Ultra4 Racing’s National Championship – Reno, Nevada

adventures_ultra4champ

Ultra4 Racing’s National Championship
Event Date: October 15 & 16, 2015
Reno, Nevada

Words and Photos by Michael Plunkett

When it comes to racing, I cannot think of anything quite as exciting as an Ultra4 Race! The National Championship held here in Reno at the Wildwest Motorsports Park last weekend once again pulled off one heck of a show! This racetrack and venue has quickly become a racer’s favorite. With the addition of rock sections compared to the traditional short courses, it adds an element that suits Ultra4 racing perfectly. The fact that ninety percent of the course is within the view of the grandstands, has proven to be what it takes to draw in a large number of fans. Even with the steady rainfall throughout most of Saturday, by the time the main event started almost every seat was taken!

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Dave Cole, the owner and president of the Ultra4, although being diagnosed with cancer earlier this year and still under going treatment, managed to show up to support this final race of the season. It sure was nice to see him back in his element where he belongs! Over 120+ teams showed up for battle at this event. Roughly sixty 4400 teams showed up with one thing in mind… to beat Loren Healy and his Red Dragon! With the exception of this year’s King of the Hammers race where Loren had taken a violent roll at 90+mph and was unable to complete that race. Loren has won every race he’s entered with his new car, “The Red Dragon.” This has forced teams to reevaluate their race cars and sink several thousands of dollars into them in order to try and keep up with him! There was a lot of hype leading up to this event about a couple teams that had finished building their new cars, just so they could compete with Loren. Shannon Campbell has built a car that is deemed “The Dragon Slayer!” The Gomez brothers also showed up with one of the two brand new IFS cars they are having built. People were driving and flying in from all over the country to witness this showdown.

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The teams spent most of the morning Friday practicing and pre-running the course preparing to qualify at 2:00pm. Mike Bou of Bou Racing had an unfortunate rollover early in practice that left him sidelined for the rest of the weekend. In qualifying, each driver would run one lap on a pre-selected course. The drivers with the fastest time to the slowest would then get sorted into two heat races, with the fastest drivers starting out front. After all the cars had qualified, Loren found himself sitting in sixth position. Gary Ferravanti Sr. had the fastest qualifying time for the day, followed by Shannon Campbell in his Dragon Slayer. The fact that Loren had finished sixth, one could not help but think about him getting beat finally? It may have been that he was one of the first to qualify and decided to make a more conservative run. But nonetheless with Gary Ferravanti and Shannon Campbell sitting out front and along with three others in front of him, it left everyone anticipating how things were going to go on race day.

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It began to rain Saturday morning while I walked around the pits wishing all the teams good luck. The rain was certainly going to add a whole new element to this race! After watching the first three lower class prelims struggle to get through the lower rock section due to it being so slick. The decision was made that the 4400 class would be forced to come down the big rock section this year instead of racing up it as intended. You could feel the tension as the racers lined up for this first heat race. Gary Ferravanti and Jason Scherer would start out front of the first heat race. Without ever having had the opportunity to pre-run the course since the decision was made to have them run down the rock pile. Gary made a wrong turn coming out of the rock pile with Jason following right behind him allowing a couple of racers to get around them. They both were able to get back on course and after a couple of scuffs with other drivers, which left Paul Horschel on his side in the rocks. Gary was able to take the lead back then went on to win heat one. Heat two would start out with Shannon Campbell and Levi Shirley on the front row. After the green flag dropped, it didn’t take Loren but couple of laps to take over the lead. He was able to maintain that lead until the final lap, when Clay Gilstrap was able to make a pass on him at the bottom of the rock pile and went on to take the checkered flag. There was a controversy over weather or not Clay had made the pass under yellow flag conditions and I wasn’t sure if it that would make much of a difference as long as they both gained their spot in the main event. However, it would definitely effect where they would line up for the main. The top ten drivers from each prelim moved on to the main event. The remaining drivers that hadn’t made the main event would have one more shot in the LCQ (last chance qualifier), where the the top five drivers would move on to the main event.

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The UTV main was up next, with the rain still coming down it made the rock sections very tough on these drivers. In fact, it was so difficult that not one driver was able to complete the entire eight laps. Phil Cagliero of the sportsman class would make it the furthest, completing seven and three quarter laps before coming to a stop after losing his transmission. Andrew Gorman of the pro class was forced to come to a stop shortly behind Phil after breaking a steering link and was unable to keep moving. Both would end up taking the win for their classes for successfully completing the most laps. A couple of drivers ended up stuck in the rocks for the entire race! After some track maintenance and a short lunch break , the LCQ (last chance qualifier) was ran first so they could establish the field for the 4400 class main event.

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The Stock/Mod class main was up next and they would not disappoint! There were a couple of rollovers along with some exciting passes going on in the rock sections! In this class these drivers must have the skills needed for choosing the proper line through the rocks. If not, they could quickly find themselves on their sides or hung up in the rocks. After a hard fought battle and some impressive driving, Matthew Peterson took home the win with Brian Behrend coming in second. Followed by Justin Reece finishing in third place to round off the podium. Up next would be a combination of cars from the 4500 class, the 4700 spec class, and the 4800 legends classes.

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This race is always fun to watch, these vehicles are very fast considering the lack of suspension compared to the unlimited class. Unlike all the other classes, these vehicles actually run the same course as the unlimited class. I gained a lot of interest in this class ever since the day I overheard Dave Cole state to one of the drivers, “there is no way a legends car would ever beat his spec cars!” I have witnessed legend driver Rick Waterbury come very close to winning the overall in this class, only to have something break preventing him from do so. It may be because theoretically the car shouldn’t be able to take the same amount of abuse as one of Dave’s spec cars? I personally think it will be just a matter of time before Rick is able to beat them spec cars. He is consistently running up front but has not yet been able to win the overall. It is hard for me to root for just one driver in this class, it is stacked with talent and a whole lot of good people. It was fun watching Justin Hall who had transitioned from rock crawling to the Ultra4 series last year pull off this win in the 4500 class. Shawn Rants came in second, and Steven Lopez finished third even after flopping his rig on its side in the rocks. In the 4800 legends class it was Anthony Arreola once again bringing home the win. Anthony has won four out four races in this car since purchasing it from Ben Napier. Dave Schneider came in second just tenths of a second behind Anthony, followed by Mike Amaral finishing in third. In the 4700 spec class, it was Ricky Johnson who once again came out on top. Larry Nickell came in second, with Bailey Cole finishing in third. Next, it was time for the big show..the 4400 unlimited class!

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While they took the time to do some track maintenance, they started their driver introductions after the introductions and the national anthem was sung. They allowed Ferravanti Jr. as much time as they could to get his alternator changed out before the start of the race. The drivers started their parade lap up around the top of the mountain to line up for a rolling start through the rocks right in front of the stands. With the fans on their feet cheering these guys, the drivers battled their way through those rocks showing exactly what their cars were capable of.

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Gary Ferravanti was the first through the rocks with Clay Gilstrap behind him, and Tom Wayes and Loren Healy not far behind. It was Gary and Clay battling out front that had the crowds attention and Clay made a pass on Gary coming down the mountain. I’ve watched Gary race enough to know he would be looking for any opportunity to get back to the front! You could tell by the way he drove into the rock pile that he wanted the lead back now! That aggression was short lived when his alternator exploded coming down the rock pile, shorting out the entire car, forcing him to come to a stop at the bottom of the rocks. Clay was able to get out to a sizable lead while Loren was battling with Tom. Loren had just made an aggressive pass on Tom heading into Metalcloak mountain when Tom’s alternator quit, forcing him to pull over. With no other cars in his way now, it didn’t take Loren long to catch up and make the pass on Clay for the lead. Jason Scherer had been gaining ground on both Loren and Clay while they were battling. After catching up to Clay, it took Jason almost a lap to find a place where he could get around him! By that time Loren had got himself out to a comfortable lead. Once he started to run into lap traffic it gave Jason the opportunity close the gap on him. He was quickly running out of time as Loren was able to get around them taking the white flag. With only one lap left and being held up by the slower traffic himself, it began to appear Loren and Jason would finish first and second respectively unless something crazy happened. The real battle going on was directly behind them for third place between Clay Gilstrap and Erik Miller! Erik had been driving the wheels of his solid axle car making his way to the back of Clay, when finally going down the rocks, Clay made a mistake and fell off the course, allowing Erik to get around him before the bottom of the rock pile. Loren had taken the checkered flag with Jason not far behind as Erik made that pass on Clay. With one turn left and lap traffic still making their way through the rocks, without lifting at all they both went for a wild ride skipping across the rocks when Erik was able to get around one of the slower cars as he slid across the finish line completely sideways! What an incredible race, it was a perfect ending to another season of Ultra4 racing!

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Congrats to Loren for handling all the pressure leading up to this race like the champ that he is..No Dragons were slain that weekend! Loren has won the West Coast Championship and now the National Championship Race for the second year in a row. Congrats to Jason Scherer on his second place finish, I think he might of had a shot at Loren if there would of been a couple of more laps. A huge congrats is in order for Erik Miller who drove the wheels off his solid axle car finishing in third place in a stacked field of IFS cars. Worth mentioning was watching JP Gomez come from the rear of the pack to finish in eighth place in his brand new IFS car. The car was finished with just a few hours to spare before showing up to the track. Congrats you guys on your finish! They will be finishing their other twin car for his brother Raul soon, and the plan is to have them both ready for battle at the King of the Hammers…Best wishes to you all! Congrats to Nitto Tire on another podium sweep. Thanks for all of your continued support you give to help allow these races to happen. I hope to see all of you and more at the King of the Hammers 2016….

For the perfect ending to another season, over five hundred people involved in or around this sport showed up for the awards banquet held at the Atlantis Casino. I can’t even begin to explain how proud I felt to be around some of the nicest and caring people I know all in one place. It was humbling watching Dave Cole hang out as long as he did so he handed out the awards and the thank you’s himself. I would like to thank JT Taylor and the whole Ultra4 staff and all the volunteers who stepped up for Dave to help this series continue to run smoothly for the rest of the season. Congrats to Derek West and Loren Healy on your East and West Coast Championships. Congrats to Levi Shirley on your well deserved National Championship Season! And a huge congrats to the Campbells and their whole team for having all three of their cars finishing in the top ten in the National Standings for the season, not an easy task by no means..great job you guys! Thanks to all of you that race in this awesome series for always keeping me entertained and allowing me to be part of this incredible Ultra4 family.

Thanks CKRC for bringing out the Axial Yeti’s to entertain the little ones!

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