Features > Events/Trail Rides
Civil Wars Rage In Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains
story & photos by Allen Merritt
Russell Hoganís Mazda rotary powered creation always impresses onlookers and intimidates competitors.
Hundreds of 4WD enthusiasts rendezvoused at Byrd’s Adventure Center in Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains for a new round of 4x4 Wars. The battles raged for two days. Engines screamed, and mud exploded from gnarly tires, splattering spectators who hiked beside the 4x4 courses surveying the battle’s carnage.
Friday evening contestants registered with and received color-coded wristbands from Sports In The Rough which produced the 4x4 Wars. You may have seen Sports In The Rough’s 4x4 Wars and ProRock events on Superlift’s Off-Road Adventures TV Shows. Eight contestants signed up to run in the Modified Stock Class, which is for well-built, street legal, trail vehicles equipped with normal aftermarket modifications associated with 4x4 recreation, like lifts, lockers, bead-lock wheels, and winches. The main restriction in the Modified Stock Class is that tires cannot be over 35-inches tall.
Fourteen contestants signed up in the Trophy Class Competition. Trophy Class vehicles do not have to be street legal, but must be 4 wheel-drive with front and rear lockers, a winch, and tires that are at least 36-inches tall. Vehicles in both classes must be equipped with a strong roll-cage, seat belts, a fire extinguisher, and a first aid kit. Helmets are optional.
Byrd’s Adventure Center on the Mulberry River in the Southern Ozark Mountains is the home of the Rock Crawlers is also a favorite of canoeists and kayakers.
Many more participants registered to go on trail rides led by members of the Rock Crawlers 4WD Club who built the competition courses at the Adventure Center. Saturday and Sunday mornings, the trail-riders exited camp to explore the Ozark Mountains—the dogwoods and redbuds were in glorious bloom. Hundreds of spectators filled the spectator areas along the 4x4 Wars competition courses.
The 4x4 Wars consist of a series of timed events over marked courses. Points are deducted for straying off the marked course, stopping, backing up, and winching. The Rock Crawlers Club laid the courses out so that even great drivers with the best vehicles must take calculated risks and push their luck to win each competition.
The first event was the hundred-yard drag race, which looks deceptively simple. But, to score well, you’ve got to rev high and shift fast, but at the same time, try to avoid spinning the tires too much which reduces traction and control. Russell Hogan, owner of Hogan’s RV Park at the Grand Lake Dams of Disney, Oklahoma, drives a tube frame creation powered by a Mazda Wankel Rotary engine with portal axles and four wheel steering. Russ’s rock crawler has extreme ground clearance and articulation, plus he drives it exceptionally well. The Mazda is geared low, so it is slow, but the Wankel rotary engine revs high, and sounds like a mad hornet. Unfortunately, in the drag race, Hogan revved the Wankel a little too high and exploded his transmission. But, since he isn’t a quitter, Russ used a hammer and pry-bar to force a couple of gears together. He completed all the competitions events with only 2nd gear, finishing in 13th place.
John Lloyd climbs the treacherous ledges of the z-turn.
Eric Alton finished in second place on day one, but doesn’t finish day two.
Both mornings included a barrel race in which contestants had to drive circles around three barrels spaced about 50-yards apart in a muddy pasture. Each competitor got to race the course twice each day and keep the highest scores. Many drivers tried different tactics knowing they would be scored on whichever driving style was fastest. Some drivers tried 4WD in one race and 2WD in the other. Some drivers up-shifted in the straight-aways between the barrels, but downshifting at the barrels caused skids. Drivers, who had twin-stick transfer cases that have the capability of shifting the rear axle into neutral, raced in front wheel-drive and did well. In fact, it was obvious that the front-wheel drive only rigs could circle the barrels much closer when they used just enough foot brake or emergency brake enough to almost lock the rear tires while the front tires pulled the rig around the barrel. The four wheel steering rigs tended to do best in the tight turns, but it was obvious that it takes lots of coordination to steer both axles while driving fast. The spectators and competitors loved seeing how the various tactics worked in 4x4 Wars.
The double-whammy rock ledges of the Rock Crawler’s traditional hill climb put several competitors out of action by destroying drive-train parts or rolling rigs. The ledges were especially hard on the Modified Stock Class with their smaller tires. Even some of the big tired Trophy Class vehicles winched up the ledges. The diagonal ledges bounced one rig sideways until it was jammed helplessly between the rocks and a tree. The event’s recovery rig, a huge 6x6 FWD boom-truck lifted the stuck Jeep out of its trap.
Chris Callis stands a big tired ’91 Wrangler on its rear bumper at the z-turn ledges.
On the second day, the Rock Crawlers routed the combatants up a new hill climb that started with a couple more rock ledges, but these ledges had water flowing over them. Several of the Modified Stock Class vehicles had to winch into the course. The ledges made it obvious, which teams planned their winch strategy and practiced driver to spotter winching coordination. The best teams winched over the ledges in seconds, while less experienced teams took minutes. For the Trophy Class, they added a Z-turn with the exit of the Z being up a 3-foot high waterfall.
The Z-turn waterfall was the most challenging battle for some teams. The turn into the waterfall was so tight that except for the 4-wheel-steer rigs, most drivers had to back up a time or two, or risk driving into a perilous side-hill turn. Teams that chose to avoid the side-hill, had to climb the wet, 3-foot high, undercut rock ledge straight on, which meant winching for most teams. One driver, Chris Callis, charged the ledge hard enough that momentum bounced his ’91 Wrangler so high that the Jeep balanced on its back bumper, dangerously close to toppling backward off a 10-foot high ledge. His twin brother, John, who was spotting for him, bravely climbed up the standing Jeep and pulled the winch cable. With little delay, they winched the Jeep off its bumper and over the ledge. They went on to finish in fifth place.
You’ve Got To Take Calculated Risk To Win A 4x4 War
Crowds line the courses, cheering the combatants on to victory.
During the 4x4 Wars, teams battled mercilessly for every second of time, pushing to the limits of their driving skills and their machine’s capability, to gain points. However, when the inevitable crashes and breaks occurred, the opposing teams made it a “Civil” War by rushing to aid their fallen opponents, with winches, expert labor, and even spare parts.
In the final day’s muddy warfare through the forest and trenches, John Lloyd, of John’s 4x4 & More from Billings, Missouri, was in the lead, but several formidable opponents were pursuing him closely. To stay ahead, John pushed his Jeep Scrangler (it was once a cross between a Scrambler and a Wrangler) just a bit too hard, and in a dogleg curve to the finish line, he slid and smashed into a tree. The crash snapped his front suspension and launched the Jeep into the air. As the Jeep hurtled toward the finish line, it rolled onto its side and slammed down near the exit cones. The time-judge stopped the clock and yelled to the exit-judge; “Did he cross the finish?” before he asked, “Is he OK?” John’s Scrangler had slid across the finish line by just inches.
EMTs and 4x4 Wars Officials check on John Lloyd after he crossed the finish line on his side to win the battle.
John’s “Civil” opponents along with the EMT/Rescue Crew from the Barnes Volunteer Fire Department rushed to his aid and extracted him from the wreck. John’s helmet, safety harness, and stout roll-cage did their job. Before the 6x6 boom-truck even had the Scrangler lifted off the course, John and his competitors were assessing the damage and locating suspension parts to make repair. Before the next and final event, John with the help of his friends and opponents had the Scrangler patched up and back into battle.
Kyle McDaniel’s daily driver, an’86 4-Runner with solid axle conversion and 33-inch tires rolls on the first hill climb. However, Kyle fought on to finish in fifth place in small tire wars.
In the final battle, a combination mud trench and hill climb, the surviving competitors were battling to finish in the money and pushing their luck. Most felt they couldn’t afford to slow down for the water traps. Some teams hit the water so hard they drowned out and a couple others hit the bank at the exit of a water hole so hard they popped tires or suspension. At the end of the hard-fought 4x4 Wars, John Lloyd was winner of the Trophy Class and Derrick West won the Modified Stock Class.
In War, You Don’t Have To Win The Battle To Win Respect
One combatant, Kyle McDaniel, who didn’t win any money, did win lots of respect for courage and skillful driving. He drove his daily-driver, an ’86 Toyota 4-Runner, six hours from California, Missouri and entered it in the Modified Stock Class without ever seeing the Rock Crawler’s daunting course.
Kyle’s Toyota retained its stock 22RE 4-cylindar engine and 4-speed auto trannie. However, he replaced the IFS front end with an ’85 Toyota solid axle for added wheel-travel and reliability. He installed 8-inch springs and 5.29 gears. An ARB Air Locker up front and a Detroit Locker in the rear provides traction for 33X13.50 Super Swamper TSL tires.
Ed Hoffman shows off his military axles as he exits mud hole.
Kyle suffered a rollover on the double-whammy hill-climb the first morning. However, he went on to finish all the other events with good times, and he drove it home. If he had just used his Warn 8000 winch sooner on the treacherous ledges, he may have avoided the rollover and finished in the money. Great fight, Kyle!