Rockcrawling Event Tips And Tricks: Tackling An Event Like A Pro

Rockcrawling events across the country are increasing in popularity again and we are starting to see a rise in the number of fans coming to see a growing number of competitors in the Sportsman and Professional classes. These events have classes available for the seasoned professional to basically everyone with an off-road vehicle with some very basic safety requirements.

Many drivers attending the events are starting to realize that this is something they could do with the vehicles they drove into the parking lot. We are also starting to see many of the most accomplished drivers in off-road racing start to cross back and forth between long distance desert racing, the sprints of short-course events, and the literal crawl of professional rockcrawling. The three types of events are very different and seeing the fans cheering on their favorite drivers from Ultra4 at a World Extreme Rock Crawling event is very exciting.

Jason Scherer stops the car flat on its side to prevent a rollover and then made a spectacular recovery to get back on four wheels.

Rockcrawling events have been around for some time with several different opportunities for participants to get involved and for spectators to see these extreme vehicles climb, crawl over and drop off ledges that seem impossible. Events in the Northwest are almost over this season with just a few remaining.

W.E. Rock holds several events throughout the United States. They promote an Eastern Series and Western Series each year followed by a final Grand National event in September.

The obstacles that these vehicles climb over are simply amazing.

Supercrawl the promoter of the largest rockcrawling events in the United States is back after being purchased by Jesse Haines, long time competitor and rockcrawling champion.  Supercrawl had a huge event in Reno last year bringing in competitors from across the United States. Supercrawl is holding their second annual event in Reno this year and has spent hundreds of hours already preparing the course to accommodate the anticipated increase in teams and spectators expected for this year’s event.

What To Do At A Rockcrawling Event

We will be covering what you need to know to make the most of your day at the rockcrawling event, where to find the best seats, what you need to make sure you see while you are there, and how to guarantee a great day or weekend of rockcrawling. We will also break down at a high level the different classes and format for the events as well as some highlights from the W.E. Rock Western Series closer in Norden, California.

Participants walk the course together to plan their approach to the most challenging courses.

Rockcrawling events like the one in Norden are held on the top of a mountain. Preparation is the key to having a great day at the event and if at all possible buy your tickets in advance. The lines on the day of the event are often long and can delay your trip up to the course.

There are thousands of comfortable rocks to sit on, but the experienced fan will have a folding chair to declare their space and most importantly establish a base where they can leave their spectator supplies. The veterans are also packing in small personal ice chests full of beverages to stay hydrated and a bag of their favorite snacks. Many fans will also go light and rely on the food and beverage options provided by the vendors on site.

James Martino carefully navigates a steep downhill left.

Plan on getting a little exercise as there are typically up to eight courses laid out and you are going to want to watch the favorites as they tackle each course. We like to move around and find places to watch the teams tackle the most challenging parts of each course.

Look for areas with a clear view of the bonus sections where competitors will be pushing their skills and cars to the limit to try to collect negative points. Exciting things happen here and this is the part of the course you are going to want in clear view when the excitement starts.

The best viewing on any course always allows for a clear line of sight of the bonus cones.

If you are new to the event, spend a little time going over the rules and the scoring system used for competitive rockcrawling. Learn how to spot the gates on the course and the direction the car must go to collect progression and bonus points.

Teams start the day with zero points and winning teams will finish the day with the largest negative score. Learn the importance of the clock and the penalties for a driver who runs out of time.

Most of all understand the areas safe for spectator viewing defined by the out of bounds markers. Look for the courses labeled with an “A” or “B” for the Pro classes or courses labeled with a “C” for the Sportsman classes.

Different Types Of Rockcrawling 

Justin Hall uses rear steer to help keep his line.

We will start at the very top where the Pros compete in an Unlimited Class named because other than safety requirements, there are literally no restrictions on how they build their vehicle. Most of these are light single seat custom buggies built specifically for rockcrawling with 40-42-inch tires.

Most are equipped with rear steer which allows them to turn the rear wheels and navigate more easily through the tightest of rock formations. This is also the default for any car which does not meet the requirements for any other class.

The Sportsman “A” no. 17 driven by Mackenzie Duncan.

ProMod is another professional class, but are typically two seaters with a 40-inch limit on tire size and a restriction preventing the use of rear steer. There is a requirement that the car must only have the body panels to resemble a mass manufactured vehicle.

This seems to be a very loose requirement because the car may only slightly resemble a jeep and by having a jeep hood or body panels but a look at any corner of one of these competition vehicles will tell you this is not anything you would see at the shopping mall.

Competitors are also often judges in the sportsman classes.

Sportsman class “A” and “C” are basically your everyday manufactured off road vehicles with modifications to enhance their ability to climb rocks. Some of these vehicles are heavily modified and others are not.

These are the jeeps or trucks you may see parked at your neighbor’s house or possibly in your own driveway. They can be trail rigs, Suzuki, Jeep or Toyota vehicles modified and abused with what appears to be heavy amounts of trail use. These are often fan favorites because it is amazing to watch what some of these drivers are able to do with their cars on these courses.

Days Events

Mackenzie Duncan and spotter Scott Duncan discuss the best lines for the next course.

The event starts with the driver meeting on Saturday morning and then teams caravan up the hill to start at their assigned time at their assigned course. The National Anthem will play and then drivers will enter all eight of the courses at the same time. There will be something happening in every direction and the biggest challenge for the spectator for the rest of the event will be deciding which direction to look with so much happening at the same time.

Pro unlimited drivers proceed at a slow controlled pace to maximize points in the competition.

Pay attention to the announcer as he calls out interesting information on the teams competing.  He will let you know when the top teams are entering one of the different courses. The courses are designed to be difficult for the top teams.

It will be rare for teams to finish a course with a perfect score. You will know if you are watching the toughest sections of the toughest courses because you will typically be standing next to the driver and spotter of the next team on the course. They spend a lot of time out of the car watching the competition on the course talking about the best approach for the bonus line or a different line which may help them prevent penalties on the course.

Talking With A Champion

This Pro Unlimited buggy was driven by Jesse Haines.

We were lucky enough to get a few minutes with series champion Jesse Haines after the event and ask a couple questions about his rockcrawler and how it evolved into what it is today.
“My Unlimited buggy is kind of an evolution of my old single seat buggy that I built 10 years ago,” Haines said. “It’s not an easy car to design. The front engine is good for weight distribution for climbing. Building a low, front engine, single seat car is where things get difficult. The 1.4-liter engine was chosen because of its size, which still allows me to have great visibility.”

“The car was the first in a long time to be built with portal axles,” Haines continued. “I designed a portal outer using Hummer geared hubs. There are so many benefits to these axles. After debuting them last year, there are now five other cars running them as well.”

Portal axles from the rear of Jesse Haines no. 199.

There is no secret formula for building a winning and a competitive vehicle. “Building a winning car isn’t easy,” Haines said. “There are so many little things I do to get the most out of the cars I build. It’s really not about having the most expensive parts. It’s how you put them all together. My first buggy was built with all junkyard parts that I modified, and it worked very well.”

 Technology is growing all around us, but it has also been evolving in the dirt. “Rockcrawling technology really slowed to a standstill for almost a decade,” Haines said. “I think portal axles are one of the biggest recent advancements.”

Massive 42-inch Maxxis tires and portal axles give Jesse Haines huge ground clearance.

“I also think that 42-inch tires have helped take our cars to the next level,” Haines continued. “It’s not necessarily any parts that have changed, but there have been recent changes in how some of the cars are built. My car has a much longer wheelbase and larger tires than the cars that were being built 10 years ago.”

Winning three events in a row is no easy task, but what would a champion do with his current car? “As crazy as it sounds, I’m probably going to sell this car and build another,” Haines said. “This car has clearly shown it can win rockcrawling events, but I’m pretty confident that I can do better.”

Now knowing everything that goes into a rockcrawling event you can head to the mountain and enjoy it like a pro. What are some tips you may have for a rockcrawl newbie? Tell us in the comments below!

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About the author

Sean Lyons

Sean Lyons grew up watching family racing at the All American Speedway in Roseville, California. His first opportunity behind the wheel was at age 9 with homemade go carts on a ¼-mile dirt oval built by his grandfather. Sean started working for a local magazine as a photographer in the Sacramento area in 2012, and realized that he could combine his love for photography and racing. He now enjoys photographing AMA Pro Motocross, NHRA drag racing, NASCAR, and a variety of off-rroad racing events.
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