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CalROCS Browns Valley, CA
Event #1 of the CalROCS Series
Story by Kurt Schnieder and photos by Shana Whitford
5/2/09

[ PHOTO GALLERY ]

We don't know what Glenn Bonner and Kurtis Harryman did to piss off the "Rain Gods", but the Gods sure did bring the rain on Saturday during the first CalROCS event of the 2009 season. Not to be out-done, the Mud Gods also showed up in full force at the competition and brought the mud: LOTS of mud.

Walking past the pits and up the hill to the courses Sunday morning with my wife and kids was a near impossible task in itself due to the mud. My five year old slipped, fell, and literally disappeared! The mud was that thick and that evil. I am glad we made that climb though, because those who made that treacherous trip up the hill alive were rewarded with some of the greatest action ever seen at a CalROCS event.  Despite the rain and mud, the spectators came in droves to watch the action, which is guaranteed at every CalROCS competition.

At first, pouring rain and mud up to your ankles does not sound like fun, but it brought an entirely new twist to the first event of the season.  After competing at Brown's Valley for other CalROCS events, many drivers had thought that they had the courses down, even if Glenn and Kurtis had changed a few things. On Saturday however, the driving rain changed all of that. 

To the delight of the crowd, but to the chagrin of the drivers, the foul weather changed everything. Holes that had been dug out by backhoes had been filled with muddy water, rocks that had once provided traction turned into mud covered slip and slides, and what was once solid ground, turned into rig-swallowing quick sand. It was rumored on Sunday that the terrain was so challenging, that one driver quit on Saturday after running just one course.

Technical skills were still in demand on the courses, but in many cases, they took a back seat to slapping the skinny pedal to the floor because of the lack of traction.  Drivers pounded on the throttle in desperate attempts to gain just an ounce of traction. For many, it was almost like a game of Frogger leaping their rigs from rock to rock.  This change of tactics made it a spectator "mud-extravaganza."  With tires a-spinning, mud a-flinging, engines a-roaring, beads a-popping and rigs a-rolling, cheers of the crowd often drowned out the voice of the announcer.

As with all the CalROCS events, the courses are laid out with the spectator in mind as well as the competitors. At Brown's Valley, you could essentially watch all the courses from one center location. You had to keep your head on a swivel in order to soak everything in, as you were surrounded by the action that was going on several courses at once.

The majority of drivers and spotters came from a collection of Northern California teams and clubs: Of course, the esteemed Pirates of the Rubicon were in attendance, along with the Nor Cal Rock Zombies comp division: OV Rocksports. The Nor Cal Nightcrawlers, TDO, Rage 4th and my brothers in Clamperdom, the Jackass Wheelers (who have yet to hand me a beer) were also present. There were over 30 drivers split into five classes.

Towards the end of the day, most of the crowd was watching driver Keith "Alotta Kids" Pardue and spotter Dave "Hollywood" Eulberg from the Pirates of the Rubicon go to town on B2 in the over 40 super-mod class. While they pleased the crowd with that carnage, I snuck over to watch the 36 to 40" buggy class on A4.

Watching rock crawling is akin to watching NASCAR, yeah it's neat to see a car wreck, but it is just as exciting to watch a driver have a flawless race, if you know what to watch for.  Jeff Mello was finishing up on A4 in one of the closest battles at the event. At the end of the day Saturday, Brian "The Sloth" Tilton from OV Rocksports was leading the class with 84 points. Jeff Mello and Brian "Ugly" Whitford from Rage 4th were right behind him scoring an 86 and a 95 respectively. I knew that there was going to be a major battle between the three drivers for the win.

If you were to hear the words, "the nicest guy in the world, with over 100 rock crawling wins", who would you think of?  For many, the obvious answer would be Shannon Campbell. And while they would be correct, that description also fits Jeff Mello to a "T". In his career, he has had over 100 wins on BFG tires.

Watching Mello and his spotter Nailhead take on A4 was like watching two absolute masters at work. To make it even more challenging for him, Mello's rig was just not cooperating and was running like a badly tuned, beater trail rig. On Saturday night he even offered free beer to anyone that could get it running right.  Despite never getting the beast running smoothly, Mello walked the course, hit the bonus line and pulled a -11 upping the ante.

Brian Whitford came next. No stranger to CalROCS competion, Whitford also knows what he is doing and is always a fierce competitor. Spotter Mikey lead him thru the course. At times Whitford can get feisty and hammer his rig pushing it to the limits. That often pleases the crowd, but this time, with the win on the line, he put on his "technical hat", took his time, and scored a 1 on the course.

Brian Tilton was now behind by 6 and had to have a flawless run AND hit the bonus line to go negative for the win. Brian and spotter Craig Baum carefully watched Whitford and several other rigs take the course. They even reviewed pictures of several other drivers that were caught on camera while attempting the course. After much deliberation, Tilton and Baum had a solid plan of action and took to the course. Craig guided Tilton over the first section and the bonus line perfectly. Once over the bonus line, Tilton "diffed-out" and got hung up on a rock. With a tree right in front of him and his diff hung up, he still had to make a hard left and shoot through another 15 years of the boulder strewn course in a little over a minute. With a few minor adjustments from Crain, Tilton hammered the throttle and romped thru the finish line scoring a -8 for the win.

This left Mello in third with 142, Whitford in second with a 136 and Tilton from the Rock Zombies and OV Rocksports with a 132 for the win in the 36-40 Class.

The over 40 Super-mod class was also an absolute joy to watch. Derek Trent once again worked his magic and took home the win, but the other drivers also drew a large crowd with their antics on the mud-covered rocks.

One thing is for sure, Glenn Bonner and Kurtis Harryman sure know how to hold an event. The massive crowd despite the bad weather is testament to their hard work in pleasing the audience.

The next CalROCS event is slated for May 30th in Reno. At this I am not sure if I am allowed to disclose the actual location, so I won't. Let's just say the rock crawling scene is in for a BIG surprise.

[ PHOTO GALLERY ]