|Story By Charlene Bower
Pictures by Charlene Bower and Simon Saines
“There are no rocks on this course, but I guarantee it will be the most brutal course of the year,” said Dave Cole of HammerKing Productions. Boy, did he deliver!
By the end of Friday afternoons practice and qualifying over half of the field was in the pits or on the way to local shops with major repairs. Engines were swapped in Sacalas’ rig for the third time that week, the Off-Road Designs Watson brothers and Dean Bulloch’s teams were swapping out transmissions. Gary Ferravanti Sr was completely rewiring his car, welders were out and busy at work at Brad Falin’s pit. Multiple 4×4 cars were turned into 2wd cars by the end of the long night including Brian Shirley’s and Billy Briney. Shannon Campbell had to replace a front crank seal and Bill Baird had to replace a rear main seal. JT Stephens was fixing a driver front a-arm and Nathan Unruh was trying to replace a passenger front knuckle. And a load more were fine tuning, tweaking, changing tires and prepping for Saturdays race. By morning, Nathan Unruh would be the only car that would not take the green flag.
The 4 Wheel Parts Ultra4 Grand Prix at Glen Helen in Southern California was coined as a short course endurance race, where the most laps done in a set amount of time would be the winner. The four-hour race would be broken into two two-hour sessions of racing with an hour break in between for vehicle maintenance and track maintenance. The approximately 5 mile course would utilize the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Short Course track, the Nationals Motorcycle Course and the surrounding trail system that includes massive hill climbs, huge jumps and treacherous ridgelines.
The teams rolled in late into the night on Thursday. Each team given a piece of property to back their trailer doors to pit row. The doors dropped and high horsepower Ultra4 cars rolled out…and spare tires and gas and tools and parts; lots of parts.
Friday was a combination of practice and qualifying. With transponders attached to the vehicles, the fastest lap time for each driver anytime during the day would rank them into starting order. The morning times continued to get faster and faster until the end of the day when the stage was set: Shannon Campbell, Casey Currie, Jason Scherer, JT Taylor and Loren Healy would round out the top fastest qualifiers.
Saturday morning the 42 drivers lined up single file to take the green flag every 10 seconds. With the fastest lap being right around 7 minutes, the entire field would get off the line about 2 minutes before the leader would come back around again, and soon it would be about lapping traffic where passing would become a frequent occurrence.
At 11am exactly the engines revved on the motocross track and the race got underway. One by one they flew around the first turn, up into a high banked turn and through the chicanes to the Lucas Oil Short Course track for tight turns, whoops and double jumps. Back out and down the back straight away past pit row and up into the mountains. A long steep up hill, met by quick turns and a ridgeline finally got to the long downhill with a 90 degree turn at the bottom. Along the bottom of the mountain, through the brush enclosed river bottom, across the road, and back down the stretch to one of the Glen Helen beginner motocross tracks. Transferring onto the national motocross track that included the long uphill called Mount Saint Helens with the American Flag waiving high in the sky. Back down the hill to the start finish line, and time to do it all over again.
It was pretty consistent to say that there were about seven guys on the lead lap the whole race. The 2008/2011 King Shannon Campbell took off first and never let go of that position with 2009 King Jason Scherer, 2010 King Loren Healy, 2011 Stampede winner JT Taylor not far behind. After about an hour of racing, and sorting out the field, there was a red flag on the course for Rob Lynch who had fuel issues on the top ridge and ended up in a bad position during recovery. After the re-start, the laps continued to tick off, another hour of racing until the lunch break where the attrition rate was starting to become more and more apparent. But, within a half-an-hour there was another red flag. Shannon Campbell had driven off the ridgeline and had landed upside down at the bottom of a canyon.
Immediate assistance was sent out and after evaluating the situation, three rigs and hundreds of feet of winch line and tow straps were sent to the recovery site. The rest of the field had been pulled in for an early lunch break that was now an unknown length. The recovery is one of the most impressive that has been done during an Ultra4 race yet. The innovative Rock Crawlers used their ingenuity that they are known for and recovered the car in perfect shape. The whole group came back hot and smelling of sage brush, but Shannon was ready to race again!
After the lunch hour the race resumed for 2.5 hours, making up for the half hour lost in the first session. They took the green flag and the high horsepower was off again. Shannon Campbell was penalized a lap which put him 2 laps down in the mix of the race and Jason Scherer took the lead. Lap times were still consistent and some of the drivers were still trying to increase their times to click off more laps. More and more cars were being lead by a tow strap and pulled into the pits ready to load onto the trailers. Scherer would be one of the cars pulled into the pits after completing 25 laps putting Loren Healy into the lead.
As the checker flag dropped, Loren Healy from Farmington, NM would take the win completing 28 laps equaling out to about 135 miles of racecourse! Also on the lead lap was Jason Picket from Ft Collins, CO, JT Taylor from Fountain CO and Nick Nelson from Cortez, CO.
Saturday nights awards ceremony included awarding the winners of the Grand Prix, the announcement of the Qualifying teams and end of season awards. Congratulations to the Ultra4 Season Champion Shannon Campbell, 2nd place Ben Napier and 3rd Dean Bulloch. New awards for this year included The Rookie of the Year that went to Bill Baird, the Volunteer of the Year Shaun Bootsma, and the Sportsman of the Year award went to Levi Shirley. Then the evening was turned over to Bubba Brown’s BBQ and a band Sponsored by GenRight Offroad.
And that concludes the 2011 Ultra4 series. The next race will be the highly acclaimed 2012 Griffin King of the Hammers where they are estimating over 260 teams will be showing up on the lake bed to race and compete for a stake at winning, or at least marking one more thing off the Bucket List. See you there!
Race Recap Video:
Shannon Campbell Recovery Video: