‘Rock-crawling’ to the top

Durango team ascending ranks in 4x4 racing

The Durango-based Four Corners 4x4 Jeep driven by Jason Kaminsky and Doug Bigelow negotiates a rocky section at the 2012 King of the Hammers Everyman Challenge in Johnson Valley, Calif. The team is leading the overall series standings heading into the July 6 WEROCK Dirt Riot Endurance race at Battle Rock in Cortez. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Four Corners 4X4

The Durango-based Four Corners 4x4 Jeep driven by Jason Kaminsky and Doug Bigelow negotiates a rocky section at the 2012 King of the Hammers Everyman Challenge in Johnson Valley, Calif. The team is leading the overall series standings heading into the July 6 WEROCK Dirt Riot Endurance race at Battle Rock in Cortez.

When Jason Kaminsky and Richard Jenkins compete July 6 in the WEROCK Dirt Riot Endurance rock-crawling race at Battle Rock in Cortez, they expect to come out on top – not just on the rocks, but in the overall standings.

“We don’t usually draw many parallels to NASCAR, but I suppose the points system is similar,” Kaminsky said last weekend.

It’s that points system that’s looking good for his team from Four Corners 4x4 in Durango.

It’s very possible that the Cortez event could put the team on the top, Kaminsky said.

“If we can manage a national title this year in Dirt Riot, we are considering running the Ultra4 national series next year,” he said.

Ultra4 is the top tier of 4x4 racing.

Kaminsky said 4x4 racecourses have many additional physical challenges compared with a standard racetrack.

“A typical Dirt Riot course is four to six miles in length and consists of gravel roads, sand washes, trees, tight turns, water/mud crossings and some rock-crawling obstacles,” Kaminsky said in an email.

“What we are doing is a dual-discipline sport that brings together both rock-crawling and desert racing,” Kaminsky said. “It’s a challenge because you need a vehicle and driving skills that are capable in both completely different types of terrain.”

Kaminsky explained that the first event to follow this format was called The King of Hammers at the Means Dry Lake Bed in Johnson Valley, Calif., in 2007. Johnson Valley is in the desert northeast of the Big Bear Lake mountain resort in San Bernardino County.

“Since its inception, the event has grown to attract over 30,000 spectators to Means Dry Lake bed,” he said.

Kaminsky noted that “Dirt Riot Endurance racing is an offshoot of King of the Hammers-style competitions,” and follows “Ultra4 rules for vehicle classes.”

Unlike the higher speeds for NASCAR, Indy and other races, “our top speed on the shorter courses is usually about 55 mph, while we have topped 80 mph on certain longer courses with higher-speed sections,” Kaminsky said.

The idea for this type of competitive racing came in part from years of rallies and other events, often on public lands. But for a more formal event like this, “racing on public lands has its challenges, so most events are held at private off-road parks throughout the country,” Kaminsky said.

Like other forms of racing, 4x4 participation depends greatly on sponsors.

“We have done an exceptional job at attracting both local sponsors as well as national sponsors from within and outside of the off-road industry,” Kaminsky said. “We were able to expand our racing season this year, adding additional events and being more prepared and competitive in the events we attend.”

If Kaminsky and Jenkins take the title, they could gain additional sponsorships and even more-expanded racing schedules, he said.

“A significant, national title sponsor would, in addition to attending more events, help us to build our racing program, including the race rig, vehicle transport, tooling, etc.,” Kaminsky said.

In each race, first-place winners are awarded 200 points, 199 for second place, 198 for third and so on, he said. The entrants also can win bonus points: five points for winning, four for leading the most laps, three for the fastest lap time and two for the fastest qualifying time, Kaminsky said.

In addition, there are multiple regional series made up of three races each to help showcase local competitors’ accomplishments: Mountain, Southwest, Central and Southeast.

This year, Jenkins and Kaminsky were scheduled to compete in one Ultra4 event, the 2013 Smittybilt Everyman Challenge, and six Dirt Riot Endurance events.

“When the national title came into view, we added a seventh event in Fredericksburg, Texas, for a total of eight races in 2013,” he said. In the 2012 season, they competed in five events, and they hope to grow their racing program in 2014, Kaminsky said.

Like some other types of racing, there are vehicle classes. In Ultra4 racing, he said, there are three vehicle classes: Stock Class, Modified Class and Unlimited Class.

“There’s a lot to explain regarding the differences in each class,” Kaminsky said, adding that “we have a 40-plus-page rule book.”

Kaminsky and Jenkins compete in the most limited class and are limited to using the stock engine block, stock-type transmission, full-body and 35-inch DOT tires on a production Jeep and not a tube-frame buggy.

Those buggies used in the nonstock classes often look like vehicles from Mad Max-style postapocalyptic movies. The Four Corners 4x4 Jeep looks like, well, a Jeep.

Kaminsky has been involved in recreational rock-crawling for about 15 years.

“In 2009, I expanded upon my hobby and opened Four Corners 4x4” to sell parts, service and custom fabrication for off-road four-wheel-drive vehicles, he said.

“I started researching what it was going to take to start racing at the (Ultra4) King of the Hammers in 2010, and shortly thereafter the stock class was created,” Kaminsky said.

“We built a vehicle during the winter of 2010-2011 and competed in our first event in February of 2011,” he said. That vehicle is their 2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited with many modifications for speed, safety and technical ability.

Like any of the racing sports, costs are a significant factor, Kaminsky said.

“We have over $60,000 invested in the vehicle, and it requires several thousand dollars to prep and race the vehicle at each event,” he said. That money is in addition to their shop, tooling and labor expenses.

Kaminsky said their recent race in Colorado Springs left the Jeep with some damage, on top of just the general challenges of a race.

For the July 6 event in Cortez, Kaminsky said, “Every event is a challenge just to start. We are working on vehicle repairs from the Colorado Springs race in which we sheared 10 wheel studs, destroyed one wheel, deployed the factory air bags and bent the front section of the frame.”

On July 5, the team will get to perform a prerunning, where they get a chance to run the course. Jenkins and Kaminsky will plot hazards on our GPS to help us remember and learn the sections where we need to be careful and the places we can open it up a little or make passes.

Kaminsky said he and Jenkins actually race against the course, rather than the other racers.

“You need to know your vehicle’s limitations and set your own pace,” he said. “Racing for two hours in this type of terrain can take its toll on the vehicle.”

In fact, Kaminsky said a third to half of the vehicles typically experience mechanical breakdowns during the events,” not to mention the damage vehicles are subject to, such as what happened in Colorado Springs.

The Battle Rock race is doubly important as both the team’s last race of the season for points and a double-point event because it is part of both the Southwest Series and the Mountain Series.

Kaminsky’s local sponsors include Durango Electrical Services, Durango Custom Works, Mariah Kaminsky Fine Art, Peak Energy Resources, Grandview Land Holdings and Southwest Appliance.

rgalin@durangoherald.com

Jason, right, and Mariah Kaminsky prerun the King of the Hammers course in Johnson Valley. The Four Corners 4x4 team is aiming to win  the Dirt Riot series national title, which could help gain sponsorships and perhaps a bump up to the Ultra4 national series next year. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Four Corners 4X4

Jason, right, and Mariah Kaminsky prerun the King of the Hammers course in Johnson Valley. The Four Corners 4x4 team is aiming to win the Dirt Riot series national title, which could help gain sponsorships and perhaps a bump up to the Ultra4 national series next year.