Off-roaders Seek New Venue for Extreme Rock Crawling

AKRON, Ohio, Dec. 17 -- How about hosting an extreme rock crawling event in your own backyard?

Rocks are a must, and the backyard must handle large crowds of rock- crawling fans. Sort of a Woodstock with boulders and heavily modified four- wheel-drive vehicles.

Organizers already have turned away some towns hoping to host the Goodyear/Skyjacker Extreme Rock Crawling Nationals.

Ranch Pratt, president of the American Rock Crawlers Association sanctioning body, now is visiting several rock-crawling wannabes.

The benefits are obvious. Two years ago, the Vernal, Utah, Chamber of Commerce said the national event generated about $1 million for the community. Vernal has continued to lobby for rock crawling's return.

Pratt said the series intentionally left May 17 and 18 open for a second event. He enjoys hearing about new rock crawling venues that he hasn't tried. ``It keeps the sport fresh, and it tests the competitors' talent on new rock,'' he said.

The Goodyear/Skyjacker series begins in Farmington, N.M., on March 15 and 16, where nearly 20,000 fans showed up to watch the action this year.

Steve Myers, marketing manager for Goodyear light-truck tires, said he looks forward to finding new ``backyards'' for rock crawling. ``We want to spread the word about this exciting new extreme sport.

``Expanding rock crawling to new locations increases exposure. The events also allow us to tell off-road enthusiasts in those communities about our award-winning Wrangler MT/R off-road tire,'' Myers said.

In addition, the rock crawling series returns to Cedar City, Utah, on July 12 and 13, and Johnson Valley, Calif., on Sept. 20 and 21.

Myers said a two-year commitment between Goodyear and the sanctioning body ensures continuity and larger prize purses, including contingency money from several sponsors. ``We've built a good base of competitors, but we want to move to the next level.''

Pratt said he ``wants to pour on the coal. We have two years of momentum, and we see 2002 as an important opportunity to offer more money and move the sport up a few notches.''

That includes picking a fourth rock-crawling venue. And rules have been ``tweaked'' to reward driving skills, Pratt said, calling the changes ``minor.''

The sanctioning body said it will make rock-crawling even more fan- friendly. ``The most dramatic changes in our approach will be tailored towards the fans -- for their entertainment and safety,'' Pratt said.

Goodyear's rock-crawling sponsorship, Myers said, focuses on off-road enthusiasts who are concerned about the durability and quality of the products they buy.

According to Specialty Equipment Market Association research, three of the top factors that determine the brand they buy involve reputation, previous use and guarantee.

To the uninitiated, rock crawling is an unusual sport. To Jeep Jamboree founder Mark Smith, the father of modern four-wheeling, rock crawling is the art of negotiating extremely rugged terrain.

Smith, a member of the Off-Road Hall of Fame and the Explorers Club of New York, recommends the Wrangler MT/R highly in the rock-crawling pursuit. ``It is a great multipurpose tire with three-ply sidewalls and a tread to conquer any terrain. It was tested and proven on the world-famous Rubicon Trail.''

Goodyear introduced its extreme tire to North American media in 1999 on California's legendary Rubicon Trail.

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