4-Wheel Jamboree really rocks

THE FAIRGROUNDS FAIRLY shook as the 4-Wheel Jamboree Nationals spun, roared and sputtered through town.
More than 900 four-wheel-drive vehicles were expected to descend upon the grounds for the event, which ran Saturday and Sunday and concluded with a tire burnout competition, mud drag racing, monster truck racing and a Miss Buckeye four-wheel jamboree contest.
For the third year in a row, a rock crawl was one of the more popular events. Mike and Jim Longley, two brothers from Hermitage, Pa., have competed each year the competition has been offered.
How it goes
A dirt roadway is piled with big and medium-sized rocks trucked in from local quarries and split into two groups. With the help of a spotter, the goal of each truck is to clear the course in under 16 minutes with the fewest penalty points. Points are tallied for things like reversing course, using tools to aid progress and touching or meeting out of order one of several poles set up on the course.
Mike drove a 1986 Chevy Blazer with chunky SuperSwamper tires Saturday while his brother, Jim, directed the truck, walking backward over the rocks just a few feet from the Blazer's grill.
"When you're that high up there, you can't really see anything, so it's like a second pair of eyes," Mike said.
Mike said he's excited for a chance to compete this year after getting disqualified last year for knocking down a pole. He's been working every night for two or three weeks to get ready for the event.
"[The rock crawl] is becoming one of our more popular events," said Chris Bass, a spokesman for the event.
From the West
This year, 22 drivers forked over $10 in admission fees to try their hands against the rocks. Bass said the event originated in the western United States, where the courses are built over thousands of years by nature instead of two days by tractors.
"We're trying to bring the West out here," he said.
Several spectators were lined up Saturday morning to watch the trucks negotiate the rock pile, a sometimes tedious procedure. They move slowly, and carefully calculate each step and change in course.
In case a truck gets hung up on a rock or breaks down, a tow truck is parked nearby to lift it free.
At one point during his trial run, the approximately $5,000 lift and suspension kit under Mike's Blazer spread itself onto the jagged rocks in four directions, sharply angling the cab off the pile and toward the ground. It appeared seconds from toppling over.
A lay spectator might have panicked. But Jim crouched and studied the rocks, motioning his brother to turn the wheels just right, guiding him out of the contortion and to the end of the course.
"I was kind of nervous there for awhile," Mike said. "But I just keep my eyes on [Jim]. If he thinks it's all right, I'll keep going."

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