Truck manufacturers tend to choose rugged names for their pickups.
There’s the Dodge Ram, the Toyota Tundra, the Jeep Gladiator – and then there’s the Volkswagen Rabbit. Not a name that inspires images of toughness.
Spokane resident Matt Huit just may change that image. Readers of Four Wheeler magazine selected Huit and his 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup to compete in the Top Truck Challenge next week in Hollister, Calif. The competition is in its 21st year, and Huit has followed it from the beginning.
“It’s a huge honor to get to go,” he said.
Huit will be one of 10 competitors in a five-day challenge billed as a test of “engineering smarts and driver acumen.”
The contest features seven events. Among them, Frame Twister, Mud Pit, the Hill Climb, an obstacle course and the infamous Tank Trap.
Huit started working on this truck six years ago with one goal in mind: “I wanted to build a rig to compete in the Top Truck Challenge.”
He dubbed his truck the “Blazabbit” because it features the body of a Rabbit on a Chevy Blazer frame. His vehicle is considered a Mega Truck not a Monster Truck. “The only thing stock about it is where the engine sits,” he said.
The rig towers on 54-inch Mickey Thompson tires made specifically for the challenge. Huit found inspiration for the purple, gray and black camo paint job in his closet.
“I was wearing a purple boonie hat when my wife (Heidi) and I went out on our first date,” he said, grinning. “My wife is awesome.” He gestured at the Blazabbit. “This wouldn’t be possible without her.”
In fact, for Valentine’s Day she bought him new seatbelts.
Huit and his three-person crew will travel to Hollister with a trailer full of spare parts for the contest, which starts Monday. His crew consists of parts-runner Brian Ault, pit crew chief Allan Lundberg (he’s the “MacGyver master,” Huit says) and co-driver Jared Harmer, who serves as the winch-runner. In other words, if and when the Blazabbit gets stuck, Harmer will endeavor to unstick them.
The possibility of needing to be winched out of difficult situations is high when you consider contest elements. For example, Huit said the Tow Challenge involves contestants towing a loaded dump truck to the top of a 15 percent dirt grade. In an interview with Four Wheeler magazine he said, “My wheeling philosophy has always been if finesse fails, stupid pedal will prevail.”
In the Frame Twister run, drivers attempt to navigate a course strewn with huge boulders. “It’s self-explanatory,” Huit said with a shrug.
The Coal Shute is the newest addition to the race. “It’s a concrete course, down concrete stairs and at the end you drop into a giant trough filled with water,” he said. “If you don’t get wet and muddy, you’re not doing it right.”
Off-road races aren’t without risks. “Rigs have flipped in the water,” Huit said.
Safety crews stationed at each waterhole, stand ready to extract drivers. All trucks must be equipped with roll cages and four-point seatbelt harnesses, and drivers must wear helmets.
The crowning event of the challenge is the Tank Trap. “For anyone who is seriously into four-wheeling, it’s their worst nightmare or best fantasy,” Huit said.
With seven waterholes and plenty of deep canyons and steep hills in between, each year, the Tank Trap claims its share of victims. “Four out of 10 trucks don’t make it through in the allotted time,” Huit said.
The winner-take-all competition involves a lot of time, expense and a fair amount of danger, but Huit just grins. “I call it fun.”
His local sponsors are D&J Automotive, Spokane Waterknife and Suncrest Auto Parts.
Though he’s already amassed a fair amount of trophies in off-road contests, he views the Top Truck Challenge as his biggest test. When asked how he thinks he’ll fare, Huit shrugged. “I’m not going down there to lose.”