2008 W.E. Rock Put Up or Shut Up - It's Raining Carnage!
Story by Pirate4x4 Staff
Photos by Houp Photography
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You know those once-a-year fun dates??? A trip to Magic Mountain, a traditional family reunion, a certain day at the horse races, or your favorite holiday??? Well, mine is an off-road competition like no other, the ultimate fun event known as Put Up or Shut Up.
The event's history began nearly a decade ago in a tiny town in Northern California, where a family of off-roaders invited some of the craziest wheelers out to try their hand at driving over some insane obstacles. There were no classes, minimal rules, and an attitude of the event being more about friendship, laughter, and bravado, than anything else.
The sport of rockcrawling certainly has changed since that 2001 competition. Even though the sport has changed, that event, and its attitude of friends, laughs, and egos has somehow remained the same. Taking place annually in the days after the calendar turns to a new year, the W.E.ROCK Put Up or Shut Up is still run by the same family, and with the same passion. One of the coolest things about this event is it is very small with a field limited to less than 28 teams. It becomes intimate with the fans as the announcer can really help the crowd get to know the teams. In the event's tradition, it's also a "Run What Ya Brung" event, so there are no vehicle classes. Everyone competes against everyone and it is common to have vehicles from the Stock Class, Rhino Class, Formula Toyota, Pro Modified, and Unlimited all running against one another. We all know that many of the teams are simply outgunned with the vehicles they are driving, but it's still a blast to test their skills against the best of the best, not to mention a PERFECT mid-winter practice session.
In 2005, W.E.ROCK competitor Bruce "BZ" Zellar bragged of some HUGE rocks and insane climbs not too far northwest of Phoenix. Big and Lil Rich Klein of W.E.ROCK made the trip down to see what BZ was so excited about and returned with a smile. They had found an amazing landowner, a great pit area, camping area, spectator area, endless land for competition, scenery that is second to none, and all within a short drive of the home-base for hardcore crawling, central Arizona. The 2008 event took place in Congress, Arizona for the third year in a row and even on the third visit there, it is clear there is much more to be seen and done on those unforgiving rock-covered hills.
I arrived a couple days early to find the W.E.ROCK crew hard at work on setting up the site. A slew of cones were already in place with three days to go, and the competition site was clean and already segmented off with the stringer-banner that separates the fan areas from the course areas. Walking up to see what Lil Rich and Chris Pilafas had laid out for courses, I recognized that we were in for an exciting weekend. Two more days of hard work meant all of the weekend's courses were marked, and the course maps already posted so the teams arriving could get a grip on what they were up against. A few commented that the lines were incredible, but many told us they thought the courses might be a little on the easy side. What they were forgetting was to consider that the two courses they questioned regarding difficulty, were laid out on a hill that sloped about 25 degrees…that makes that steep climb, look less steep when you're standing right there on the obstacle. The W.E.ROCK crew and I just laughed as they walked away thinking they were in for an easy time on those rocks.
Friday night came, the rigs and teams were checked in, the teams were happy to see the advanced planning and readiness of the event, but there was one dark cloud looming over us…a rain-cloud. Here we are, in a town that gets less rain than you average kitchen sink flows in 5 minutes, and it is looking like that entire annual rainfall will land on us on Saturday and Sunday's events. Now that's going to be painful as the event is not close to town, it's an area that is normally dry so people don't exactly love the rain, and worst of all, it's a 5 mile washboard road that is dirt, and quickly turning to mud. If the rain falls, the fans just won't come…or will they?
Saturday morning comes, I roll out of my camper at 6am and immediately look for my umbrella…NOT GOOD! It rained all night, the ground is muddy, it's VERY cold, but because the sport is what it is, we're going to have a competition anyway! A couple hours of setting up and getting ready, including getting the sound system somewhat shielded from the rain, and the 9am team meeting was called. Teams found out that the rules were pretty much the same except for two tweaks. The out-of-bounds "banner" rule would be guarded closer than ever before, and now, if any team completed a bonus, they get to keep those points whether they finish the course or not. Both of those rules would change the strategies of the teams, and ultimately make or break many teams' weekends. With a "wait and see" attitude, the team meeting was wrapped up and with 40 minutes to go until the competition, I took a look around and was surprised to see something. Through the light rain I was seeing movement…lots of it…and it was the kind of movement we LOVE, but did not expect this weekend. FANS, and not just a few. Not only were they coming in large groups, they were arriving early! With the final element in place, W.E.ROCK's 2008 Put Up or Shut up was going to be awesome and soon we were removing our hats, turning our eyes to Old Glory, and singing the greatest song on earth to honor our country, and those that have kept, and continue to keep it free.
Seconds later, the sounds of horsepower filled the spectator area as our Marshals and Judges welcomed the teams into the courses. I had seen the lineup and knew the action would be immediate as Tracy Jordan in his LS2 powered Twisted Customs buggy was first to go on A1. That course was a great balance of technical and difficulty and his Fabtech sponsored machine, led by brother Jason Jordan would…um…should, pull off a great run. The crowd was not let down, but I'll say for sure that Tracy and Jason WORKED to get through, finishing with a "13". At the far end of the arena I soon heard the sound of BZ's unmistakable powerplant revving wildly…I looked over just in time to see that VW powered moonbuggy thrilling the crowd with a full wheelstand halfway up the largest climb of the weekend's event! BZ slammed reverse and nailed the throttle but it just wasn't to be and the Maxxis decals on his roof were instantly tasting the mud. Not 15 feet away, the team of Mark Ruffing and Adam Thode were bouncing off the rev-limiter and zinging him up a climb that would deny most teams this weekend. They finished with a "21", one of the better scores for sure, considering half the field didn't even make it through the first gate! All the while, course A2 was being navigated by the team of Trail Gear's Matt Messer spotted by Pro Modified phenom driver Tim Florian. They had not worked together before this course, and really the buggy is new to Matt so don't expect much…well…I guess that's not accurate. They did score alright…well, better than alright…in fact, the best score all weekend on that course with a "-1"! Within the first few minutes of this event, it was clear that you needed 4 sets of eyes because there sure was a TON of great action going on simultaneously.
Jason Paule made the trip down to represent the famous RockRunner Racing Team, and was joined by Spotter Mark Berger. Mark, one of the sport's top driver's, agreed to spot at the last minute as Travis "SuperSpot" Wadeson was still not feeling up to the task after his major car accident last year. Chatting with George Wadeson, he told me the team was looking forward to this event as everyone knows just how good Jason and Trav work together. Mark had some big shoes to fill, but right off the bat, that duo pulled off a clean run and said they were confident their BFG's were giving them an advantage in the rain. They started out on the same obstacle as Mark Ruffing and literally leaped up the first climb, taking the rest of the course without pushing into the bonus lines and finishing with a great score of "14".
Back to the subject of rain, the east coast teams normally thrive in the rain. We had heard mention of a few eastern teams thinking of making the trip but with the horrible weather across the nation, didn't expect to see any turn up. Eastern driver and 05 National Champion, Jessie Haines showed, but that wasn't exactly a surprise as he'd recently moved to Carson City, Nevada to work for Shaffer's OffRoad. What we didn't know was the secret he was keeping. One of the top eastern drivers, and one of Jessie's competition rivals, had agreed to fly out to spot for Jessie. Matt Deas, the two-time Eastern National Series Champion was going to work together with his rival to show these western teams how it's done. If the conditions were ever right, this rain was going to offer them a little "home field advantage." It clearly did, and right off, they were scaling climbs in the full throttle attacks the eastern teams are known for, and it was WORKING! They didn't finish their first course (A4), but trust me, most people didn't make the first gate. Matt and Jessie pulled off a big attempt, got over the first big climb, pulled off a bonus line, and just missed the finish. Because of the new rules on Bonuses, they were rewarded for making it so far and for pushing it, and ended up with a "28", instead of a "38".
Jody Everding was up early on course A2 and though he used the throttle wisely, you could see he needed much of those 508 ponies in his PRP sponsored Pro Mod. He was bummed to see his regular spotter, Kevin Carey, stuck in the snows of northern California, but luckily, Bryan Haycock jumped in and took the reigns, leading Jody to a clean "0" on their first course.
Nicole and Frank Johnson were out to try their hands in their new Campbell Enterprises Chassis. They recently purchased the Pro Modifed machine that Terry and Troy Dagen competed in the second half of 07. With basically no seat time, Nicole was working her way through the big rocks with an even bigger grin on her face. During an interview, she told us all how easy that new buggy was to drive and she was shocked at how it stuck to the rocks, even of big off-camber climbs. Like Jody, her sticky Pro Comp Tires were handling the wet rocks well and she scored a great score of "10" on A2.
Team Crossed Up made the trip out but this weekend didn't come with their normal team vehicle. Instead, Jerrod Pedley threw his hat in the ring, and Mike Klensin, normally the Crossed Up driver, ended up wearing a spotter's helmet. Unfortunately for them, they had an early T-Case failure in the rocks of A2 and had to rely on the great recovery crew of the AZ Based club, Built To Grind (BTG), that had come along to make sure things ran smoothly. With this one, they had their work cut out for them. About an hour of hard work finally got the Crossed Up representative off the course and I must say, we ALL appreciated the recovery team on that hard pull!
Darren Runion and Tony Kasabasich made their return to rockcrawling, this time with the brand of Home Depot proudly displayed on the side or their rear-steer moonbuggy. They fought hard on A4 but couldn't get that first climb, but moved on to A1 and had an excellent score of "13". Their vehicle and teamwork looks to be right on for the technical courses and A2 would be up next for them.
One of the teams that was the most fun was the stock mod team of Larry Karver and Chad Shatto, out of Apache Junction, AZ in their Toyota pickup. In the past, we've seen some amazing performances by stock mod teams at Put Up or Shut Up. The most notable was that of Cody Waggoner in his yellow "spring-under" Jeep CJ5 in the 2004 Put Up or Shut Up, where he gave even the top unlimiteds a run for their money. Now, the days of smaller tires and heavy rigs are gone from top competitions, so anyone competing in a stocker at this even would find a real challenge. Larry and Chad didn't seem to find the challenge though. Actually, they did, but just didn't take note of it. On each course, they wore huge smiles, even as they faced impossible odds on the rain soaked courses filled with giant mud covered boulders. Soon, these two had a small band of fans following them to every course, just there to cheer them on and see if they could reach a finish gate. Though they were unable to do that, they kept on, and kept on, and kept on, using their time and effort to do their best, showing sportsmanship and fun is one of the best parts of the event.
One of the most exciting turns of the day was BZ on course A1, where he took his usual, "it's a bonus, I gotta do it!" attitude, and dived off a 10 foot tall, near-vertical wall, thrilling the crowds in the biggest of ways. He wasn't having the best of events, but for sure, he wasn't having the worst and made a move up on the teams that had run away from him after his early roll-over.
Later, after a some big troubles on A4, Tom Haman and Dan Boardo of Team FloorIt, piloting the Yukon Gear moonbuggy, lined up for that same drop…with only three wheel drive, and an engine stalling from being fuel starved, they took the same big vertical that BZ tried and instead of finessing it, literally JUMPED off it, busting the front of their chassis into a number of pieces. Somehow, they still managed to drive through the finish gate with the track-bar (panhard) snapped clean off. With big smiles of success, they headed off to town, thankful that was their last course. They were in search of repair in a big way, and would HOPEFULLY make it back in time for the Sunday morning start.
So much happened on the first day that it would take dozens of pages to cover, but let's just say that the weather and challenges rewarded some in the biggest ways, and destroyed others in ways you hope to never see. Our sole Formula Toy of Pat Hanning and Chris Addaman quickly broke an output shaft on a valiant attempt on A4. Trail Gear's Craig Thompson and Chad Snapp immediately found their portal box broken on the same climb. The Crossed Up team was unable to repair their T-case well enough to finish the event, even with a valiant attempt. And on their third course, the Home Depot team found carnage as they destroyed a right front knuckle in the largest batch of rocks of the event, putting themselves out of the game entirely. Nicole Johnson exploded a ring and pinion on their third course, and even with a big effort of many, including Terry and Troy Dagen, the Johnson Motorsports team would have to miss their last course of Saturday. Like Tom Haman, they HOPED to find the needed parts for a Sunday return! In all of the thank you's I heard over the weekend, I must say that in almost every team that had thanks to say for repairs made, mentioned the name "Team Trail Gear". It looks like that team stood out yet again this weekend in offering their help and support when and where they could.
At the end of the day, the story was Jason Paule clearly in command, and taking the attitude of, "we're not going for most of the bonuses, we're going for the strategy that fits us best and that's FINISHING." Tracy Jordan was about 40 points back in second place. Jessie, BZ, and Matt Messer were fighting it out for third, all within a few points or one another.
The night went by with rain falling, teams wrenching, and a bonfire raging, and by the time the National Anthem played on Sunday morning, we had a second day of large crowds, only this morning, we didn't have rain! Well, we didn't exactly have sun either, but hey, we look on the bright side right!?!?
One thing we did have was Tracy Jordan at his best. He was 40 points down, and gunning for the RockRunner Racing team in nearly identical rigs. Tracy was ready to take any and all risks and right out of the gate started reeling in Paule a few points at a time. On the toughest obstacles of the day (B4), Tracy pushed the FabTech machine through the course and finished clean. He pulled down an untouchable score of "-4" on a course that was 60% DNF's by the other teams. When I asked him if he was under pressure to beat Jason, he turned the tables on BZ, and made some comment to ruffle the feathers of Mad Rock Racing's driver. It didn't work…BZ and Tracy both ended up with huge smiles, again showing the attitude of the weekend.
Dean Bulloch and Karl Munford, piloting the Team "On Track Crawlers" machine would fight their way through the courses but even with a big helping hand from lead sponsor PSC Steering, wouldn't find enough success to make the shootout. That doesn't mean they weren't capable, it just wasn't their event. In the mud and wet, that team's style of slow crawling and PERFECT lines just wouldn't work without the traction, but they sure did put on a great show trying.
Bill "BillyGoat" Kreisel and Joel Kelsey, who had fought hard on day one, wouldn't find a great start on day 2. The fought for a "27" on B3, and a disappointing "38" on B4, but that surely didn't sour their attitude as they came back with a "-6" and a "4" on their last two obstacles, which were both scores to be more than proud of, especially with how rough and technical the courses turned out to be in the wet weather. Bill and Joel would go on to finish 7th…just a few points out of the running for the "ShootOut", which is a final course that only the top 6 teams get to run.
Mark Ruffing found his limits a time or two but was at least able to return from course to course in their amazing SpiderTrax moonbuggy. The team threw down a couple of great scores …actually, two of the best scores of the weekend. Mark and Adam had to be proud of their finish, even with the difficulties they faced.
Tom Haman, who DESTROYED the Yukon buggy on day one did make it back on day 2 and had nothing but praise for Kevin from Nichols Auto Fab in Prescott, AZ. I guess Kevin helped them out in a long night of major repairs and with that effort, helped Team FloorIt come back for an 8th place finish.
Nicole and Frank Johnson also made the return after a long night of wrenching. Their Pit Crew of Mike Julian and Mike Worl busted their knuckles all night and with help from many, got the Johnson Pro Mod in action for a nice comeback. They ultimately crawled their way from 14th to 9th…not a bad comeback in the face of adversity!
BlackStar Motorsports, sponsored by House of Color also had a notable weekend. No, they didn't finish in the trophies, but they did finish as heroes. The crowd followed the black and orange buggy of Weston Blackie and Dave "DSI" Schnieder all weekend as they knew that each time they were on-course, action was in-store. Taking big risks, using a ton of wheelieing full-throttle attacks, and putting on a major smoke show of burning rubber on their Maxxis tires, the team lovingly known as "Mindless and Useless" commonly received the loudest cheers of the weekend.
After a long and difficult battle between rocks and machines, the top 6 teams lined up for the final "Shootout!" A crowd of about 600 fans was still on-hand at the end of the day and found themselves surrounding the longest of all of the weekend's courses. With three bonus lines and very tricky and deceiving first and fourth gates, this course had the potential to change the order of the top teams. EVERYONE needed to be on their game.
RAWX Racing's Jody Everding lined up and the got the crowd going with a long and loud rev of his big engine. Right off, Jody took the regular line through the first gate and then went for a double bonus climb that would fetch him some valuable points. He was unable to complete the course, but did save himself 14 progress and bonus points that he would not have had under the old bonus points structure. Their score on that course, a "26". That put the pressure on 5th place Bruce Zellar and stand-in spotter Chris Rae, who were only 12 points ahead of Jody going into the Shootout. BZ immediately opted to try the first bonus and took a ton of time in that attempt, only to be denied by a cavernous hole under the left rear tire. He took a cone and dove through the first regular gate, knowing that with the time he'd spent, he needed to get moving quickly. Then, in an unexpected move, BZ chose to bypass the double-bonus and go the regular line on Gate #3. If he wanted to hold his 5th place, he could have simply cleared the double bonus Jody had taken, but no, he wanted to go for finishing the course and went the regular line. Well, BZ got nailed for not remembering that Lil Rich, W.E.ROCK's lead course designer, often sets regular lines just as tough as bonus lines, and that proved to be the case here. BZ struggled and got hung up, burning valuable time, and ending his attempt before he made it through the 5th intermediate gate. His score, a "36", costing him his 5th place. Jody made the move up and made no bones about how proud he was!
Jessie Haines and Matt Deas were up next and dabbled on the first bonus for a bit but then decided to get serious and try to complete the course. Taking the regular line the entire way, they soon found themselves caught in the exact same spot BZ had fought so hard on. Gate 3 was relentless and even with the high traction of their super sticky Maxxis "Creepy Crawler" tires, they just couldn't find the line to keep both axles and their belly pan from hanging up on rocks. After about three minutes of careful planning and technical attempts, Jessie made the call to move to "plan B". Matt stepped back, throttle was fully applied, and that machine bounced around side to side, back and forth, up and down, the crowd screaming and cheering all the while…about 2 minute more of that and they were STILL hung…2 minutes left, and it was hopeless…then BANG, the car jumped, slammed its belly HARD on a rock making a huge noise, spun the care about 20 degrees, and Matt soon found himself scrambling to get Jessie lined up for the next three difficult gates. With less than 2 minutes, they worked so had to get through the last of the intermediate gates and headed off to the finish, only to find themselves hung up in a big leaning sidehill with less than ten seconds left. Jessie nailed the throttle anyway, used his rear-steer to make the final turn, and with a big jump over the final boulders, crossed the finish line with only a second or two left on the clock. Their score on that course, a "3"!
The rain was falling now but the crowd was going nowhere as the show was only getting better and better. Matt Deas and Tim Florian of Trail Gear were up next. Sitting in 3rd place going into the shootout, they only needed to finish the course with a "decent" score to hang onto the bronze. Taking no chances, they didn't push for the early bonus, took the lower cone on the first gate to save time, and went right for the double bonus Jody had found success on. In the wet and slick line, the moonbuggy fought much harder than Jody's front engine Twisted Customs chassis. Matt had to fight and fight to make the climb, and was finally successful, but burning two cones along the way. Making the next turn was a nightmare and they found themselves fighting the bannerline and making it difficult to do the maneuver of a rear burn sideways around the next gate. Tim was trying to keep Matt from sliding back into the cone and though Tim was spotting his best, Matt couldn't see just how close the cone really was. With a quick backup to re-position the buggy, the tire touched the cone and the team soon realized they had pointed out, reaching the maximum of 40 penalty points on that course. Luckily for them, they had the double bonus and the additional 5 progress points and ended that course with a score of "25"…would it be enough to hold off the east coast team in 4th??? After a quick calculation in the official scoring trailer, the answer was no! We had another position change and now Jessie Haines and Matt Deas were sitting in 3rd place!
Down to the final 2 with a steady rain falling, Tracy and Jason Jordan lined up for their attack. With less than 20 points separating them from the leader, we know exactly how this course can turn things around once again! The Jordan brothers head straight into the first bonus and their skill and rear still buggy should make this possible. Just when you think they are going to pull off the insane sidehill through the giant hole that caused BZ so much trouble, the engine starts banging and smoking…not good! Tracy backs off, but apparently the damage was already done on an earlier course. Tracy takes the regular line through the first gate and just as he's about to clear the cones, fire breaks out under his hood. Right now, you'd think Tracy would be upset, or frustrated, or showing some kind of disappointment, but as the flames are being extinguished, you see him turn towards Jason Paule and Mark Berger. With a big smile, Tracy says, "CONGRATS GUYS!"…and ends his run right there, in the most sportsmanlike of ways. Unfortunately for that team, a new engine is the cost of their playtime this weekend.
The rain still pouring, the crowd applauds as Tracy pulls his "FJ" buggy off the course. The 000 team of Jason and Mark will win automatically with the lead they have, and they don't even need to run the final course. BUT, with a crowd still there, they strap on their helmets and dive into their Shootout run. They clean every bonus and make the course look like they had run it fifty times before. They move slowly and surely through the difficult gates and by the end of the course, could have had a score of "-22" had they simply had 5 more seconds on the clock. They didn't push it, didn't put on a big show, but the crowd didn't need to see huge risks and big throttle to be impressed…really, they didn't finish, and didn't need to. Just watching the finesse of one of the greatest drivers was enough, and as Jason took off his helmet, he was offered the warmest round of applause from the entire weekend. A fitting end to 9 courses of carnage.
In reflection, the 2008 Put Up or Shut Up was one of the finest events I have ever attended. The dedicated fans, the sportsmanship of the teams, the talented and professional team of volunteer judges, officials, and recovery crew, and the simple proof that the sport can succeed, even in the smallest of ways, makes for a positive feeling. All of the hard work so many people put in to make this sport go forward feels worthwhile. Personally, there are a ton of people to thank for making this all happen, but one on one, at this event, I found four people that really deserve everyone's thanks. Adam, Josh, Brandon, and Chris…they are the dedicated band of guys that travel with W.E.ROCK to do the hard and dirty work of setting up and tearing down the event. They work fast, hard, and tirelessly on their week-long time in the desert. Why do they do it? So we can have a place to compete. Really, they are unsung heroes of our sport. Thanks guys.
Look for our return to Congress once again in January of 2009 for the 8th annual Put Up or Shut Up. To find W.E. Rock's schedule, go to http://www.we-rock.cc.
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