Crawlin' their way to the top - The Explorer: Sports

Crawlin' their way to the top

Local duo to match gears, traction, with pros on national stage

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Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:52 am, Wed Nov 28, 2012.

Perched on a Redington Pass trail near Chiva Falls’ audible flow, Mike Klensin switched off the Corvette LS6 motor that powered his rock crawler across stone clusters like a 410-horsepower tarantula.

Mornings like last Friday’s emerged a few years back, when the 31-year-old former downhill cyclist decided to share his outdoor epiphanies with family, veering a mechanical career toward off-road builds.

Soon, Klensin’s shop landlord, Catalina resident Chris Adamen, mentioned his own budding 4x4 tendencies.

An easygoing match, the pair built a truck and formed a team named after Klensin’s fabrication business — Team Crossed Up.

Next weekend, gravity’s their limit.

Team Crossed Up is headed to Hannibal, Mo., the sole Arizona unit to climb through World Extreme Rock Crawling’s (W.E. Rock) sponsorship-rich Western division, and into its Grand National climax.

“When you’re getting ready to go up a wall you just saw two guys roll over backward from, your adrenaline rushes,” Klensin said. “Then you clear it.”

In gearheads’ sleep, rock crawlers motor over dreamscapes, custom-machined fantasies that few mechanics ever get the chance to build — much less drive.

For $70,000, Crossed Up’s crawler pushes 400 foot-pounds of torque — roughly three times that of a compact sedan — mated to a two-speed gearbox that lets the crawler run in four-wheel, front- or rear-wheel drive modes.

Klensin pilots the tube-framed beast over obstacles most extreme hikers would avoid, while a few feet away, his partner plays a spotter’s role. Via two-way headset, the 54-year-old Adamen advises Klensin on how best to navigate his cone-marked courses, while brushing away or adding dirt for traction’s sake.

As Klensin can independently brake each wheel and intentionally high-center the crawler, Adamen’s job is like coaching a steel ballerina through a timed and unrehearsed routine, on 14 inches of suspension.

“It’s just incredible. (The drivers) make you open your eyes to what the vehicles can do,” Adamen said.

Billy-goating a 2,900-pound crawler up 80-degree cambered climbs is far from an elementary move — and rock crawling drivers like Klensin all stow a horror story up their firesuit’s sleeve.

“There are some times when you get scared, absolutely,” Klensin said. “There’s some big consequences — if you mess up, it’s going to hurt.”

He knows.

Two years before the duo qualified for W.E. Rock’s national spotlight, Klensin attempted to climb a precarious Salt Lake City-area feature dubbed “The Matterhorn” — and lost traction.

His modified 1996 Jeep Cherokee bounced backward 40 feet, destroying almost everything behind the passenger compartment.

“He drives because he heals a lot faster than I do,” Adamen laughed.

Like all motorsport bugs, Team Crossed Up didn’t toss in the wrench. Instead, they figured out what they could salvage — an engine, some shocks and seats — and rebuilt.

That next car earned them a solid 16-out-of-23 finish in W.E. Rock’s 2007 pro modified series, sold afterwards to fund the six-week process that bore their current crawler — plus nights garaged away from family members.

Klensin’s and Adamen’s families show patience with the upstart racers. Their payoff comes during race weekends, when kids mug with the sport’s poster-level stars at family-friendly events.

Still, the pair tremble somewhat at the costs of sticking rubber to rock when energy drink-sponsored teams from W.E Rock’s top class boast endless credit lines.

The round trip to Missouri will cost Team Crossed Up $2,000 in fuel alone — never mind the specter of repairs — after a busy series that features events every three weeks.

“We’re pure privateers out there, pushing it really hard,” Adamen said.

Race organizers have taken notice. W.E. Rock’s Web site says the “Arizona natives have something to prove after a great finish in…2007,” while the pair hope for a top-five finish next weekend.

Regardless of how the Grand Nationals play out, the Crossed Up guys know they’ll be practicing at places like Redington’s corral trails when they return, scraping their skidplates along local rocks.

To that, they’re proponents of trail courtesy, shutting down the engines when horses appear, yielding to bikers — and the occasional self-righteous hiker’s tirade.

Adamen recalled when a rancher shrugged at their tire marks, citing how approaching storms would erase the scuffs. He also recited the numerous injured bikers and dehydrated hikers they’d trucked to safety.

Klensin explained the crawler’s earth-friendly catch-and-contain systems, which prevent fluid spillage — just in case another ambitious back flip sends the vehicle to salvage.

“Most people have the wrong idea about 4x4 guys,” Klensin said.

“Yeah — we pick up everybody else’s garbage on the way out,” Adamen nodded.

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