chaos. The course began just a few yards prior to the infamous Squeeze Rock section with its nasty dogleg that likes to flip vehicles. Once clearing the Squeeze, competitors made a left turn and came face-to-face with the gut-wrenching, suspension-bending log section. This section included six strategically placed logs that are perpendicular to the direction of travel and each was separated by deep, water-filled trenches. The log section may only be a few yards in length, but it’s an evil section that has ruined the day of many TTC competitors over the years. Each team had 10 minutes to complete the course. Cones marked the boundaries and a competitor was considered out of bounds if the inside of any one of their vehicles tires traveled past the outside edge of a cone. Hitting a cone resulted in a 30-second penalty and a two-minute penalty (per occurrence) resulted if the competitor violated the winch safety guidelines. This year, seven of the ten vehicles completed the course.


- “Those log jams, I hate ’em.” –Nolan Skopliak
- “I can’t even answer any questions man; I’m just so rattled right now. This is incredible.” –Glen Green
- “Too much for my wheelbase. I think my wheelbase killed me.” –Josh Middleton
- “Definitely not disappointed. I came here to have fun. I came here for the experience. It’s a dream of mine to be here.” –Pepe Palomo
-“I told you guys I was going to make a left turn and jump them, but I can’t do that without fuel.” –Aaron Fava

RESULTS (ranked by elapsed time including penalites or distance traveled if DNF)

1. Green 3 min. 55 sec.
2. Retzloff 4 min. 16 sec.
3. Skopliak 5 min. 19 sec.
4. Justin Middleton 5 min. 35 sec.
5. Josh Middleton 5 min. 51 sec.
6. Fava 7 min. 39 sec.
7. Smith 10 min. 43 sec.
8. Huit DNF
9. Palomo DNF
10. Boundy DNF

“We’ve talked about this probably more than any other event almost.” —John Retzloff


Boundy: Became stuck in the Squeeze and with 2:35 on the clock the co-driver exited the vehicle to begin winching. With 4:10 on the clock the winch cable was tight and winching ensued. With the vehicle’s passenger-side pressed tightly against a boulder not much progress was made and the team chose to end their run with 7:10 on the clock. Damage report: Broke the air line to the front ARB Air Locker and bent the tie rod.

Fava: In an effort to solve a fuel delivery issue the team bypassed the Chevy’s front fuel pump, drawing only from the tank-mounted pump. Made it through the Squeeze with 1:50 on the clock, but gathered significant passenger-side body damage along the way. Got stuck in the logs and used a combination of the winch and engine power to get the truck to the finish line. The engine stalled many times along the way.

Green: Cleared the Squeeze with 1:22 on the clock after abandoning his first “line” and making adjustments to the air suspension. Powered over the logs, airborne much of the time. No winching. Hit one cone to gather a 30-second penalty. Broke the driver-side front axle limiting chain at the upper mount and blew an air line on driver-side rear suspension air ram.

Huit: Exited the Squeeze with 1:04 on the clock. Hit the logs with decent speed, but became crossed up. With 2:10 on the clock both team members were out of the vehicle prepping to winch. With 3:17 on the clock they began spooling in winch cable. While winching the VW traveled out of bounds and was disqualified. Bent a front brake rotor guard in the Squeeze.

Josh Middleton: Traveled through the Squeeze in a blazing 40 seconds. With 1:34 on the clock he became stuck in the logs and began winching. The carbureted engine stalled numerous times while winching. Ran with 4 psi in the front and 6 psi in the rear 54-inch Interco Bogger tires.

Justin Middleton: Cleared the Squeeze with 1:24 on the clock. Got stuck in the logs and immediately started winching. Started reeling winch cable with 3:35 on the clock and crossed the finish line on the cable. Ran with 10 psi in the Interco Bogger tires. Bent the steering stop along the way.

Palomo: Easily crawled through the Squeeze. Became stuck in the logs with 1:35 on the clock. Had to untangle a knotted winch rope before winching and then the winch rope detached from the winch drum when they attempted to winch. With 7:25 on the clock the team began to try to drive out of the logs with no winch assist, to no avail. Timed out.

Retzloff: Smooth, conservative run. Cleared the Squeeze with 1:12 on the clock, but destroyed a taillight along the way. Tried to hug the right side of the logs in an effort to avoid damaging the front driveshaft. Became stuck in the logs and began winching with 3:20 on the clock. Crossed the finish line under winch power. Ran with the front Mickey Thompson tires aired down to 4 psi and the rear tires aired down to 1 psi. Lost the driver-side front polyurethane bumpstop in the logs.

Skopliak: First competitor. Spotter exited the vehicle with 1:44 on the clock to help guide the Blazer through the Squeeze. Vehicle became stuck shortly into the logs and the team chose to winch over the remainder of the course.

Smith: Easily crawled the Squeeze with 1:10 on the clock. Tried to power through the logs, but blew a tire and bent a wheel. Started winching with 4:35 on the clock and crossed the finish line under winch power. Penalized two minutes for a winch safety violation. The Bronco suffered a variety of bent and damaged steering components.

PhotosView Slideshow


It would be really boring if we constructed our infamous Mud Pit the same each year. Besides, then competitors would know what to expect, and that’s unacceptable. Last year, the course was fast and nearly all of the competitors made it through with no problem. This year, we mixed it up (no pun intended) by combining thousands of gallons of water and our special dirt. With a water quotient higher than last year, our 135-foot pit was a delightful, soupy, tire-swallowing mess. Competitors were allowed to run until they ceased forward momentum or crossed the finish line. Running over a cone netted a 30 second penalty for those who completed the course and a 5-foot penalty for those who did not finish. Traveling out of bounds meant disqualification and a two-minute penalty was assessed for safety violations. We must’ve built the course right because eight of the ten competitors were swallowed up by the goo.


- “I’ve always played in mud. I’m just getting more into the extreme off-roading rockcrawling stuff like that, but my hearts always been in the mud, so I figured I’d do pretty good in that.” –Matt Huit
- “She was tach’d out there. That’s what we built the motor for, this event right here.” –Glen Green

RESULTS (ranked by elapsed time including penalites or distance traveled if DNF)

1. Green 13.0 sec.
2. Huit 20.6 sec.
3. Josh Middleton 125 ft. 6 in.
4. Justin Middleton 106 ft. 5 in.
5. Retzloff 101 ft. 4 in.
6. Boundy 101 ft. 0 in.
7. Skopliak 100 ft. 2 in.
8. Smith 74 ft. 0 in.
9. Palomo 65 ft. 4 in.
10. Fava 45 ft. 0 in.

“It’s deep here man, it’s deep.” —Nolan Skopliak


Boundy: Installed covers to keep the goo from packing the wheels. Good head of speed off the starting line, and the 49-inch Interco Iroks and 383ci V-8 power helped to provide a mid-pack finish.

Fava: Fifth competitor. Ran on the left, unrutted side of the track. The engine was still suffering from fuel pump issues and it also appeared no power was going to the rear wheels. Somewhere along the line the NP205 T-case broke a seal cover.

Green: Seventh competitor, but the rig was unfazed by the deep ruts made by the previous rigs. The 540ci V-8, 54-inch Interco Boggers, and differential spools all worked together to generate a fast, seemingly effortless run.

Huit: First competitor. Unwound the 454ci V-8 and the big 54-inch Mickey Thompson Baja Claw TTC tires floated over the rutless mud for a drama-free, fast run.

Josh Middleton: Very good acceleration off the starting line. Bounced in and out of ruts at speed, hitting a cone along the way to gather a 5-foot penalty. Traveled to the base of the hill before the finish line before succumbing to the mud.

Justin Middleton: Third competitor. Ran with covers over the wheels so the wheels wouldn’t get packed with mud. Straight and steady run until the tires were overwhelmed by the deep mud.

Palomo: Lost momentum early into the course, but gained several more feet by sawing the steering wheel side-to-side. Each time he would turn the steering wheel the tires would bite and the truck would slowly creep forward.

Retzloff: Good forward momentum and sawed at the steering wheel along the way, which seemed to work until he came to the deep holes wallowed out by Skopliak’s Blazer. Ran with 22 psi in the tires in an effort to increase ground clearance.

Skopliak: Fought to stay out of the rutted right side of the track, to no avail. Drove almost his entire run with the wheels pointed left. After the run he found that his engine block heater was leaking, and he repaired it at camp.

Smith: Second competitor. Launched off the starting line with a good head of speed and sent a wall of mud flying. The passenger-side tires were drawn into the deep rut made by the passenger-side tires of Huit’s rig. Ran almost the entire way with the front tires pointed left. Ignition became wet somewhere along the line.

PhotosView Slideshow


It begins with a shockingly tall and long slippery hill descent known as the “first hill” and it ends with a nasty dogleg gully that’s tantalizingly close to the finish line. In between is a treasure trove of terror. The “lower section” forces competitors to navigate a 360-degree turn through three deep water holes and sand. From there, competitors travel up a hill to the “upper section” that includes a deceiving off-camber U-turn (known as “U-turn Hill”), two deep water holes, and numerous tight turns. This event has a 10-minute time limit, but speed is the enemy. This is because the course is marked with numerous cones and each one hit adds 20 seconds to the overall time. If all four tires of a rig travel outside a cone the rig is disqualified at that point. Safety violations net a whopping two-minute penalty. Clearly, accuracy is the key to success in the Obstacle Course. This year, the Obstacle Course claimed three victims.


- “This Top Truck Challenge, the whole thing, is the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life, bar none. Half of this stuff in the real world I’d drive around without even thinking about going through it.” –Glen Green
- “I just like to be careful, safe, you know. That hill is pretty loose and everything. I just didn’t want to get out of control.” –John Retzloff
- “Wow, that was awesome.” –Nolan Skopliak
- “If I could’ve got a good night’s sleep last night those cones would still be where they put ‘em.” –Aaron Fava

RESULTS (ranked by elapsed time including penalites or distance traveled if DNF)

1. Huit 3 min. 40 sec.
2. Palomo 3 min. 43 sec.
3. Retzloff 5 min. 00 sec.
4. Skopliak 5 min. 39 sec.
5. Josh Middleton 5 min. 41 sec.
6. Fava 6 min. 11 sec.
7. Green 10 min. 37 sec.
8. Justin Middleton DNF
9. Smith DNF
10. Boundy DNF

“I heard that two people before me rolled over. I’m like; I knew I should’ve gone to the bathroom before we came up here.” —Matt Huit
PhotosView Slideshow


Boundy: Entered day two of competition with new lower rear links fabbed in camp. The new links increased the diameter from 1¾ to 2 inches and were fitted with spherical rod ends. Descended the first hill with 50 seconds on the clock. Ended up backwards on the course in the lower section with the front wheels not pulling. With 3:55 on the clock the vehicle rolled over in the third water hole and the team chose to end their run. Broke the front axle ring-and-pinion.

Fava: Came to the event with two new fuel filters and significant late-night rewiring of the truck to solve electrical issues, but still no operating front fuel pump. Descended the first hill with 31 seconds on the clock and climbed to the top of U-turn Hill with 1:42 on the clock. Utilized the rear steering throughout the course. Fast run, but squashed eight cones along the way.

Green: Slow, controlled run. Traveled to the bottom of the first hill with 1:04 on the clock. Made it to the top of U-turn Hill with 4:00 on the clock and it took him about 45 seconds to make a multi-point turn at the top of the hill. With 7:00 on the clock the team was finagling the big Ford through a 180-degree turn in the upper section. Crossed the finish line with 9:37 on the clock but gathered three cone penalties. Blew an airline for the suspension in the third water hole in the lower section and all of the rear four-link bushings failed.

Huit: Quickly descended the first hill with 31 seconds on the clock. Deftly navigated the water hole in the lower section where the previous two competitors had rolled. Blazed to the top of U-turn Hill with 1:30 on the clock. Lost a bit of time in the upper section negotiating a tight 180-degree turn turn. Only hit one cone.

Josh Middleton: First competitor. Controlled, but quick descent down the first hill with 35 seconds on the clock. Wheels up in the lower portion powering over the dirt hills. With 1:50 on the clock he was at the top of U-turn Hill. Two-point turn on U-turn Hill. Crossed the finish line with a stalled engine. Mowed over eight cones resulting in two minutes of penalties.

Justin Middleton: Breezed to the bottom of the first hill with 33 seconds on the clock. With 1:40 on the clock he was at the top of U-turn Hill. Very careful turn on the hill and began his descent with 2:46 on the clock. Broke the front driveline exiting the first water hole in the upper section. Winched through both water holes. Two-wheel drive through the rest of the course. Timed out near the finish line.

Palomo: Average run to the bottom of the first hill, arriving in 40 seconds. Nothing average after that. Top of U-turn Hill with 1:30 on the clock. Had to work to get out of the second water hole in the upper section, but earned the second fastest time of the event. Hit two cones for 60 seconds in penalties.

Retzloff: Slow, careful descent down the first hill with 1:25 on the clock. Top of U-turn Hill with 2:29 on the clock. Easily made the turn to descend and drove the rest of the course with no drama. Only hit one cone.

Skopliak: Careful run down the first hill with 46 seconds on the clock. Navigated to the top of U-turn Hill with 2:17 on the clock. Engine stalled near the finish line. Hit three cones for a 60-second penalty.

Smith: While descending the first hill the driver-side lockout hub unlocked, which resulted in a loss of control and a near rollover close to the bottom of the hill. In an effort to avoid rolling, Smith aimed the Bronco toward a bulldozer that was being used as a recovery point. After contacting the ’dozer the co-driver locked the hub and they continued to the lower section, arriving with 2:50 on the clock. She stopped prior to the first water hole in the lower section to confer with her co-driver. Entered the first water hole with 4:20 on the clock. Rode high on the dirt hill in an effort to keep the airbox from submerging in the third water hole. This caused the Bronco to roll onto the driver-side with 5:30 on the clock. The team chose to end their run.

PhotosView Slideshow


Think back to those hillclimbs you’ve done in your 4x4. Yeah, the TTC Hill Climb isn’t like that. The Hill Climb is built specifically for TTC, it’s approximately 600 feet in length and it has an average angle of approximately 60 degrees. It twists and turns as it winds through the poison oak and it’s peppered with strategically-placed deep holes and dirt hills. Yes, we added hills to our Hill Climb. The Hill Climb is loose, steep, and unpredictable. Naturally, we don’t let drivers see it before they run it because that would ruin the surprise. The Hill Climb rewards those who can think on-the-fly and punishes those who are thinking about the next event. We allowed each competitor 5 minutes to tackle the hill and during that time they could stop, reverse, or winch. If a competitor exceeded the time limit, traveled out of bounds, or violated a safety rule they were disqualified at that point. This year, the Hill Climb humbled four vehicles.


- “I wish we would’ve just left it on the floor the whole time. This is built for this sort of thing.” –Aaron Fava
- “It’s so loose it’s crazy. I can’t believe anything can go up that.” –John Retzloff
- “Honestly, I’ve never hit a hill that insane.” –Matt Huit
- “It was crazy, really loose.” –Nolan Skopliak

RESULTS (elapsed time or ranking order if DNF)

1. Huit 45 sec.
2. Green 1 min. 10 sec.
3. Fava 1 min. 23 sec.
4. Retzloff 1 min. 49 sec.
5. Skopliak 4 min. 53 sec.
6. Palomo DNF (147 ft. 9 in.)
7. Josh Middleton DNF (145 ft. 0 in.)
8. Justin Middleton DNF (76 ft. 6 in.)
9. Smith DNF (12 ft. 6 in.)
10. Boundy DNS


Boundy: Did not run due to a broken front ring-and-pinion.

Fava: Easily drove the big Chevy up the Hill Climb. Some wheel lift out of the leaf-sprung truck.

Green: The carbureted 540ci V-8 stalled at the peak of the second hill, but that was only a momentary setback. Easily drove the rest of the course to earn the second fastest time.

Huit: The big-block 454ci V-8, locked Rockwell axles, flexy coilover suspension, and grippy 54-inch Mickey Thompson Baja Claw TTC tires all combined to haul the VW to the top in the fastest time of the event.

Josh Middleton: Fought to coax the big Bronco up the first three hills, but the fourth hill stopped him cold. With time running out the team began to spool out winch cable, but soon chose to end their run with a few seconds left on the clock.

Justin Middleton: Significant problems right off the bat. It took numerous attempts to get over the first and second hills. With 4:00 on the clock he was poised to climb the third hill. Timed out after several attempts to climb said hill.

Palomo: First competitor. With the four-cylinder engine screaming he had to get multiple runs at the first two hills. Cleared the third hill on the first try, but didn’t make the fourth hill. Rolled over after getting crossed up backing down the fourth hill for another run.

Retzloff: Undramatic, consistent speed during the climb. The Chevy’s modified doors seemed to make it easier for him to peer out the side of the vehicle to see the course instead of trying to peer over the hood.

Skopliak: After two tries to climb the fourth hill the team chose to winch. With a quick winch connection the truck was under winch power with 2:38 on the clock. No problems on the rest of the climb and the truck actually outran the co-driver and the clock did not stop until the co-driver ran to the top and crossed the finish line.

Smith: Prior to clearing the first hill the supercharged 281ci V-8 had stalling problems and each restart required the driver to unbuckle the safety harness to restart the engine. With 3:10 on the clock the team chose to end their run when they thought that the truck had lost Reverse.

PhotosView Slideshow


The Mini Rubicon, a staple of Top Truck for years, was a brutal event that forced competitors to fight for every inch of forward progress. It was tough and unforgiving. We wanted something tougher. So, for 2013 we replaced the Mini Rubicon with the awe-inspiring Coal Chute. This event uses the newly-developed Upper Obstacle Course at the Hollister Hills SVRA that contains an amazing collection of man-made obstacles. Naturally, we tweaked it to make it exclusive to Top Truck. Our mind-bending course was approximately 525 feet in length, and included steep walls in excess of 7 feet tall and jumbles of rocks and cement tubes. We even brought in a water truck and created a waterfall on the final cement climb. The course was broken into four distinct sections. We threw competitors a curve ball and allowed them to skip one of the two first sections. However, we penalized each competitor 10 minutes if they bypassed the first section and 6 minutes if they bypassed the second section. Strategy was a major player at this event. There was a 20-minute time limit and safety violations netted a two-minute penalty. If two of the vehicles tires traveled outside of a cone, the competitor was disqualified at that point. Only one vehicle conquered the Chute.


- “Get me outta here, sweetie.” –Jennifer Smith
- “I’m still happy. I’m still very happy. My brother and I, this is what we do, we rockcrawl. We communicate well with each other, and I rely on him alot. He did a great job guiding me through.” –Pepe Palomo
- “Oh my goodness. Actually, it was easier than I thought it was going to be. I thought for sure we were gonna be hung up, fighting tooth and nail, winching everywhere. I’m honestly surprised we only had to winch once. These tires friggin’ rock. –Matt Huit
- “I thought I would do well in the placing for that event, but unfortunately the cable let go, so no more forward progress after that.” –Nolan Skopliak

RESULTS (ranked by elapsed time including penalites or distance traveled if DNF)

1. Huit 13 min. 34 sec.
2. Palomo DNF
3. Josh Middleton DNF
4. Justin Middleton DNF
5. Retzloff DNF
6. Green DNF
7. Smith DNF
8. Fava DNF
9. Skopliak DNF
10. Boundy DNS


Boundy: Did not run due to damage incurred in the Obstacle Course.

Fava: First competitor to try the first section. With 2:50 on the clock the truck was a few feet into the section and hung up on the T-case. He tried several different maneuvers over the next several minutes before the truck flopped onto the passenger side. With 9:50 on the clock a new line had put the truck over the stubborn obstacle. Rammed a rock ledge with 13:10 on the clock. Began winching with 13:25 on the clock. Timed out a little over 70 feet into the first section. Broke a seal retainer on the NP205 T-case and damaged the shifter linkage.

Green: Bypassed the first section and was nosed up to the first climb in the second section with 40 seconds on the clock. He didn’t like the line, so with 3:08 on the clock he backed down and realigned. Winched on and off for the rest of his run, which coaxed the large Ford a little over 46 feet into the second section. Along the way he bent the driver-side four-link bar and he forgot to turn the suspension air compressor off,which caused it to blow the safety valve.

Huit: The only driver to finish the entire course. Blazed through the first section, exiting with 3:50 on the clock. Winched once in the second section, exiting with 11:30 on the clock. Climbed the waterfall on his second attempt.

Josh Middleton: Chose to bypass the first section. Began winching up the second section with 1:44 on the clock. Exited the second section with 7:45 on the clock. Poised at the base of the waterfall with 13:02 on the clock. Driver exited the vehicle to help the co-driver rig the winch and when he returned to the truck his factory seatbelt wouldn’t release from its retracted state. Driver spent the last three minutes on the clock trying to coerce the belt to release with no luck. Timed out 29 feet, 7 inches from the finish line.

Justin Middleton: Went straight to the second section. With 2:39 on the clock the team began winching. Exited the second section with 12:00 on the clock, exited the third section with 13:10 on the clock, and became stuck in the last section with 14:50 on the clock. Co-driver was stacking rocks with 17:40 on the clock. Truck was overheating due to a broken wire to the electric fan. Chose to end his run with a few minutes on the clock, a little over 73 feet from the finish line.

Palomo: Bypassed the first section. Crawled through the second section with no winching, exiting with 4:20 on the clock. Lost almost four minutes getting a larger strap to wrap around a boulder in the fourth section so they could winch. Couldn’t climb the waterfall and began winching with 19:49 on the clock. Timed out 29 feet from the finish line.

Retzloff: Chose not to bypass the first section. Made it to the second lip before getting stuck. Quick winching ensued and the team exited the first section with 6:50 on the clock. Got stuck in the second section but were spooling in winch cable with 14:45 on the clock. Timed out. Damage report: Bent the winch fairlead and lost a roller, blew the O-ring on the steering box, and damaged a wire to the starter.

Skopliak: Last competitor. Chose not to bypass the first section. Immediately began winching. Winch cable broke with 2:00 on the clock. Attempted to drive/ram the truck further into the first section, eventually rolling onto the passenger side. Chose to end his run.

Smith: First competitor. Vehicle had a small fire on the way to the event due to an overfilled power steering pump. She chose to bypass the first section. Had problems getting up onto the second section and began winching with 3:00 on the clock. Still winching in the second section when the winch rope broke with 15:00 on the clock. Tried to finesse the rig further down the course under its own power for the remaining five minutes before timing out 14 feet into the section. Endured steering issues due to the pitman arm castle nut contacting the vehicle’s frame.

PhotosView Slideshow


The Tank Trap is legendary, often spoken of in hushed, reverent tones. Tank Trap is a regular feature at the Hollister Hills SVRA, but for one day each year it’s significantly modified for Top Truck. In its basic form it’s a quarter-mile-long natural valley that climbs approximately 195 feet in elevation. For our once-a-year thrashathon we dig seven giant holes and we fill ’em with 120,000 gallons of water, which significantly increases the challenge level of the course. Here’s how it works: Shortly into the course, competitors have to navigate two deep water holes that are preceded by steep dirt hills. Next up is the “Canyon.” This evil 100-yard section is quite narrow and bordered by steep walls. The Canyon contains slippery rock waterfalls, ledges, and the ghosts of former competitor’s hopes and dreams. But the worst is yet to come. Ahead are five more strategically-placed water holes, each separated by steep dirt hills. And if that doesn’t suck the will out of competitors, there’s a nasty, often underestimated thing we call the “Crevice” located between the fifth and sixth water holes. But wait, there’s more. The crown jewel is the final hill, which steeply rises just past the last water hole and guards the finish line. Add to all of this the fact that competitors are given only 30 minutes and you have a recipe for some world class action and drama. And no, we don’t let competitors see the course in advance. Strategically, Tank Trap is a major player because it’s worth more than double the points of the other events. This year, only one rig made it to the finish line.


- “I made it further than I expected I would. It was fun, I loved it.” –Paul Boundy
- “I expected the nastiest thing I’ve ever done in a truck in my life, and it was. It was everything it’s been hyped up to be, and then some. It was exciting, I loved it.” –Matt Huit
- “Never been on anything like that before.” –Justin Middleton
- “Wow, we did not know what to expect. That was brutal. So much more nasty that I dreamed it would ever be.” –John Retzloff
- “Those holes were deep. It was hard. It was fun, a lot of fun. I give a lot of credit to my spotter for getting me that far.” –Nolan Skopliak

RESULTS (ranked by elapsed time or distance traveled if DNF)

1. Fava 27 min. 55 sec.
2. Retzloff DNF
3. Skopliak DNF
4. Justin Middleton DNF
5. Josh Middleton DNF
6. Green DNF
7. Huit DNF
8. Smith DNF
9. Boundy DNF
10. Palomo DNF

“I need to go down the Tank Trap so the other side looks the same. ”—Josh Middleton


Boundy: Came to the event with a new front 4.10 ring-and-pinion (the rear was still 4.56). Cleared Water Hole 1 with 1:40 on the clock. Entered Water Hole 2 with 4:10 on the clock. Broke the front driveshaft U-joint at the T-case in the Canyon with 5:45 on the clock. Attempted to get further in two-wheel drive, but chose to end their run with 16:18 on the clock. Along the way a small fire was extinguished that was caused by power steering fluid leaking onto the engine.

Fava: Blazed through Water Hole 2 with 2:30 on the clock. Almost rolled in the Canyon, but saved it by using the rear steering. Suffered a cut sidewall on the passenger-side front tire along the way. Became stuck in Water Hole 4 and began unspooling winch cable with 7:26 on the clock. Before they could winch, the co-driver had to go back down the course to find a tree strap that they had dropped. Out of Water Hole 4 with 15:20 on the clock. Arrived at the bottom of the final hill with 19:50 on the clock. Tried to climb the final hill, but eventually chose to winch. The winch cable was too short to reach the top-of-hill anchor point, so they chose to winch off a tree that was closer. Drove over the finish line.

Green: First competitor. Easily drove through Water Hole 1 and 2 and crawled the Canyon very slowly with the driver manipulating the air suspension to “wall-walk” a portion of the canyon. The compressed air tank for the suspension blew the safety valve with 9:10 on the clock. Lost almost eight minutes getting unstuck in Water Hole 4. With 23:30 on the clock the carbureted engine stalled in Water Hole 5, but it restarted and the truck drove out under its own power. Perched in the Crevice with 26:00 on the clock. A transmission shifter failure forced him to use Vice Grips as a shifter and the transmission was very difficult to shift. Chose to end his run a few seconds shy of the 30-minute limit.

PhotosView Slideshow

Huit: Came to the event with a bar added to the driver-side roof to protect the roof of the rig and help the truck slide through the Canyon when tipped. Flew through the first two water holes and entered the Canyon with only 42 seconds on the clock. Conquered the Canyon in approximately 9 minutes by winching and driving. Entered Water Hole 4 with 12:30 on the clock. Tried to ride high on the bank along Water Hole 5 but the rear steering was cocked and this helped cause the rig to roll onto the passenger-side. Bad positioning meant there was no good way to right he rig and the battery went dead in the process of winching. Driver chose to end his run with 23:21 on the clock.

Josh Middleton: Blazed into the Canyon with only 1:14 on the clock. Winched in the Canyon with 4:04 on the clock. Zip ties holding a spare driveshaft broke and the ‘shaft fell into the Canyon. With 7:45 on the clock both alternator and power steering belts absconded from their pulleys, which took about 10 minutes to repair. Became stuck in Water Hole 4 with 21:15 on the clock and suffered winch problems. Timed out in the Crevice while trying to connect the winch cable.

Justin Middleton: Blazed into the Canyon with 1:21 on the clock. Driver exited the vehicle to help winch in the Canyon and then had problems getting his factory seatbelt to release with 4:20 on the clock. Winched in Water Holes 4 and 5. Winching problems coming out of the Crevice. Winch cable pulled tight with 27:35 on the clock, but timed out. Burned up the starter along the way.

Palomo: Exited Water Hole 2 with only 1:10 on the clock. Rolled onto the driver-side in the Canyon with 1:35 on the clock. With 4:30 on the clock the front driveshaft CV joint broke. Tried to winch the rig back on its wheels to no avail. Engine started smoking. Chose to end their run with 22:12 on the clock.

Retzloff: Exited Water Hole 2 with 2:55 on the clock. Almost rolled onto the passenger-side on the dirt hill before Water Hole 3 with 4:50 on the clock. Drove into Water Hole 3 with the electric cooling fans on, which damaged both fans. Drove the rest of the course with no cooling fans. Driver exited the truck to help with winching throughout the course. Winched out of Water Hole 4. The air intake snorkel fell off of the roof and was re-routed to the interior with 13:44 on the clock. Winched out of the Crevice with 18:50 on the clock. Winched out of Water Hole 6 and then chose to run the winch cable over Water Hole 7 to a tree on the final hill. Timed out a little over 9 feet from the finish line. Forgot to engage the winch spool-in lever twice during winching, which cost a fair amount of time.

Skopliak: Cleared Water Hole 2 with 1:00 on the clock. In Water Hole 2 the engine cooling fans blew a hidden fuse in the dash. Began winching in the Canyon with 4:40 on the clock. Became stuck coming out of Water Hole 4 and began winching with 16:25 on the clock. Coming out of Water Hole 5 the engine died and the starter wouldn’t engage. Co-driver hit the starter with a clevis and the engine was able to be restarted with 24:50 on the clock. Stuck in the Crevice and winching with 28:25 on the clock. Engine was overheating and stalling. Timed out.

Smith: Entered Water Hole 2 with 3:25 on the clock. Cool, calm and collected winching and driving through the Canyon with 17:15 on the clock. Significant engine smoke with 23:55 on the clock. Driver knocked the T-case into neutral with 25:50 on the clock. Timed out prior to Water Hole 3.


1. Retzloff 62.9
2. Huit 57.4
3. Josh Middleton 54.6
4. Green 51.5
5. Fava 49.0
6. Skopliak 48.8
7. Justin Middleton 45.7
8. Palomo 31.1
9. Smith 30.3
10. Boundy 12.2

PhotosView Slideshow


The Grand Champion of the 21st Top Truck Challenge is John Retzloff from Covelo, California. Assisted by co-drivers Ken and Scott Retzloff (John and Ken are pictured here) he won behind the wheel of his propane-fired, 454ci-equipped ’77 GMC K15 shod with 46-inch Mickey Thompson Baja Claw tires.

Interestingly, Retzloff didn’t win First Place in any event. As a matter of fact, he placed Fifth in two events (Mud Pit and Coal Chute). It was consistency in all seven events that helped him take the win. At the end of the first day of competition he was tied with Green for Second Place. When the second day of competition ended, Retzloff was in Second Place, trailing Huit by five points. Huit rolled his VW Rabbit in the Tank Trap and had to settle for a Seventh Place finish in the event, while Retzloff continued his consistent performance, earning a strong Second Place finish to gather double points and take the overall win.

Along the way his Chevy suffered some damage, including a broken bumpstop in the Frame Twister; a damaged fairlead roller, blown O-ring on the steering box, and a damaged wire to the starter in the Obstacle Course; and cooling fan damage in the Tank Trap. None of those things hindered the truck from staying in competition however, and Retzloff said numerous times that he was proud of his truck.

Competing in TTC was a dream for Retzloff. “Ever since I first seen Top Truck Challenge I knew that this was the event I needed to do to prove to myself mostly of what I wanted to accomplish in life. You know, just driving and building and everything. And I tested it out fully. I fully tested it out,” he says.

Co-driver Ken Retzloff was just as excited about the win. As he stood gripping the Grand Champion cup, he said, “My heart’s beating faster than walking on the Tank Trap.” Retzloff summed up his TTC experience by saying, “It was just so awesome. It just kept getting harder and harder, every event. Especially from the Hill Climb on. It was just so much fun.”


The scoring system for Top Truck is designed to be simple. All of the events, except Tank Trap, award 10 points to the First Place finisher, 9 points to the Second Place finisher, and so on. The crown jewel of TTC, Tank Trap, is worth double points, so the First Place finisher is awarded 20 points, Second Place 18 points, and so on. If a competitor is unable to compete in an event they received no points for that event. To eliminate tie scores, the First Place finisher of Tank Trap is awarded an additional extra point, Second Place is awarded .9 of a point, and so on. This procedure not only eliminates tie scores, it also rewards those who do well in Tank Trap. Each team’s final score is the sum of the points they’ve accrued in all seven events.


If you’ve been dreaming of competing in Top Truck Challenge, your golden opportunity is here. Right now. Simply fill out the official entry form linked below, enclose a high-quality photo of your rig that shows the entire vehicle, and send the pair to the address listed by the due date. Even easier, you can scan the entry form, attach a digital image, and email it to us (instructions are on the entry form)! We’ll publish a collection of TTC 2014 hopefuls in the April 2014 issue of Four Wheeler. You may become part of TTC history as one of the 10 rigs that are chosen by Four Wheeler readers to go head-to-head with TTC’s seven legendary events in Hollister Hills, California.

GET THE APPLICATION FORM: CLICK HERE for the Top Truck Challenge 2014 Entry Form



At TTC’s festive closing ceremonies we distributed several specialty awards. These awards recognized TTC teams and/or drivers in specific areas. Here’s who took home the plaques.

Long Distance: Paul Boundy (he drove approximately 5,600 miles round-trip from Grafton, Ontario, Canada, not including a jaunt through Missouri on the way home to acquire parts for a broken trailer)

Hard Luck: Paul Boundy (among other things, his tow rig transmission failed near Hollister, his Silverado rolled onto its side in the Obstacle Course and broke the front ring-and-pinion, he was unable to compete in the Hill Climb and Coal Chute, and his rig broke early into the Tank Trap)

Team Spirit: Team Skopliak (always positive, even when things were negative, like flopped over in the Coal Chute)

Driving Elegant: Aaron Fava (unflappable, even under extreme pressure)

People’s Choice: Glen Green’s ground-pounding 540ci-powered ’79 F-350 (this is the truck that got the most votes by the competitors as the rig they’d most like to take home)

Judges/Editors Choice: Pepe Palomo’s ’99 Toyota Tacoma (flexy, agile, and good-looking, just like us)


Top Truck Challenge wouldn’t happen without the help of some key people. In addition to all of the Four Wheeler staff, we rely on a core group of hard-working, dedicated folks. Most take vacation days from real jobs to help out. They trade normality and their time for a week working behind the scenes to make TTC a success. The Four Wheeler staff has deep respect for all of these people and we offer them a round of applause.

This is the Top Truck Challenge Judging Team. From left to right they are Dan Black, Jeff Arabia, Toby Lavender, Tony Becker, and Jack Shelton. These fve gentlemen are integral to many aspects of TTC including, but not limited to, course design and construction and event timing and scoring. All of these men have signifcant off-road driving experience and some have even competed in Top Truck.
When it comes to vehicle recovery, we think this team is the best in the business. This is the Top Truck Challenge Extraction Team and they’re the masters of quickly and safely removing competitor vehicles when they get stuck or break. Each one of these volunteers has considerable off-road experience (some are even former TTC competitors) and they know how to handle anything from a simple tow to a complex recovery. From left to right they are Shawnette Prueitt, Jon Bommarito, Vito Bommarito, Jordan Regan, Rosana Regan, Tom Kennedy, Cheston Beck, Cody Kanuscak, Robert Haskins, Jerry Sparkman, Alyssa Lehr, Mike Bleck, JP Webster, Phil Wolz, Baxter Black, and Ben James.

- Event Coordinator Robin Stover. He’s the human equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife, ready for anything.
- Chris Finstad, our lead medic, JL Mongono, Oscar Grmaldo, Tony Morales, Robert Lund, and Chris Di Marco from the San Juan Bautista Fire Department.
- Phillip Indihar at Quality Construction, for providing the camera truck, water truck, and pressure washers.
- Jimmy Knoll at Wetlands Construction, Mike Bleck at M&J Trucking, and the good folks at Las Animas Concrete, for the equipment support.
- Del and Stacie Albright of Blue Ribbon Coalition, for environmental oversight.
- Mike Mansmith and crew at Mansmith’s BBQ, for all the outstanding meals.
- Hollister Hills SVRA staff and rangers, including District Superintendent Jeff Gaffney and Parks and Recreation Specialist Peter Jones
- Canty Security and Investigations for securing the perimeter.
- J.V. Orta’s Rent-A-Fence for the safety fencing.


Four Wheeler Would Also Like To Extend a Big Thank You to the Official Top Truck Challenge 2013 Sponsors

Presenting Sponsor and Official Retailer: 4Wheel Parts,
Official Tire: Mickey Thompson Tires,
Official Lubricant: AMSOIL,
Official Winch: Warn Industries,
Official Suspension: Tuff Country,
Official Wheel: B.A.D. Wheels,
Official Fabrication Parts: Poly Performance,


You’ve seen the dramatic photos and read the incredible words about TTC 2013. Now you need to see the official high-definition TTC DVD. This DVD features hours of TTC action and includes driver interviews as well as much more. Recorded by our team of professional, talented videographers and hosted by former TTC competitor Stan Prueitt, it’s a must-have masterpiece. There’s only one place you can get the DVD and that’s 4Wheel Parts, so call 800/213-5668, visit, or get to your local 4Wheel Parts retail location.


Safety is paramount at Top Truck Challenge. We enforce the rules that govern the Hollister Hills SVRA and we establish our own policies to ensure everyone’s safety. For example, all of the rigs are inspected before competition to ensure they meet the official vehicle requirements (i.e.: rollcages, seatbelts, safe attachment points, and so on). We also record important safety information for each vehicle. This includes, but is not limited to, what type of passenger restraints are used, where the battery is mounted, and where the ignition shutoff is located. This is done to ensure a safe and quick response in case of emergency. Further, all drivers and co-drivers are required to wear a helmet and seatbelt any time the vehicle is in motion, whether under power or not. Safety of the environment is also a priority and we have spill kits at the ready should any leakage of vehicle fluids take place during competition.


New this year, we ran each TTC rig and both alternate rigs across a set of scales to determine their weight. It was Editor Cappa’s good idea and he arranged to borrow four battery-operated PT300 Series Wheel Load Weigher scales from Intercomp ( These 20,000-pound-capacity scales allowed us to easily weigh each corner of a rig independently and then it was easy to calculate the weight at each axle as well as a total weight. We learned that we had a tie for the heaviest rig of the competition (Boundy and Fava), the lightest rig belonged to Palomo, and the most balanced rig front-to-rear belonged to Smith (only 25 pounds difference).


- “Probably one of the greatest off-roading experiences I’ve had so far.” –Paul Boundy
- “It’s amazing. Flat out amazing. It’s the absolute best thing I’ve ever done in a rig. The camaraderie of all the competitors, everyone throwing down helping everyone get going again.” –Matt Huit
- “It’s an awesome event. Awesome people. Really good, well organized. It’s great. I’d love to be back one day again to give it another shot.” –Nolan Skopliak
- “I thought it was worth every penny to come down here. I wouldn’t change nothing about it. It was a once in a lifetime experience for me. I’m just totally impressed with everything. And the whole group, the 10 or 12 trucks, all the crews, all the people, it’s just like a big family here. It’s first class, absolutely first class.” –Glen Green
- “Once in a lifetime experience and I loved every minute of it.” –Jennifer Smith
- “Top Truck is a great thing. It’s an adventure of a lifetime, just to say the least. Not to mention that you’re part of a group of guys that are the only ones in the world that are here. Everybody else is working back home wishing they could play.” –Aaron Fava
->“I feel like I’m saying goodbye to some old friends and I’ve only known these people for a week.” –Pepe Palomo


GET THE APPLICATION FORM: CLICK HERE for the Top Truck Challenge 2014 Entry Form


Official Sponsors

Connect With Us

Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Magazine

Browse Articles By Vehicle

See Results