great driver is a great spotter. Though the spotlight is typically
on the drivers, the oft-forgotten spotter can make or break the driver's
run during an event. Jake Koetting spotted Matt Burkett's AGR Jeep
during the 2000 Goodyear
Extreme Rock Crawling Competition Finals in Farmington, New Mexico
and wanted to tell his story about life on the rocks from the spotter
position. In the second event of the 2001 series, Jake spotted Matt
to a number 1 run. Stay tuned for more from Jake.
recently got a call from a friend of mine named Matt Burkett from
AGR Power Steering.
He was planning to compete in the ARCA Goodyear Extreme Rock Crawling
Competition in Farmington, New Mexico, but his spotter was not going
to be able to compete with him, due to a recent back surgery. He wanted
to know if I'd help him out. I told him that I'd be glad to, but didn't
think I'd be much actual "help." This overheated Texas boy
was just eager to do some four-wheeling in a cooler locale.
Matt had just
completed an as yet untested weight loss program on his Jeep; a
'79 CJ-7 Golden Eagle (aka "The Chicken"), which included
a new motor, transmission, transfer case, brakes, axles, tires and
more. The change that would take the most getting used to was the
swap from manual to automatic transmission. So, one week before
the competition, we hauled the Chicken up to our favorite 4x4 stomping
grounds; Clayton, Oklahoma, to get at least a little time behind
the wheel. We did find a potential chink in the Jeeps armor - the
brakes. In an effort to get the Chicken down to its flying weight,
Matt had replaced the entire braking system with lightweight aluminum
racing components. Try as he might to get all of the air out of
the system, the brakes still felt spongy. In low range on any kind
of incline, he was barely able to hold the Jeep still. We went home
that day feeling only marginally more confident than when we ventured
out that morning.
to brake worries, we were still eagerly awaiting the arrival of
the new tires. Interco had just begun production on a new 37"
Super Swamper SSR and had planned to send Matt one of the first
sets off the line for testing under the rigors of competition. After
holding out as long as he could, Matt and co-worker/photographer,
Jeff "Jeffro" Allen headed for Farmington three days after
the Clayton test run, minus the SSR's. The tires did finally arrive
the next day, though, and Tom Allen, the intended-but-injured spotter
and I left that night with tires in tow. This, after Tom returned
from the hospital, where he was receiving treatment for a nasty
burn to his left hand. First his back, now his hand. Was Tom trying
to get out of spotting at Farmington on purpose? I was beginning
When we arrived
in Farmington, we saw Matt, Jeff, their truck and trailer but no
Chicken. Matt's brake problem had not improved. He had taken it
to Jim Petersen at All Wheel Drive where they were installing a
new master cylinder, brake booster, and Matt's factory brake pedal.
After completing the install it was obvious the new brake setup
was working much better but was still not perfect. However, it would
have to do. The competition was to begin early the next morning.
to be both cold and wet. Back in Texas, we had been contending with
110+ degree heat along with a 65-day dry spell, and it hadn't even
dawned on me to dust the mothballs off my jacket. The warmest article
of clothing I brought was a pair of jeans I purchased on the way.
Fortunately, Matt had brought an extra jacket. After putting it
on I had to break into a little verse of the song "Fat Guy
in a Little Coat" from the movie Tommy Boy. We attended the
driver's meeting where they explained the rules, stressed safety
and minimizing environmental impact. Luckily, there wasn't an ill-fitting
Soon, we were
on our way to the trailhead. There were two courses, A and B, each
with seven obstacles. There would be four groups of about 15 competitors
each running these two courses. We would be the sixth vehicle in
our group and would run the second half of course B. After completing
obstacles B5 - B7, we would run obstacles B1 - B4 to complete the
course. On day two, we would run course A.
In order to
get properly set up for each obstacle, I would run across the start
line to the first technical section to stack rocks or determine
proper tire placement before Matt and the Chicken made an attempt.
My desk job body was not prepared for the amount of work that this
truly was. Some of it may have just been the altitude, but I'm not
too proud to admit that it was mostly my poor physical conditioning.
I gained a tremendous respect for the other spotters in this type
of competition and grew even more suspect of Tom's injuries. Not
only had he injured his back and couldn't run up the trail, but
he also made sure to burn his hand so that he wouldn't be able to
handle the boulders.
Our turn at
the first obstacle began as I ran across the start line and up the
first section. Matt followed in the Jeep and came right up without
incident. At the top, the trail made a sharp left turn and came
back down the hill dropping off a ledge. Back at the bottom, there
was another turnaround. I ran over to the last climb and stacked
a few rocks to make it easier for Matt to get up the big ledge.
With a little extra right foot, the Chicken came right up the ledge
and through the finish gate with a perfect score. Other than the
exhaustion I was already beginning to feel, I thought this wasn't
so bad. I was sadly mistaken.
the time we got to our second obstacle it was already our turn.
We were going in blind. I tripped the start gate and ran up the
hill and around a corner to a giant step in the rocks. Matt came
around the corner in the Chicken and I pointed him in what I thought
was the right direction. Running up the hill and moving the giant
rocks around must've been taking its toll on this Texas boy. It
turned out to be a really bad line and the Jeep was stuck. We tucked
our tails, winched the Jeep out and proceeded to the next obstacle.
had seen a Jeep on its side at the bottom of what turned out to
be the third obstacle. We decided that we really needed to pick
a good line this time, and be ready to winch. I ran ahead and began
stacking rocks. Matt made several attempts at what we dubbed the
"Waterfall," and ended up in a precarious position. On
a steep incline, his right front tire ended up inches from falling
off a two-foot ledge, which surely would have put him on his lid.
I called for the all stop and we took the winching penalty, finished
the obstacle and headed to our fourth challenge.
By this time
I was really spent. I was beginning to wish I had an oxygen bottle.
I drank lots of water and tried to rest as much as possible so I
could make the rest of the day. Obstacles 4 and 5 weren't too hard.
There were a couple of tight turns and close flags but, all in all,
not that difficult. Then came our 6th obstacle.
When we got
there, quite a line of competitors had formed - most always a bad
sign. Apparently, this one would be tough. We watched as other competitors
broke or timed out. Of the eight vehicles we watched go before us,
only one completed the obstacle. As our turn approached, rain was
visible in the distance.
I started across
the line and climbed up the first rock face right out of the gate.
Next was a sharp right, off-camber turn. I climbed onto the side
of the Chicken in, what I like to call, the catapult position. I
refer to it as such because if the Jeep were to overturn I can picture
being launched through the air. He successfully made the turn and
I ran ahead to stack some rocks. Matt got lined up and throttled
it before I was ready. He came up and over as one of the officials
and I darted out of the way. Now, it was on to the really hard part;
a ledge consisting of several steps that you had to approach coming
right to left. This made for an off-camber approach in which the
right front tire hits the first ledge and pitches the vehicle left
toward two flags. You had only one good shot at this section. Matt
pulled up close to the first step and I assumed the catapult position.
Matt mashed the go pedal and got both front tires up the first step
as I gingerly stepped off the side of the Jeep. It wasn't over yet
as there were still two steps left. I climbed ahead of the Jeep
and Matt tried to follow. He was only able to clear one more step.
He went right and left searching for traction and took out a flag
on each side. At this point, he was sitting in a chute with an outcropping
on either side of his Jeep. He took two backup points to get room
for a run at it. By this time, it had begun sprinkling. Matt dropped
the hammer, cleared both steps, made a sharp left turn, climbed
another ledge, and exited the obstacle. We had made it and not a
moment too soon as now it really started to rain.
The shower lasted
10 or 15 minutes, after which the officials decided to let the trails
dry out for about 45 minutes before the competition resumed. The
next obstacle didn't look too difficult, and being the last one
of the day for us, we were thankful. My energy had definitely been
depleted by the day's activities.