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We drove into the clouds this morning to the Jellico Competition Area 15 miles east of town. The crazy switchbacks were no match for the super-cool Rockmidget minivan. Neither was the mud as we pulled into the event area to be greeted by mud, mud and more mud.
By the time the competitors walked the course and the last few teched in, the sun began to burn through the clouds and the sloppy Tennessee mud began to dry.
The professionals of the XRRA crew quickly dispersed of the driver's meeting and final details and it was GAME ON!
Past XRRA event Champions Rusty Bray and Derek West squared off for the initial assault on the mucky, sticky course. The course was very short, however, the near vertical climbs, sticky mud and sheer drops made for some tough driving in the first rounds. Rusty and Derek, however, made quick work of the course and the race was on. Followed by incredibly fast racers, Josh Murray and Danny Rohrer, I was shocked at how easy the first four racers made the nasty course look.
The Five-O rig was raced this event by Bart Baker and Beau Rickie. Nothing like a rental for some great action! They paired off against
Chris may who really let it all hang out immediately with great times and big air! Ken Blume and Levi Shirley both ran behind them with two very evenly matched time. They seemed to really do well in the lanes they had to run first. Ken and Levi were both coming off disappointing times from Gray Rock XRRA and they both drove like they had something to prove. Kenny tried to be the first of many to squash the Rockmidget in front of all of his adoring fans....
The Branik crew was led off by the most conservative (I used this word VERY loosely) of the bunch, Brandon Haynes. Brandon is coming off a Top 6 place at Gray Rock in his new Branik Motorsports chassis. Drew Goldie was looking great in his orange Tacoma based buggy as both burned up the track for some excellent times. Following them, Tim Cantrell and Nazir (Doc) Adam were nicely paired with their low-slung, mean-sounding moon buggies. Tim is still working out the gremlins in his sweet SXOR based buggy. He busted his 4th or 5th driveshaft with his propane 355 cubic inch race motor. Doc Adam made a nice clean run.
All was fairly quiet as the rest of the teams made their way around the increasingly fast course. The mud was drying nicely and they started to put down some ridiculously fast times. The next wave of excitement came from none other than Stan Haynes of Branik Motorsports.
Always the wild-man, Stan managed to get sideways on the steep climb in lane one and managed to land in the RockmidgetÃs lap after a 1 1/2 turn barrel-roll.
Stan tried to drive out of the roll, but his tranny finally stopped turning and his power steering did this.
Not to be outdone, Doc Nazir decided to try Stan's move when the driver's switched lanes.
Lucky for him, Doc landed on all 4 wheels and he took another stab at the hill in his Tanner 4x4 moonbuggy. Unfortunately, this time Doc ended his roll on his lid and did not finish the course.
The next victim of this hill was Eric Childress. Eric was having a hell of a day with blazing fast times in his supercharged single-seater.
One blip of the throttle too many landed him on his lid just like Stan and Doc Nazir.
Josh Wilson, who spots for Rusty Bray in the We-Rock series, had a great day going in his "rental" he got in the way of Rusty Bray's Stock-Mod rig. He was smoking! Another VERY fast driver was Levi Shirley. Fresh off a 2nd place win at MoRoc, Levi was tearing up the track all day. In fact, Levi put down one of the fastest times of the day with a flat front tire!
After a brief intermission, the course was reversed and the XRRA staff added a second lap to the race. Each competitor was required to take two laps in each lane in the afternoon. Rusty Bray and Derek West squared off again in an awesome match up of front engine V6 and mid-engine moonbuggy. Rusty Bray had broken another rear ring and pinion just like he had in Gray Rock. Because of the "DNF" that he received, he
told me that he was going to really see what the new Campbell racer would do. Even with a busted 2.5" air shock, he laid down 2 back-to-back sub 50 second runs. Derek was the first up the BIG hill in the inside lane and he spanked it like a true champ.
Josh Murray ended an impressive day with massive carnage on the inside lane. After busting his rear driveshaft, Josh decided to motor on and try to make the second lap only to have the entire front axle rotate up and take out a ton of stuff in his front axle. Josh estimates that second lap cost him around $6000. With a smile he said he would be ready for Colorado Springs in June.
Chris May was the first driver to get BIG air on the plateau jump after the direction change. He skied his #99 Tacoma and cleared the table-top with room to spare!
Not to be outdone, Levi Shirley got some great air in his newly-repaired ShafferÃs Diablo only to crush his lower right link.
Lucky Dog Racing's Brian Shirley had a very consistent day. Throughout the day Brian put down some very smooth runs in his Jimmy's 4x4 chassis. Kim Sears was also on her game as she kept the pedal-to-the-metal all day giving a spectacular performance for all of the fans.
Tony Reitdorf of Branik Motorsports told the crew that he was going all-out on his last lap. Out of the running for the top 6, Tony "Roscoe" Reitdorf did not disappoint us as he skied out him Branik buggy!
Jason Aliff had a great day as well managing to stay on all 4 wheels for the entire 4 laps! This Suzuki based buggy ate up the course in a very positive way. Jason may not be the fastest driver but he sure has heart. Doc Mercer also kept in on all 4 wheels today, even after a scare on the tall climb on lane #1 early in the day.
I don't know how he managed to stay out of the top 6, but Team Wombat's Danny Rohrer seemed to have some great, consistent runs all day. His new buggy is really slick and it works as well as it looks.
Doc Nazir did not disappoint in his last run of the day. After he grabbed some really nice air on the final jump, Doc took a bad bounce on his Super Swamper TSL's and ended up on his lid. You could not have scraped the grin off of his face!
The final 6 drivers were chosen out of a very tight field. Repeat top-6 drivers Derek West and Adam Carter were in the top 2 spots going into the finals. XRRA west drivers, Mike Hullfish in his Rock Ware buggy as well as Mike Foster in his "rental" SXOR buggy each won spots.
Rounding out the top 6 were familiar Eastern competitors Alan Rich and Doug Bigelow. Big Doug was on his game today making up for his disappointing season opener in Gray Rock.
Mere seconds separated the top 10 drivers in this event. Landing in the top 6 in this field was a feat of excellent driving for sure. Derek West continued to drive like his buggy was on rails, smoothly taking top honors in the event. He was followed by Fat Boy Racing's Mike Foster. Third place was Eric Holder followed by Alan Rich in 4th place.
Adam Carter had a disappointing break on the last hill climb on his last lap dropping him to 5th place. Big Doug Bigelow came in too hot at the beginning of his smoking-hot 2nd lap only to dig into some thick mud and roll hard dropping him to 6th place.
It was an amazing day. Seeing these drivers adjust from the wet, slick course to the dry, fast course was awesome. It was great to see some new faces in the top-6 leaving the eastern series championship open with Hannibal in July and the Badlands in August.
Can anyone knock Derek West off his perch? This guy is the ice man; calm, cool and collected as well as one of the nicest guys in the sport. Congrats to all of the competitors today. I can't wait to see you all again at Hannibal!
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