The best-laid plans of off-roaders often go awry. This is why every rig should be equipped with a recovery kit. But what do you do if you find yourself in a situation you can’t get out of with snatch straps, shackles or traction boards? Who ya gonna call?
No, the answer is not Ghostbusters. Nor is it AAA. Typical towing companies offer roadside services, not off-road recovery. Getting an off-road vehicle back on the trail requires a unique kind of person — one who doesn’t pucker while defying the laws of physics pulling a truck out of a steep ravine — and a custom rig.
Off-road wrecking companies have specialty vehicles designed and equipped to handle the most harrowing circumstances imaginable. The rigs might look like beaters, but that’s a compliment to the crews that spend months initially modifying them to maximize both maneuverability and towing capability on treacherous terrain, then work just as tirelessly to keep them running for decades. Rust is a rite of passage, every dent an epic story.
There are some noteworthy companies in Utah that wheelers of all abilities can call for help. Their audiences are as vast as the land acreage they serve. Trail Mater, one of Moab’s best off-road towers, has 176 thousand YouTube subscribers. Fab Rats, a Glendale welding and automotive fabrication company that turns ordinary rigs into all-terrain beasts, has just over 0.5 million subscribers. And based out of Hurricane, Utah, Matt’s Off-Road Recovery has a national audience with close to 1.5 million subscribers.
Rory Irish, aka Trail Mater, notes in his videos that they get calls from people on all parts of the driving spectrum. Sometimes the calls come from noobs who don’t always require a rescue, but find themselves in a tricky situation and need experienced spotters to get out of there safely. His company also gets calls from experts, including pros who were scouting for Moab’s annual Jeep Safari when they slid in the mud and ended up hanging off the side of the trail. It’s a good reminder that trail conditions change on a daily basis. A trail may look dry on the surface but still be unstable underneath from previous weather.
On most days, the Utahns who run these three companies are teammates. When Matt’s Off-Road Recovery needed some help getting a Jeep with a dead motor off a crazy trail in 2022, who’d Matt Wetzel call? Paul Cox, owner of Fab Rats. But for one weekend in March 2023, they were fierce competitors at the Off-Road Wrecker Games. (To be clear, the vehicles doing the towing were the fierce ones. Matt, Paul and Rory had smiles on their faces as they chatted with attendees during meet and greet sessions.)
They weren't just competing with each other, though. The five-team lineup also included Eric from BSF Recovery Team, the OG YouTuber in the industry, and the former pro-rock-crawler Merlin Johnson of Merlin’s Old School Garage. Though these teams traveled from Wisconsin and Arizona respectively, their jovial attitudes fit right in with the Utah crews.
More than 6,000 spectators attended the Off-Road Wrecker Games at Sand Hollow State Park. One look at the cursive-like tire tracks scrawled through the saffron sand or the jagged red rocks juxtaposed against a brilliant blue sky and it’s easy to see why Sand Hollow was Utah’s most popular state park in 2022. It’s an off-road mecca and a paddleboard paradise.
But back to the games. The weekend had everything a motorhead could ask for. Vehicle sprints. A welding competition. Dead pulling. Trail climb racing. Chad Hurst, amateur jeeper and professional photographer/videographer, said, “Watching the contestants maneuver obstacles in the trail climb race was the best part of the weekend. The rock is waaaaay steeper in person than it looks in photos or on video.”
Jensen Brothers Off-Road, a local company specializing in lift kits for the average off-roader and ORI Struts for off-road desert racing and rock crawling, was among the first vendors to support the Off-Road Wrecker Games. Owner Kirk Jensen said, “Events like this are a great way to introduce families to the thrill of off-road motorsports.” There were plenty of youngsters in the crowd — some of them were in awe of the tires that were taller than them.
As for the rules, those were looser than an off-road vehicle that hasn't been upgraded to ORI Struts. Eric from BSF went a little hard on an obstacle during the trail climb and the Rodeo he was towing tipped over. Spectators were allowed to get it back on its wheels. Contestants were also encouraged to bribe the judges. In fact, an award for “most corrupt judge” was handed out during the closing ceremonies.
Preserving our outdoor spaces for current and future recreation is important to Utah.com, especially when it comes to OHV initiatives. The organizers of the Off-Road Wrecker Games value it as well. A portion of the ticket price was donated to Utah Public Lands Alliance, and the event’s agenda included a block of time dedicated to trail cleanup prior to the closing ceremonies.
Event footage from Matt’s Off-Road Recovery YouTube channel showed Matt out there with everyone else picking up litter. But he noted that there really wasn’t much to pick up — the attendees practiced the “leave no trace” principle.
It was noted during the closing ceremonies that everyone involved had started referring to the event as the “first annual” Off-Road Wrecker Games. The addition of those two words proved just how much fun the weekend was, despite a few traffic jams and logistical hiccups. Second loser Paul Cox of Fab Rats, who brought a new rig with only 96 miles on the motor to Sand Hollow, promised fans it would be fine-tuned and ready for an even better showing next year. Until then, have fun and stay safe out there!
*For more video footage of 2022’s Off-Road Wrecker Games, check out the competitors’ YouTube channels listed above.