Small Shed, Big Dreams!
How We Get Our Kicks - Dennis Rhodes and Dave Connell
“You’re defying physics in a car,” says Dave Connell, when asked to describe what it is he likes about the extreme four-wheel-driving competitions he and Team Rockbull teammate Dennis Rhodes live for.
“The stuff you can climb! You could nose our car up to this wall and climb straight up it and most people think cars shouldn't do that!”
Climbing near vertical rock faces in a car is not your average hobby, but Dennis and Dave have spent six year testing their (and their truck’s) mettle at the Tuff Truck and Ultimate Rock Sports competitions they take part in.
These competitions push vehicle and drivers to their limits as they navigate courses that can consist of gullies, piles of boulders, waterfalls, rock walls and pretty much any sort of obstacle that would stop your average car.
“It is pretty full on it,” said Dennis. “It is so hard on the car, you are climbing rocks the size of houses!”
“Yeah, you are driving straight up walls and rocks bigger than houses,” said Dave, who acts as navigator, guiding Dennis via headset as he navigates the track.
“There’s a lot of trust and faith is involved in it, because I'm outside the truck the whole time trying to tell him where to go, where to place his wheels, and sometimes I make a mistake and sometimes he'll make a mistake, but then it is just, how do we get out of it?”
“I've done a front flip driving down a waterfall,” said Dennis, recalling one of those mistakes.
“We thought it was all good but then I think hit a rock and the weight of the rear just came all the way over and it did a front flip down this waterfall… That hurt! I think I've been over about six time now I suppose.”
Dennis and Dave first started competing six years ago in a rebuilt 1994 Suzuki Vitara, but 18 months ago, they decided it was time to upgrade their ride.
“It was buggered,” said Dennis. “Ah, the poor truck… I’d binned it that bad at Tuff Truck all the roof had caved in on it and we had to chop it all off put another roof on it. That poor car! The chassis was bent… it needed retiring.”
So, starting with two pieces of steel tube sitting on the floor of Dennis’s garage and a motor out of a Toyota Blizzard, they went to work. Dennis built a tube bender, bought a lathe, and from scratch they created their ultimate buggy.
“It took… I don't know how many hours or how many dollars!” said Dave.
“A lot of hours and a lot of money… A lot of money!” said Dennis. “I don't really know how much it has cost us here, but probably $30,000 in parts…”
“And you could double that for hours of labour if you were going to pay someone to do it,” said Dave. “It got to the point where we were doing more hours in the shed than we were with our day jobs! But towards the end a few more people jumped on board to get us over the line and help us out where we really needed it.”
“Great Western Auto Wreckers are our main sponsor and they helped us out heaps and John Zelukovic Smash Repairs helped out heaps and then Mitch Sidman Custom Canopies helped us out with some alloy,” said Dennis.
But just days out from the 2019 Tuff Truck event (20-22 September), the new buggy still wasn’t ready.
“We took it out to the forest and did a little drive and it was playing up heaps! I got a phone call Sunday night saying bring it to Sydney by 8am Monday and we'll put it on the dyno, so I drove to Sydney, they got it going, I brought it back, put some headlights in it and then loaded it on the trailer and went to the comp and it went flawlessly! amazing!” said Dennis
Team Rockbull finished 12th out of 56 trucks over the weekend with their completely untested build.
“The most seat time we’d had was driving it onto the car trailer,” said Dave.
Now, with Tuff Truck behind them for another year, Dennis and Dave are getting ready for the next round of Ultimate Rock Sports at the end of this month. They came second in their class last year, but their dream is to break into the Top 10 at Tuff Truck.
“We’re still only rookies, but we have a lot to learn, getting to the pointy end of Tuff Truck would be nice,” said Dave.
“If we could get to the top ten at Tuff Truck… it would be nice,” said Dennis.