I had saved a couple weeks of vacation to be used at the end of 2006 since I enjoy taking time off during the Christmas holiday season. Most of the time is spent at Troy's shop (Toys by Troy) as I work on my TJ or on one of Troy's project. Some of those projects include 16 hour wrenching sessions (luckily not too many do) while others are something as simple as changing the tranny fluid in my AW4.
On one of those vacation days, I found myself driving around with Troy as we picked up parts, welding supplies, and other stuff for the shop. He asked me if I had anything planned during the first weekend of 2007. As I rarely makes plans past an upcoming weekend, I responded with a simple "No". It was then and there that I found myself volunteering to be his and Brad Kilgore's spotter for W.E.Rock's 2007 season opener "Put Up or Shut Up" (PUSU) extreme rock crawling event slated for Congress, AZ on January 6 & 7, 2007.
I should have known better and after 5+ decades of living, you think I would. I'd never spotted in a competition event, I'd never spotted a rock buggy (plenty of TJs, no buggies), but for what it is worth, it's hard to turn down a request to help two good friends. So, I found myself half of two rock crawling teams, with a bunch of work ahead of us, to get things in shape for what would turn out to be a very exciting weekend.
The last weekend of December, the rigs were ready. I had retrieved a truck load of Maxxis competition tires (40" Crawlers and 37" Trepadors) from a down-town loading dock earlier in the week. The old tires were removed from the beadlocked wheels and the new tires were mounted. We headed to some trails north of Phoenix on Saturday AM to break in the new tires and give me some time to see what the buggies could do (they say it helps the driver when the spotter knows the capabilities of the vehicle). So....I would have a whole Saturday in which to get familiar with the rigs and their drivers. (gosh, what a deal!)
We hit a trail that starts with a very healthy waterfall. To make a long story short, Troy trashed his rear Detroit on the first attempt and Brad munched a portal box on his rear axle. OK....so I had about 5 minutes of trail time with Troy and Brad and the day was now over (except for limping back to the parking spot to load the rigs on the trailers). So much for getting the spotter up to speed!
My vacation was over and so back to my regular job I went....Troy and Brad had a rear diff and a portal box to repair before PUSU that was just a few days away. I hooked up with them again on Friday AM (the day before the event) as we were planning on driving up to Congress on Friday, registering, and then staying at a motel in Wickenburg during the weekend. I caught Brad finishing up the task of grooving the leading edge of the tread blocks on his tires while Troy made a shopping list of tools and parts to put into the hauler.
Later in the afternoon, we headed out of Phoenix for the drive up to Congress, AZ. We were lucky....only about 90 minutes of driving put us at the registration trailer just as the sun was setting. Of course, we managed to get the hauler stuck going through a big "dip" coming into the event area (long trailers are a pain on tight trails). The rear of the hauler bottomed out on one side of the dip and the three axles were left hanging several inches off of the ground. We unloaded the buggies from the trailer and used one of them to pull the tow rig forward enough to clear the hauler's frame from the opposite side of the dip. (Needless to say, that same dip was negotiated at a higher rate of speed during the trip going home.)
A restless Friday night at the motel (for me anyway) and an early Saturday arrival at the event site had us ready for day's activities. As luck would have it, the previous night's random number drawings for starting positions had Troy and Brad in the same group running back to back. For me, that meant 10 minutes on the track as Troy's spotter was then immediately followed by 10 minutes on the track as Brad's spotter. For those of you that are 20~30 years younger than me, that may not seem like much....but I quickly realized that it was a pace I was not physically ready for.
The scoring for the competition is pretty straight forward. You have 10 minutes to run a course. If you don't make any mistakes, you get a score of 0 (zero).....and like golf, the lowest score wins. If you back up, you are awarded a point (not good). If you back up 20 times during those 10 minutes, you get 20 points (not good at all!). You have to drive between pairs of orange plastic cones set out on the course. Touch a cone with your tire, 10 points (OUCH!)....the spotter's foot touches a cone, 10 points (no, I didn't do that to my drivers). Get through a pair of cones, you get 1 point subtracted from your score (that is good!). Make it through an optional "bonus" pair of cones, you get 10 point subtracted from your score (that is REALLY good!). If you don't finish the course within the allotted 10 minutes, you max out with 40 points for the course.
Safety is heavily stressed as they don't want the spotter to get ran over by the over anxious driver. As such, the spotter can't touch the vehicle while it is moving. There are some other penalty "things" the spotter can't do, else the team is awarded points....but as I said, it is all in the interest of safety so that's a good thing. If you are use to "riding" on the rockers of a tipping over vehicle, you can't do that in the competition either.
OK.....time for some photos.
Troy works his buggy through a gate on one of Saturday's four courses. His rear steer is very beneficial in helping him avoid a tire touching a cone. If a competitor uses rear steer on a course, he is awarded 5 points (not good). At least it is not 5 points every time it is used during the 10 minute course. There are two judges on each course actively watching and scoring your progress (and penalty points).
I'm already on the other side of the rocks helping Brad get up and over this part of the course. This was the best run of Sunday's four courses. We finished this one with 5 minutes left on the clock and a score of 0 points. It was, in my opinion, more technical than the other courses which I totally enjoy.....tire placement was important in getting through this course and Brad and I worked through it very well.
Troy on the Saturday's #2 course. This obstacle presented
problems for a lot of the teams (Brad and I included) but Troy managed it very
nicely. Getting your rear tires up onto that rock was not easy.
Same obstacle as above....Troy made it up onto the obstacle and is in the process of nailing it coming off the rock....the exit gate is about 20 feet from where he is right there. You pretty much had to launch yourself off of the rock so you could get the driver's front tire onto a rock that was about 3 feet away from the obstacle. If you didn't, you would simply roll onto your top as the driver's side dropped off the rock. Momentum and the appropriate throttle response is something used all the time in this type of competition.
Me on the left....Brad driving up onto the same rock (as the two previous photos). As you can see.....or in this can't see....Brad's driver's rear tire is not to be seen....yet trying to get up onto the rock.
Right up to this point, we had the fastest time right up to this obstacle of any team who had attempted it. With Brad's smaller tires (only 37" tall), he wasn't making it. He motioned to me he was going to make a run on it (read full throttle) as we were burning daylight trying to finish the course. As you can see, it didn't work and he rolled the rig. Nothing too bad....a broken schraeder valve on his rear shock that was fixed the following morning. But needless to say, we didn't finish this course. In fact, he was so wedge into the spot after we got the vehicle righted, the rig had to be winched out of that spot.
More PUSU 2007
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