Bright and early Friday morning, the participants came creeping in, ready to be judged and compared to all their competition. We held a meeting at 4 Wheel Parts Center in Azusa, California, where all nine truck went up on racks so we could all inspect the undercarriages, the quality, and the design of each kit. With the help of Richard Kale, we racked every truck, judged each suspension, and then readied them with some Shur Trax water bags for the highway and mountain roads drive up the California coast. Each Shur Trax bag was time-filled with a hose to be as equal as possible. We would love to tell you we measured out 50+ gallons of water into each bag, but we all agreed it was scientific enough to just hold a stopwatch to each one as we filled for five minutes.
From 4 Wheel Parts, we headed north with the loaded truck beds to an offshoot from Hwy 101 that took us into some dirt and along some amazing ridgeline roads that traced a coastline mountain range. We spent the rest of the day there, wearing out our crew of judges and already overtraveled suspension reps. If you asked the reps, they'll tell you that the most truck-abusive part of the program had to be the winding mountain road in and out of the dirt we played in that day. The potholes were big enough to eat a Volkswagen, and deep enough to trap a 2WD truck if it ever stopped in one, but the group pressed on. Every truck performed well and every truck survived, and we were starting to notice the slight strengths and weaknesses of the different suspensions by the end of the day. It was past 10 p.m. by the time we hit the freeway again and headed to our hotel for the night. Half the crew was almost asleep at the wheel, and the guy who was supposed to be leading this whole event had just passed out in the CST truck after mumbling some vague directions to the truck's driver, Mike Emerson. We knew we had to take it easy on Saturday so we wouldn't lose any judges or reps before the weekend was out.
A good night's sleep and a breakfast at Luisa's Place got us ready for day two, which took us through San Luis Obispo County, and a tour of some backroads and mild dirt passes that gave us more opportunities to try out the suspensions. The plan (which we were able to stick to for once) was to get some seat time in until the afternoon, but not until after a quick stop at Cottaneo Bros. Jerky shop for some road snacks. That jerky shop has provided us with years of sustenance, especially during long road trips for work.
A few hours of street and dirt-road driving would give us more opportunities to try out different suspensions, and eventually bring us to a late lunch at the Pozo Saloon. The saloon is a throwback to the early days of California and one of the oldest working food establishments in the U.S. The bit of relaxation was well deserved after the first day, and we were pleased to see everyone getting along like old friends, not like competitors in a multimillion dollar suspension industry. After lunch we released everyone go do their own thing until the next morning, but every individual involved in the program showed up to go to dinner together that night (they didn't invite us until the last minute, though). It just goes to show how tightly knit this industry is.
We specifically waited for the last day to be in the sand dunes for a few reasons. One being that we knew these trucks were going to be flogged in the dunes. Judges and suspension representatives would quickly get a feel for how well all these trucks would perform with aired-down tires in the Oceano Dunes (better known to some of us as Pismo), and we guessed that some overzealous duning would probably get the better of at least one or two trucks.
What better way to spend the day than on the beach with your shoes off, lunch being delivered, and driving a bunch of trucks that you don't own? Heaven can't be that far off. We ran the tires at 12 pounds of pressure in the sand, and had to make sure not to get overconfident and take a turn that would rip the low-pressure tire off the wheel bead. Our judges and reps were very careful, and only one tire came debeaded the whole day.
We also had one big break out in the dunes, but it was not any suspension, and it was not something that prohibited the truck from driving home at the end of the day. It is a good example that points out that no matter how strongly or well you build a suspension, you can only abuse a factory-built truck so much before something gives out on you.