Gorilla Run: Where The Sport Of Southern Rock Bouncing Began


Thanks to YouTube, the extreme end of nearly every hobby is easily accessible. Extreme 4x4s currently fall in two categories: the dual-purpose Ultra4 rock/race buggies and the rock-bouncers, custom spider-web-caged machines that stalk the private off-road parks in the southeastern part of the country. By now, most off-road enthusiasts have probably seen videos of Tim Cameron’s wild rock-bouncing runs.

One of the wildest, most action-action packed of those is the video seen above of Cameron running the Gorilla Run course in early 2012. Like most other competitions, southeastern rock bouncing began as enthusiasts building vehicles to try to go where others could not. The bouncers began congregating to entertain each other. As these videos hit the web, crowds started following the groups of rock bouncers.


Above: More than 400 4x4s and side-by-sides invaded the Superlift ORV Park's 1,523 acres during Gorilla Run weekend. Left: The 40-U class had some street-based entrants. Wet weather and sharp rocks gave tires an ultimate test. Right: Like the Rocky Mountain frozen-lake ice racers, some of the Rock Bouncers stud their tires for traction. Photos Courtesy Superlift ORV Park.

Then the capitalist spirit entered the scene: Why not organize an event where the top rock bouncers compete for cash? Entrepreneur Rick Muns, a Jeep enthusiast and member of the Arkansas Crawlers club, decided to combine the first-ever formal rock-bouncing competition with the launch of a motorsports-inspired clothing line called Alpha Gorilla. This premiere event was the aforementioned Gorilla Run.

Muns arranged to hold the event where his club tour-guides and maintains trails, the Superlift ORV Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Fellow Arkansas Crawlers, Gary Wainwright and Mark Simpson helped plot the format and build the course. Compete-for-cash notices were posted on various 4×4 forums, and the interest began to build.

Rock Bouncing Origins

Rock bouncing started out as an exhibition, like monster-truck freestyle—but in the wooded private off-road parks in the Southeast rather than stadiums. They basically answer the deeply philosophical question, What would Dennis Anderson do if he were going to build and drive a rock-buggy version of Grave Digger?


The King of the Hammers/Ultra 4 buggies have had heaps of hype and the rock bouncers are their under-the-radar Southern cousins. The main difference is that the Ultra4 machines have Trophy Trucks in their genepools and are built to be horizontal. Rock Bouncers are more inspired by monster-truck freestyle exhibitions and are fabricated to function while vertical and on their sides.

To the uninitiated, the rock bouncer’s spiderweb cages appear like a too-much-free-time fashion statement. In reality, these buggies are designed to withstand repeated rollovers. “Functional works of art” is how prominent builder Bryan Cole of Coleworx (Franklin, TN) describes these machines. His goal is for Coleworx machines to look as good as they perform: these rock rods’ craftsmanship withstands up-close scrutiny.

Steep hillclimbs are the bouncers’ Mount Everest. Failed attempts are often dramatic: yard-sale rolls down the hill. But have no fear, these machines are built to be quickly righted and run again.

LEFT: Gorilla Run got the best of Tim Cameron's front 14-bolt, cracking the tube at the housing. RIGHT: Ethan Tanner nearly conquered Bounty Hill. His engine stalled near the top, his brakes failed and Ol' Orange rolled backwards. Tanner's front left tire clipped a tree. The force ripped the frontend out from under the vehicle. Tanner sold the buggy as-is after the event.

Built To Perform

Although no two of the 30 or so high-profile bouncer buggies are the same, a pattern has emerged. Chevy LS crate motors are common, sometimes running on propane to keep the engine firing as long as possible while vertical, sideways and even upside down.

Powerglides and Atlas transfer cases are popular. Rear steering helps maneuverability; Chevy 14-bolt housings with Rockwell knuckles are the current rage. Rear-steering uses monster-truck-style actuation and self-centering.


Former drag racer Mike West is a “bucket list” four-wheeler, having crossed off many 4×4 events and locations. He is relentless, often pushing his trail-purpose-built TJ past its limits.

Super Swamper TSLs, often 44s that are siped and have 3-inch bolts running though the tread for extra grip, get the 600-700 horsepower to the ground. The axleshafts take a beating. RCV and Ouverson are the two prominent shaft sources.

The 300-yard course was set up on an existing rocky trail at the Superlift ORV Park known as Greg’s Rocks. Each competitor had to complete the course unassisted, without winching or annihilating the out-of-bounds tape. The fastest run wins.

The purse: $3,300 for best time in the Unlimited 40-inch-and-taller tire class, $1,200 for the “40 U” under-40-inch division. Tech requirements included 4- or 5-point harnesses and aftermarket rollcages for the Unlimited Class. Factory seatbelts and rollcages were allowed for “40 U.” All competitors had to wear approved helmets.

Hot Springs Mayhem

Gorilla Run turned out to be the largest event in the Superlift ORV Park’s 13-year history—bigger than Jeep Jamborees and other national events held at the park.

More than 400 registered 4x4s participated in the weekend trail rides; 41 of those rigs also entered the competition. However, only 18 of the Gorilla Run entrants managed to complete the entire Greg’s Rocks course.

Unlimited honors went to Mark Simpson, one of the event’s co-organizers. He drove his second-hand “Jenny Craig” buggy to the fastest official time. When the mud and novaculite settled, Josh Ault took the “40 U” title, only a few seconds slower than Mark Simpson.


Following the main event, a spontaneous throw-down went down. Months earlier several members of the Arkansas Crawlers had built a hillclimb challenge for a New Year’s event at the Superlift ORV Park. The trail was dubbed Easy Street, and a $100 bounty was put up for anyone who could make it to the top. The prize remained unclaimed.

Bounty Hill

Always up for a challenge, the bouncers wanted to see what “Bounty Hill” was all about. As the crowd assembled at the hill’s base, Gorilla Run co-organizer Gary Wainwright managed to sweeten the pot, working some bullhorn magic. (Wainwright himself has a go-most-places TJ-based buggy running AxleTech portal axles.)


Hot Springs businessman and 4×4 enthusiast Rick Muns (left) organized the event. Mark Simpson (right) helped with the format and logistics, then went on to win the Unlimited Class.

The purse grew from $100 to $8,551 in cash and prizes, including one kid’s $21 allowance, as Wainwright challenged participants and spectators to get in on the action.

This is believed to be the first bounty challenge at a competition. Now, many events at the private parks have adopted this approach. An “impossible” trail is created, backed by a cash-prize pot for anyone who’s vehicle can conquer the challenging hill-climb trail.

Tim Cameron’s Showtime buggy lived up to its name. On his second try, Cameron managed to launch, bounce and claw his way to the top. Others weren’t as lucky.

Ethan Tanner, part of the first family of rock bouncing, was almost to the top when his Ol’ Orange buggy stalled. With no brake vacuum, it rapidly rolled backward. The front-left tire clipped a tree, ripping the axle out from under the rig. It was a dramatic finish to an exciting day.

Huge Success

Reflecting on the Gorilla Run, event mastermind Rick Muns understated, “It surpassed expectations.” Spectator attendance was estimated around 3,000, based on the number of shuttle trips made by four 15-person vans between the Superlift ORV Park’s base camp and the Gorilla Run course.

Gorilla Run helped put rock bouncing in the limelight. It was so successful that the multi-event Southern Rock Racing Series grew from it.

Thanks to now-numerous YouTube heroics, the top bouncers—Tim Cameron, the Tanners, Ritchie Keith, Randall Key, and Wes Kean, to name just a few—now have entourages who follow them from challenge to challenge.

These Southeastern rockstars even have their own “rock-arazzi”: Cole Shirley of MadRam11 videos, Ricky B Photography’s images and webwork, mechanic/enthusiast Sean Lipscomb’s editorial efforts, and Matt Myrick’s Busted Knuckle Films and DVDs.

Stay tuned as we explore and deliver more of the exciting rock bouncing sport right here on Off Road Xtreme!


About the author

Tom Morr

Tom Morr has worked in automotive communications for more than 20 years. A former staff editor at several truck/4x4 enthusiast and trade magazines, Morr has covered events ranging from Baja races to Camel Trophy training to the Dakar Rally. He’s also produced books for Motorbooks International and serves as a consultant to aftermarket manufacturers while continuing to write for select publications such as Off Road Xtreme.
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