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2002 Skyjacker Off Road Challenge

Story By Jenifer Cohn
Photos By Michael "TXJEEPER" Cohn

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2002 Skyjacker Challenge
Lining up for the drivers meeting
The third annual Skyjacker Off Road Challenge in beautiful Monteagle, Tennessee was, once again, a bit hit among the competitors. The event was put on by Tennessee Off-Road, who frequent the trails in the area and know all of the toughest spots to get to, and get back out of. The gang have also competed in and won many competitions of this type themselves. This combination fuels their desire to put on a first class event that is as challenging to the competitors as it is fun.

The three-day challenge includes special tasks, such as wound bandaging and tire changes, timed navigation, and a time/speed/distance (TSD) rally. Thirteen teams took part this year, some returning for their third event, some newcomers to the competition side of off-roading, but all eager to do the best they could. One team almost didn’t make it when they encountered traffic from a local music festival on their way into town. They were stuck for twelve hours, finally making it to the event just fifteen minutes before start time.

2002 Skyjacker Challenge
Drivers meeting to discuss the coming day.
2002 Skyjacker Challenge
Some teams were better-prepared for rallying than others.

The land the event was held on was both public and private, and part of TOR’s preparation included leasing land and working with local businesses and property owners. The City of Monteagle has a history of welcoming well-planned 4x4 events, and competitors were asked to respect the land and the town to ensure that welcome would be extended in the future. As the name states, the event’s main sponsor was Skyjacker Suspensions. Other sponsors included Mobi-Arc Welders , ARB, Hi-Lift Jack Company, and BFGoodrich Tires.

The first day’s events included a tire change, kayak sprint, sand drag, and two navigation exercises. The TOR gang frequented trails for many months to make the navigation points quite challenging. The navigation sheets provide GPS points, a photo, and a possible score. Each team is provided with a Polaroid camera and the obvious goal is to get as many points as possible. There are mandatory waypoints that must be achieved, but the rest are entirely up to the team.

2002 Skyjacker Challenge
Posing for a Polaroid
2002 Skyjacker Challenge
Some waypoints are tougher to get to than others.

The challenge is to find as many as possible, plotting their way with only a list of GPS points and photos. The team’s photo must show their vehicle exactly as the guide book photo is shown, with a tire in the air, the rig up on a rock, or sitting next to a specific tree, for example. Sounds easy enough? True, some were more obvious than others, but the big points were to be had only by finding the most out-of-the-way and most-difficult to duplicate waypoints. Some advantage may have been had by teams who had competed in previous years or by those who are able to ride on the trails locally. But in the end it all came down to planning a good course and knowing how to use a GPS well. As the team from Florida will readily admit, knowing how to trail ride in rocky terrain was also an advantage.

Berry Bruich and Gil Perry traveled up from Brooksville, Florida in a full-size Ford Bronco with Armageddon emblazoned on its sides. The truck looked like it could go just about anywhere, but the guys didn’t have much, or really any, previous experience with technical driving over rocks. While this may have hurt their scores, they were really good sports and left eager to come back for another event that would allow them to practice without the clock running.

Previous competitors Kyle Updegrove and Eric Davis from Douglasville, Georgia, suffered a setback on the first day with breakage. The first day’s totals revealed Team 19, Tom Fitzgerald and Chris Jones to be in the lead. These guys were the ones to beat from the beginning, having won both the previous years competitions. Eight teams in all had at least one member who had previously competed - some in the same vehicles and others in new ones. A favorite is Team 10, Dan “Doc” Johnson and Sean Philyaw in a 1954 Willys M-170. They said they enjoyed the event again this year, but wondered whether or not all the competitors had honored the camping rules. The rules basically state that each team must bring everything they need and not leave camp except to compete or to get fuel.

2002 Skyjacker Challenge
Navs and TSD's covered both paved roads and trails.
2002 Skyjacker Challenge
Breakage had to be contended with while the clocks ran.

Saturday consisted of a morning nav, a time/speed/distance rally and another evening nav. We checked in at one of the mandatory waypoints to get a glimpse of some of the competitors. We ended up just about in the way as we got ourselves stuck right in front of the waypoint. There was a bypass, however, and we watched some of the rigs climb the rocky patch and try to position their tire just so.

Competitors said that the time/speed/distance rally was especially tough this year. There were 225 minutes allowed total, with a five minute window to arrive at the ending point in order to receive all points. To prepare, each team had to determine what distance their individual vehicle actually drove compared to a measured mile, since most of the vehicles are too modified to trust their odometer anymore.

The TSD gives only distances to travel and sketches with directional arrows. There were symbols for creek crossings and some hints along the way, such as when you were to be on a black top surface, or that you were on an uphill climb. The challenge is all about the timing and your ability to navigate with only simple directions. Another nav followed the TSD rally, and Saturday also included a night navigation. The day closed with Team 19, once again, being in the lead.

2002 Skyjacker Challenge
Various types of rigs were present for the event.
2002 Skyjacker Challenge
Sometimes officials waited quite some time at checkpoints.

Sunday’s event was held at the Shotcrete area and thankfully it remained overcast for the early part of the day. The day’s events were a little more relaxing in terms of down time for the competitors while waiting their turns, but the day was action-packed, nonetheless. We watched the local fire department truck in thousands of gallons of water for the mud bog as the Skeet Shooting event was set up. The driver and navigator from each team got ten tries each at the clay targets that were shot from a trap accessory on the back of a Land Rover D90.

2002 Skyjacker Challenge
2002 Skyjacker Challenge

The bridge building event always gets interesting, because there is a tendency among some of the competitors to twist the rules a bit and put on a show. There is a gully of sand that you must cross and two logs lay beside it. The object is to build a bridge with the two logs and drive over to the other side of the gully. In the beginning the teams did this, and many did it well, and the crowd cheered every time anybody made it across without slipping off the logs. But some of the guys got impatient with all that and decided that since the rules called for your front two tires to cross both logs, but didn’t necessarily state that you had to build the bridge itself, that they would just throw the logs down into the gully crossways and basically gas it all the way through the thing like Tonka toys in a sand pit.

2002 Skyjacker Challenge
2002 Skyjacker Challenge
2002 Skyjacker Challenge
2002 Skyjacker Challenge

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