Breathtaking cold water and leg-swallowing mud comprised the contents of Tank Trap’s murky Water Hole 3 where Team Dallner’s S-10 sat partially submerged on its driver-side. Forming a seemingly impenetrable barrier along the sides of the water hole was a collection of thick foliage that included nasty, thorn-bearing plants and poison oak dripping with its evil, poisonous oil. But worse yet, the team’s 30-minute time limit was ticking away so there was no time to dawdle. With the passenger-side 54-inch tires pointing skyward like satellite dishes and foul-smelling steam rising from the hot V-8 engine, the team scrambled to quickly right the rig and continue on through the rest of the brutal course. Like the other nine teams in Top Truck Challenge 2011 they were driven by the innate desire to cross the finish line. “It’s an endurance test. You gotta be in there for the full game,” said Ron Stewart, co-driver of Team Dallner, after he experienced the brutality of this year’s Tank Trap.
Top Truck Challenge is a weeklong event that we created 19 years ago and it takes place at the Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area near Hollister, California. The field consists of 10 vehicles that are chosen exclusively by Four Wheeler readers from entries submitted voluntarily by the owners of the vehicles. There is a Truck Class and a Buggy Class and each is comprised of five vehicles. Each vehicle contains a “team,” which is defined as a driver and co-driver. The teams compete in seven events consisting of the Tow Test, Frame Twister, Mud Pit, Obstacle Course, Hill Climb, Mini Rubicon, and Tank Trap. All of the courses for these events are custom-made and exclusive to Top Truck and together they represent almost all disciplines of four-wheeling. Each one of these events is tough and we make no excuse for that. Top Truck is an event designed to be the ultimate test of vehicle engineering as well as a test of the driver and co-driver to think under pressure, on-the-fly. Over the course of its 19 year history, Top Truck has been host to wheelers from throughout the continental U.S. as well as Canada, Israel, and the Territory of Guam.
Top Truck is filled with action from beginning to end, but as you can imagine, an event of this caliber creates drama far beyond the actual competition. For instance, this year Team Timson had the unfortunate luck of damaging a transfer case in the Frame Twister. The good folks at Advance Adapters in Paso Robles, California, stepped up and quickly made them an Atlas II case, which the team picked up and then installed so they could get back in competition. Unfortunately, the hydraulic steering ram mount on their YJ broke in the first event when back in action. This time, a flurry of help from other competitors culminated with the team being able to compete in the Tank Trap. There are numerous stories like this, where teams came to the aid of other competitors with tools, parts, or labor. There were also some interesting strategies as teams occasionally swapped drivers. One truck owner, Brooke Spencer, turned control of her Buggy Class rig over to driver Ron Adams and co-driver Ben Spinney.
This year’s TTC was filled with surprises. Hard luck and lady luck both made appearances and the result was anything but predictable. The action was incredible and the drama riveting. We’ve summarized each event for you in detail and it begins when you turn the page.
Day 1 Event 1: The Tow Test
What it is: You know how truck pulls work. Ours is nothing like that. We tether each TTC rig to a 37,335-pound cement mixer that dwarfs the TTC machines and we have ’em attempt to pull the mixer as far as they can from a dead stop. Uphill. Yep, you read that right, uphill. We give ’em a short run on flat ground to gather some momentum and then our nasty dirt slope climbs 13 feet in altitude over its 150-foot length at a maximum angle of 16 degrees. If a rig has any weak links, they surface fast.
How it works: Each competitor is allowed one pull and there is no time limit. A pull is completed when forward momentum ceases or the competitor crosses the finish line, whichever comes first. This year, we ran the Truck Class competitors first. No one in either class got a full pull so each was ranked by the distance they traveled.
Finish Line Quotes
“I tell you one thing; it’s a little heavy taking off. You know darn well it’s back there. It’s very interesting. I’ve never done something like this and it’s a lot of fun.” –Mike Keller
“That’s the first time it’s ever hopped pulling anything. Ever. We’ve done half dozen truck pulls, actually on the sleds, and it’s never hopped. First time.” –Tim Dallner
“Been battling a timing issue. We thought we had it. We don’t.”–Tony Montalto
“That thing’s heavy. That’s a real heavy truck.” –Corey Timson
“I knew it wasn’t our event, but you know what? You gotta do ’em all.”—Josh Hall
Dallner’s S-10: The team practiced by pulling a dump truck at home. Ran with the Claws aired to 6 psi in the rear and 3 psi in the front. Small amounts of wheelhop near the end of the pull.
Hall’s Samurai: Drafted the heaviest crew member to ride as passenger to add weight. Ran with the Claws aired to 5 psi front and 8 psi rear with both axles drawn down. Straight run, but suffered wheelhop.
Keller’s F-350: Aired the 46-inch Baja Claws down to 18 psi. Smooth, straight pull with no shifting and strong power applied near the end.
Montalto’s Bronco: Timing issues with the 460 big-block caused it to lose power a short distance into the course.
Montpas’ Willys: First competitor. Ran with 15 pounds of tire pressure and each axle drawn down with the winches. Easy off the line, smooth application of power from the 350ci V-8, Boggers spun to a stop.
Sanders’ Chevy: Encountered a little wheelhop, but feathered the throttle to keep it to a minimum. Four pounds of air in each 54-inch Claw.
Seely’s Suburban: Ran with 14 psi in the Boggers and with the TH400 in First gear. Slight course correction late in the pull.
Spencer’s FJ40: Drew down the axles and ran 15 psi in the 54-inch Claws. Good run with very little wheelhop out of the 6,540-pound rig.
Timson’s YJ: The 54-inch Claws were aired to 14 psi and both axles were drawn down. Rolled the power on from the 8.1L big-block early and shifted the TH400 from First to Second gear along the way. Encountered a little wheelhop.
Vizenor’s “Li’l Nasty”: First Buggy Class competitor. Ran with 30 psi in the 54-inch Claws and both axles drawn down. Encountered starting line wheelhop that continued through the run. Broke the front driveshaft at the transfer case.
Results (ranked by overall distance traveled)
1. Dallner’s S-10 106 ft. 0 in.
2. Montpas’ Willys 100 ft. 7 in.
3. Seely’s Suburban 98 ft. 11 in.
4. Keller’s F-350 98 ft. 8 in.
5. Montalto’s Bronco 6 ft. 0 in.
1. Timson’s YJ 98 ft. 5 in.
2. Sanders’ Chevy 97 ft. 5 in.
3. Spencer’s FJ40 95 ft. 6 in.
4. Hall’s Samurai 93 ft. 1 in.
5. Vizenor’s “Li’l Nasty” 89 ft. 11 in.
Day 1 Event 2: Frame Twister
What it is: The fact is, 424 feet isn’t really that far of a distance. As a matter of fact, at 65 mph a vehicle can cover that distance in less than 4½ seconds. However, when it’s 424 feet of Frame Twister, it’s a completely different ballgame. This course contains a banner collection of items designed to challenge driver and machine every inch of the way. Highlights include the sheetmetal-mashing boulder pile, tire-grabbing log section (logs placed perpendicular to the direction of travel with deep water holes between each log), deceptive 5-foot-tall log pile, and final large culvert pipes. New this year, we added a 5-foot-deep, water-filled hole early into the course and “Trenchula,” a squiggly, deep, water-filled trench strategically placed between the log pile and the logs. Both proved to be a surprise headache for some competitors.
How it works: Each team is allowed 20 minutes. This is an increase of eight minutes from last year to compensate for the added obstacles. During this time, each competitor battles to get as far as they can on the course. Penalties, for infractions such as reversing, winching, etc., are added to each competitor’s raw time. Ranking, for those who finish, is by total elapsed time including penalties or overall distance traveled for those who don’t finish. This year, we ran the Buggy Class competitors first.
Finish Line Quotes
“When the tires are spinning and the water is splashing in your face and you hear the engine you just go. I don’t have time to think about this stuff. You just go.” –Josh Hall
“I’m glad that we got to test the vehicle. That’s what we wanted to do.” –Steven Montpas
“Awesome. Absolutely awesome. Love it. That’s why we came. All these events. Love it.” –Tim Dallner
“I love it man. This is what I do every weekend if I can.”—Alex Sanders
Dallner’s S-10: Blew through the course and arrived at the logs with 2:00 on the clock. Got stuck, quickly winched out. Entered Trenchula with 4:49 on the clock. Winched over the log pile with 7:45 on the clock. Completed the course. Suffered a punctured passenger-side front tire and pulled the winch cable off the drum.
Hall’s Samurai: First Buggy Class competitor. Entered the logs with only 2:15 on the clock and managed to get through without winching. Rolled onto the passenger-side in Trenchula with 3:43 on the clock. Winched back on its wheels with 6:08 on the clock, but traveled out of bounds with 6:24 on the clock.
Keller’s F-350: Blazing fast run through the course. Hit the logs at speed and caught big air. Unfortunately, the truck went out of bounds with 1:51 on the clock and was disqualified. Blew a hydraulic steering line.
Montalto’s Bronco: First Truck Class competitor. Got stuck in the new hole prior to the boulders and began winching with 3:15 on the clock. Crawled the boulders with no problem. Was stuck in the logs and had winch problems with 14:00 on the clock. Managed to get unstuck and continued with no available winch. Traversed Trenchula before becoming stuck on the log pile and timing out.
Montpas’ Willys: Entered the logs with only 2:09 on the clock. Got stuck and quickly winched out. Began winching through the log pile with 4:00 on the clock. Completed the course. Along the way bent the rear driver-side lower four-link bar.
Sanders’ Chevy: Became stuck in the logs with 3:05 on the clock. Entered the log pile with 7:00 on the clock, but became stuck and suffered winch problems. Chose to end their run with 11:29 on the clock.
Seely’s Suburban: Became stuck nose-down in the new 5-foot-deep hole early into the course. Winching ensued, but mud and water caused the winch to fail. The team chose to end their run with 7:38 on the clock.
Spencer’s FJ40: Entered the logs with 2:15 on the clock. Good head of steam, but became stuck and immediately started winching. Entered Trenchula with 5:20 on the clock. Had trouble with the log pile and broke a front passenger-side CV joint and the driver-side steering knuckle bolts. Chose to end their run with 10:42 on the clock.
Timson’s YJ: Entered the logs airborne with only 1:35 on the clock. The rear output shaft in the transfer case broke, which left the rear axle with no power and the team had to winch. Traveled out of bounds with 7:42 on the clock and was disqualified at that point.
Vizenor’s “Li’l Nasty”: Came to the event with a new front driveshaft. Hit the logs at speed and caught big air. Became stuck, but quick winching and no problems on the rest of the course earned the fastest time in the Buggy Class. Cracked a high-steer arm brace somewhere along the way.
Results (time with penalties included or ranking order if DNF)
1. Montpas’ Willys 7 min. 46 sec.
2. Dallner’s S-10 10 min. 50 sec.
3. Montalto’s Bronco DNF
4. Keller’s F-350 DNF
5. Seely’s Suburban DNF
1. Vizenor’s “Li’l Nasty” 5 min. 05 sec.
2. Timson’s YJ DNF
3. Spencer’s FJ40 DNF
4. Hall’s Samurai DNF
5. Sanders’ Chevy DNF
Day 1 Event 3: Mud Pit
What it is: If there’s one constant with our Mud Pit competition from year to year, it’s that it’s constantly changing. We keep this event fresh and exciting by manipulating the mud density and depth so that competitors never know whether our 138-foot pit is going to be a high-speed sprint or a slow speed crawl. This year, we worked up a bunch of soft dirt and then pumped in thousands of gallons of water. Like a fine recipe, we let the whole works marinate until almost all the water had disappeared into the soil. It looked deceptively easy, but was a test of each rig’s cooling system, drivetrain beef, and tire traction. We also moved the starting line further from the Pit to give the competitors a 45-foot-longer run at the mud.
How it works: Rigs run separately and are ranked by their elapsed time. Those rigs that do not complete the course are ranked in order of their overall distance traveled. This year, five of the ten rigs completed the course and the Truck Class ran first.
Finish Line Quotes
“Easy.” -Mike Keller
“Pretty sticky stuff.” –Jeff Seely
“The first 12 years that’s all we did was mud bogging, so it’s nice to get back to home again.” –Tim Dallner
“Harder than it looks.” –Tony Montalto
”Loved it. I’m about ready to do it again.” –Alex Sanders
“It’s muddy. That’s home for us.” - Steven Montpas
Dallner’s S-10: Came to the Pit with a fresh bottle of nitrous and a tire and wheel borrowed from Team Hall. Fourth competitor to run in the Truck Class. Ended up trying to forge a new line through most of the course, which sapped forward momentum.
Hall’s Samurai: Their strategy was to hold the “foot to the floor” and try to ride up on a bank for more traction. It worked, and earned them the fastest time of the Buggy Class.
Keller’s F-350: First Truck Class competitor. Unleashed the 460ci big-block and hit the rut-less mud with some serious forward velocity. Hugged the wall on the left side of the track. Earned the fastest time of all competitors.
Montalto’s Bronco: Last competitor in the Truck Class. Could’ve used more speed off the start line, but stayed on the throttle for 1:37, slowly inching their way forward as the 54-inch Claws scratched for traction.
Montpas’ Willys: Second Truck Class competitor. Strategy was to put the 54-inch Boggers in the ruts made by Keller’s 46-inch Claws. It worked.
Sanders’ Chevy: First competitor in the Buggy Class and first competitor to choose the un-rutted right side of the track. Left the start line in Second gear and downshifted the Muncie 465 to First when the truck started to bog down. Strategy worked.
Seely’s Suburban: Third competitor in the Truck Class. Hit the mud with good speed, but ended up outside of the ruts made by the first two competitors and the 44-inch Boggers were quickly overcome.
Spencer’s FJ40: Co-driver piloted the rig. Great launch off the start line, but the driver tried to force the rig to the left side of the track, which rapidly depleted momentum.
Timson’s YJ: Ran with front-wheel-drive only due to a broken transfer case.
Vizenor’s “Li’l Nasty”: Last competitor. The 54-inch Claws and the 502ci big-block seemed mostly unfazed by the ruts left by the previous nine competitors.
Results (ranked by overall time or distance traveled if DNF)
1. Keller’s F-350 12 sec.
2. Montpas’ Willys 16 sec.
3. Dallner’s S-10 83 ft. 7 in.
4. Seely’s Suburban 80 ft. 0 in.
5. Montalto’s Bronco 64 ft. 0 in.
1. Hall’s Samurai 28 sec.
2. Sanders’ Chevy 29 sec.
3. Vizenor’s “Li’l Nasty” 45 sec.
4. Spencer’s FJ40 83 ft. 0 in.
5. Timson’s YJ 64 ft. 5 in.
Day 2 Event 1: The Obstacle Course
What it is: Day two of competition kicks off with a visit to this ¼-mile-long course that’s filled with an eye-opening collection of obstructions. The low-speed course begins with a long, slippery hill descent that ends with competitors smack-dab in a deep water hole. From there, the course gets worse. It consists of a lower and upper section and highlights include the aforementioned deep water hole in the lower section, a pair of deep water holes in the upper section, and a gnarly 90-degree dogleg turn a short distance from the finish line. New this year, we added deeper holes, more water, and a new shelf drop-off in the upper section.
How it works:
Cones mark the course and hitting any of them earns a 10-second penalty each. If all four tires of a vehicle travel off course it’s a disqualification. There’s a 10-minute time limit. Ranking is by overall time for those who finish or overall distance traveled for those who don’t. This year, we ran the Buggy Class first.
Finish Line Quotes
“I didn’t really know what to expect, really. That sand is pretty loose and I was sliding. Brakes on or off, it didn’t matter, so I was trying to keep that thing down the hill forward.” –Josh Hall
“That hill is so steep, and you come down that hill with more speed than any human should have and you got no time to make that turn and then boom you’re up to your chest in water.” –Ron Adams
“I’m proud of my little cheapy buggy. It’s doing good for me.” –Alex Sanders
“It looks a lot easier on camera.” –Steven Montpas
“Funnest day of my life, actually. It was the funnest wheeling, funnest thing that’s ever happened to me.” –Jeff Seely
Dallner’s S-10: First Truck Class competitor. Got stuck in the lower water hole but winched out quickly. Steering problems in the upper section required driving a portion of the course backwards. Hit nine cones, which generated 90 seconds in penalties.
Hall’s Samurai: First Buggy Class competitor. Smooth, drama-free run. Utilized the rear steer and executed a couple of front “digs” in the tighter areas. Hit five cones for 50 seconds in penalties.
Keller’s F-350: Last competitor in the Truck Class. Got stuck in the large lower water hole, had winch problems, and spent approximately the next 8 minutes attempting to extract the rig before choosing to end their run with 9:05 on the clock.
Montalto’s Bronco: Did not run due to engine problems.
Montpas’ Willys: Came to the event with a new camp-fabbed four-link bar. Got stuck in the large lower water hole, but winched out quickly. Executed a front “dig” in the dogleg and chose to run over a cone instead of wasting time trying to avoid it. Only hit three cones for 30 seconds in penalties.
Sanders’ Chevy: Third Buggy Class competitor. Became stuck in the lower water hole, probably due in part to the ruts left by Spencer’s FJ40. Winched out with 3:39 on the clock. Slow, calculated run that only netted 30 seconds in penalties for hitting three cones. Distributor cap gasket and valve cover gasket leaked allowing sand and water to enter the engine.
Seely’s Suburban: Tried to hug the wall in the lower water hole and this caused the rig to slowly roll onto the driver-side. Run ended at that point.
Spencer’s FJ40: Second Buggy Class competitor. Became stuck in the lower water hole. Began to winch, but had problems with a wet engine and starter motor, which continued until 7:16 on the clock. Did a front wheelstand on the new shelf drop-off with 8:20 on the clock. Timed out near the dogleg.
Timson’s YJ: Did not run due to transfer case problems.
Vizenor’s “Li’l Nasty”: Blazing fast run with no winching and only 40 seconds in penalties for hitting four cones. Chose to run over the cones at the dogleg instead of losing time trying to maneuver around them. Broke the high-steer arm bolts while crossing the finish line.
Results (overall time including penalties or ranking if DNF)
1. Montpas’ Willys 5 min. 31 sec.
2. Dallner’s S-10 8 min. 55 sec.
3. Keller’s F-350 DNF
4. Seely’s Suburban DNF
5. Montalto’s Bronco DNS
1. Vizenor’s “Li’l Nasty” 3 min. 09 sec.
2. Hall’s Samurai 5 min. 57 sec.
3. Sanders’ Chevy 8 min. 39 sec.
4. Spencer’s FJ40 DNF
5. Timson’s YJ DNS
Day 2 Event 2: The Hill Climb
What it is: Our Hill Climb should probably be called the “Hell Climb.” It takes place on a poison oak-lined, steep hillside that boasts a gnarly 60-degree average incline. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we bring in a massive excavator and dig a number of deep, strategically-placed holes and we leave lots of loose dirt lying around to further complicate things. This masterpiece is approximately 600 feet of misery and it has a reputation of stopping rigs in their tracks.
How it works: Each team is allowed one attempt to climb the hill. Competitors can stop and restart as long as it doesn’t exceed five seconds. If a team exceeds a five-second stop, they are listed as DNF at that point. If the inside of a tire breaks the outside plane of a cone, it’s a DNF. This year, we ran the Buggy Class first.
Finish Line Quotes
"It was nasty. I liked it. I’d do it again for fun right now if you’d let me.” –Josh Hall
“I love it. That was not near as hard as I was expecting. That was a blast, man. I’m loving this thing.” –Alex Sanders
“It was pretty crazy because you can’t see a lot. You’re going up a hill and all of sudden there’s a hole in front of you, so you just go through it.” –Shane Vizenor
“Awesome. I love the event. It’s a good little twist in there.”—Steven Montpas
Dallner’s S-10: The passenger-side rear tire dropped into a hole approximately 192 feet into the course, which caused the rig to flop onto the passenger-side.
Hall’s Samurai: Slow, careful run. Near the end of the course the last big hole waylaid the rig longer than the five-second limit.
Keller’s F-350: First Truck Class competitor. Good use of throttle, but a deep hole swallowed the driver-side rear tire causing the rig to slowly roll over a few feet past the 200-foot mark.
Montalto’s Bronco: Lost traction shortly into the climb.
Montpas’ Willys: Strong run with lots of wheel lift. Completed the climb.
Sanders’ Chevy: Made it look easy with a slow and steady run punctuated by big air under the tires from time to time.
Seely’s Suburban: Did not run. Stayed in camp removing water and sand from the engine, axles, and fuel system from the roll in the Obstacle Course.
Spencer’s FJ40: First Buggy Class competitor. Traveled approximately 158 feet before a broken passenger-side rear axleshaft stopped ’em cold.
Timson’s YJ: Second Buggy Class competitor. Came to the event with a new custom-made Atlas transfer case. Good speed, but broke the front axle steering ram mount approximately 188 feet into the course.
Vizenor’s “Li’l Nasty”: Ran with the front axle drawn down with the winch. Made the climb look easy. Fastest overall time of all competitors.
Results (overall time or ranking order if DNF)
1. Montpas’ Willys 1 min. 10 sec.
2. Keller F-350 DNF
3. Dallner’s S-10 DNF
4. Montalto’s Bronco DNF
5. Seely’s Suburban DNS
1. Vizenor’s “Li’l Nasty” 47 sec.
2. Sanders’ Chevy 1 min. 20 sec.
3. Hall’s Samurai DNF
4. Timson’s YJ DNF
5. Spencer’s FJ40 DNF
Day 2 Event 3: The Mini Rubicon
What it is: Think of this event as a highly concentrated version of the infamous Rubicon Trail. It’s only 150 feet in length, but this boulder-strewn nightmare is engineered to be a world-class challenge from beginning to end. The course is narrow so the number of “lines” is very limited. In addition, we dot the course with five strategically placed deep crevices that create “waterfall”-type obstacles.
How it works: Penalties for infractions such as winching, reversing, stopping, etc,. are added to a team’s raw time. Competitors who complete the course are ranked by their actual time while those who do not finish are ranked by their distance traveled. There’s a 20-minute time limit. This year, we ran the Buggy Class first.
Finish Line Quotes
“I didn’t think it would be that deep and that big of rocks, like, right into your face.” –Shane Vizenor
“I’m having a blast. You guys don’t understand, I don’t get to do this stuff often. There is nothing like this where I come from.” –Alex Sanders
“That was the gnarliest stuff I have ever seen. That was awesome. I’d love to do it again. That was great.” –Ron Adams
“It was nice and nasty. Really good and chunky. It was awesome, you guys did a good job.” –Josh Hall
“It was a little chunkier than I thought it would be. A little more voidy. It was good, it was awesome.” –Tim Dallner
“It was pretty tough. It’s what we wanted. We were going to get in as far as we could there before that hole and call it quits and save everything for the Tank Trap tomorrow.” –Jeff Seely
“This thing is gnarly.” –Tony Montalto
Dallner’s S-10: With a history in competitive rockcrawling, the team’s strategy was to stay calm, cool, and collected and not break an axleshaft. It worked, and they completed the course with 18:32 on the clock before penalties.
Hall’s Samurai: Ran with the front 54-inch Baja Claws aired to 3 psi and the rears aired to 2½ psi. A C-clip fell off the transfer case linkage late into the course. They timed out a few feet from the finish line.
Keller’s F-350: Slow, careful run, but still damaged the front driveshaft coming out of Crevice 1. Chose to end their run with 5:29 on the clock.
Montalto’s Bronco: Co-driver drove the rig. Excellent teamwork resulted in steady progress. Timed out, but went the furthest of the teams that did not finish in the Truck Class.
Montpas’ Willys: First Truck Class competitor. Snapped the passenger-side rear axleshaft coming out of Crevice 1 with about 1:00 on the clock. Broke the passenger-side front axleshaft and twisted the driver-side front axleshaft shortly thereafter. The front winch cable broke with 17:10 on the clock. Chose to end their run with 18:17 on the clock.
Sanders’ Chevy: Had some problems getting out of Crevice 3, which used up over 8 minutes. Along the way, the winch cable broke. The homemade adapter that tilts the carburetor forward 30 degrees seemed to do its job, and the 350ci Chevy ran great even with the front end tilted skyward. Only gathered 5:10 in penalties.
Seely’s Suburban: Strategy was to get on the course and gather points but save the truck for the Tank Trap. Had problems getting onto the course. Both diffs got hung up and the co-driver stacked rocks. Got a few feet into the course and chose to end their run with 6:05 on the clock.
Spencer’s FJ40: Winched several times, but completed the winch pulls quickly to finish the course in just over 15 minutes. Gathered 6:30 in penalties.
Timson’s YJ: Did not run due to steering ram mount problems.
Vizenor’s “Li’l Nasty”: The winch quit working prior to Crevice 4 with 14:00 on the clock and the rig had to complete the course under its own power. Along the way the rear power steering pump blew an O-ring. Gathered 7:20 in penalties.
Results (overall time including penalties or distance traveled if DNF)
1. Dallner’s S-10 22 min. 52 sec.
2. Montalto’s Bronco 107 ft. 5 in.
3. Keller’s F-350 68 ft. 4 in.
4. Montpas’ Willys 57 ft. 4 in.
5. Seely’s Suburban 31 ft. 4 in.
1. Spencer’s FJ40 21 min. 41 sec.
2. Sanders’ Chevy 24 min. 20 sec.
3. Vizenor’s “Li’l Nasty” 25 min. 40 sec.
4. Hall’s Samurai 135 ft. 4 in.
5. Timson’s YJ DNS
Day 3 Final Event: The Tank Trap
What it is: We save the best for last. Often spoke of in hushed, reverent tones, Tank Trap is legendary, and for good reason. It takes place in a nasty, quarter-mile-long, deep, natural valley, which we modify in such a way as to make every inch of forward progress a battle. It’s a merciless course that can humble even the most well-built rig. The course begins with a pair of water holes that we reworked this year. From there, the course transitions into the Canyon, which is approximately 100 yards of steep, slippery rock waterfalls and ledges bordered by sheer, rock-laden walls. After the Canyon there are five more deep water holes separated by steep, loose-dirt hills. The course encore is a steep, rutted, slippery hill climb out of the last water hole. Tank Trap climbs approximately 195 feet in elevation from its starting point to the finish line and it’s lined by dense foliage that is either protruding thorns or covered in poisonous oil.
How it works: Tank Trap is strategically important because we make it worth double points. This means teams can gather much-needed points or extend a lead. Each team has 30 minutes to travel as far as they can and the only rule is that they must travel through marker cones when they appear. Rankings are by overall time or distance traveled if DNF. This year, the Buggy Class ran first.
Finish Line Quotes
“ It was actually easier than I expected. I had a blast man, it was great. It was awesome. I would almost want to do it again. I’m losing oil pressure, but it would be worth it to do it again.” –Alex Sanders
“It feels great to be at the top. After all the late nights changing axleshafts and running down to get spare parts here, there, and everywhere, it feels absolutely great to be at the top of the Tank Trap at the end of the week.” –Ron Adams
“It was perfect. Just like we like it. Soupy, deep, the canyon walls were fun. It was good. Fun time.” –Josh Hall
“Awesome. I love it.” –Tim Dallner
“It was wild. We expected it though. We knew every event you guys do is crazy, so Tank Trap was fun.” –Steven Montpas
“It’s every bit of hard.” –Tony Montalto
“Tank Trap. My demise.” –Shane Vizenor
“That was just a wicked trail.”—Corey Timson
Dallner’s S-10: Entered Water Hole 3 with only 2:50 on the clock and promptly dropped the driver-side tires into ruts and rolled. It took a little over 8 minutes to winch the rig back onto its wheels. Blew through Water Hole 5 with 22:05 on the clock and crossed the finish line a little over a minute later.
Hall’s Samurai: Ripped through the course and arrived at Water Hole 4 with only 4:38 on the clock. They drove/floated through the water and then got stuck. Due to some clevis issues the winch recovery took almost nine minutes to complete. Blazed through the rest of the course with no winching.
Keller’s F-350: Last competitor. Ran without his rigs front hood assembly, reversed his Mickey Thompson tires, and switched out his nylon winch rope for steel. Traversed the Canyon in a little over nine minutes and entered Water Hole 3 with 10:40 on the clock. Battled a wet distributor from Water Hole 4 to the finish line. Winched along the way.
Montalto’s Bronco: Ran without the windshield. With 5:55 on the clock the team was alternating between crawling and winching up the Canyon. The Bronco’s body was taking a beating as it was sometimes on its side. The cooling fan began contacting the radiator with 16:20 on the clock and the radiator began steaming with 17:45 on the clock. Timed out in the Canyon.
Montpas’ Willys: Impressive, fast run that only required one winch recovery out of Water Hole 4. Hardly slowed down for the Canyon. Fastest run of all competitors.
Sanders’ Chevy: First Buggy Class competitor. Steady progress through the Canyon and made it to the dirt hill before Water Hole 5 without winching with only 7:20 on the clock. The team completed a quick winch on the hill, and the rig completed the course under its own power less than two minutes later.
Seely’s Suburban: First Truck Class competitor. Had to drag the rigs body along the wall in the Canyon. Slow progress with regular winching. The ignition switch got moved to the “start” position with 8:20 on the clock, which threatened to burn up the starter before it was shut off. Timed out between Water Hole 3 and Water Hole 4.
Spencer’s FJ40: Made it to the Canyon with only 1:40 on the clock. Had to winch once in the Canyon and again coming out of Water Hole 4. A couple of winching issues slowed them down a bit. Once out of Hole 4 they never looked back and completed the course less than three minutes later. Somewhere along the line they broke the driver-side sway bar link.
Timson’s YJ: Came to the event with a new steering ram mount fabbed with the help of almost everyone in camp. Exited the Canyon with only 4:00 on the clock and entered Water Hole 5 with only 6:15 on the clock. Smooth and steady run with no winching to earn the fastest time in the Buggy Class.
Vizenor’s “Li’l Nasty”: A blazing run found the rig about ¾ of the way through the Canyon with only 40 seconds on the clock. The driver tried to ride high on the Canyon wall, but rolled the rig onto the passenger-side. Creative winching ensued in an attempt to get the vehicle back on its wheels in the narrow, uneven canyon. At one point, the rig was dangling on the Canyon wall by the front and rear winches. Timed out.
Results (overall time or ranking if DNF))
1. Montpas’ Willys 7 min. 40 sec.
2. Dallner’s S-10 23 min. 12 sec.
3. Keller’s F-350 28 min. 15 sec.
4. Seely’s Suburban DNF
5. Montalto’s Bronco DNF
1. Timson’s YJ 7 min. 48 sec.
2. Sanders’ Chevy 11 min. 07 sec.
3. Hall’s Samurai 15 min. 03 sec.
4. Spencer’s FJ40 16 min. 18 sec.
5. Vizenor’s “Li’l Nasty” DNF
From left to right, Jackie Sanders, Alex Sanders, Steven Montpas, Randy Camp
For 2011, the Top Truck Challenge Truck Class winner is Team Montpas (driver Steven Montpas and co-driver Randy Camp) from Roseburg, Oregon, and the Buggy Class winner is Team Sanders (Alex Sanders and co-driver Jackie Sanders) from Salem, Arkansas.
It wasn’t an easy, runaway win for either team. Truck Class winner Team Montpas’ ’49 Willys suffered major damage in the Mini Rubicon with one twisted and two broken Rockwell axleshafts and a broken winch cable. This damage forced them to end their run and settle for a Fourth Place finish in the event. Further, they were closely pursued in points by Team Dallner throughout the week of competition and going into the Tank Trap event, the team had a slim two-point lead over Team Dallner. A blazing fast run in the Trap was what solidified Team Montpas’ win.
Buggy Class winner Team Sanders’ sub-$2,000 homemade buggy didn’t suffer any major damage throughout the competition. Going into the Tank Trap event they were four points behind the leading team of Team Vizenor. Based on Team Vizenor’s strong performance it looked as though the win would be theirs, but the Tank Trap had other ideas. Team Vizenor rolled in the Canyon and couldn’t recover, while Team Sanders continued their consistent, almost casual performance, and took Second Place in the Trap to earn the double points needed to pull off the win.
Interestingly, the similarity of this year’s two winning rigs is uncanny. Both are small-block Chevy V-8-powered; both are equipped with SM465 manual transmissions, both have NP205 transfer cases; both have 2½-ton Rockwell axles, and both are shod with 54-inch tires. Is this the hot setup? Read into it what you will.
What do our winners have to say about Top Truck? Steven Montpas says, “Cloud nine. We came in as an alternate. We never knew we’d make it this far. We just knew we’d do our best. We broke in the rocks and I was a little worried. I knew we had to finish good in the last event. My co-pilot’s awesome and our team just pulled together and we did everything we could.” Alex Sanders says, “Blows my mind. It is awesome. This is the best of the best. You can’t get no better than this.” He goes on to say, “I was shooting for Fifth. I just wanted to complete every event.”
1. Montpas’ Willys 70.9
2. Dallner’s S-10 64.8
3. Keller’s F-350 50.7
4. Seely’s Suburban 26.6
5. Montalto’s Bronco 26.5
1. Sanders’ Chevy 56.8
2. Hall’s Samurai 48.7
3. Vizenor’s “Li’l Nasty” 48.5
4. Timson’s YJ 44.9
5. Spencer’s FJ40 40.6
How Top Truck Is Scored
The Truck and Buggy classes are scored separately. The winner of each event gets 10 points; Second Place gets 8 points; Third Place gets 6 points; and so on. The final event, Tank Trap, is worth double points. In order to eliminate tie scores, the winner of Tank Trap receives 20.9 points; Second Place receives 16.8 points; Third Place receives 14.7 points; and so on. In addition to eliminating ties, this procedure further rewards those who do well in the Tank Trap. When all seven events are completed, each team’s points are tallied, resulting in their final score.
Even More Awards
During Top Truck’s closing ceremonies we handed out several specialty awards. From the team who had the worst luck to the competitor who traveled the longest distance, we recognized them with a plaque. Here are this year’s winners.
Long Distance– Team Hall (from Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada, approximately 2,759 miles)
Hard Luck– Team Timson (missed the Obstacle Course due to a DOA transfer case and missed the Mini Rubicon due to a broken hydro steering mount)
Team Spirit– Team Dallner (happy campers all the time)
Driving Elegant– Team Sanders (Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata could be the soundtrack to this father/son teams performance)
People’s Choice– Team Vizenor “Li’l Nasty” buggy (the people have spoken)
Judges Choice– Team Vizenor “Li’l Nasty” buggy (the judges have spoken)
“It was absolutely a great week. All the competitors were great, and we had a great crew. It was fun. Best week I’ve had in a long time.” –Ron Adams
“Best thing ever. Pretty awesome.” –Jeff Seely
“It was the best week of wheeling I’ve had yet, for sure.” –Josh Hall
“Top Truck is awesome. Top Truck Challenge is a great thing to do and it’s a good test between you and your machine. It really is fun. And they make it harder and harder every year.” –Mike Keller
These gentlemen are the Top Truck Judging Team. Not only are they the brains behind the cr
Top Truck doesn’t just magically happen. There are a number of people who we rely on to handle the incredible amount of logistics before, during, and after the event. Many of these folks burn vacation time from their real jobs to help make Top Truck happen. The Four Wheeler team is humbled by their dedication and to them and the companies that helped make TTC ’11 a success we tip our hats to you.
Chris Finstad, our lead medic, John Fox, Robert Lund, Tony Morales, Debra Fox, and JP Juarez from the San Juan Bautista Fire Department.
Phillip Indihar at Quality Construction, for providing the camera truck, water truck, pressure washers, and security personnel.
J3 Excavation and Las Animas Concrete, for the equipment support.
California Site Services, for the safety fencing.
Yamaha, for use of the way cool Rhino 700 Sport.
Mansmith’s BBQ, for all the mouth-watering meals including the wood fire-cooked welcome dinner.
Hollister Hills SVRA staff and rangers, including District Superintendent Jeff Gaffney, State Park Superintendent I Jack Harper, Maintenance Chief Matthew Allen, Maintenance Supervisor Bruce Meyer, Staff Park and Recreation Specialist Jared Ashton, Heavy Equipment Operator Anthony Terry, the Hollister Hills Trails Team, and the OHMVR Division Trails Team.
Four Wheeler Would Also Like To Extend a Big Thank You to the Official Top Truck Sponsors
Presenting Sponsor and Official Retailer:
4 Wheel Parts, www.4wheelparts.com.
Official Axle & Gear: Superior Gear & Axle, www.superioraxlegear.com
Official Lubricants: Amsoil, www.amsoil.com
Official Winch: Warn Industries, www.warn.com
Official Suspension: Tuff Country, www.tuffcountry.com
Official Traction Device: Eaton, www.eaton.com
Official Lighting: TJM, www.tjm.com
Official Tie-Downs: Mac’s, www.macscustomtiedowns.com
See those orange shirts? The people wearing them are some of the members of the Top Truck
The action is intense at Top Truck, but make no mistake, safety is our number one priority. We enforce the rules that govern the Hollister Hills SVRA and we also institute our own policies to ensure everyone’s safety. As an example, following competitor check-in we gather all of the rigs and physically document important safety information including, but not limited to, what type of safety restraints are installed, where the ignition shutoff is located, where the battery is mounted in each vehicle, etc. This is done to ensure a safe and quick response in case of emergency.
Do You Want To Compete in Top Truck 2012?
Has it been your dream to compete in Top Truck Challenge? Next year we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of Top Truck with the Champions’ Challenge 2012. All of the previous TTC winners from 1993 onward will be invited to make the trek to Hollister and compete in our seven-event mega thrashfest. They can compete in the rig they originally ran or they can bring a new rig, it’s their call.
What does this mean to you? Well, we’ll be inviting one lucky reader to compete against our previous champions and you will decide who that will be using our normal selection criteria. We’ll publish a list of TTC Champions’ Challenge 2012 hopefuls in the April ’12 issue, and you’ll decide by ballot which reader is invited. 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.
Do you want to go head-to-head with illustrious former TTC Champions? Turn to page 40 and fill out the entry form, send it to the address listed by the due date and maybe your fellow wheelers will vote you in to Top Truck Champions’ Challenge 2012. Please make sure the photo you send is high-quality and shows the entire vehicle. Good luck!