1999 Johnson Valley WRCC

Open Circuit

Photo by Joe Meyer
The Dirty Dozen line up for the Finals
Joe Meyer

We heard through the grapevine that the finals were not on an established trail, but rather through a set of boulder fields nearby. When the Dirty Dozen (thirteen, in this case, thanks to an adding error) arrived at the site of the finals, I could see that the course traced through rounded sandstone boulders, ridges, and slots, not unlike the Kaibab formations of Moab. This was perfect for John's tires and newly-tested disconnect technique. One big difference between the preliminary rounds and the final was that for the final, Bob Hazel actually walked the teams through the stages so they could get a look at the course and plot their strategies. In the qualifying rounds, teams could not walk the courses prior to driving them. There was lots of muted discussion going on between drivers and spotters as to what routes would be best for their particular machine and driving style.

The first Jeep through was Team Currie, #28. John Currie and Jeff Waggoner had some trouble with clearance, but soldiered through. John drew second again in the vehicle lineup lottery. When it was time for him to move up to the starting line, I could see him fiddling with something on the dash. I walked back to the rig as he pulled forward with a lurch.

"The front locker won't engage!" he cried.

I asked, "What do you want to do?"

"What can we do? Let's go anyway."

This was a grave tactical error on our part. We should have taken our daily 20-minute timeout as allowed by the rules. With hundreds and hundreds of people gathered around on the rocks waiting for us to go, their cameras at the ready, John started over our prearranged route. His front tire hit a 3' tall rock. The other three wheels started to churn in the sand, but the one against the rock sat lame and useless.
People started to yell, "Your front locker isn't on!" "Locker!" etc.
Bob Hazel strode up and said, "You'll never get through this stage without full lockers". I tried to take our time-out once it was obvious we couldn't make the stage, but once you cross the start of the stage, there are no timeouts.

We relented, and backed out.

John skirted the first stage and drove to the second stage, leaving people to wonder what happened. With the hood up, we fiddled with the ARB pump. We discovered that the front locker's dash switch was full of sand from the storm the night before. There was no contact. I whipped out my Leatherman tool and John began to cut wires to hot wire the locker in the 'engaged' position. A fuse blew in the ARB circuit, so I cut the fuse holder out and bypassed it. A fellow competitor gave us some electrical tape and we wrapped the hot wires just in time to drop the hood for the beginning of the second stage. John now could not turn the lockers off at all. Steering was a chore -- there was just too much traction. Our routes became larger curves going right over some very large rocks, to the delight of the crowd.

And so it went. In some of the stages, we were brilliant, in others; we were less so... way less.

Photo by Matt Reynolds
Jefe pushes hard to rock the Bronco loose
Matt Reynolds

On Stage 6, with the lockers on full, I thought John could get one side of the rig up and over a 3' high square rock. No sir. The front end plowed straight ahead, even with the wheels turned to full lock, and he ended up beached on the transfer case skid plate with only one wheel barely touching ground, just reaching down and kicking up a little dust. I rocked the rear end of the Bronco up and down until I was frozen into an anaerobic gridlock, but couldn't free the truck. After we timed out, the crowd surged forward to help.


Photo by Matt Reynolds
John rubs sheet metal and stretches skyward to successfully complete Stage 7
Matt Reynolds

Then we came to the last obstacle. It was the shortest obstacle and obviously the coursesetters' piece de resistance. The Curries had broken a tie rod on the previous stage and opted to take a time-out and not to go first on the last stage, even though their rig was now repaired. This left John as the lead rig. We walked the stage and plotted our strategy. I wanted to go to the right and straddle diagonally a couple of long, deep cracks. John wanted to keep to the left and pivot, turning abruptly up another crack, keeping his tires up on each side. Moments later we were off.

Photo by Joe Meyer
Tilted up and over - de rigeur for the Dirty Dozen
Joe Meyer

John executed three backups, but made a brilliant move pivoting around an outcropping and lining up for the eventual blast through the last and final gate. On the way he did a nose-up launch maneuver that brought an approving roar from the crowd. For us it was over.

Photo by Matt Reynolds
The Lockwood/Moore "Rock Frog" still going...
Matt Reynolds

We watched the next Jeep through, Lockwood/Moore's "Rock Frog", a CJ5 (#13) sporting a complete exterior roll cage. Lockwood took the line that I preferred, but backed and ended up with a flat on one of his bead-locked rim. Undaunted, he drove ahead, flat tire and all, laying the rig slowly on its side. The spotter, Moore, followed it as it listed, leaning out, like a sailor following the hull on a capsizing boat. Once over on the truck's side, Lockwood just kept going, dragging on the external roll cage with the flat tire in the air. With one final gasp he got close to the last gate... but it was not to be. He finally had to winch off the obstacle after timing out. The crowd went wild. It was quite a show.


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