35 Inch Tire Challenge – Go Small or Go Home
Story By: – Hans Scherer
Photos By: – Kevin Carney
Originally published in Issue 24 of 4Low Magazine
Believe it or not, there was a time in the ”not-so-distant” past when folks ran hard trails on small tires. (Not only that, but 35” tires were actually considered BIG). These days, if you peruse the internet, or open most 4WD magazines, you’re bombarded with information telling you that you need a minimum of 37” tires if you want to drive your Jeep to the grocery store. If your plans include actual off-road use… things like ProRock 60s, Atlas transfer cases, 40”+ tires, and LS engine swaps are all but mandatory.
Flash back a few years to the “Good Old Days”, and rigs like Shannon Campbell’s “Pinky” and John Currie’s “Fire Ant” were winning professional rock crawling competitions on 35s, with half ton running gear. So what happened?
Now, I get that there are a variety of reasons why things have changed, and I don’t dispute the value of “big tire” crawlers. However, allowing “small tire” rigs to get lost in the paradigm shift is an enormous disservice to the sport. Any idea how many of us “old timers” cut our teeth running “small tire” Jeeps on 35s in the rocks? Nowadays, you can pretty much buy a full set of 35” tires for the cost of ONE 42” sticky. 35” tire rigs can utilize stock ¼ or ½ ton axles, and make them live. (Ever price a set of RCVs for a Dana 30 vs a set for a Dana 60?) Simply put, small tire rigs are an excellent idea on many levels… They allow new entrants a chance to “try out” rock crawling on a reasonable budget, without having to go “all in” and commit to something like a tube buggy. They provide incredible “bang for the buck”, and allow those with tighter budgets an avenue to stay involved in the sport as costs increase.
Performance wise, I stand by the statement that a well-built “small tire” rig on 35s can run 95% of the trails in America… provided the owner isn’t concerned with body damage. (A “big tire” rig that started life as a Jeep or similar may get you another 3%, and the final 2% require a comp style tube buggy). Obviously, the “cost curve” climbs sharply as one goes after those final 5%. Unless your goal is professional competition or specifically targeting that upper 5% of terrain… a 35” tire rig is all you really need.
It was this thought process that spurred the “35 Inch Tire Challenge”. I wanted to showcase that “small tire” rigs are alive and kicking, and still have their place. So I made a few phone calls on behalf of my off-road consulting firm, “Outkast Krawlers”, and put together the event.
One of the facilities that we work closely with is the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA). Located in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, AOAA offers up approximately 9000 acres of rugged mountain land, perfect for rock crawling. Dave Porzi, Barry Yorwarth, and the rest of the park staff have been outstanding to work with while developing the crawler side of the park over the last few years. If you are an off-road enthusiast and have yet to visit AOAA… make the trip. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
For this event, I chose to utilize a trail we cut in a few years back, over on the “Western Reserve” portion of the facility, named “Got The Stones”. The trail provides terrain to challenge both short and long wheelbase vehicles, with steep uphill and downhill sections, as well as areas of tight, technical crawling. The rules were simple – I set up a series of seven gates, each of which much be progressed through in order, following the intended flow of the course. There were no points incurred for things like reversing, stacking rocks, use of a spotter line, or similar… and there was no “pointing out”. Each team was given 20 minutes to complete the course, or get as far as possible within the allotted time. Winching was prohibited (other than for the purpose of “sucking down” the front and rear axles), and MOST IMPORTANTLY – all tires were required to pass horizontally through a 35” rigid steel caliper at trail pressure. (If more than one vehicle completed the course, the winner would be determined by whoever exited the finish gate in the shortest period of time).
The line I chose to set the gate cones on had been run successfully on both 37” “stickies” and 40” DOT tires, but not with anything smaller… so I figured it would offer the intended level of difficulty for such an event. I knew it was possible on 35s, but presumed it would prove challenging for most teams. This proved to be a fair assessment.
We started the day with 13 teams competing:
1. – Jim Perry and Spotter Tom Bajek – Driving a red XJ on 35” General Grabber MTs
2. – Jason Staples and Spotter Marcy Gugliemini – Driving a maroon TJ on 35” Goodyear Wrangler MTRs
3. – Mitchell Nye and Spotter Hunter Nye – Driving a yellow TJ on 37” Pitbull Rockers (Even though these are sold as 37s, they measure 35” in diameter and fit through the caliper. As such, they were able to compete.)
4. – Dylan Tower and Spotter Randy Tower – Driving a gold XJ on 35” Mickey Thompson Baja Claws
8. – Max Anthony and Spotter Hayley Rosenberg – Driving a black Samurai on 33” BF Goodrich Mud Terrains
9. – Ryan Rosini and Spotter Zachary Allan – Driving a Black Toyota 4Runner on 35” NTW Mud Claws
10. – Dennis Langston and Spotter Max Anthony – Driving a purple Tracker on 33” Interco Boggers
11. – Joe Red and Spotter Bunny Rose – Driving a black Toyota Pickup on 35” BF Goodrich Mud Terrains
12. – Bruce Bigness and Spotter Matthew Skotek – Driving a Green Toyota Pickup on 35” Interco Thornbirds
After seeing the severity of the terrain, three drivers chose to drop out of the competition and not run, narrowing the field to ten.
All told, two teams were able to complete the entire course successfully. Bruce Bigness and Matthew Skotek took home the win, finishing the course in 9 minutes and 47 seconds. Mitchell and Hunter Nye took second, finishing with a time of 14 minutes and 15 seconds.
Jason Staples and Marcy Gugliemini placed third, completing three of the seven gates within the allotted course time.
It’s worth mentioning that in almost all of the cases where a team was unable to finish, the limiting factors that kept them from completing the course were either time management, breakage issues from failure prone parts (such as stock hubs, axle shafts, or driveshafts), line choice, or “hard luck” type of problems…. NOT the capability of the vehicle itself. Given enough time, a couple strategically placed stack rocks, and a few upgraded “bolt-in” style parts, every one of these vehicles could have successfully completed the course.
If nothing else, it’s “food for thought”. I know there are many of you out there currently planning builds, and thinking that you need one ton axles and 40”+ tires under your rig to make it work. It may be worth taking a step back and considering whether or not “small tires” are a good fit for you. It will absolutely save you a lot of time, money, and headache – allowing you to spend more time on the trail, and less time in the garage (assuming that’s what you’re looking to do).
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