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Top Truck Challenge 2010: Adrenalin Rush

Non. Stop. Action.

"It's nothing like I expected. There's a whole lot of adrenalin here, that's for sure." These words were spoken by Jason Gray, immediately following his pull in the Tow Test. Gray was the very first competitor in the first event of this year's Top Truck Challenge, and his insightful comment was right on the money. From the moment Top Truck starts, the adrenalin begins.

What is Top Truck Challenge? Well, TTC, as it's known, is a weeklong event that we created 18 years ago. It takes place near Hollister, California, at Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area. It features 10 vehicles that are chosen exclusively by Four Wheeler readers. Each vehicle contains a "team," which is defined as a driver and co-driver. These teams compete in seven events consisting of the Tow Test, Frame Twister, Mud Pit, Obstacle Course, Hill Climb, Mini Rubicon, and Tank Trap. Each of these courses is custom-made and one-of-a-kind. They are designed to push even the most well engineered rig to its breaking point. They're also designed to be a form of mental calisthenics for the drivers, as they're forced to think on-the-fly. The seven events we create represent almost every discipline of four-wheeling. The legendary Tank Trap, the final event of TTC, is an unrelenting compilation of thick mud, steep hills, deep water, and evil rocks all packed into approximately 1,320 feet. Tank Trap forces teams to confront their off-highway demons while the clock is ticking. Over the years, Top Truck has drawn competitors from coast to coast, as well as from Canada and Israel. This year, we had a competitor from the Territory of Guam. As you can imagine, the video footage gathered at Top Truck is riveting, and recently, footage from TTC 2009 was featured on country superstar Brad Paisley's H20 world concert tour.

This year saw some incredible drama in addition to the unrelenting action. For instance, Brian Barker had awful luck when his Ford Ranger's C6 transmission case blew apart in the Frame Twister. When piecing it back together didn't last, he refused to give up, and ultimately the truck ended up at Quality Transmission in Seaside, California, where a rebuilt transmission was quickly installed so Barker and his team could compete in the Tank Trap. Another dramatic turn of events hit Ryan Knoche. His Suzuki Samurai suffered massive front suspension failure in the Obstacle Course, which allowed the front axle to rotate. Thanks to help from many of the other competitors, Knoche was able to repair the damage in a short amount of time and return to competition without missing a beat.

This year's TTC brought together a group of fascinating rigs and incredibly talented drivers. The action was spellbinding and the teamwork inspiring. A lot went on and we've summarized each event for you in detail. It begins when you click to the page.

Day 1, Event 1: The Tow Test
What it is: It's a heckuva way to start Top Truck, that's what it is. We strap each rig to a 35,280-pound cement truck and we have 'em pull the monstrosity as far as they can from a standing stop. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, not exactly. You see, we have 'em pull uphill. Yep, you read that right. It's a test of pull power, tire traction and drivetrain stoutness, and it weeds out any weak links fast. Welcome to Top Truck.

How it works: Each competitor is allowed one pull on our 150-foot track 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, the finish line eluded all of the competitors, so each was ranked by the total distance they pulled.

Finish Line Quotes
"It's heavier than I thought. I thought I'd get it."-Roger King
"It's all I could do to just hammer on it and see what it could do. It was heavier than I thought it was going to be. As soon as I felt it cinch up and shake a little bit, I was like 'this is no joke, I'm glad I put it in First.'" -Leo Kuether
"It took me totally by surprise. It acted like I was on an anchor when I first started." -Darren Sinkey
"That's heavy. I didn't think it was going to be near that heavy. Just to move. Just a rolling object. But man, that's like dead weight." -P.J. Hale

The Play-By-Play
Barker's Ranger: Best pull of the event, even though engine issues wouldn't let the 598ci V-8 rev over 3,000 rpm. Ran in 4-Hi, First gear.

Gray's Blazer: First competitor. Ran with 7 psi in the rear tires and 9 psi in the front tires. Straight run, with no visible wheelhop. Driver wished he would've used a lower gear because he didn't get the wheelspeed he wanted.

Hale's Willys buggy: Suffered some wheelhop off the starting line and had to back off the throttle. Had the 54-inch Mickey Thompson tires aired down to 7 psi.

Karwath's YJ buggy: Suffered a little wheelhop and drifted to the passenger-side of the course, which necessitated a heading adjustment near the end of the run. Ran with the rear suspension locked out and the front sucked down with the winch. Had 12 psi in the rear tires and 31/2 psi in the front tires.

King's Power Wagon: Second competitor. Ran with the 54-inch Mickey T's set at 30 psi rear and 15 psi front in an effort to keep wheelhop to a minimum. Had the adjustable wheelbase set at its longest setting (about 145 inches).

Knoche's Samurai buggy: Drew down the front with the winch and locked out the rear suspension. Ran with 12 psi in the rear 54-inch Mickey Thompson tires and 10 psi in the front tires. Suffered wheelhop, which forced him to back off the throttle.

Kuether's "Fat Girl" buggy: Used the front winch to draw down the frontend and he set the tire pressure at 10 psi. Started in low range First gear and shifted to Second after gaining momentum. Kept the 502ci Ram Jet at the rev limiter.

Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy: Shifted from First to Second gear during the run and kept the 502ci big-block in its sweet spot. Ran with 14 psi in the rear 54s and 10 psi in the front.

Simmons' Ford: Had the 46-inch Mickey Thompson tires aired down to 10 psi in the rear and 15 psi in front. Had the NP205 in low range and the C6 in Second gear. A little over nine feet into the course, a factory weld on the rear driveshaft broke, ending his run.

Sinkey's Bronco: Good start off the line with the 351ci V-8 pulling strong. Wheel hop forced him to back off the throttle, which caused slack in the tow strap as the cement mixer rolled forward. This caused a series of launches and wheelhop episodes.

Barker's Ranger 82 ft. 1 in.
King's Power Wagon 77 ft. 1 in.
Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy 68 ft. 4 in.
Kuether's "Fat Girl" buggy 67 ft. 6 in.
Karwath's YJ buggy 66 ft. 8 in.
Gray's Blazer 64 ft. 5 in.
Hale's Willys 59 ft. 7 in.
Sinkey's Bronco 55 ft. 8 in.
Knoche's Samurai buggy 51 ft. 1 in.
Simmons' Ford 9 ft. 1 in.

Day 1, Event 2: The Frame Twister
What it is: Exactly what its name implies, we've packed this 400-foot course with a banner collection of frame-twisting nastiness. Seventy-two feet into the course, there's a tight, 90-degree turn littered with rocks. By 170 feet, competitors have been through two gnarly water holes. At 195 feet, the sheetmetal-gouging, axle-grabbing boulder pile has surfaced. A special treat, our legendary log section, which contains a series of 2-foot-diameter logs placed perpendicular to the direction of travel with deep water holes between each log, waits at 271 feet. This year, we extended the course by approximately 100 feet and included an evil log pile and some large cement culvert pipes. The course climbs slightly in elevation from approximately 1,104 feet at the starting line to approximately 1,115 feet at the finish line.

How it works: Each team is allowed 12 minutes. This is an increase of two minutes from last year to compensate for the added course length. 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 for those who don't finish, overall distance traveled.

Finish Line Quotes
"The biggest surprise was when I hit the culverts, how hard my nose smashed into the steering wheel when I landed. I totally drilled it." -Leo Kuether
"Those logs are serious. They're serious." -Mike Karwath
"What a mess. Very nice. You could do that all day, I think. You see it on the video, but nothing is what's like on the video." -P.J. Hale

The Play-by-Play
Barker's Ranger: First competitor. Got to the first turn with 23 seconds on the clock and had to execute a three-point turn, which used up about 10 seconds. Arrived at the rocks with 1:10 on the clock. Made good progress and entered the log section with 2:41 on the clock. Got stuck in the logs and traveled out of bounds while winching. The C6 transmission housing was severely damaged during the run.

Gray's Blazer: Last competitor. Got stuck in the logs and fought to get out, to no avail. High revs and water caused the power steering belt to fall off. Timed out.
Hale's Willys buggy: Consistent, restrained run. They arrived at the logs with 2:50 on the clock, got stuck, and started winching. Exited the logs and began disconnecting winch cable with 4:00 on the clock. Drove the remainder of the course with no drama. Somewhere along the line, the winch quit working and the welds holding the front hydraulic steering ram were damaged.

Karwath's YJ buggy: Ran with 51/2 psi of tire pressure. With 3:30 on the clock, they were stuck in the logs and beginning to winch. With 4:45 on the clock, they were out of the logs and spooling cable. Less than a minute later, they were done.

King's Power Wagon: Made it to the boulder section in 40 seconds. Exited about 90 seconds later. Got stuck in the logs with 3:18 on the clock. Broke the intermediate driveshaft to the divorced transfer case. Winched as far as they could until they timed out. Their electric winch threw in the towel.

Knoche's Samurai buggy: Ran with 6 psi of tire pressure. Arrived at the boulders with 40 seconds on the clock and easily crawled through using front "dig" maneuver. For some reason, the rear axle didn't re-engage and the rig got stuck early into the logs. With 4:00 on the clock they were winching the rig. Drove the rest of the course to finish on the clock.

Kuether's "Fat Girl" buggy: Fastest run of the event. Never winched. Co-driver operated the rear steer through the boulder section. Rolled on the big-block horsepower and flew over most of the logs on two wheels. Also airborne over the cement pipes.

Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy: Blew through the course. No winching and only a few penalties for backing up. Flew over most of the logs.

Simmons' Ford: Slow, calculated run. Entered the boulder section with 1:20 on the clock and exited 80 seconds later. Got stuck in the logs and winched, exiting with 6:40 on the clock. Broke a spring retainer cup on one of the rigs coilovers in the boulders.

Sinkey's Bronco: Conservative run with his underhood siren occasionally wailing. With 4:00 on the clock he was stuck in the logs. Winch problems forced the team to end their run with 6:04 on the clock.

Kuether's "Fat Girl" buggy 2 min. 40 sec.
Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy 2 min. 50 sec.
Hale's Willys buggy 5 min. 03 sec.
Karwath's YJ buggy 5 min. 37 sec.
Knoche's Samurai buggy 5 min. 42 sec.
Simmons' Ford 7 min. 30 sec.
King's Power Wagon DNF
Barker's Ranger DNF
Sinkey's Bronco DNF
Gray's Blazer DNF

Day 1, Event 3: The Mud Pit
What it is: In a pre-event Q & A, half of this year's competitors said they were not looking forward to the Mud Pit competition. Well, this inspired our sicko track builders to make sure our 138-foot Mud Pit would be extra special. With that said, they created a track filled with what could possibly be the best mud we've ever created. The consistency was extra-thick and gooey, and it had the delightful characteristics of industrial adhesive. It was a test of each rig's cooling system, drivetrain beef, and tire traction.

How it works: Rigs run individually, and the fastest elapsed time wins. Those rigs that do not complete the course are ranked in order of their overall distance traveled. This year, only one rig made it the length of the course, and it was the first one to run.

The Play-by-Play
Barker's Ranger: Came to the event with the transmission case hastily pieced back together and the correct spark plugs installed in the engine. With the 598ci V-8 engine running correctly, he threw down a great run.

Gray's Blazer: Great launch off the starting line, thanks to liberal application of the 454ci V-8. The power steering belt fell off shortly into the run, which forced both driver and co-driver to combine their efforts to steer the truck.

Hale's Willys buggy: Did not back up off the line, and shut the engine down as soon as forward progress ceased.

Karwath's YJ buggy: Last competitor. Reversed as far as possible to gather momentum and hit the mud with so much speed, the TH400 transmission had shifted to Third gear. Traveled the furthest distance of the nine rigs that didn't finish. Co-driver operated the rear steering.

King's Power Wagon: Came to the event with a replacement intermediate shaft installed. The propane-fired 408ci stroker motor was screaming when he hit the mud. Ran with the adjustable frame fully extended. Lost momentum, but employed a tactic where he repeatedly extended and shortened the adjustable frame in an inchworm-like procedure to gain more distance.

Knoche's Samurai buggy: Co-driver piloted the rig, and Knoche monitored the gauges. The team added a mud shield over the gauges so they could be viewed when the flying goo covered the interior.

Kuether's "Fat Girl" buggy: While blasting through the mud at speed, mud encased the air cleaner on the Ram Jet 502ci powerplant, choking off airflow and killing the engine causing a premature end to the run.

Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy:First competitor, and the only one to complete the course. Reversed off the starting line and then nailed the 502ci big-block to gather forward momentum before entering the rut-free mud.

Simmons' Ford: Second competitor. Aired the tires down to 5 psi and unspooled the 575hp, 521ci V-8. Hit the mud with a good head of steam, but was quickly overcome by the goo.

Sinkey's Bronco: Backed up from the starting line to gather momentum and actually hit the mud airborne. The 46-inch Mickey Thompson Claws actually found a bite in the deep ruts.

Finish Line Quotes "I wanted to go first and I picked a lucky number." -Joe Quichocho "It's an awesome pit. I think if we would've had our steering the whole time, we might've been able to do a little better, but I don't know. It gets real thick at the end." -Jason Gray
"Nasty. I don't normally run mud, but this is a good experience. It confirms what I don't want to do." -P.J. Hale
"Mud pit was serious. I was hoping we were going to make it, but somebody else stopped right there." -Ryan Knoche
"Somebody made a big wall of mud at the end. I don't know who that was. I sure stopped fast." -Brian Barker
"I thought we did very well for all the ruts and holes that had been dug in there." -Mike Karwath

Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy 27 sec.
Karwath's YJ buggy 87 ft. 0 in.
Barker's Ranger 86 ft. 6 in.
King's Power Wagon 85 ft. 6 in.
Knoche's Samurai buggy 80 ft. 2 in.
Hale's Willys 75 ft. 6 in.
Sinkey's Bronco 71 ft. 2 in.
Gray's Blazer 65 ft. 8 in.
Simmons' Ford 65 ft. 0 in.
Kuether's "Fat Girl" buggy 45 ft. 4 in.

Day 2, Event 1: The Obstacle Course
What it is: This course begins with a long, steep, slippery hill descent that is designed to get everyone's undivided attention right from the get-go. After that, the course only gets worse. We pack this quarter mile of insanity with a variety of obstacles (some wet and some dry), and we purposely make the course twisty and confusing. The course consists of an upper and lower section. Highlights include a cluster of four water holes at the bottom of the hill descent in the lower section, a deep water hole in the upper section, and a tight 90-degree dogleg turn a short distance from the finish line in the lower section. Yep, it's a great way to start Day Two of Top Truck Challenge.

How it works: There's a 20-minute time limit, so speed is critical. But so is accuracy. Hitting any of the cones that mark the course earns a 5-second penalty (each). A DNF looms if all four tires of a vehicle travel off course. Ranking is by the fastest overall elapsed time for those who finish or overall distance traveled if they do not.

Finish Line Quotes
"It was pretty scary at the top. Because where you're staged, you're looking over the hill and you can't even see the dirt, so you're dropping into a blind hill." -Mike Karwath
"It was controlled chaos, I can guarantee you." -P.J. Hale
"Great course, guys. Really challenging. A lot of fun." -Leo Kuether
"At the top we looked at each other and said 'Do you really want to do this?'" -Kevin Simmons

The Play-by-Play
Barker's Ranger: Good start to the run, but the damaged C6 transmission gave out with approximately 4:25 on the clock.

Gray's Blazer: Incredibly fast run that included a unique backwards front burn in the 90-degree dogleg. Hit only three cones for a 15-second penalty.

Hale's Willys buggy: Even with steering issues that hindered a full range of motion, their run was quick. They did hit six cones, resulting in a 30-second penalty.

Karwath's YJ buggy: First competitor. Utilized the rear steering throughout the course. Was in the 90-degree dogleg doing a front burn with 4:20 on the clock. Hit four cones, which added 20 seconds to his time.

King's Power Wagon: The rig broke the front passenger-side knuckle in the upper part of the course, resulting in no steering control of the passenger-side tire. The driver chose to continue on the course backwards using the rear steering to aim the truck. They came close to rolling in the 90-degree dogleg and almost made it to the finish line, but timed out.

Knoche's Samurai buggy: Got a little crossed up coming down the steep hill descent. With 1:45 on the clock, they were driving the upper part of the course and the front driveshaft was broken and whipping wildly. With 3:45 on the clock, they were nose down in the 90-degree dogleg preparing to winch. With 7:40 on the clock, they were backwards on the course in the final trench. Somewhere along the line, a front four-link bar broke, which was the beginning of an incredible amount of damage to the frontend. Even so, the team backed through the rest of the course and across the finish line.

Kuether's "Fat Girl" buggy: Accelerated down the steep hill descent and then flew through the course to earn the fastest time. Co-driver was operating the rear steering by the halfway point. Hit five cones for a 25-second penalty.

Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy: Didn't even try to miss the cones at the 90-degree dogleg, figuring it was better to take the penalty than lose time trying to thread the wide rig through the turn. Penalized 25 seconds for hitting cones.

Simmons' Ford: Slow, careful run. Executed a dramatic rear wheelstand. Easily crawled the 90-degree dogleg. Only gathered 15 seconds in penalties.

Sinkey's Bronco: Broke a tie rod in the upper water hole with about 3:00 on the clock. Driver chose to end his run shortly thereafter.

Kuether's "Fat Girl" buggy 2 min. 28 sec.
Gray's Blazer 3 min. 09 sec.
Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy 3 min. 47 sec.
Hale's Willys buggy 4 min. 11 sec.
Karwath's YJ buggy 5 min. 52 sec.
Simmons' Ford pickup 8 min. 34 sec.
Knoche's Samurai buggy 9 min. 09 sec.
King's Power Wagon DNF
Sinkey's Bronco DNF
Barker's Ranger DNF

Day 2, Event 2: The Hill Climb
What it is: Like beaming parents, we're especially proud of our hill climb. It's approximately 600 feet of pure misery perched on a steep, slippery hillside that is surrounded by poison oak. We bring in a big excavator and dig out deep, off-camber holes, and we throw the loose dirt all over the place for good measure. We also incorporate some sweeping turns and dirt piles, too. This event rewards those who can think on-the-fly, and it punishes those who are thinking about what they had for lunch.

How it works: Fastest time to the top wins. Those who don't make it to the top are listed as DNF and ranked in order of how far they traveled. Competitors are not allowed to see the course in advance. Competitors can stop and restart as long as it doesn't exceed five seconds. If they exceed 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.

Finish Line Quotes
"They surprised me and I wasn't ready for it." -P.J. Hale
"If any one event, this was the one I was most nervous about. You can't see anything." -Joe Quichocho
"That was crazy. I mean that was absolutely insane. I mean that was nuts." -Mike Karwath

The Play-by-Play
Barker's Ranger: Did not run due to transmission damage.

Gray's Blazer: Second competitor. Rolled onto the driver-side in the first hole. It actually looked for a moment like he was going to make it through, but when the driver-side rear tire dropped into the hole, the rig flopped.

Hale's Willys buggy: First competitor. On his third attempt through the first hole, the rig rolled onto the driver-side as soon as the front driver-side tire entered the hole, ending his run.

Karwath's YJ buggy: Fast run with some incredible wheel lift in some of the holes.

King's Power Wagon: Ran with the adjustable chassis fully extended. Rolled in the first hole.

Knoche's Samurai buggy: After a quick repair session to fix the damage sustained in the Obstacle Course, the team came to the Hill Climb and made a quick, undramatic climb to the top of the hill.

Kuether's "Fat Girl" buggy: Fastest run of the competition. Co-driver used the rear steer to keep the rig from flopping over in one of the holes, and he shifted the transmission from time to time to help keep momentum.

Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy: Fast run with very little drama as the four-link suspension with Fox coilovers soaked up the bumps.

Simmons' Ford: Great run, but lost momentum and stopped just past the 284-foot mark. Broke the driver-side rear sway-bar link.

Sinkey's Bronco: While exiting a hole almost halfway up the hill, the rig did a pirouette and rolled onto the passenger-side. Driver-side engine cylinders loaded with oil.

Kuether's "Fat Girl" buggy 41.75 sec.
Karwath's YJ buggy 47.50 sec.
Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy 55.00 sec.
Knoche's Samurai buggy 1 min. 06 sec.
Simmons' Ford 284 ft. 5 in.
Sinkey's Bronco 255 ft. 0 in.
King's Power Wagon 185 ft. 3 in.
Gray's Blazer 175 ft. 2 in.
Hale's Willys buggy 174 ft. 1 in.
Barker Ranger DNS

Day 2, Event 3: The Mini Rubicon
What it is: If you inject the name "Rubicon" into something, it had better be good. Our 150-foot course is worthy of its namesake, with giant boulders that have been strategically placed to ensure maximum challenge. The course is narrow, so there are not many options and we integrate four nasty, deep crevices that stretch across the course at random.

How it works: Each competitor is given 30 minutes to get as far as they can. Winching, reversing, stopping, etc., all earn penalties in the form of seconds, which are added to a competitor'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.

The Play-by-Play
Barker's Ranger: Did not run due to transmission damage.

Gray's Blazer: Had trouble getting up on the rocks. Broke the ears off the passenger-side chrome-moly 35-spline stub shaft when the tire became lodged in an undercut boulder. With 5:15 on the clock, the power steering belt fell off. After several attempts to winch and move the truck further down the course, they chose to end their run with 14:11 on the clock after proceeding 22 feet. Other damage included a twisted steering ram mount.

Hale's Willys buggy: Arrived at the second crevice with 2:15 on the clock, third crevice at 3:04, fourth crevice at 3:20. Very steady run with no drama. Broke a spherical rod end on the rear upper link bar.

Karwath's YJ buggy: Insulted our track builders by easily blasting through the course in 57 seconds with no penalties. Photographers and video crew ran to keep up.

King's Power Wagon: Co-driver never exited the vehicle. Cleared the first crevice with 25 seconds on the clock and never looked back.

Knoche's Samurai buggy: Co-driver piloted the rig in this competition. Smooth, steady progress with no winching. Bluetooth in-helmet radio communication between driver and co-driver. Cleared the first crevice with 2:15 on the clock, the second crevice at 3:05, the third crevice at 3:45, and the fourth crevice at 5:25. Only gathered 6 seconds in penalties.

Kuether's "Fat Girl" buggy: Co-driver took the wheel. With 3:30 on the clock, the buggy rolled onto the driver-side in the third crevice, but the driver powered out of it by using Reverse. Co-driver never exited the rig. Gathered 1:16 in penalties. Damage report: Broke both front sway-bar end links, shattered the rear brake rotor, broke both front and rear limiting straps.

Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy: First competitor. Made it to the first crevice with 1:08 on the clock, the second crevice at 4:15, the third crevice at 4:33, and the fourth crevice at 4:45. Gathered 47 seconds in penalties.

Simmons' Ford: With 3:30 on the clock, the rig was tilted to the driver-side, just shy of the second crevice. Arrived at crevice two with 5:50 on the clock, crevice three at 6:16, and crevice four at 6:45. Completed the course. Broke their troublesome rear sway-bar link again.

Sinkey's Bronco: Got stuck early into the course and things never really improved. The team chose to end their run with 10 seconds left on the clock after proceeding 68 feet.

Finish Line Quotes "We are the less experienced team out here on the rocks, but it really meant a lot to finish the Rubicon." -Joe Quichocho
"I'm very happy with that run. Very happy." -Mike Karwath
"That's what we do in Texas. That's what we do once or twice a month." -P.J. Hale
"That's what we enjoy. That was fun. That was a good rock climb." -Roger King

Karwath's YJ buggy 57 sec.
King Power Wagon 1 min. 29 sec.
Hale's Willys buggy 4 min. 06 sec.
Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy 5 min. 53 sec.
Knoche's Samurai buggy 6 min. 23 sec.
Kuether's "Fat Girl" buggy 6 min. 28 sec.
Simmons' Ford pickup 8 min. 18 sec.
Sinkey's Bronco DNF
Gray's Blazer DNF
Barker's Ranger DNS

Day 3, Final Event: The Tank Trap
What it is: It's approximately 1/4-mile of some of the most extreme terrain you'll ever encounter. It sits deep in a natural valley surrounded by a staggering amount of poison oak and various plants with sharp protruding objects. All the flora seems very angry. The area is brutal in its basic form, but we make it even worse (or better, depending on how you look at it) by adding dirt hills and deep holes filled with water. The unrelenting course kicks off with a pair of deep water holes that have earned a reputation for shattering Tank Trap dreams before they even begin. From there, the course transitions into the Canyon. This section is about 100 yards in length and is filled with steep, slippery rock waterfalls that thwart forward travel, and off-camber sections that tip rigs into sheer rock-laden walls. The Canyon has claimed many victims. After that, there are three more water holes before the infamously deep Water Hole 6 that is the ultimate test of waterproofing. The grand finale is a hard left turn into the last water hole and then a steep climb up a long, mega slippery slope.

How it works: There's one rule for Tank Trap: Competitors must travel through the marker cones when they appear. That's about it. Each competitor has 30 minutes to travel as far as they can. Rankings are by overall time or distance traveled if DNF. The Tank Trap is so tough, we make it worth double points. This means it is strategically important to teams who need to gather much-needed points or extend a lead.

Finish Line Quotes
"It was a blast. It was a good way to end a good week. Very nice. The steepness of the climbs to crest the water holes was the most intimidating thing because all you're looking at is sky, sky, sky, and you just know you're coming down in six feet of water." -Mike Karwath
"The DVDs we watched, so many people run through it, but it's a totally different ballgame when you're in it. No words can explain it until when you're in it. It's tough." -Joe Quichocho
"That was rough, man. You always hear it and you watch it on videos and you're like 'yeah, I can do that.' Then you get out here and start doing some of it, and you're like, 'man, do I really want to be here?'" -P.J. Hale
"That was tough. We got hung up on a couple spots that we didn't even expect. The water was deep. It came up over the top of the motor right up into my lap almost. This is the highlight of the week, finishing the Trap." -Jason Gray "Tank Trap was one event I wanted to finish, and when we didn't I was really bummed. I shouldn't have been. I should've been more excited we were there." -Kevin Simmons
"I had to walk it after the event to make sure I saw what I saw when I was going through there." -P.J. Hale

Karwath's YJ buggy 20
Gray's Blazer 18
Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy 16
Knoche's Samurai buggy 14
Hale's Willys buggy 12
Barker's Ranger 10 (DNF)
Simmons' Ford pickup 8 (DNF)
Sinkey's Bronco 6 (DNF)
King's Power Wagon 4 (DNF)

The Play-by-Play
Barker's Ranger: Came to the event with a new C6 transmission. Easily cleared the first two water holes and entered the Canyon with 1:40 on the clock. After winching in the Canyon, they entered Water Hole 3 with 12:50 on the clock. Miscommunication between driver and co-driver culminated with the truck rolling onto the driver-side in the trench just past Water Hole 5. After several attempts to right the rig, the batteries went dead, so the engine and winch were unusable. Timed out.

Gray's Blazer: Restrained run with low rpm to help keep the power steering belt on the pulleys. Entered the Canyon with 1:50 on the clock. The cooling fan threw water high in the air as they entered Water Hole 6. Winched part way up the final hill and drove the remainder to complete the course.

Hale's Willys buggy: Flew through the first two water holes and entered the Canyon with 1:35 on the clock. Got stuck at the bottom of the final hill and winched part way up before driving the remainder. Completed the course. Engine was smoking because it was overfilled with oil.

Karwath's YJ buggy: Fastest time of the event. Blew through Water Holes 1 and 2 and entered the Canyon with only 55 seconds on the clock. Entered Water Hole 3 with 1:50 on the clock and cleared Water Hole 4 with 2:26 on the clock. Co-driver operated the rear steer occasionally and never exited the rig.

King's Power Wagon: Entered Water Hole 1 with :45 on the clock. Entered the Canyon with only 1:18 on the clock. Hit the waterfall in the Canyon too hard and simultaneously blew the front driver-side tire, the rear axle, the rear driveshaft, and the rear of the transfer case with 1:30 on the clock. Spent the next 24 minutes trying to coax the rig further up the Canyon, but the rig's engine started to overheat and they chose to end their run with 25:30 on the clock.

Knoche's Samurai buggy: Easily drove through the first two water holes and entered the Canyon with 1:15 on the clock. Blew through Water Hole 3 with 3:40 on the clock and Water Hole 4 with 4:00 on the clock. Arrived at the bottom of the final hill with 5:30 on the clock. Broke both upper rear link bars at the frame, as well as the rear driveshaft, which required winching the entire length of the hill using the Warn 9.5ti winch.

Kuether's "Fat Girl" buggy: Disqualified prior to the event for a rules infraction.

Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy: Transfer case kept popping out of low gear even with the driver trying to hold the shifter in place. Driver switched to high-range and it stayed put. Entered the Canyon with 1:32 on the clock, Water Hole 3 with 3:12 on the clock and Water Hole 4 with 3:30 on the clock. Employed the Warn 9.5ti winch to help climb the final hill with 5:30 on the clock.

Simmons' Ford: Left the starting line with the winch rope in the co-driver's lap. The winch rope became knotted, which cost the team some time. Entered the Canyon with 7:25 on the clock. Both rear sway-bar links broke in the Canyon, which allowed the body of the Ford to lean into the Canyon wall. Driver and spotter switched positions with 14:20 on the clock. Entered Water Hole 4 with 29:50 on the clock. Timed out.

Sinkey's Bronco: First competitor. Entered Water Hole 1 with 3:33 on the clock. Almost rolled in Water Hole 2 with 6:50 on clock. Exited Water Hole 2 with 11:45 on the clock. With 15:10 on the clock, the bolts fell out of the passenger-side front brake caliper. Small engine fire quickly extinguished with 16:45 on the clock. Halfway through the Canyon with 25:30 on the clock. Timed out in Water Hole 3.

The Winners! Here are the top finishing teams of Top Truck Challenge 2010!
Team Gray, from Amity, Oregon, scored the most points of the trucks in this year's competition, and Team Karwath, from Union, Kentucky, scored the most points of the buggies.

Both ended up on top, but they arrived there in vastly different fashion. Team Gray, in their '75 Chevy Blazer, had problems with a defecting power steering belt in almost every event, which eventually forced them to keep their 454ci big-block in the lower rpm through the Tank Trap in an effort to keep the belt on the pulleys. The Mini Rubicon put the big hurt on the team when they bent up the steering ram mount and snapped the ears off a 35-spline, chrome-moly stub shaft. Conversely, Team Karwath reported no failures of any component on their 468ci, V-8-powered, Rockwell-equipped YJ buggy.

It's interesting to note that Gray was the only truck to complete the Tank Trap, while Team Karwath was the fastest buggy. Also notable (to GM fans anyway) is that both rigs are GM big-block-powered and sport TH400 transmissions.

In addition to their award, Team Karwath was invited to compete in the 2011 Griffin King of the Hammers (KOH) event in Johnson Valley, California. Jeff Knoll of KOH says, "King of the Hammers was built on the idea that the right combination of trail ingenuity, desert racing speed, rockcrawling technical ability, and driver skill could yield a vehicle that could do multiple tasks off-road. TTC's foundation has been laid on a marriage of off-road capability coupled with a broad requirement of skill sets, making it a relative of modern Ultra4 racing. It seems a natural fit to bring the winner of Top Truck Challenge to the Griffin King of the Hammers platform."

What did our winners think of Top Truck? Jason Gray says, "Pure awesome event. This thing, put together from beginning to end, it was seamless from the very start, and each event is just awe-inspiring. It just gets better. Every day you think 'it can't get better wheeling than this.' And then every day they throw you something else that just gets better." Mike Karwath says, "It's the most amazing off-road event I'll ever be a part of. Period. Leaving with lifelong friends. You guys put on an amazing event, and no matter what, everyone here is a winner."

More Awards
We handed out several specialty awards during Friday's closing ceremonies. From the competitor who traveled the furthest to the rig the judges would most like to own, we cover it all. Here are this year's winners.
Long Distance: Team Quichocho (from the Territory of Guam, approximately 5,876 miiles)
Hard Luck: Team Barker (battled persistent transmission problems)
Team Spirit: Team Knoche and Team Quichoco; both displayed positive attitude from start to finish
Driving Elegant: Team King (drives like he's listening to Tchaikovsky, and he probably is)
People's Choice: Team Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy (big-block goodness with attitude)
Judges Choice: Team Kuether's "Fat Girl" buggy (looks great, runs great)

Karwath's YJ buggy 67
Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy 66
Hale's Willys buggy 46
Knoche's Samurai buggy 45
Gray's Blazer 41
King's Power Wagon 40
Barker's Ranger 32
Simmons' Ford 31
Sinkey's Bronco 25

How Top Truck is Scored
The winner of each event gets 10 points; Second place gets 9 points, and so on. The final event, Tank Trap, is worth double points. When all seven events are completed, each team's points are tallied, resulting in their final score. This year, we awarded Champion plaques to the truck and buggy with the highest point values of all competitors combined.

Safety First
There's some crazy action at Top Truck, but make no mistake, safety comes first. Not only do we enforce the rules that govern the Hollister Hills SVRA, we also institute our own policies to ensure everyone's safety. Further, we gathered all the competitor rigs and physically documented important safety information including, but not limited to, what types of safety restraints are installed, where the ignition shutoff is located, where the battery is mounted in each vehicle, etc. This was done to ensure a quick response time in case of emergency.

Heartfelt Thanks
As you can imagine, Top Truck challenge requires a significant amount of logistics before, during, and after the event. For this, the staff of Four Wheeler relies on a dedicated group of people to help us out. These folks selflessly put a significant amount of time into Top Truck, and we don't take their sacrifice lightly. So to them and the companies that helped make TTC '10 a success, we offer our most heartfelt thanks.

Chris Finstad, our lead medic, John Fox, Robert Lund, Tony Morales, Debra Fox, and JP Juarez from the San Juan Batista Fire Department.
Phillip Indihar at Quality Construction, for providing the camera truck, water truck, and pressure washers.

J3 Excavation and Las Animas Concrete, for the heavy equipment support.

California Site Services, for the safety fencing.

Black Wolf Security Services, for guarding the perimeter.

Yamaha, for use of the way-cool Rhino.

Mansmith's BBQ, for all the incredible meals including the wood fire-cooked welcome dinner.

Hollister Hills SVRA staff and rangers, including John Vallett, Jeff Gaffney, Crystal Sanchez and Kris Plank. Also, Daphne Greene, deputy director, California State Parks OHV Division.

Want to see more photos?
If you have a hankerin' for more TTC photos, you can see scores of images by simply visiting www.fourwheeler.com. There, you'll find a wide range of exclusive photos from all seven events.

See the DVD!
Our professional film crew was on hand to record all the action at TTC '10, and the result is a high-definition DVD that will blow you away. It's packed with gobs of amazing footage of our 10 competitors battling our seven brutal events. You can only get the DVD through 4Wheel Parts Wholesalers, so call 800/213-5668, visit www.4wheelparts.com, or get to your local 4Wheel Parts Wholesalers retail location.

Last Words
"It's definitely a whole lot different than what you might think, just reading it in the magazine and watching the videos. It's ten times tougher." -Darren Sinkey
"It's well worth coming here. It's an event you can't take lightly. It's one of those deals where you're glad you're here. However much work it took to get here, you're just glad you're here and just glad to be a part of it." -P.J. Hale

Four Wheeler would also like to thank the official Top Truck sponsors:
Official Retailer: 4Wheel Parts, www.4wheelparts.com.
Official Tire: Mickey Thompson Tires, www.mickeythompsontires.com
Official Axle: Superior Gear & Axle
Official Oil: Amsoil, www.amsoil.com
Official Winch: Warn Industries, www.warn.com
Official Suspension: Tuff Country, www.tuffcountry.com

Karwath's YJ buggy 67
Quichocho's CJ-7 buggy 66
Hale's Willys buggy 46
Knoche's Samurai buggy 45
Gray's Blazer 41
King's Power Wagon 40
Barker's Ranger 32
Simmons' Ford 31
Sinkey's Bronco 25