UTAH MOTOR NEWS  Performance, Motorsports and Automotive News and Events for Utah and the Surrounding Area.

Championship Rock Crawling

By: UMN
| May 2, 2024

By Rick Bairett



CEDAR CITY, Utah. The W.E. Rock rock crawling championship series blew into Utah’s Three Peaks Recreation Area on April 27 and 28. A cold front—dumping plenty of rain—also blew in. Precipitation had slowed to a drizzle by Saturday morning. Still, the rocks and dirt forming the already-hellish courses were now soaked.


For rock crawlers, traction is everything, and wet, lichen-patched granite provides a lot less of it. Making things worse, when a car did manage to chew through a difficult obstacle, it often coated the rocks with wet sand and mud, further reducing traction.

Each team would compete on four courses through what turned out to be a grueling first day.  


Scoring

A team—car/buggy, driver, and spotter—shoots for the lowest score possible. First, they must complete each fiendish course within 10 minutes. There are four to five gates per course, framed with cones that are only a few feet wider than most cars. Getting at least three tires between the gap marked by cones means “progression,” which lowers a team’s score. 


Clearing bonus gates, avoiding penalties for hitting cones, and not having to reverse direction also improves a team’s score. Each reverse adds a point, while hitting a cone adds 10 points. A spotter attaching a strap to help balance a buggy over a steep obstacle adds five points. 


Opting for a more-challenging “bonus” gate, deducts 10 points if cleared successfully. So hitting a single cone on a bonus gate is a wash: -10 for the gate, +10 for the cone penalty. 


The Art of Crawling in the Rain

Given slick and muddy conditions, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that some of the best Pro Mod, Pro Trail, and Unlimited teams in the country spent a lot of time spinning and smoking tires. Sometimes they were simply rejected by obstacles. 

One of the keys to progressing in these conditions seemed to be persistence. However, the clock keeps ticking and persistence wasn’t always enough.


Pro Mods lack some of the capabilities of the other pro classes, such as rear steering. So clearing certain obstacles is especially challenging. For instance, gate 2 on course A2 completely rejected all but one Pro Mod team. Most burned through their time and their tire tread trying to clear that gate.


Finally, Cedar City’s George and Lora Leyner—possibly the only husband-wife team in pro rock crawling—cleared it. While they got the best score on A2, they also used too much time on that gate to finish the course. 

Similarly, gate 1 on course A4 quickly got coated with mud and rejected half of the Pro Mods. 

Pro Trail and Unlimited drivers, while eventually able to navigate steep, boulder-strewn, slick obstacles, also used up lots of time. It wasn’t unusual for a car to be scrambling through the exit point right at the 10-minute limit. Sometimes a Pro Trail or Unlimited team even failed to finish in time. 


Other Obstacles

Slick, muddy conditions were not the only obstacle some teams faced. The first gate on course A2 was not only wet, but seriously slanted. So much so that every crawler, from every class, had at least a rear tire slide into the downhill cone. 

Denver’s Josh Patt—a strong competitor—was struggling to get his engine running right. When his buggy started its downhill slide on that gate, Josh asked for power to control the slide and got…almost nothing. Instead, the car performed a slow-motion roll onto its side. The terrain prevented spotter David Binkerd from righting the car, and needing outside help meant they were done on that course.


At the same event in 2023, Josh had a serious driveline failure that sidelined him for the day. This year it was a bad camshaft position sensor. When asked how he felt about competing at Three Peaks, Josh summed up his feelings with, “Cedar City is my kryptonite.” 

John Hembel of Mad Cow Racing—also a top competitor—had just purchased a new car, and only had about two hours total driving time in it. The machine turned out to have transmission venting issues, as in venting vital fluid at inopportune times. Loss of transmission fluid prevented Hembel, with spotter Miles Kimberly, from completing course A2. 


Transmission issues came back to bite the Mad Cow team on the last course of the day. John and Miles successfully cleared the steep bonus gate on A4. But with the car nosed over, the transmission refused to power the front wheels out of the rock seam at the bottom. Outside assistance was needed to recover the car, crushing their course score for the second time that day. 


Results 

The terrain dominated the crawlers at higher-than-normal rates Saturday, but Sunday conditions were more typical. Josh Patt and David Binkerd couldn’t get their car back into the Pro Mod game. John Hembel and Miles Kimberly also continued to struggle at times with their Unlimited buggy. Another Unlimited team, Cody Waggoner and Randy Davis, didn’t compete on day two. Still, Sunday team scores were lower (better) on average across nearly all classes. 


St. George’s Dave Wong, with Nate Reed from Washington state—defending national champions—took the top spot in the Unlimited competition. Their weekend score was -213.  Another previous national champion, Carson City, Nevada’s Jesse Haines, with spotter Chris Poblano, took second with -192. 

Pro Trail buggies are similar to Unlimiteds, but built to carry two people. Hurricane’s Brett and Matt Dickey dominated that class with -150 points. St. George’s Tyler Harper, with Cedar City’s George Leyner as spotter, came in a distant second with -92 points. 


Two southern Utah teenagers battled it out for first place in Pro Mods. Katelynn Boren, with spotter/dad Kevin Boren, edged out defending Western Series champion Braxton Coleman, with spotter Bret Robinson, by just four points. 


In amateur Sportsman class competition, Hurricane’s Ron Arch and Steve Nantz, won Sportsman A with a 17-point margin over the second place winner. Meanwhile, Matt Black, with spotter Jamie Black, dominated Sportsman B, and Will Gutzwiller, with spotter Jim Gutzwiller, dominated Sportsman C. 


More Rock Crawling

Both professional and amateur rock crawlers put on a show that has to be seen in person to be appreciated. And there are few other motorsports that put you within a few feet of the action.

Three Peaks was the only championship series competition scheduled for Utah this year. However, you can see the same teams compete in other events. The Delta Classic Rock Crawl takes place later this month, May 24 – 25, at the Millard County Fairgrounds. Trail Hero, Sept. 30 – Oct. 5 at Sand Hollow State Park, will also feature rock crawling courses with plenty of spectator access. 

© 2024, R Bairett


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2 Comments

  1. Travis Maxfield

    You have the dates incorrect for the Delta Classic Rock Crawl. It will be held May 24-25, not May 4-5.

    Reply
    • UMN

      Thanks for catching that Travis. The dates are now corrected.

      Reply

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