The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Andrew Christiansen
For The Sentinel 

Nampa driver creates drama in first WE Rock West series win

 

Andrew Christiansen

END OF THE LINE: Defending champion Matt Messer couldn't extract himself after gettting jammed into a tree on the most difficult course of the weekend competition at Broken Boulder Farms. Messer had to be pulled free, keeping him out of contention and in fifth place.

At least one drought was broken in the west this past weekend when Todd Young won his first Western Series event after 11 years of competition, according to WE Rock president Big Rich Klein and Business Manager Shelley Krehbiel. Young, from Nampa, Idaho and his spotter Tate Elquist, also from Nampa, could have cruised through an easier route in the final shootout, thanks to a comfortable lead, but he tackled the course in the same manner as his chief competitors and came out a winner.

The WE Rock event was held at the Broken Boulder Farms of Mark and Rody Schilling, just north of Goldendale, Saturday and Sunday. Thirty-six cars competed in the event in five classes. The Unlimited class is a pro class with open bodied fabricated tube structure buggies fitted with hydraulics to allow wide ranging movement of suspension at each corner and front and rear wheel steering if they choose. The vehicles have few limits so as to encourage innovation in the sport. The vehicles have to weigh at least 2200 pounds. They are generally single seat vehicles with no fenders. Few limits on tires with some vehicles running 40 inch tires. Seven drivers competed in the unlimited class, which was won by Young.

Pro Modified class had three drivers in full bodied vehicles extremely modified and capable of much of what the unlimited cars can do. They must weigh at least 2500 pounds and have two seats and fenders and are limited to 37 inch tires.

There was just one Mod Stock entry, a jeep that was very much stock in appearance. The class is intended to attract vehicles that are stock looking and street legal.

There were 10 entries in Sportsman A and 15 in Sportsman C classes. Those are fairly stock looking jeeps and pickups that are weekend off-roading vehicles, many members of clubs in Washington and surrounding states. The class brings local flavor to events and is kind of an introductory for many people who are curious about how their trail rigs might fare on these courses.

One of the nearby entries in the Sportsman A class was David Bateman, of Oregon City, Ore. This was the first WE Rock competition for Bateman, whose son, Kyle spotted for him. Spotters are key parts of the competition as the drivers often are looking at the sky and generally cannot see the cones that mark the gates through which they must drive to earn points. Bateman works as a mechanic for Lake Oswego and Kyle works for the city parks and recreation as a native plant specialist. While they are new to the WE Rock series, they are no strangers to the sport as they compete regularly at other venues, such as Moab, Utah and Arizona. Bateman had a number of good runs over the weekend and finished fourth in his class.

There were eight courses for this week's competition. By far the toughest course was designated B2. It had a tough bonus gate that nearly every driver found impossible to clear cleanly. Several had to be towed from the gate after getting hung up between a boulder and a tree.

Teams aim for a negative number, earning negative points for progressing through the course gates. Some bonus gates give them a chance to gain another negative 10 points if they can make a clean pass and complete the course on time. Backing up, going outside the course and hitting cones that mark the gates add positive points, essentially penalties to the score. The only driver to score negative points on B2 was runner-up Justin Hall.

Hall won the Unlimited class in 2013. In this case it is his dad, Mark who serves as spotter. At the awards ceremony, Mark said "Every year we swear we ain't coming back to dusty Goldendale." "But we do," chimed in Justin. "We love it." They also pointed out what was clearly a fact for many of the teams that rock crawling is what their family does. "We don't go on vacations, we go rock crawling," said Mark.

Young is a mechanic and fabricator who works in truck and equipment repair in Nampa, which is the perfect profession to compete in rock crawling. The Unlimited machines are high tech, but mostly assembled and maintained by the drivers. Some of the parts are very specialized and Young gave credit to Klein for helping keep the sport alive so as to keep manufacturers in the Market and providing parts. Young's car was built by him and is torn down and rebuilt during the off season.

Most teams are not father-son duos, but they can have a team connection that goes back years. Such is the case with Young and Elquist who have been working together for four years. The two talked of the importance of working together. They say it helps to know how each other thinks about how to tackle the course. The spotter is the hardest working person on the course, rearranging the landscape by hauling boulders and logs from one spot to another, more strategic location. They work in close quarters where a lot rides on trust and communication. Young has been coming to Goldendale for this event since 2005 and placed third last year. He says there are always technical improvements and this year he says the technical improvement he made was to modify his tires, which are Maxxis tires, also one of his sponsors.

Following two days of competition. The unlimited championship came down to the shootout with the top four teams entered. Last year's winner, Matt Messer had a couple of bad courses and finished fifth. Young and Hall were the only drivers to go through the nine rounds with just one positive score. B2 was Young's toughest course, giving up 16 points to Hall. They tied on B4 and each won four of the other courses. The 12 point margin of victory was largely due to the differential on A2 where Young had his best run and gained 13 points on Hall.

Justin Keilman was a long-shot to advance out of his number four position, so he naturally went for maximum points in the shootout. Keilman breezed through the course for the highest score, just four points shy of perfection. He was spotted by Jody Everding.

Jesse Haines went second, losing 12 points to Keilman, but held onto third place, spotted by Mike Berard.

Hall started strong and got to the fourth and final gate in the quickest time, but he nearly timed out trying to get up and through the final gate. His score put him into first place, by nine points.

Young could have taken a route that avoided bonus gates, supposedly making the course easier, but he didn't hesitate taking the hard route the others had taken. He burned a lot of time on the middle two gates and had similar troubles as Hall getting over the final hurdle, which created great drama. With engine roaring and dirt flying, Young popped over the top with 10 seconds left to the roar of an appreciative crowd.

Andrew Christiansen

Andrew Christiansen ROAD READY: John Martinson, of Yelm drew attention with his 1959 Fiat entered into the Sportsman class. Martinson says his dad had the car, intending to restore it. After his death, Martinson inherited the car and converted it for off-roading, but it still looks ready for a Sunday drive.

The winners of the Pro modified class were driver Masa Tsuda and his spotter Ryotaro Okamoto, both of Japan. They ran into trouble, like everyone else, on B2 and ended up rolling over. But they had built such a huge lead on day one that they still finished 96 points ahead of the number two team of Kevin Reimer and Erick Williams of Idaho Falls.

James Treacy, of Beaverton, Ore. and his spotter Tyler Glover won the Sportsman A class. Second place went to Rob Dufault, of Coquitlam, British Columbia with spotter Max Landridge. Third place was Cody Gabriel, of Benton City, Wash., who was without a spotter when he arrived and picked up help at the event.

The winner of Sportsman C was Jeremy Sodorff, of Naches with Jesse Bigby as spotter. Holly Erlandson, of Sandy, Ore. was one of four women competing and the highest finisher in second place. Her spotter was Jason Veal. Third place was John Swink, of Spokane Valley, Wash., with Scott Soderberg spotting.

While Hall didn't win, his series points make him the West Series champion and he will compete at the Grand National in Mason, Texas in September.

 

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