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Old 02-16-2009, 11:42 PM   #1 (permalink)
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The long road to success and KOH without a lot of $ interested?

It's been a long journey.

I haven't had much time to mill around on Pirate but I heard there were a bunch of really cool new builds happening for this years King of the Hammers. I thumbed through a couple pages of one or two of the high dollar builds and they are cool but I think what we do is cool too, you just have to measure cool differently. It's not that I don't like all the bling it's just that there should be some sort of RTI measurement scale that compares dollars to fun and what you can accomplish on YOUR budget. That got me thinking I bet there are a ton of regular guys out there that might relate to our story and maybe even root us on.

The following is the story of a regular guy and my team as we get ready for KOH. We get a good amount done (and done right) on a very small budget and have for quite a number of years. Now I'm not saying there aren't teams with smaller budgets but there are many more with larger ones and we seem to be able to keep up pretty well for what we've got. Someone once called us the team that can "do the most with the least". Personally I think that title is probably better deserved by Peter Wells or maybe someone I've never heard of but then that's kind of the point, you don't always hear the best stories in DirtSports and on TV. Maybe this is blowing our own horn but then again maybe it will bring some other good stories to the surface, stories that would have otherwise been overlooked. It also might inspire someone who feels like they just can't afford to go racing to give it a try. I realize it's a longer read than the average American's attention span these days but if you can't hang through this read you ain't never going to last out the hard times of budget racing. If you can, and you want to go racing do it no matter what your budget is. You just have to decide what cool means to you.

If this was something you wanted to read about post up and say so, if not, cool see you at the races.

A little history;
You really can't understand the recent without knowing the past; My first dose of racing was BMX at age 9. I built my own bike over the course of a year and rode myself to the races since my folks weren't into it. I've been racing and crawling Jeeps since I was in my teens and I'm nearing my 100th career win in all sorts of terrain, all off road, all in a Jeep, from Baja to British Columbia, I believe the seat time helps keep ones driving skills ready for anything.

The early years;
I racked up trophies mostly from mud drags and play days in my daily driver CJ-5 and then one day I was watching Pro Arena (tuff trucks with TV coverage) and thought "I could build something and beat those guys". It was my first real build. A free Cherokee, a rule book, and a single 15 amp outlet in the same one horse barn we still use today. I guess it's also where I developed the craving to get a lot of bang for my buck. That Jeep cost a total of $2267 (counted when it won it's first race) and we traveled the West for 5 years winning over 60 races and upwards of $40,000.

Double duty;
The Arenas and Stadiums racing was winding down for us while the first few years of rockcrawling were winding up. With only a mild CJ-7 we entered the Warn Nationals in 1999. I'd been trail wheeling all my life but the first time I drove a with locker was on the lake bed at Johnson Valley heading toward Wrecking Ball and my first obstacle. We didn't do well that year or the next competing in the open class along with 44" Snipers and already big name teams and the lack of funds kept me from modifying the Jeep. By the second season rockcrawling was beyond my budget and growing faster than my income but I could see the future. Stock class came in 2001 and the CJ fit right in. At last "a class where they couldn't out spend me" I thought. Wrong, they did but ironically Cody Wagoner and I shared most of the success, at least out West, in stock class for years in similar leaf sprung carbureted Jeeps.

So at his point we were still trail riding as much as ever AND racing Pro Arena AND Rockcrawling up to 72 Jeep/event days per year (think about that, only 52 weekends in a year). In fact at one Pro Rock event in JV we finished Saturdays courses and hauled ass to a Pro Arena event in Palm Springs that night. My spotter and I both entered and took home 1st and 2nd place in the race Jeep, grabbed our purse checks and headed back for Sun morning on the rocks. We lead the whole weekend up until a broken ball joint and some "less than perfect rule keeping" put us into second on the last obstacle. Good times, and the return on investment was still amazing. True it was a lot of hard work maintaining the Jeeps all on my own back then but it wasn't expensive, we were actually making money! We had about $7000 in the CJ and up to $4000 by this time in the race Jeep.

Enter BFG the life saver;
We had just picked up BFGoodrich as a sponsor. To date we have had some nice help from mostly parts sponsors staples to our sport like CTM, Tom Wood's Drive Shafts, and Powertank help keep the cost down but BFG has been the major one over the long run. The price of tires alone might have bankrupted the whole program back then and this story would end here. Remember we were rolling fast and hard almost every weekend for years that's a lot of rubber on the ground. Not only did free tires make a difference at the cost cutting end but good tires made a difference. I had never won a rock crawl before I bolted on a set of BFGs. Even before the Krawler was built we had the classic Mud T/As and tough Baja T/As out on the rocks with amazing success. We were the first team to win 4 in a row then 5 in a row, the first to sweep a season with all the wins in a class, the first to win Pro Rock and Cal Rocs series' in the same year and we won the only Supercrawl to offer stock class. This was the hay day of rockcrawling so even in the stock class the purses and contingencies were in the thousands of dollars. I really do have to thank BFGoodrich for putting faith in an underdog.

Stock class forever?;
We were loving the stock class but the Unlimiteds and the sport in general were growing so fast that very little recognition came from all the success. The media covered moonbuggies, and death climbs with such a white hot intensity for a while that the inevitable burnout came fast. The stock class with all it's real world budgets and real world parts on hopped up trail rigs was very similar to the major demographic of the magazines at the time but we were left out of most coverage completely or off in a corner the size of a postage stamp.
At the same time some of our sponsors wanted us to move up in class but didn't want to foot the bill. For a couple years I ran some events in the Stock class and I borrowed vehicles for the upper class. Hal Frost, Doug Kennedy, RJ Brown and my Rage 4th partner Jason Scherer all had enough confidence in me to loan me some bitchen buggies that were way beyond my means. I really never felt 100% comfortable in them for some reason. Call it lack of seat time, ergonomics, I don't know? I wouldn't say I babied any of their rigs (especially RJs) but for whatever reason I never clicked and never had good finishes in the unlimited class. The ROI at this point for me was the stories, we were traveling all over the country from CA. Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico we were "rock gypsies". Every trip and every stop had stories enough to fill a coffee table book.
The "Buck 80" our Stock class CJ-7was largely unchanged during this time, other than whatever flavor of the week rule change the so called sanctioning bodies threw at us, and in fact is still the same basic Jeep today. Last season we had the pleasure of running it in CalRocs version of stock class again and won every event it was in including it's 8th championship while being interrupted mid season to get revamped and made streetwise again for 4Wheel & Off Road magazines "Ultimate Adventure '08". I think it's safe to say you haven't seen the last of the Buck 80 and Stock Modified class.

Going Pro;
In 2003 I was considering building an "upper class" rig to try and get some media attention. Unlimited was out of the question financially and I thought I could see the beginnings of Pro Mod class becoming the premier class. I could defiantly justify it better since it could double as a trail rig. I had no sooner mumbled my plan to one or two close friends when the phone rang. It was RJ and Joe Brown of Brown's Fabrication in Farmington, NM. They had built a Pro Mod chassis for themselves and heard I was thinking about coming to the class. The chassis was already loaded to go to a comp in So Cal that weekend and would be dropped off Sunday night at my house. When I asked RJ what I could do to pay him he said "Nothing, we think you can win in anything and we want it to be ours". That was cool to hear, the kind of thing that you try to remember when all the hard work is getting you down.

I suppose you could say that day in 2003 is officially when this KOH "build thread" started since it's the same buggy we'll be taking to the race this year. The Brown's chassis is a bit worse for wear after several seasons and some hard crashes along the way but sound and safe as ever.

The original build is mostly still in effect. I'd scrounged parts from anywhere I could, some were sponsored, many like the Atlas were paid for with old gift certificates and contingencies we won in the stock class. Friends would offer "leftover shelf" parts and we would figure out how to make them work. I shamelessly took hand-me-downs (like all my shocks so far) from Jason as he upgraded. Nothing like sifting through your buddy's trash to build a buggy.

RJ had started again and finished building his buggy before me and let me borrow it to fulfill my obligations to sponsors that year and by the last event of the season mine was up and running. I didn't say finished, I said running. This is right about the time most of my current crew from The Dysfunctional Rockcrawlers had come on board and we spent nights and weekends right up until it was time to go. Time to go to Portland Indiana... for a test drive, 2356 miles! For a test drive that would last 14 feet into the second course of the weekend.

The Pro Modified ended up costing me just over $12,000 out of pocket, again this number totaled everything prior to when it won it's first competition including stuff I had bought 20+ years prior and still had laying around... like the motor. Sacrifices had been made for sure. Due to no money the only choice for a motor was the 1966 Buick V-6 from my first CJ-5 still sitting out back. The poor thing would barely get out of it's own way on 37" rubber. That first win in Globe, AZ I'm pretty sure I was the only one setting dwell and adjusting the points (young guys look it up) on my "Professional" Modified Class rockcrawler but none the less it would be the first of two years in a row the "Struggle Buggy" would claim the win at Globe by such a large margin we wouldn't need to run in the shootout.

Always the bridesmaid...
Struggle Buggy would win a few more comps and twice even came within a cone or two of upsetting Bullock or Lovell for the Championship. The most memorable was at Donner for the last event of the WERock Championships. We were in the points lead going in and needed to finish no worse that 2 positions behind Dean Bullock for the win. It didn't happen. While backing down an obstacle the motor seized up solid. The second time in my career a seized motor kept us from winning a rockcrawling championship but this time is was self inflicted. The V-6 was so tired that I had made a habit of using neutral drops to make the car move. Several hundred neutral drops per event. So with the championship on the line and no time or money for a motor change we freshened up what we had. Well I hate to admit it but I had left an old t-shirt rag in the oil pan during paint and reassembly that wrapped itself around the crank and stopped us dead in our tracks. We were able to get the rag out and get it running again. Incidentally the rumor that the rag said "Lovell Racing" on it is not true and was started by us to save face. We're just now able to talk about this within the team but please don't mention it if you see us. Meanwhile we had only missed one course so with no oil pressure and the little Chitty Chitty Bang Bang motor blowin' smoke and clattering like a diesel steam engine we reentered the comp to chase down the title but at the end of the day we fell short. We did however make enough ruckus to attract a new sponsor. Friends from Leo Cotella Produce Company had been watching and insisted on building us a brand new stroker 383 LT1 motor officially turning the "Struggle Buggy" into "The Producer". The motor that "Puts out like a Pom-pom girl on prom night" is still going strong in the buggy today and I'm not allowed to go any deeper than the oil cap.

Racing time;
With horsepower a whole new world opened up and we ran some XXRA and entered last years KOH. Jason was my co-driver and the buggy was fast last year, I think fast enough to win had we not broken a few things but we'll never know. The team worked hard and we did finish and when we subtracted our down time from Shannons finish time we were just minutes off. Good enough to earn a spot in this years race that in itself says something. This year it will be interesting to see what happens. It sounds like the competition has risen to new heights both in dollars spent and speed more so than ever before. With the same old story being told yet again Team Mello has been doing what we can to prep for the race given the funds available. Will our six year old car have what it takes to be competitive? In the shadow of the rest of these builds I estimate we'll have about $3000 invested into the race by the time we get to the lakebed including entry fees, fuel, modifications and prep and of course beer, there's always money for beer. One thing I do know is at this price just being invited and starting the race will be a win of sorts. There's 20 or 30 teams that have investested more than I can imagine let alone justify. One will likely win it and the other 29 will lose, at that level you have to show results to win.

I'll let my crew chief Brian (1ulgyranger), Mark (welndmn), co driver B-rad, Nailhead, John and the rest of the crew fill you in on the recent work nights and add some pictures to show how we do things around here. It ain't pretty but we get alot done and have a good time doing it. See you on the lakebed just look for the salvage title truck, free camper, and open trailer come by and have a beer I'll be the guy surrounded by the best team money can't buy. -Jeff

Since I can't figure out how to insert these picture here they are in order.
The CJ-5 "First Mud" that was my first trophy on 4 wheels and where the CJ ran out of gas.
Barn building the Pro Arena Race Jeep
Early Race Jeep- sponsored by a bar in Sparks, NV
The "Buck 80" circa 2008 revamp for UA
Our KOH ride and Pro Mod the "Producer" last year @ KOH
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Old 02-16-2009, 11:46 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Great story.

I'll be out there to watch, and I'll definitely try and find you guys.
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Old 02-17-2009, 12:01 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Great story, I've enjoyed watching you over the years, starting in Cal Rocs. I wish you the best of luck.
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Old 02-17-2009, 12:08 AM   #4 (permalink)
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i think that is the longest post I have ever seen from you.

I will be rooting for you guys.
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Old 02-17-2009, 12:08 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Great read Jeff. Can't wait to see you guys on the lake bed.

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Old 02-17-2009, 12:22 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Great story, thanks for taking the time. Definitly inspiring for a no $ team.
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Old 02-17-2009, 12:32 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Wow Jeff! I knew the mug and rig but never the full picture! Wow! Great story man! You are in the book for sure! It's the same for a trail rig too, I got a cheap beer budget with champagne breakage and sometimes the means to fix it are weeks, even months away and still I'm waiting. I've been here and there to go wheelin' too(not competing in rocks anyway), and man it's expensive after awhile(On a woodworker budget). Most of us have been there too and respect You all the more for it! Show them high dolla Boys what up. Best of luck Bro! I'll bring a few brews for Ya!
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Old 02-17-2009, 12:42 AM   #8 (permalink)
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I know I've read your name many times. I know I probably watched you at the first Globe event. I remember seeing you take part in the Campbell one week build of Jason's car. But, I really new nothing about you untill now. Thanks for taking the time to tell your story. Good luck and good times at KOH.
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Old 02-17-2009, 07:50 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Good luck this year Jeff. I've been following you since Matt & Kathy started passing stories back us flat landers here in Michigan.
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Old 02-17-2009, 08:11 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Great thread, Jeff! Need more pics!!

See you on the lakebed.
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Old 02-17-2009, 08:21 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Great story! Thanks for taking the time to share your history. Nice to see money doesn't buy everything. Good luck @ KOH.
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Old 02-17-2009, 08:33 AM   #12 (permalink)
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I'll add.

joined team Pirate4x4 Baja 1000 effort as a driver in 2006 and did a fantastic job of driving the 3rd leg on our way to the first of 3 baja 1000 wins in Jeepspeed class.


noW you want to talk about budget racing... JEEPSPEED... I think Jeff will agree that has to rank pretty high in the dollar to fun ratio
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Old 02-17-2009, 08:39 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Great story jeff! I just found a bunch of pics of farmington all time ago when joe and brian were competing brians white cj-7. You were the man to beat back then. Always fun hanging out with ya. When are all going to meet in sd for wheeling?
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Old 02-17-2009, 08:52 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Good read

And best of luck to you.

You've got my vote hands down. Been a fan for years.
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Old 02-17-2009, 09:44 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Good luck Jeff. I met you when you Contra Costa guys came up to Canada to do some wheelin. Me and Vern came down and ran the Rubicon with you. Nice couple even let us crash on their couch! I will be voting for you to win.
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Old 02-17-2009, 09:58 AM   #16 (permalink)
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Awesome Story, I am rooting for you guys!
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Old 02-17-2009, 10:37 AM   #17 (permalink)
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What everone needed Pics!!!!
As you can see Jeff is a very humble person, even though he has been around (for while oke and raced just about everything.
If you did not know, Jeff even did some episodes of Pirate TV, with plans to do more!
Its a team of Family and Friends. We work together on anything from our rigs to our homes.
We all hold full time jobs, none of those jobs in the offroad world. We range from contractors, Mechanics, Millwrights, Cabniet makers, and Computer nerds.
(sorry, some pics taken with a camera phone)

[B]O-dark thirty, after work, adding more bracing to the Master Cly support



You have to make money to spend money. See the side job (the Blue jeep) in the barn, and you can see the buggy outside in the rain. We worked like this for a week or two, while the blue jeep was getting finished to get some needed KOH funds the buggy had to be prepped outside.
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Old 02-17-2009, 10:49 AM   #18 (permalink)
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A late night, Jeff is always all smiles
This again shows this is not a shop, its barn!


Progress is haulted to talk about the new find, an EB. Jeff after many years has got the sickness, and bought his first non-Jeep.

Still outside, redoing brake lines, and talking spare tire mounts and adding an AUX fuel cell.




Everyone has a job. Many skilled hands makes for fast work. (Blue jeep still in our way!)

Spare tire mount. The P stands for...... Pole position in KOH!


Its a family Team. Jeff even feeds us!







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Old 02-17-2009, 11:04 AM   #19 (permalink)
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A tour around the yard! Notice the lack of Fancy tools, with some know how, and some friends you can build a winning buggy!
(FYI the Tan Jeep is for sale, you too can own it.)







We had a tie rod faliure at the last event at Browns Valley, so B-Rad made up some 4340 super bling tie rods!


"Mark put down the camera and pick up a wrench!"
Notice the well used Browns chassis still holding up!

After finding out all the front Rod ends has excessive play in them we ripped them out. While they were out we talked on how he could use a little more separation on his front 3 link. Well if we did that it would hit this, and that would hit that, so on and so on.
So it was all cut off and junked and new link, trac bar and ram mounts were made.

3 weeks until KOH we need to put the front end back in

New Ram mount taking shape.

Fitting braces.






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Old 02-17-2009, 11:15 AM   #20 (permalink)
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Keeping the Axle and us warm!

Need to clean a few years of use off the buggy in case a show and shine is held at KOH. Really Jeff likes to keep everything clean, so before each race the buggy is painted and cleaned.

Red, I love RED!

Still mocking everything up.


Jeff playing


STOP! Lunch time, something we excel at it!












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71 Bronco. 42's and bolt on goats.
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Old 02-17-2009, 11:16 AM   #21 (permalink)
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Cool story! I am sure there are a lot of similar ones, but it is interesting to read stuff like this.
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Old 02-17-2009, 11:19 AM   #22 (permalink)
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None of your pictures work weldnmn.
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Old 02-17-2009, 11:25 AM   #23 (permalink)
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Cool story Jeff. You have always been one of my favorite drivers, even though you and all your cronies give me so much shit...
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bringing the Hero out in all of us...
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Old 02-17-2009, 11:26 AM   #24 (permalink)
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During lunch we got to take turns down the slide!


Lunch over

New firewall made to keep the rule keepers happy!


Front Truss.

FYI, welding stuff makes it warm. Please be warned.


The kids have been put to bed so the play set is put to good use as a paint booth for the links and front bumper/tool holder.

More front end work



Setting up the front end to see what hits.










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71 Bronco. 42's and bolt on goats.
47' CJ2a, 302, C4, 33's. 2012, year of the flat fender.

Last edited by welndmn; 02-17-2009 at 11:54 AM.
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Old 02-17-2009, 11:28 AM   #25 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ben W View Post
None of your pictures work weldnmn.
darn, reloading.....
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71 Bronco. 42's and bolt on goats.
47' CJ2a, 302, C4, 33's. 2012, year of the flat fender.
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