Written by Dave Warner, photos by Joey Weber
The W.E. Rock 2009 Put Up or Shut Up (PUSU) event in Tucson, Arizona was the fourth qualifier event for the 2010 King of the Hammers competition. PUSU is not a typical W.E. rock event with classes for unlimited, pro mod, pro stock and f-toy competing in very tight technical courses set up by course designer Rich Klein (Lil' Rich). PUSU is a year end event that is a run what you brung competition with no classes and no series points implications. Lil' Rich opens up the cones a little and adds a few sections of high speed dashes between obstacles so the competitors can put on a show for the crowd. The Flying Zucchini Brothers decided to make the 2654 km trek to the PUSU event for a chance at qualifying for the 2010 KOH race.
Every competitor out there, and probably 99% of trail 'wheelers, will have a pre-competition or pre-trip regimen of fixing broken or stressed parts and giving the 4x4 a once over, checking parts that may lead to problems. This does not generally include a complete rebuild of the 4x4 for most normal people. However, I don't think Curtis and I can be classified as normal people. After the KORRBC event in October the rear suspension mounts and tubing they were attached to were tearing out after we blew a coilover while airing the truck out at 30 feet. Then we proceed to do the exact same thing with our spare airshock two heats later, but also blew up a front hydraulic bump stop and tore it off the chassis. So, before we were able to compete again we needed to rebuild a major part of the suspension. The plan was four new air bump stops and new Fox coilovers for the rear. And because we didn't think we had enough work on our hands (sarcasm), we decided to cut two inches out of the belly requiring a redesign of both 4 links and moving the engine, tranny, and transfer case up two inches. This proved to be a ton of work and we didn't actually complete the finishing touches until Friday night after we unloaded the buggy at the event in Arizona.
The typical Flying Zucchini team trip to the competition is filled with eventful occurrences and this trip would prove to be no different. Curtis had planned to come down Wednesday night so we could get a good night sleep and feel refreshed for an early Thursday morning start (he lives several hours away from me). However, around 6:00 pm I got a call from Curtis who was chuckling as I answered. For those of you who know Curtis, you already know that if he starts a conversation that way then something is wrong. So, with reservation I asked how it was going, to which he replied that he was somewhere between Merritt and Hope (about 2.5 hours from me) and had just blown his transmission in his Dodge tow rig. After a lengthy discussion we decided to have BCAA tow his Dodge and trailer with the buggy on it to Chilliwack where I would meet him, load up the buggy and head south across the Canada-USA border to the event. By the time we were able to get all this done it was approaching midnight and we headed for the Sumas border crossing. Generally, we take the 176th crossing with such frequency that they seem to know who we are and just send us through. I have to say that the border guards were extremely nice, but decided that they really wanted to give us a thorough inspection. Not rubber glove thorough, but they went through a list of questions with all three of us, had 4 guards search the truck and trailer and then sent the truck and trailer threw the x-ray machine. We finished the inspection around 2:00 am and proceeded to drive straight to Tucson, AZ, stopping for only gas and food. We did make a side trip however as we decided we needed to cruise the Las Vegas strip once with the truck and trailer as none of us had been to Vegas before.
We arrived in Tucson early Friday morning, swapped a starter in the buggy, bled the brakes, then walked the courses with Lil' Rich. Right away we were excited to see that the cones were wider than typical W.E. Rock events. This gave us a better chance as our buggy does not turn and maneuver anywhere near what a true unlimited or pro mod style W.E. Rock buggy can do. In typical Lil' Rich fashion there were some nasty looking climbs, drops and off camber sections. We set off Friday night to look for a restaurant and did an unplanned tour of all of Tucson before we found a Chili's to eat at. At the restaurant we schemed over some good food and some very girlie fruity margaritas. They were on special though, so we stroked our male ego's by stating that we were doing it out of necessity as we were running a tight budget for the event. The game plan we came up with for the Saturday course was to take it easy to make sure the truck held together so we could get used to the way the truck would react in different situations after its rebuild. We also planned to only hit the bonus gates that looked do-able and not hit any of the ones that might result in DNF (did not finish) from a break or roll. We all agreed that I, as the spotter, needed to be the voice of reason and keep Curtis calm because sometimes he gets excited which usually results in him just mashing the skinny pedal until we either make the obstacle, break or roll.
First thing Saturday morning we walked the courses again with Lil' Rich and the judges. Right away I realized that the longer courses of this event were going to prove an issue for all the teams. A typical W.E. Rock course weaves in and out and crosses over itself, but the added length in this course was already starting to make me and other teams worry about remembering where we were suppose to go and if we would remember in the heat of battle. On every course for the weekend I would go over it in my mind four or fives times using the map to make sure I knew where to go and would then pull Curtis aside and go over it with him before we ran it. We still ended up having to stop a couple of times on course and figure out where we were supposed to be. At least one other team mad the mistake of hitting a gate out of order which resulted in a DNF for that run. For the PUSU event 4 courses were set up which were labeled A1, A2, A3, A4 on Saturday and B1, B2, B3 and B4 on Sunday. The B courses were pretty much the A courses just run backwards. For those that don't already know, W.E. Rock has set up a man-made course area at the Pima Motorsports Park in Tucson. The courses consist of rocks and culverts with spraycrete all over them. After the draw we were placed in a group of five starting in 4th position on course A1. We watched the competitors ahead of us complete the course and make some of the bonus lines we had decided to bypass look easy. We wrestled with the idea of taking the bonus lines that they had taken but in the end decided to stick to the game plan. The final result for the course was a -23 which put us right in contention with the other competitors. Course A1 was more of a 'rock garden' type of course where the potential for getting high centered on your belly was the biggest challenge. Course A2, in contrast, had multiple climbs and a few trenches to traverse. After we started A2, we did a few little obstacles and came to the first large climb that was about 25 feet high with a step in it at the top. We continued with our game plan and took one quick stab at the climb, which we didn't make, then skipped this bonus and took the non-bonus trench gate.
The next gate's bonus line was a 25 foot climb that looked like a ski jump. Curtis hit it, did a small wheelie at the top and got hung on the belly at the top break-over. I told him to back down and hit it harder this time which resulted in the exact same thing. I could tell the truck could make the climb from the first two stabs at it, but Curtis backed down and suggested that we be conservative and take the normal gate. At this point the adrenaline or something got the better of me because for the first time ever in our competition careers I literally screamed at Curtis to "freakin' hit it hard" when he was suggesting the easier route. The judge beside me was laughing at me as Curtis rolled up to the climb and hit it. He did a huge wheelie, standing the truck with the front tires way in the air as the rears crested the break over. I could tell from the outside, that the new bumpstops were a great investment as they made the landing smooth as he came back to earth. We finished off the rest of A2 and ended up with a -23 again.
On course A3 there was a tight technical trench section that we knew was going to be a problem for our truck and a final obstacle built out of pipes that was around 30 feet high. As we entered the trench Curtis decide he didn't like the way I had lined him up for the gate. "Dave, I'm not going to clear this cone in the rear," he said. To which I replied, "Don't worry you are fine." "Dave, I know we aren't going to make it!!!" he said a little more emphatically. "Don't worry, trust me," I said calmly. At which point he screamed "There's no way we are going to make it!!!" Now, in Curtis's defense, if you looked at the rear tire it looked like it was going to drive into the cone. However, I screamed back even louder than him "Just listen to me and drive!" and in a pissed off voice he said "Fine!!" After moving six more inches the back end of the truck slipped into the hole moving the passenger side rear tire away from the cone. "You're so lucky!" was the only thing that came over the radio.
We snaked our way around the course and lined up for the big climb. It loomed menacingly over us but we knew it was very do-able. Curtis climbed it with the buggy easily but stood the truck on the nose precariously when coming down the other side. Somehow on the way up or the way down the throttle pedal bent in behind the brake pedal. So as Curtis tried to slow down with the brakes it would actually mash the throttle pedal down as well. The course took a hard 180 degree turn after the drop and the finish line was off to the side. However, Curtis started to zoom off into the distance. I knew something was wrong, but he couldn't hear me as the engine was revving at 5000 rpm as he tried to stop the truck. He finally was able to control it somewhat but was only within a few feet of driving onto course A4, which would have resulted in a dis-qualification. Curtis said that he suddenly heard me scream "STOP!" which saved us from disqualification because he was going to drive forward on to A4 to turn around and didn't realize how close he was. He was able to back up and limp through the finish gates with a -16 for the course.
Course A4 had a few tight sections as well with a stepped climb near the finish. Ryan Dey, one of our team members who drove down with us, had been checking out the other competitors doing the course while we were messing around with a throttle pedal. There was one particular section that had a very tight corner and we thought we'd have to take out a cone, but Ryan watched the other competitors go left and drive to an area that they could turn around then re-enter the course for the next gate. A legal move and one that saved us 10 points for a cone for sure. We then skipped the bonus climb that a lot of others were doing and took the optional -5 bonus gate instead of the -10 climb that looked like it was an obstacle that you would either make or fail at miserably. We finished A4 with a conservative -10. At the end of the first day of competition we were in fourth place. Our conservative style seemed to work out nicely as a few of the other competitors had tried for the harder bonus gates and either hit the gate which ends up nullifying the bonus or rolled or broke resulting in a DNF for the course.
W.E. Rock competitions many times have a great social aspect to them with all the competitors, judges, media and organizers going out to enjoy a nice fine dining experience. Actually, I don't think you can classify Hooters as fine dining, but they had the UFC fights on and it was definitely more our style. We chatted with the Masterpull guys who were nice enough to buy us drinks and talked with Darren Runyan who had recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan. We still had enough sobriety at the end of the night to chat about the strategy for Sunday. With a 4th place from Saturday's courses we decide that it would be best to try and continue our conservative strategy and just finish courses with decent scores. We knew that we had no chance of catching Rob McKinney for first place as he was making all the courses look like a walk in the park. Rob and his spotter made their buggy look like it is an extension of Rob's body. We did however give Ryan and Joey Weber (team member/photographer) the task of watching the other competitors to see how close they were getting to us in points. Our main goal on Sunday was to finish the event in the top 5 of those entered so we would qualify for the KOH event next year.
Sunday's courses were Saturday's courses run backwards and the starting order was also reversed for the day. We started course B1 and Curtis raced down past the Spidertrax bonus de-lineator cone and the judge called "cone minus 5." I think it was the lack of sleep from the previous night, but I thought he meant that Curtis hit the cone and he was deducted points. So I started arguing with him. As Curtis drove up to the first gate after this cone he saw I was arguing and asked what was wrong. I said forget about it and we'll deal with it later. After guiding Curtis through the first half of the course it hit me what the judge was actually saying. We finished the course with a -19 and I walked up to the judge and apologized. He laughed and said that was the first time he has ever had anyone argue with him about getting minus points.
On course B2 we watched as the Desert Fab team dropped all the bonus lines which resulted in them catching up to us in the scores. We decided going into our run that we would hit the bonus lines as well. The first one was a nasty off-camber completely vertical 8 foot drop. I got Curtis hanging the front tires off of it and told him to just hit the throttle in order to pull the front out from under the truck after the drop. We hit the gate cone but landed the drop nicely. We progressed from there until we got to the last gate at which point the serpentine belt flew off. The lack of any pumping pressure for the full hydraulic steering system made it almost impossible for Curtis to turn. He fought his way through the last gate but ended up facing the opposite direction from the finish line. I tried to coax him back and forth but he was really struggling to turn, thus wearing himself out and loosing a lot of back up points. With time ticking down we were finally able to get into a position so Curtis could front dig (front drive only to pull the front around) and point towards the finish line. We finished the course with a -23 but less than 30 seconds left. We put the belt back on between courses and lined up for our next run. We were very concerned because 1/8 of the outside of the serpentine belt was now missing. On Course B3 things really seemed to come together and we flew around most of the course until the last gate. Right before the gate was a drop into a trench that we had gotten hung up in when it was course A3. For some reason I was thinking out loud and saying, "ummmm, ahhhh," which Curtis heard over the radio. When I finally picked the line he asked if I was sure and said that he'd lost confidence when he heard my "ummmm, ahhh." I told him to just trust me and go. We cleaned the gate and only had the finish line gate to clear, which I ran for. Curtis stopped and started screaming that we missed a gate. I kept saying we didn't but he started making me wonder. The judges were staring at us like we were crazy and when I asked if we had missed a gate the judge said the only one we'd missed was the finish gate. We ended up with our best course score of the weekend with a -31. Curtis says that my little comments flustered him, but I still don't even remembering doing them.
On course B4 both Curtis and I were quite nervous, knowing that we were pretty much qualified for KOH, but that if we got a DNF on the course we most likely wouldn't make it. We laboured around the course very methodically and hit only the bonus lines that were safe. Our speed almost got the better of us as we finished with 23 seconds left but still managed a -10. We were excited because this was our first ever W.E. Rock event where we finished all of our courses with negative points. Generally, we are a go big or go home style of competitor. After all the other competitors finished their courses we heard that we had made the top 6 shootout and had qualified for KOH. In the shootout we decided to let it all hang out seeing as we were already in the KOH. About a quarter of the way into the shootout course there was a set of cones placed on an off camber hill with a 8 foot drop. We decided to try and get the front tires through then use throttle and momentum to get the rear through. Curtis almost pulled off a spectacular move, as he hit the throttle the truck was on only its two passenger side tires. The momentum and tire speed looked like he was going to save it. However, his driver side front tire ended up hitting the ledge on the other side and forced the buggy onto its side. Curtis tried driving around to hook a tire and right himself, but the motor didn't like that and ended up seizing itself.
Rob Mckinney ended up winning the PUSU competition with Nicole Johnson coming in second and 14-year-old Waylon Campbell (Shannon Campbell's son) coming in third. We held onto our 6th position for the event and ended up taking the 4th qualifying spot out of 5 for the KOH since Rob Mckinney already has a spot and Waylon was ineligible. After the awards ceremony and our goodbye's we winched the truck into the trailer and drove 29 hours straight back to Vancouver.
The Flying Zucchini Brothers would like to thank the Gear Centre Group, BC4X4.COM, Evolution Machine and Fabrication, Aqualu Industries, Toyo Tires Canada, and Mastercraft Seats for making it possible for the team to attend the event and qualify for the 2010 King of the Hammers. Special thanks goes out to Ryan Dey for putting up with us in a truck for 29 hours to get to the event and Joey Weber for flying down from Calgary and acting as team photographer. And of course it goes without saying that we wouldn't be here without the support of our loving wives and family.
Wish us luck at preparing for the 2010 King of the Hammers race.
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