From the Drivers Seat
by Craig Stumph

The 1999 Warn Rock Crawling Championship was a class event. From the organizer, Bob Hazel, down to the judges and participants the people were great! This group of people assembled in Yucca Valley was one of the best I have ever seen at an event. The Hammer trails in Johnson Valley California rank at the top of any extreme trails that I have been on. They are challenging and provide enough quality obstacles for any competitor. The whole Johnson Valley ORV area is great with a wide variety of trails, obstacles, sand dunes, and camping areas.

Day one of the event included registration and technical inspection of the vehicles. Most of the machines were assembled at the Super 8 motel which was near the registration and inspection area. The sight of all these radical rides had the people of Yucca Valley City really buzzing. The locals were dropping by and asking questions all day long. They were impressed by the equipment and wanted to know where the action was.

After lunch registration began by signing up spotters and drivers. Sponsor decals with shirts and hats went to the participants. The decals had to be applied or you could not run in the event. After registration a drivers meeting was held and the rules were discussed. They are summarized as follows: 

20-30 points possible for each section of the coarse (they varied)

1 point deduction for stopping
2 point deduction for reversing
6 point deduction for running over a gate
14 point deduction for winching
20 point deduction for going out of bounds
20 deduction for timing out (taking to long)
2 points added for each gate successfully negotiated
10 point deduction for a time out

The next morning we assembled at the green pole in the dry lake bed for departure at 7:00 AM sharp. We were at the front of the line for the Wrecking Ball trail. While we were waiting we saw Mel and Stacey from "Trucks" on TNN with their camera man standing in front of the Commando. Being big fans we introduced ourselves and talked about project Willies that they are building on the show. Dallas, my son and spotter for the event, told them about the Willies truck he is building. They were particularly interested my Commando's big block Chrysler as their project Willies also has Chrysler power. 

When 7:00 AM arrived we departed in caravan for the trail. The TNN cameras were rolling and they motioned for us to get closer, presumably for a better shot of the Commando. Our leader must have been as nervous as us because he took a wrong turn and missed the trail. We had to turn around and back track to the trail head. 

I had made several modifications to the Commando before the event and did not have time to test the new combination. One modification was the installation of a Holly 900 CFM Projection to the 440 Chrysler engine. At the 2000 ft. elevation (2500 ft. lower than Utah) the combination of big block Chrysler and a well tuned injection unit made the Commando over powered to say the least. Going up the first little hill I had the Commando in drive, applying a little throttle caused the machine to wheelie over the hill when it automatically shifted into second. Talk about pre-run jitters, the 440 had never run this good before and I was having problems over powering everything. 

At the first gate the adrenaline was really pumping into my system. Dallas was in the same condition and we were nervous. Contestants were not allowed to look at the course before they ran and this was not helping. To top it all off, we were in front of the famous Currie/Waggoner team that had come in first and second in last years event. Jeff Waggoner was spotting for John Currie, what a team! We relaxed a little bit when Frank Currie who we had met in Moab, came by to chat.

Were up next! This was like some kind of dream and I was watching myself in it. I checked the controls, cooling fans on, lockers in, every thing is good. The judge gave us the 30 seconds to go signal. Dallas lined up at the first gate as the judge counted down the last 5 seconds."Go" shouts the judge! Dallas runs out in front of the Commando and motions me forward.I am riveted to his signals and not even watching the trail, left he motions, now right, creep it he says. I look out the drivers side at the ground and realize we are on a near roll angle. Slow he says as I notice that we have almost knocked a gate over. Dallas says: "Back up", I hear the judge shout reverse to the score keeper. Lost two points. Come on forward Dallas motions, but creep! Were through the first section of the course with a great score, only minus two points. Nobody is laughing at us and we didn't get hung up. Life is good! 

The Curries are up next. We are watching them as they go through. What a couple of processionals they are. No stops, reverses or glitches. These guys are going to be tough to beat, plus they have the coolest Jeep we have ever seen. There is stuff on their Jeep that we don't even know what it's for! 

The next obstacle was really kicking everybody's butt. We arrived to see a Wagoneer high centered and just thrashing the thing to pieces on a huge rock in the coarse. I can hear the Pirates of the Rubicon up on the hill making some comments and encouraging the driver on. The Wagoneer timed out and had to winch past the first gate. We are up next. Frank Currie comes by to chat a little, he tells us to throw some rocks in the hole up by the big rock. Good advice.  

We are thinking that we made it past the first section OK and we can do this. Dream on buddy! We get past the first big rock that had the Wagoneer hung up and see the real problem, (remember we can not scout or see the course before we run it) there is this huge group of boulders that throw you into another bigger rock that eats your body. Slam! that rock is really hungry, it just ate the right side of my Commando. Dallas signals a stop. We get out and start throwing rocks in the base of this impossible obstacle. Dallas is throwing huge rocks (he is 17 years old and weighs 250 lbs) and I am throwing what I can ( I am such a wimp, 44 and over the hill) . I don't know how long we were pitching rocks, but it seemed like an hour! Remember this is a timed event! Ok, lets go for it! We start up the edge of the thing, my heart is going about 150 mph, my leg won't quit shaking and I can hear the Pirates in the background somewhere as we almost make it before we spin out. Is this Commando really that over powered or I am just stuck in the jaws of a giant vice putting pressure on my entire body so that I can't function? This is a high pressure situation. I can't ever remember being this nervous except when I was on my first date as a teenager. We make several reversals, but can't get in position to get over this rock! Meanwhile the big rock is nibbling away at the sheet metal on the Commando, so much for the new paint job.  

Dallas and I get our first chance to try our new winch (another one of those late minute additions). We have never had to winch before, what a place to learn. We spool it out and one of the spectators helps us figure out what to do. Man, I can't wait to get out of here. We time out on this obstacle and pick up 4 points for our efforts. At least nobody else has made it over yet with out winching and timing-out! 

The Curries are up next. Guess what? They are the first ones over this obstacle. I think they just became my heroes. Calm, cool, collected, are these guys really that good or just lucky? 

Our confidence is really shaken at this point. The next two gates we zero out on and in the process we blow a tire. We would probably have given up at this point if Andi Vogt from the Utah Four Wheel Drive Association hadn't come by and gave us a pep talk. Thanks Andi you are really cool! 

Back in the saddle again we attack the last gate. We are scoring good now until the right front hub blows. Dallas wants to take a time out to fix the hub. I tell him:" lets try it again". Dallas gets behind the Commando and starts pushing. We are moving again! As he is pushing, he tells me that we need to punch it to get through at his signal. Dallas yells: "punch it and don't let up"! "Ok" I mutter and then nail it! I don't want to exaggerate, but when you nail the big block Chrysler, things happen, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Today was good. The Commando leaped over the last two obstacles in three wheel drive. Horsepower is beautiful. If anybody got this part on video, I want to see it. 

That was the last obstacle of the day and it was a good thing. Dallas and I are both spent. I can't wait to get back to the motel and rest. On the way back we pass a competitor who completely destroyed the front end of his Jeep. He had used a strap and his winch cable to hold it together to get him back to camp! 

The next morning we got up at 4:30 AM again to get ready for the contest. On the way we picked up a tire from Cal (sorry I don't remember your last name) who was one of the judges on the last section of the Wrecking Ball. Many thanks for the loan, Cal. This morning we decided that we were just going to get through the course and not worry about the scoring. This took some of the pressure off and we did much better the second day. 

Leaving from the red pole we went to the Claw Hammer Course. My whole family was at the start of the trail today including our 7 year old son Mikey. Mikey is a hugh fan of "Trucks" on TNN. He immediately spotted Mel and Stacey and walked up to them as though they were old friends and announced that he was their biggest fan. You have to know Mikey to understand the affect he has on people, he is just special and people respond well to him. Before long the TNN crew is installing the remote camera they use to film on the Commando. This was definitely cool. We talked more with Stacey and the camera crew while waiting for our turn. The TNN guys are great. 

With this super start to the day and being able to follow the Curries we really cooked through the coarse. We only had trouble with the last gate and placed 8th that day in our group. The Pirates were at the last obstacle where we had problems and were amused with Dallas and Myself at this gate. We revealed how a father and son team operate under pressure. I heard a few comments coming from the Pirates and I have to agree that with them that we were operating in a vacuum at that gate, if you know what I mean.  

I will say this about the Pirates; they are the most extreme group of 4 wheelers I have ever been wheeling with. They also make you you feel welcome in their own special way. Lance, Jeff, and Bob are the ones I am most familiar with that attended the event. I thank them for being there. Lance was going to spot for me, but it just didn't work out because of some scheduling conflicts with the event organizers. Thanks anyway Lance. 

The day ended up just about perfect. Dallas and I did an interview for extreme 4x4.com at the end of the trail and felt like winners even though we only finished 20th out of 60 competitors.  

The day of the finals we just watched. It was a great relief, though disappointing to not be competing. The course selected for the finals had not been run before. I personally don't think it was as difficult as the Wrecking Ball course had been the first day. I wish they would have let me place the gates, the course would have been much harder! 

The Curries were unlucky and drew the first spot in line. They had to go first over a course that nobody had run. I felt for them as they paved the way for the rest of the competitors by stacking rocks over the impassible areas. This eventually caused them to time-out on one gate and put them out of the running for first place. 

My congratulations to the Dirty (bakers) Dozen. They are listed below in order of Finish: 

1. Sniper-Mevers/Trudeau


3.CJ5- Ristau/Coroe

4.CJ7 Renagade-Patton/Cox





9.TJ- Currie/Waggoner



12.Bronco- Reynolds/Reynolds

13. Killer Bee Jeep-Bacon/Blada

 That's all for now. Hope you enjoyed the story. It was a great experience I and look forward to doing it again next year.

 - Craig