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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 XRRA Finals Jellico TN

The parking lot was a buzz of activity when we arrived at the Jellico Off Road Park. There were lots of bruised and beat up folks from the warm-up races at the Jellico Motel the night before. As I milled around the park during the driver's meeting I could tell that the excitement level was high in anticipation of the day's races. The XRRA Team set up a fresh new course for the finals. Not only was the course a bit longer than the previous course, but it also had some of the best spectator areas of any of the previous races in the east. Until the dust later blocked out the course, the Pirate4x4.com team had a commanding view of the entire course. One of the coolest things about the race was the fact that every race would be 2 laps long. That is quite different from the past where double laps were only seen in the final 6 shootout.

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Another great thing the XXRA Team did was the pairings. Wherever possible they matched a Western Series driver with an Eastern Series driver. Along with the East/West pairings, they also tried to match their final standings in each series. For example, in the first race, Chad Burchik, who finished #18 in the Western Series, was matched against Dave Smith, #14 in the Eastern Series. Chad and Dave broke in the virgin track with their 2 seater buggies laying down some impressive times. Being the first buggies on the course without any prerunning is definitely a challenge yet these two drivers rose to the challenge.

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A super entertaining pairing was superstar driver Brad Lovell, #3 in the West, versus Tony "Rosco" Rietdorf, #6 in the East. Brad is the ultimate competitor and has had a very consistent series in both XRRA and WeRock in his new Lovell Ranger. Rosco is coming off a win at his home turf at the final Eastern event at the Badands. Both of these racers let it all hang out all day. One thing I noticed about Brad Lovell is that he is very confident in his rig. There were many racers that would slow down for the tabletop jump at the starting line, but Brad simply matted it and literally made perfect jumps on it all day in each direction. Rosco, not to be shown up, let it fly as well all day long but his all-out driving style caught up with him and he only finished one course for the day. That said, he was damn entertaining to watch!

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Eric Holder, #9 in the West lined up versus Brandon Haynes who was #6 in the East. Eric was at the last Jellico race and in that race was one of the top 6 finalists. He has a very fast buggy built by Rock Ware and really knows how to use it. Brandon Haynes of Branik Motorsports was not to be outdone by his teammate Rosco and let his Branik built buggy FLY all day as well. These buggies jump as good as any I have ever watched. Eric's buggy is smooth and fast and with the extremely low center of gravity he can really pitch it around the corners well.

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JT Taylor, #10 in the West was back for more after a top 6 finish during his last visit to the East at Hannibal Rocks. He squared off against my hero Ken Blume. (He earned hero status from me after laying out his love-life for me during tech inspection) Ken finished #8 in the Eastern Series but had his best race of the season at the Badlands in the series finals. Having just swapped in a fresh motor, Ken's buggy was doing a great job keeping up with JT Taylor's V8 powered rig until he lost his transmission in the second round. JT ran a very conservative race and really never had any problems all day. With minimal back-ups and never getting stuck, JT had a superb day of racing. This time I did not see him hit a single tree!

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The first moonbuggy pairing was Doug Bigelow and Shannon Campbell. Shannon was fresh off a WeRock Grand Nationals win and placed 6th in the Western XRRA Series. Piloting his Monster Energy Drink racer, he was out to prove to us in the East that he could drive it as well as 16 year old Levi Shirley. Shannon lent this buggy to Levi who took it to win the 3rd race of the Eastern Series at Hannibal Rocks. Not one to disapoint, Shannon was blistering fast all day. With his mastery of the throttle and cutting brakes, Shannon was untouchable. Running neck-and-neck with him all day was Doug Bigelow in his V6 powered moonbuggy. Doug finished #4 in the East and is starting his new buggy build right after this race so he let is all hang out punishing his new FOA coilovers. Doug was plagued with a bent wheel and a broken heim joint, but still laid down some of the fastest times on the day.

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I saw Doug in the crowd talking to some kids before his last run and told them to look for BIG air and he did not disapoint!

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Big air should be the name of this next pairing. Rob Bonney, #2 in the Western Series and Rusty Bray, #5 in the Eastern Series were both all out in this race. Rob Bonney left his familiar orange Rancho buggy at home and borrowed a buggy for this event. Plagued with super low gearing, Rob tried to run the first race in high range, but he could not keep his RPMs up enough to steer. Even though it could not steer, Rob threw out some superb air like he is known to do. I have been on the trail with Rob and he is one of the finest guys and drivers in the sport. This was my first time to see him race and I was not dissappointed. Those in the top 6 should be very glad he had to leave his own buggy in Arizona. Rusty too drove like the 2007 East Champ that he is. He was laying down some excellent time in his tried and true Badlands racer when he broke a front suspension link. In a championship race, there is no way to have a "DNF" on a course and make it into the final 6. That said, Rusty and Rob really put on a great show all day.

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Another person that I had yet to meet before this weekend was XRRA veteran Mark Munson. Mark came into the finals seated 16th in the highly competitive Western Series with a thing or two to prove. The last time he was at Jellico was the first Eastern event ever and conditions could not have been more opposite. There and then it was rain, rain, rain. Here it was dust, dust and more dust. Up against Mark was none other than the king of Branik Motorsports, Mr. Stan Haynes, 13th in the East. I was very happy to see Stan show up in one piece since he had just gotten himself a new mini motorcycle and did no less than 3 full face-plants while racing it on Friday night. Mark started off at full-throttle for the day and then gave it a little more gas! He and Stan were wide-ass-open all day. Stan was a little easier on the jumps this event after busting his head open practicing on a table-top jump a few weeks ago, but that did not keep him from slamming the corners and really working his buggy hard. Mark too was very, very fun to watch as he launched his buggy every single time he hit the table-top. Check out the gallery for some great shots of Mark's purple racer.

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Roger Lovell and Marko Markovich had some great races and some bad luck for the day. Roger, #11 West was having a super day in his tried and true racer. Co-driving with him for the day was brother Brad's wife Natalie. Marko is absolutely my favorite driver in XRRA. This guy looks and acts like a madman. Marko literally flew his buggy on the very first jump of the day. Asking him later about it, he said he knew he went a little long when he was hanging in air thinking "I should have landed by now!" He landed so hard he bent some tubing and it kept the show down to a low roar the rest of the day. Not to be outdone, Roger and Natalie were peeling out like none other and literally drove off the back side of the course, did a full barrel roll and landed on their tires wanting more. Unfortunately they were so out of bounds after the roll they had to call it. Later Roger's locker stopped working and Natalie jumped right out and started stacking rocks! That is one tough competitor. I think Brad needs to build her a buggy!

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