Royalton Jeep enthusiast Leanna Lyman, 32, received an unexpected invitation to the competition in February of last year.
“I thought it was a joke,” Lyman said, after being contacted on Facebook, “but then they called, and I played along.” Lyman was kept waiting for months, until finally contacted in July 2017. She departed for Augusta, Ga., in August, to spend a week in filming. Finalists were mostly culled from hundreds of applicants from all across the country; Lyman didn’t have to apply, as the producers had extended the invitation to her.
In fact, she said, she was the only contestant who arrived with safety equipment, such as her custom roll bars, already installed and up to par for such a competition. Her custom-built accessories attracted much attention.
Lyman was living in Houston, Tex. in 2012, during a period of estrangement from her father, Tim, when she purchased her 1997 TJ Wrangler, as a Christmas present to herself. Tim Lyman reached out to her, suggesting she return to Vermont, where they could continue work on the Jeep at his garage, Lyman Specialty Designs on Royalton Hill Road.
His effort at reconciliation paid off, and Leanna now works with him at the garage.
Leanna’s Lyman’s Jeep poses in Barnard, showing what the right lifts and shocks can do for a rig. (Provided / Leanna Lyman)
The previous owner of the Jeep had invested some $20,000 to customize it for extreme driving situations, and Lyman has now invested about $40,000 worth of materials and time into it as well.
The Lymans added the custom-built roll bars, spare tire carrier, and rear quarter panels. The Jeep is fitted with Clayton four-inch lifts and Bilstein 5100 shocks. The next improvement planned is to replace the engine with a 4.7 Stroker motor, tripling the torque and horsepower.
When hobby touring, and at the type of meets she is used to, Lyman drives at a crawl, and, you could say, babies her Jeep.
Not so at the “Truck Night in America” competition.
“This was the first time I competed in a race,” she said. “I was definitely out of my comfort zone.”
She was not happy when she found out that the challenges were “stuff you’d never see in the woods.”
It was emotionally and physically tough, Lyman admitted. With much invested in the vehicle, she was quite worried about crashing and damaging the Jeep. Unlike some of the competitors’ vehicles, hers is not a beater.
The producers had changed a rented ATV park into an extreme landscape described as a “truckkilling obstacle course,” where “owners will compete for the chance to drive the toughest, most arduous truck obstacle course ever built, and drive away with a $10,000 prize.”
In selecting competitors, they told Lyman, they were looking for someone who could “go to church on Sunday, then after church go into the woods.”
Having seen her posts on social media, the producers felt she had what they were looking for in her ability to go on-road or off-road at the drop of a hat.
As for what the obstacle course consisted of, Lyman’s not allowed to say anything until after the show airs. She wasn’t allowed to take pictures, but she did show me some red Georgia clay still stubbornly stuck in crevices on the Jeep body.
“Truck Night in America” airs for 10 weeks on the History Channel, starting March 8. It is produced by “51 Minds” of California, with executive producers Christian Sarabia and James Patrick Costello II. A trailer for the show can be seen online by googling the title.
There is talk of shooting a second season; Lyman hopes she will be invited.