Ken's Journal
No. 4 - Summer 2004

Cedar City, Utah - 07/08 - 07/13/2004
Days 12-17 on the road. Part I.

  My purpose in stopping here was to see what an old friend was up to. When I was running my on-line auto parts business I was selling a lot of stuff to 4WD enthusiasts. Through this connection, I met Bob Hazel, an off-road event organizer, and helped him with several of his events in the swamps of the Ocala National Forest in Florida. I had lost contact with him over the years, but since I was coming west, I tried to find him to get some advice on off-road trails in and around Moab UT. I found he was still putting on events and had one scheduled for the weekend after the 4th at a BLM (Bureau of Land Management - a Federal agency) park northwest of Cedar City. Since I would be close, I decided to stop in --

For a non-off-roader, this is hard to explain, but I'll give it a shot. Off-roaders, Jeep people and big truck people, have always enjoyed the challenges of driving off-road. The tougher it get, the better most like it. Gradually, these people started modifying their vehicles to better negotiate the obstacles found off-road. They would crawl over logs and rocks, negotiate steep ravines up and down, race through mud holes and other extreme maneuvers that most of us would consider crazy. Eventually, these weekend drives in the wilds became competitions to see who had the most capable vehicle. Along came Bob Hazel and started the first organized series of competitions. He wrote the rules, developed the classes of vehicles and found sponsors among the many manufacturers of off-road hardware.

ProRock was born in the early 90's and flourishes today mostly west of the Mississippi.  This weekend was one of the events in the series.


So let's lay out a course so you can see how such a competition would be run...

We'll use a bunch of orange cones and a few rolls of yellow tape. To the left, I've laid out a series of cones, labeled them and put in a boundary of yellow tape.

A Stage of the course starts between the cones marked A and ends between the cones marked Z. A competitor starts at A-A and has to negotiate the course to end at Z-Z. In between, the competitors have a number of choices. After starting, the next set of cones are labeled B1, B and B2. The team, a driver inside the vehicle and a spotter outside the vehicle, decide beforehand when they walk the course whether to go between the B1-B gate or the B2-B gate. In this case, the B1 gate is worth 10 points while the B2 gate is worth 20 points - because the B2 gate is harder. Then they have the same choice with a set of gates marked C - with C2 worth more than C1. Typical Stages will have four to six sets of gates.

There's more. Not only does a team get points for each set of gates negotiated, they get 40 points for just starting the stage. But there are penalties that are subtracted from that 40 points. You can loose points for hitting a cone, for backing up and for sitting still more than five seconds. You can also loose points for using rear-wheel steering (more on that later). You will be disqualified for going out of bounds, the box I've drawn around the cones in this case, and if you do not finish a stage in a set time, nine minutes for this event, you only get the points for the gates you negotiated - the 40 points you started with is gone. Each stage has a number of judges who tabulate the scores for each team. Any questions so far?

Now we'll make this really tough and twist this simple stage up on top of a jumble of huge boulders and fractured rock. I may even have the Z-Z labels on the back of the A-A cones so the finish is at the start, a team would have to loop through all the gates and come back through the start in the opposite direction. I may do that to some of the other gates too so that D1-D-D2 is on the back of B1-B-B2 and the teams would have to loop through the C gate before coming back to the B, now D, gate.

This is just one stage of a full course. A full course may have a dozen stages. Since there may be many competitors, the event starts similar to a "shotgun" start in golf where a team starts on each hole and eighteen teams start at the same time. So at a ProRock event, you've maybe a dozen stages starting at once.

Now about the classes. Pretty simple really. There are two open classes and pretty much anything goes. These are extreme off-road machines and are custom built from the ground up. The engines may be anything from 4 cylinders to 10 cylinders. The engine may be in the front or in the back. Typically, they will engineer an on-the-fly choice of front wheel, rear wheel or all wheel drive. They can select to lock the front set, the rear set or all four. They'll have one brake pedal for all four wheels and separate levers to brake just the front pair or just the rear pair. Some have rear wheel steering. Most of the steering is hydraulic. Some may even be able to pull one end, the other, or both down on the suspension to change the center of gravity. I'll show you one with that option in action. The differentiation between the open classes is wheelbase (I think). At this event, I saw everything from a Corvette LT1 engine, to what looked like an air-cooled Porsche engine. The Chevy small block seems to be a favorite too. All these machines are tube-frame construction.

There are also a couple Jeep classes. These vehicles are based on the Jeep and must remain in stock configuration except for body or suspension lifts, bigger tires, modified engines, differential lockers, etc.  Typically, they will run a different course, an "easier" course, because they are less capable.




Here's a bunch of the open class machines waiting to start a stage.




A typical open class machine negotiating a typical obstacle.


A spotter directing his driver


-- and --

Another typical obstacle.


Maintaining your center of gravity below your roll-over center is crucial. This one is close and with a little bump on the gas --



And -- this is the result.

And there will be more to come!!


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