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XRRA US Finals Jellico, TN
Xtreme Rock Racing East meets West
September 20, 2008

Story and photos by Nolen "Rock Midget" Grogan


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Race Day Continued...

Josh Murray, 7th in the West, was the consummate competitor in XRRA this season. Competing in the Eastern and Western Series, Josh missed the last event in the East due to a blown transmission at the Western finals at Cortez. Although their respective series standing were similar, Danny Rohrer, #4 East, and Josh Murray's buggies could not be more opposite. Although they are both very low to the ground and red, that is where the similarities end. Both racers were plagued with nasty breakage. Josh blew out a Dana 60 ring and pinion in the first round yet managed to finish lap 2 and get it repaired over halftime. Danny ripped his passenger side knuckle studs out therefore ending his day during lap 3. Danny's recovery was some of the most "getting it" tow truck driving I have seen in my life. Josh came back in laps 3 and 4 with some excellent times but they were not enough to get him in the top 6.

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Rick Dermo, #4 West and Doc Mercer, #7 East squared away in another battle of the bad-ass moonbuggy. Again, a first for me was watching Rick Dermo drive. This guy is a true master behind the wheel and tossed his V6 powered buggy around the course with nothing less than grace. Doc and his spotter Bender switched off driving duties and had a solid day's performance. Doc's LS2 powered buggy is a crowd pleaser for sure. That thing makes the ground quake as it passes. Dermo's supercharged V6 buggy is one of the most nimble buggies I have seen. Sporting ORI struts on all 4 corners; I was very impressed with the way it handled. I was talking to Kelly from Team 555 (Blacksheep10 from Pirate) and he told me lots of racers were going to the struts for 2009 and King of the Hammers. Dermo's rig really impressed me.

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The third pairing of bad-to-the-bone moonbuggies was that of Eastern and Western 3rd place winner Brian Shirley and Eastern Series 2nd place winner Adam Carter. Both of these racers came to Jellico to win. Both of these racers have the driving skills and rigs capable of winning in this highly competitive field. Adam Carter came out of the gate swinging, but with a more conservative air than I have seen in races past. Knowing he needed to stay in one piece for the entire race, Adam drove fast, but not too hard. His runs were exceptionally smooth and for once this year, he made it without any breakage. On the other hand, Brian Shirley does not know the meaning of conservative. He drives balls-out every time he gets behind the wheel. This guy is so talented and fast and the rig that he drives is flat wicked. Brian Shirley's team "Lucky Dog" racing may need to change its name to "Unlucky" Dog racing though as a quick misplaced blip of the throttle put his buggy over on its side at the end of race 3 taking him out of contention for the finals. Once again, Brian took his "un-luck" in stride and threw out a killer final run of the season in lap 4.

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Rob Graft, #20 West and Jason Aliff #12 West duked it out in the battle of the polar-opposites. Rob was running an insanely loud John Deere buggy with a huge Ford motor. Paired against him was the Napa Suzuki with an all-powerful 4 banger. Jason was having the best race of the year before a bubble-gum welded upper link gave out on him in round 3. He and his team worked their tails off at the Maxxis trailer getting the buggy back into the game only to break something in the front driveline on his 4th and final run. Rob ran consistent (and loud) runs all day and took the award for closest call on the Midget for the day.

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Kim Sears, East #11 and Tim Cantrell, East #14 were a nice pairing in their blue buggies. Tim had just gotten his buggy back from some tuning at Wide Open Design and after some hot-laps around the parking lot at tech inspection he deemed the buggy ready to race hard at the finals. Kim Sears, ever the competitor, was focused on a top 6 finish. With an entire season behind her in her buggy, she and husband Nathanial had all of the gears in motion for a top finish.

As soon as the pair took off on the first run, Tim opened up his 500 horsepower SXOR chassis and flew over the first jump. He overshot the jump and did a complete end-over and landed on all 4 wheels. The resulting damage took him out for the day, but Tim was OK due to the good safety equipment required by XRRA.

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Kim ended up putting down some of the fastest runs of the season. A transmission problem and then later a failed unit bearing kept her from her top 6 goal, but the team effort Rock-Out Racing put in was exceptional.

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Ritchie Kelley, driving teammate Derek West's #1 in the East buggy was lastly paired off against 16 year old sensation Levi Shirley. Ritchie and #6 in the East Levi Shirley were a superb pairing. Both of these V6 powered buggies are proven, nimble and quick. Levi did a great job even though he too had tire/rim problems. Ritchie proved that he can come off the sidelines after a full season and get his team to the Super Bowl.

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Ralph Mills was the last guy to run for the day. Coming in #13 in the West, he ran hard all day. After halftime he was paired against Kim Sears for some side-by-side action.


Did I mention it was dusty?

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The final 6 were announced after a long day of racing. The crowd was noticeably thinner, but there was still a large contingent around when the XRRA team announced Ritchie Keller, JT Taylor, Rick Dermo, Adam Carter, Brad Lovell, and Shannon Campbell as the top 6.

This was a very interesting cross-section of drivers in the shootout. As far as rock sports go, Brad Lovell, Shannon Campbell and JT Taylor are 3 of a very few drivers that can say they are literally doing this for a living. All three racers are running multiple series and spend countless hours and days on the road each month chasing their dream. Rick Dermo is an icon of rock sports and has been extremely professional and competetive in his years of racing. Seeing him in the top 6 was no surprise to anyone. Ritchie Keller is one of the top spotters in the country. Teamed up with Derek West, Ritchie has won WeRock ProMod Grand Nationals, XRRA East, as well as RROCK. All in 2008. Earning a place in the top 6 among this talented pool of drivers proves Ritchie earns his keep and can walk the walk. Finally, the Cinderella story of XRRA is rookie driver Adam Carter and his father "Pops." These guys have competed in the top with the least amount of resources of any team that made every race in the East. Although they suffered breakage on their home-built racer in every event in the East, they always battled back. Finishing the East in second place it was awesome to see Adam being able to race his mentor and racing idol Shannon Campbell in the finals. I am hoping the powers-to-be at King of the Hammers recognize Adam's spirit and grant him a spot in the race for his commanding rookie year in XRRA.

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Everyone I spoke with after the race were in agreement that the races in this top 6 final were the closest, fastest, best paired races of the season. With 2 Eastern Series drivers and 4 Western Series drivers it was also a great representation of the population of the XRRA series. JT and Ritchie both ran flawlessly and fast. Gone were any thoughts of saving the buggy as they slammed their rigs around the track. Dermo and Adam Carter fought a serious battle for third place. On his first run of the shootout, Rick D took out a banner and all chances of winning the championship. That being known, he smoked his last run like none I had seen all day.

Shannon went into the finals with an 11 second lead against Brad Lovell. Neither of these guys wants to go into a race against the other with such a slight margin. While they were on the line to start, Brad's car started spitting and sputtering as if it were running out of fuel. He started yelling and waving his hands and before the final seconds ticked away to start a swarm of people led by his kick-ass wife were digging around in the engine fixing the problem.

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In the end, when Campbell crossed the finish line he maintained his lead for the day taking his second rock sports championship in the last 30 days. When it comes down to it, the races in the finals were off the hook. In a super funny twist at the end, Pepper of XRRA handed Shannon the checkered flag for a victory lap. In NASCAR fashion, Shannon made a pass in front of the fans and was going for a victory donut when his tire caught and he flopped his buggy! It was classic Campbell and we all got a huge laugh celebrating with Shannon and brother Nick on their big win.

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It was a great year and I want to thank all of the racers for keeping me watered and fed out on the course and mostly for not running me down! I had my share of close calls, but the friendships that XRRA brought me in 2008 were well worth it. See you all on the trail!

Nolen "Rock Midget" Grogan www.rockmidgetphotography.com

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