BITD: Team Hummer 2002 review

Team Hummer® finishes first and second in BitD points championship. By any standard, 2002 was a good year for Team HUMMER but it was not without it's challenges. With the first race of the 2003 season less than two weeks away, I thought I would...

Team Hummer® finishes first and second in BitD points championship.

By any standard, 2002 was a good year for Team HUMMER but it was not without it's challenges. With the first race of the 2003 season less than two weeks away, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on the 2002 season and recognize some of the many people who made this season possible. In recent years, the first race of the season wasn't scheduled until mid-April and that four months between races gave us quite a bit of leadtime to get ready for the new season. Starting this year however, Best in the Desert Racing Assoc. has added a new race to the schedule, the `Parker 425', February 7 - 9, 2003. Although we are all looking forward to the Parker race, cutting two months out of our "off-season" time has made it a bit of a challenge to get everything ready for 2003.

Preparing for 2002

Getting everything ready for the 2002 season proved to be a very ambitious project. We needed to resurrect the old Dodge Box Van which had been sidelined with a blown engine since 1999. We also had to pull the bodies off both vehicles and have them completely repainted while Chad Hall and Brad Falin designed and built new 4" shocks for the Class 8100 pick-up. I had discussed this decision with Chad after winning the 2001 `Baja 1000'. Although the 3 1/2" shocks had proven to be flawless performers for the pick-up during the 2001 season, improvements made to the engine had been so successful that the potential of the vehicle was now limited by the suspension in much the same way that the top speed of a sailing vessel is limited by it's hull design.

Building a set of shocks for a HUMMER that weighs in at over 8000 lbs in race ready condition is no "slam dunk" by any means. Aside from the manufacturing costs of over $1000 per shock, it will take a full season of development to get these new units dialed in. While all this is going on, we are still out there trying to win races. As a touchstone, It took us almost two years before we were able to develop the 3 1/2" shock to it's full potential but we were hoping that the learning curve would not be as steep the second time around.

After spending some time calculating the differences presented by the larger configuration, the new shocks were de- signed and all new shock mounts were fabricated to accommodate the signifi- cantly larger units.

The 3 1/2" shocks and mounting system was carefully removed from the pick-up and reinstalled on the Class 4100 SUV. Although this system had been replaced on the pick-up, the SUV class has a mandated limitation on front suspension travel which Class 8100 pick-ups don't share. Due to this `handicap' the SUV isn't quite as demanding on the suspension and Chad felt it would prove to be a perfect upgrade for the worn out shocks on the `flag' HUMMER.

And so we arrived in Pahrump for the `Terrible's Town 250' and the start of a new season with a new Cummins Diesel engine in the Box Van, new suspension on both HUMMERs and a variety of other up- grades including fresh paint on both trucks. More importantly, perhaps was the absolute conviction shared by everyone in the crew that Team HUMMER was the best team in off-road racing. Over the course of the 2002 racing season, I found their attitude to be fully justified!

Terrible's Town 250

Raceday morning was cool and overcast in the Southern Nevada desert where early April weather is expected to be somewhat mild. The team of Chad Hall/Cort Stoskoph took the start shortly after 10 AM in the #8103 HUMMER Pick-up followed thirty minutes later by Rod Hall/Sam Cothrun in the #4103 SUV. For the first 60 miles of the race the trucks were running well with both trucks taking the lead in their respective classes. At Pit # 1 Chad stopped briefly to add more nitrogen pressure to the new shocks which apparently had a design flaw. These are reservoir shocks, however the diameter of the hose that connects the reservoir to the shock was too large, allowing the fluid to flow without resistance between the two cannisters. This resulted in a very `soft' ride and the only way to overcome the problem during a race is to add more gas pressure to the shock to restrict the flow and stiffen up the ride. The risk here is that with too much pressure, the shock action will be nullified resulting in the creation of an 8000 Lb pogo stick so it was impor- tant to increase the pressure in increments to find the proper combination. This required stopping at almost every pit to adjust the gas pressure. Fortunately, a supurb effort from the Team HUMMER crew kept the downtime to a minimum allowing the #8103 HUMMER Pick-up to run in the lead throughout the day and take the win in spite of a late challenge from Ford's Randy Merrit.

The Team HUMMER SUV was well into the lead at mile 60 when the upper Heim joint on the front drivers side shock let go and allowed the half shaft to sag, extending well beyond the limit of the CV joint and shearing it off. It took well over 1 ½ hours to get the HUMMER back on the road which meant removing a rear shock and placing it on the front. Since we had no spare shocks, the SUV was forced to find the best compromise and move forward on the three remaining shocks which dropped them out of contention for the lead. Nonetheless, Hall and Davidson working with co-rider and chief mechanic, Sam Cothrun were able to keep the big SUV under power well enough to cross the finish line with a credible third place finish.

Nevada 1000

After returning from the `Terrible's Town 250', chief mechanic, Brad Falin installed a new frame on the #8103 HUMMER Pick-up and upgraded the truck with a set of new polyurethane motor mounts similar to the ones we had recently installed on the SUV. In spite of our first place finish at the `Terrible's Town 250', we had to address the problem of gas pressure on the pick-up's new shocks. Brad Falin built and installed adjustable metering valves on each unit to regulate the flow between the reservoir and the shock body.

The Team HUMMER SUV had suspension problems of their own at the Terrible's Town event. One shock was destroyed when the upper mounting tab broke on the driver's side front shock. There was a significant amount of collateral damage to the shock tower and various other front suspension parts, all of which needed repair or replacement. While we were making a couple of new shocks, Sam Cothrun upgraded the mounting tabs on the remaining units. After fabricating many new parts to repair the damage to the front suspension, Sam prepped the #4103 SUV and installed limit straps on both trucks as an added precaution.

A grueling endurance race, the first stage of the `Nevada 1000' sent the teams 340 miles North to the day one finish just outside of Ely, Ne- vada. There were no significant problems for the Team HUMMER #4103 SUV and they held second place 30 minutes off the pace set by Mark Stein in the #4101 Ford Explorer. Chad Hall in the #8103 Team HUMMER Pickup managed to run a dead heat with the #8104 Ford F-150 of Manny Esquerra in spite of an overheating condition which prevented the truck from maintaining full power for extended periods of time. Every other entry in these two classes had suffered major setbacks during the first stage so the remainder of the event would focus on the race between Rod Hall vs Marc Stein in the 4100 class and Chad Hall vs Manny Esquerra in the 8100 class.

At day's end team mechanics John Klatte and Brad Falin decided to replace the water pump on the pickup in the work area during the 70 minute period allotted to service the vehicles after each stage. Due to the complexity of the task, the work took an additional 30 minutes and the time was added to their finishing position putting them in second place about 30 minutes behind Esquerra. The SUV was serviced within the time period and no penalty was assessed.

The second day consisted of a 295 mile stretch starting in Ely and proceeding past the Duckwater Indian reservation, along the Pancake Mountain range and down the historic A-bomb Road on the way into Tonopah, NV. The SUV had another good day in spite of a broken front half shaft which probably occurred somewhere near the halfway point. Hall pressed on in pursuit of the lead without stopping for repairs. Davidson took over at Pit #5, and took it into Tonopah in three-wheel drive, as it were, beating Stein on the day by several minutes. Stein would later be penalized 1 hour for illegally fueling his vehicle at the start line which put us in the lead by 32 minutes going into day #3 and the last leg of the event.

The #8103 team HUMMER pickup continued to be plagued with overheating problems but managed to shave a few minutes off Esquerra's lead. In the work area, after the days racing, we noticed that all the bolts fixing the transfer case to the transmission were loose and the unit was about ready to fall out. This problem took 90 minutes to repair and we entered the final day 50 minutes in back of #8104, in second place.

The last stage started out badly for the SUV when a loose radiator cap allowed all the coolant to boil out of the radiator. It took Rod and team mechanic, Sam Cothrun almost 22 minutes to cool down the engine enough to refill the system using their onboard drinking water. By the time all the water was replenished at pit #2, the lead had dwindled to a mere five minutes so we knew that the SUV would have to run trouble free to the finish to have a chance at victory and we understood that Stein would pull out all the stops.

Chad was having a good day and the earlier problems with the transfer case seemed to have been resolved. He had adjusted his driving style to manage the overheating problem and was making up time on Esquerra's #8104 Ford. The HUMMER was faster than the Ford but probably not 50 minutes faster over the remaining distance of 285 miles. In situations like this you push the leader as much as you can, hoping he will break something, so you can get by him. But Esquerra is a cagey veteran running trouble free and we had to settle for second place after shaving only one minute off his lead, finishing 49 minutes behind the #8104 Ford.

After refilling the coolant earlier in the race, the #4103 SUV turned in the flawless performance they needed to win. Rod turned over the driving duties to "Rocket" Roy Davidson at Pit #4 still holding onto a four minute lead. Davidson was able to maintain that lead until the final pit, about 45 miles from the finish, where he was encouraged by the crew to put his foot in it. Apparently he got the message because he crossed the finish line eleven minutes in front of the #4101 entry to take the checkered flag and chalk up another win for Rod Hall and Team HUMMER.

Tonopah 300

The #4103 Team HUMMER SUV came home from the `Nevada 1000' in better shape then we had expected. On day two of the event we developed a crack in the exhaust line of the turbo causing us to loose a substantial amount of boost. The problem was corrected as part of a good race prep and the truck was ready to go to Tonopah.

The #8103 pick-up required a little more attention to detail, however. The development of the new shock was an ongoing process so they were re-valved and tested. The transfer case, which had pulled all of it's mounting studs out of the transmission, had to be removed and a new transfer case and transmission were installed just to be on the safe side. Exactly what caused this to happen, in the first place, remains a mystery to everyone on the crew. Given the fact that the entire assembly is covered with a skid plate, it seems unlikely that the stripped studs came as the result of an impact. In off-road racing, as in life, some things are never explained.

Chad Hall in the #8103 HUMMER Pick-up started second in class, one minute behind Ford's Manny Esquerra in the #8104 Ford F-150. By the time they got to the first road crossing, four miles into the race, Chad was within seconds of Esquerra and was preparing to pass when he hit a rock, flattening a tire. The truck was buried in a mountain of dirt and it took some time to get the jack underneath it. As the race wore on most of the competitors in the class were sidelined with various problems and Hall had moved into second behind Foutz. By the time they got to pit #3 at Gabbs (RM 125), the Team HUMMER Pick-up was in position to chal- lenge for the lead and caught up with Foutz in the #8102 V-10 Ford on the long straight heading West out of Gabbs. The diesel proved to be too much for the V-10 Ford and Hall brought the pick-up into pit #4 at Rawhide in first place with a slight lead on Foutz and pitted to take on some fuel.

Rod Hall in the #4103 SUV had been running with the lead- ers but dropped a few minutes off the pace when he came up behind a wounded mini pick-up in a tight area who refused to pull over and let him get by. It took almost 50 miles to get around the slower truck and then Hall noticed the SUV starting to lose turbo-boost somewhere outside of Gabbs. He pulled into Pit #4 for the driver change and after taking on some fuel, Roy Davidson took over behind the wheel and pulled back onto the race course in third place. He was seven minutes off the lead.

Running in the lead at race-mile 215, about midway between Pits #5 & 6, Chad hit a rock on-course and flattened his second tire. You just can't do the same things at 80 m.p.h. that you used to be able to do at 50 m.p.h.! Part of the learning curve as the truck gets faster. It didn't take long to replace the tire but by the time they got back out on the course, they were down by about 8 minutes to the leader Foutz who was having an abso- lutely trouble-free race.

The #4103 Team HUMMER SUV had more than it's share of problems during the second half of the race with three flats, an ongoing loss of turbo boost and two broken driver's side half-shafts. The first flat came about 20 miles after Davidson took over at Pit #4. The second was in the rocks near Candeleria, close to where Chad suffered the same problem a bit earlier. After collecting a fresh spare at Pit #6, Roy smacked the truck hard into a ditch a few miles out of the pit. He collected two broken half-shafts and flat #3 as a result of this misfortune earning him the challenge of having to navigate the final 40 miles of bad road in one-wheel drive without a spare. Davidson, who has previous one-wheel drive experience, is apparently becoming quite accomplished in this role because when all the dust settled at the finish line the #4103 Team HUMMER SUV stood second in class and second in the race for the year-end points championship.

After leaving pit #6 behind, the Hall/Stoskoph team set out in pursuit of the #8102 entry of Greg Foutz. Although they had no more trouble and seemed to be reeling in the big Ford, there was only 40 miles remaining in the race. In the final analysis, two flats proved to be one too many as the HUMMER Pick-up simply ran out of race course taking the checkered flag a mere five minutes behind Foutz to record a second place finish in the 2002 `Tonopah 300' and maintain his lead in the series points chase.

Baja 1000

To successfully take on over 1000 miles of grueling desert terrain in the `Baja 1000' requires three key elements: planning, dedication and skill. Fall short in any of these requirements and you will leave Mexico on a trailer...or worse. After 16 `Baja 1000' victories, spread out over five decades, no one is more aware of this than Rod Hall. In planning for the event, Rod decided to focus the crew's full resources on one entry, the Team HUMMER Pick-up. He would share the driving duties with his two son's, Chad and Josh, both former Baja 1000 champions. A full, body off preparation was carried out which included the installation of a new, high-performance Dennis Sweeney Diesel engine and Mogi built transmission. Brad Falin also fabricated and installed a second spare tire mount in the rear of the truck.

Team owner Rod Hall, who drove the first 230 miles, celebrated his 65th birthday behind the wheel of the H1 Pickup during the `Baja 1000'. He quickly took the lead shortly after the start and held that position until he got out of the truck in Puertocitos. Chad Hall, who took over from Rod and drove the second leg to San Juanico, said the truck had only one problem, a strange electrical issue which caused the transmission to shift erratically. "About 15 miles into the race the truck began to pop into neu- tral whenever Rod gave it too much gas. After I took over the problem persisted and finally went into neutral permanently at Coco's Corner, about 300 miles into the race. I'm no transmission expert," observed Chad, "but after working on the transmission wiring harness for about 10 minutes, I was able to get it to default into third gear only operation. Our new motor was giving us lots of low-end torque so third gear was good enough to get us back in the race." Regrettably, our top speed was now limited to 67 M.P.H. and we had dropped to second place during the repair.

South of Guerro Negro, at about the halfway point, Chad came across a number of vehicles hopelessly stuck in an `S' bend section of a riverbed which, over time had cut itself five or six feet below the surface of the surrounding terrain. Dominated by huge cactus bushes on all sides, none of the trucks seemed to be able to find a way out. Relying on the legendary HUMMER 4-wheel drive technology, Chad was able to put the truck in low-loc and power his way up over the walls of the riverbed and back into first place leaving those behind him to ponder the wisdom of having built 2-wheel drive off-road race trucks.

Under the Baja Harvest Moon the road to San Juanico (RM 655) and the final driver change was littered with race vehicles of every size and description mired in the silt beds outside of San Ignacio as deep as a snow drift. It was a eerie sight seeing the midnight glow of the full moon dance off the driver's helmets as they struggled to free themselves from the choking haze of the siltbed.

The silt posed no problem for Team HUMMER, however and at San Juanico, Chad handed the truck over to his brother Josh who drove the last few hundred miles to the finish. After just over 24 hours and 1017 bone-crushing miles of desert racing, Team HUMMER's Josh Hall took the checkered flag in La Paz, Mexico to claim the Full Stock Production Class victory in the 35th annual SCORE `Baja 1000'. This win marked the second consecutive `Baja 1000' championship for Team HUM- MER which has won this internationally recognized event six times since 1993 when HUMMER began competitive off-road racing. This win also marked the 17th `Baja 1000' victory for Rod Hall who has com- peted in all 35 Baja events.

Las Vegas 200

By the time we towed the HUMMER back to the Reno race shop, a distance of about 1500 miles, we only had 9 days to get both trucks ready for the final race of the season, the `Las Vegas 200'. Most of the prep for the SUV was already done and the truck only required some detail work before we put it on the trailer. For the most part, the pick-up survived the Baja 1000 without too much dam- age, however we needed to find out why the transmission wasn't shifting and we had a big problem with our rear springs. Over the course of the year, the crew had been making improvements to strengthen the truck and enable us to carry more onboard spare parts. Once we added the second spare tire mount the race ready weight of the truck had increased to 8500 Lbs and most of the new weight was over the rear axle. After hauling this extra weight the entire length of the Baja peninsula, the rear springs became fatigued and needed to be replaced with stronger units. Since these are custom made springs which take 6 weeks to build we were forced to live with the fact that this was a problem we couldn't deal with before the race.

After replacing the transmission, the HUMMER was no longer stuck in 3rd gear, as it was throughout the `Baja 1000'. Now it was stuck in second, indicating that we not only had a faulty transmission in Mexico but an electrical problem as well. Eliminating every possibility that could cause the tranny to default into second gear was a lengthy and time consuming procedure since the problem didn't manifest itself until the running gear had warmed up. Finally, 24 hours prior to the event we found a faulty connector in the wiring harness that cured the problem, once and for all!

The HUMMERs came into the final race of the season leading the Class 8100 points race by a slight margin over Ford's Manny Esquerra. Rod Hall was in the middle of a 3-way battle for the Class 4100 points championship with the Fords of Mark Stein and John Sunderland. It was clear that both HUMMERs needed to have a good race and probably a winning day to take the points Championship in either class.

Rod Hall's Class 4100 SUV was prepped and ready to go and so was Rod! At Pit A, about 20 miles into the race, both HUMMERs came through looking good with Chad about 32 seconds in front of Manny Esquerra's Ford. About 20 minutes later, the #4103 SUV came through holding second place behind Scott Douglas in his Ford Bronco, who had not had a particularly good year up to this point. Somewhere in the rocks after the first pit, however, Both HUMMERs were thrown off the pace with flat tires. This dropped Chad into second at the 60-mile mark, about 5 minutes behind Manny. Rod moved to fourth when he came in to pit B to get a spare, behind Douglas, Stein and Sunderland.

Chad was having trouble with the shock valving and coil bind from the springs which died somewhere during the Baja 1000. He picked up his second flat about forty miles into Lap #2 when he pulled out to pass Scott Douglas, who was leading the 4100 class. Rod was having a good drive and was catching up to the leader in the rough stuff but losing time in the faster terrain. By the time he got to pit B, 60 miles into lap #2, he was 15 minutes down to Douglas, who was having one of those perfect days, and about 8 minutes down to Sunderland. Stein, the current points leader, was seen with his hood up prior to the pit and was never to be a factor in the race again.

At the main pit, with only a lap to go, Chad had to stop for two new spares and a nitrogen charge on the shocks. He left the pit on his final lap 32 minutes down to Manny and the hoped for HUMMER Class 8100 points championship was steadily fading from view. Rod stopped for some fuel and headed out, passing through the first pit on lap three still eight minutes down to Sunderland.

At this point the battle for the Class 4100 Championship was between Sunderland and Hall because a blown engine earlier in the year had taken Douglas out of contention for the year-end points, although he was having a great day and remained in first. There had been no radio communication with the #4103 SUV since the first lap of the race, so after both HUMMERs had passed through Pit A on the final lap the entire pit A crew closed up shop and gathered at pit B to see what had happened during the 40 miles of bad road that separated the two areas. Sunderland passed through first in the #4102 Bronco with Hall closely behind having cut 8 minutes off the big Ford's lead. On corrected time it stood as a dead heat for the year-end points championship with less than 15 miles to go to the finish.

About a minute later, Sunderland's Bronco went down with a flat tire. Rod took the lead and had a trouble-free ride the final 15 miles to the finish where he took a second in the event and won the 2002 Best in the Desert Class 4100 Points Title. Chad finished within 10 seconds of Rod, third in class 8100 but second in the points championship bringing down the curtain on a highly successful year for Team HUMMER.

-grt-

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About this article
Series Offroad
Drivers Scott Douglas , Greg Foutz , Mark Stein , Rod Hall