If you were in attendance at NABX ’11, you may have taken note of a diabolically heavy, four wheeled monster truck of a buggy nick-named Chuckawalla Rock-It.
Tipping the scales at roughly 300 pounds sans pilot, it had long travel, independent suspension comprised entirely of old golf cart and race car bits I had tucked away in the shop along with a couple of air bags, a CO2 tank and some steel tubing from the scrap bin. I’ve been asked several times what sort of drugs I was taking when that all came together and truthfully, I stopped and ponder that same thought from time to time during the testing and subsequent re-build phases of the project. But that’s another story entirely. The question at hand is far more fundamental. Why does one turn a blind eye to convention and embark on such a wild deviation from the norm?
Part of that decision was based on past experience, not in kite buggying because I had virtually none at that time, but rather in my automotive off-road, sports car and circle track background. Build what you know… Another component was the terrain I anticipated negotiating, the rocky malapi flats, thorny desert scrub, deep arroyos and numerous jeep trails crisscrossing the Sonoran Desert. Build for the playground… But the strongest influence by far was the concept of “side bite” or managing the lateral load on the vehicle and dissipating the excess loads without losing full directional control. Of course this all hinged on being capable of man-handling a 10m HQ Crossfire II in 15mph+ winds which proved to be the greater challenge. In spite of the steep learning curve I had laid out for myself, Chuckwalla Rock-It was a joy to pilot as it bull dozed its way through anything I pointed it at… as long as the winds held out.
NABX ’11 was my first playa experience and both Chuckawalla Rock-It and the 10m wasted no time in showing me the folly of my ways for bringing a monster truck to a flat track venue. It was also the first time I was afforded the opportunity to run close to the wind at greater than 5 to 7 degrees up on a pass thanks in very large part to the kindness, generosity and skillful coaching of Dave Culp and the entire Flexifoil contingent of Anthony, Sparkles, Stoopid Dave and Da Ginga ( You guys rock. No, really, I mean it, you rock!).
Now, back to the question at hand. Why deviate from the standard 3 wheel configuration? Why four wheels? As you can see, the advantages are manifold… for that application. But to the bigger question, why deviate at all? Because mental gymnastics is no substitute for Hammer to Fit, Paint to Match. There is no doubt that freestyle buggys these days are nimble and tough but they are all down-right spooky at 50 mph. There is no doubt that long, wide and light is the ticket for speed. For me the question is side bite, effective management of tire contact patch and that only gets better through improving geometry and load distribution on the downwind side of the platform. If you doubt this, check the split times of the IMSA GTP cars against the Oswego style Super Modifieds at Phoenix International Raceway coming off turn 4 on the big track and then look at what the GTP cars have to do with their dynamic suspension components to make those numbers comparable. Four wheels will work for setting speed records. How can that be, you ask? The numbers just don’t match up, you say. Well, until someone comes up with a unified theory that reconciles subatomic particles with the rest of the world, I’ll just continue to Deviate from the Norm.