Story and photos by Chris Pedersen
Sun, wind, rain, mud, sand, horsepower, lovin’ (yeah, there was lovin’), good people and good racing – all in one weekend.
Sun River is a small town (pop. 124) about 40km West of Great Falls, Montana. On farm land owned by the Merja family, the land owners, EMS and FD workers and local residents volunteer their weekend to put on fund raising events for the local volunteer Fire Departments and Emergency Services. The last couple of years have raised enough funds to buy a structure truck for the FD and funds raised this year will be going toward building a fire hall. The area ambulances, fire trucks and the helicopter ambulance service opened this event on a bright Saturday morning in July. Seeing that many emergency vehicles with sirens blaring, you’d think there was a wreck but instead there were just a few hangovers enduring all the noise.
Sand drags were first up, with 56 competitors pulling in from all over Montana with one coming from Calgary, Alberta with his 1946 CJ2A body covering up a 572 ci engine, with C6 auto, 4500 stall and 456 gears in the rear, running on 34.5” Super Scooper tires. I’ve seen Greg and Kim Poland win at other events and I was pretty sure they would be very competitive here as well. Greg won the Open class, running times of about 4.5 seconds all day long. Tony Lerback from Missoula, MT smacked down a few of the guys he’s been striving to beat for a couple of years to take home the Holy Grail in X-Class. Tony wheelied his car off the start line, and while the 1500 spectators loved it, he needed to get the front wheels on the ground to steer. He backed off the gas to get the front end down then hunted his competitor down at the finish line.
People were moving slowly Sunday morning after supporting the Dutton fair at the local bar the night before. 66 competitors pulled in for the mud bog and Tuff truck races including two from Canada. Rich Johnson from Raymond, Alberta with his 1979 Toyota Landcruiser with a 383 stroker and 373 gears. He runs Pivot tires in the Open class, and 37” TSL Swampers in the Modified class. Randy Mehrer pulled in from Lethbridge, Alberta with his 84 Chev pickup with a 454 ci engine, 5000 stall converter and 456 gears. He also runs 37” TSL Super Swampers. Both of these guys are members of Mud Nutz Racing, holding their own event annually on the last weekend of July in Raymond, Alberta. Not too many ‘stucks’ and only one competitor sailed through the traps facing the wrong direction! At the end of the day, Randy took home a first in the Modified class.
The tuff truck course was definitely tough for the 16 competitors – Montana seems to spawn some awesome drivers in rigs that appear as though they may fall apart at any moment (the rigs, not the drivers). And while they appear held together with binder twine and duct tape, they pound over the course repeatedly without breaking. I am always impressed watching these rigs.
I have been organizing and racing at all sorts of 4x4 related events for about 30 years now and yet I have never seen such a sense of family and community than I have at this event. Tragedy struck last year for one, and sickness altered the life of another – yet these challenges have only brought people closer together in support of each other and their community. There is love here – in the midst of all that mud, horsepower and good racing.