Owning a 4×4 opens a lot of doors to you above and beyond the usual helping your friends move; it means freedom and it means opening up new experiences for you and others around you. You can go looking for Sasquatch where others cannot. You can explore the past by accessing ghost towns that once boomed with gold miners or borax workers. You can join a 4×4 club and wheel with friends and maybe do some good by helping repair trails or stuffing your bed with donated toys and trucking convoy style to a children’s hospital or orphanage. So many things to do with a 4×4!
I always enjoyed the feeling of helping others, especially when they were stuck and I was not. You feel good for helping and get a slightly smug feeling knowing you are not stuck…this time. In the motorsports, world organizers count on people with trucks and 4X4s to help successfully put on events.
In the sprint car, world trucks are used to push start race cars. NASCAR, NHRA, and IndyCar use them to shuttle emergency equipment. In many parts of the country, there is a sport called Rally and they know how to make a 4X4 owner feel a part of the action like no other.
Rally events run on mostly dirt or gravel roads in the forests, grasslands, and deserts. Maybe you have heard of these import cars sliding sideways through corners aiming to be the team with the lowest elapsed time. The lifeblood of any rally are volunteers, people who selflessly give their time to make sure the event is run efficiently and on time and most of all safely.
Key to this goal is a group we call the “Sweep Crew”, they use their own vehicles and actually drive the competitive stages (albeit at reduced speeds) looking to help competitors who may have broken down, gotten stuck or rolled over. All common occurrences in any given rally weekend.
Sweep crews are well respected in all areas of the country but there is a group from the Pacific Northwest who call themselves the “E-Crew” (for emergency) who do it at a very high level. Extreme Off Road came out to the Oregon Trail Rally to see them in action and report on what they do and how you too could be traveling down rally stages rescuing cars and even celebrities like Travis Pastrana or a British Rally Champion or two.
I have known Jeff Dietz for 16 years and honestly, I am not always happy to see him and his big Chevy because that usually means that my rally is over. However, I am always thankful he is there to help roll us over, pull us out or tow our broken car to safety. He commanded a group of well-organized truck owners and made them a cohesive unit looking out for wayward rally teams. Although he has since turned the command of the group over to Christopher Riches he is still out there as part of the team.
E Crew has all types of 4X4 trucks running from a Ford Raptor to Toyota Tacoma’s, Jeeps, SUV rigs and big Ram diesels. On a normal rally weekend, you are paired with a Ham radio operator if you are not already licensed and/or an EMT. In your truck, you carry fire extinguishers, shovels and emergency equipment provided by the club. Wherever the rally cars go, you go, right behind them.
A rally stage isn’t going to pose any great challenges to your rig, the reward is being apart of a great event, driving briskly and rescuing over zealous rally teams. The friendships you make is the real payoff, both with fellow sweeps and teams.
Outfitting your rig for the job can go from bone stock to as wild as you want it to be. Extra lighting is always a help, many rallies run into the night and the new LED lights available not only flood the road ahead for better visibility but they are very affordable. A winch is not necessary but a good tow strap is even though every rally car is required to carry a tow strap many sweeps prefer to use their own.
What you do want is a good tire, rally stages can be less rocky than a 4×4 trail but a squared rock no matter the size can make a passenger car rated tire just as flat. Rally tires are very stout units, these cars can go quite sideways over some sharp rocks without worry because of technology born from the World Rally Championship and off-road racing.
You never know what could come of getting involved with sweeping rally events. Some sweeps have gone on to buy rally cars and become competitors. More than one sweep has found a relationship and eventual spouse because of rally. Life long friends have been made.
Mostly you get stories for a lifetime of the time you dragged a previous champion back up over a cliff, the bear or deer you encountered on a stage, the scenery you have witnessed. There is no end to the adventures that await you, just like in running a challenging trail.
One of my personal favorite sweep moments happened in the woods of northern Minnesota, our Saab had a leaking water pump and it was getting terminal. After the stage was over we happened upon a good sized creek, which in northern Minnesota turned out to be the Mississippi River.
We waded down to fill water bottles to cool the car off when from out of a tree line came two bears, staring at us as we slowly made our way back to what we hoped was the safety of the car. The bears started inching their way down toward us, we had not filled the car enough to move so there we sat hoping they didn’t figure out how to open up the door, or the roof. Just as things were getting serious, along came sweep trucks!
Honking horns, flashing lights and revving engines until Mama and Papa Bear scrambled back into the woods. Not sure what would have happened without the sweeps arriving like they did but I am sure they saved me from replacing a pair of Fruit of the Looms. Bears gone, the Saab terminal, they towed us to our service crew. Off they rode in a cloud of diamond dust, and we never got a chance to thank them.
What are some things people never thought you could do in your 4×4? Tell us in the comments below!