A Good Day at the Badlands: Ultra4 Race Recap
The twisting, tight course at Ultra4 Badlands offered everything from a rock quarry, to huge ledge climbs, to a tight wooded section, elevation changes, whooped out sandy sections, and yes, the dreaded “M” word: Mud. Big, nasty, vehicle-swallowing mud. While the weather held with sunshine all weekend, evidence of the rain earlier in the week evoked memories of previous years where “Noah” was the only driver with a chance at winning. The legendary JT Taylor and “Texas Jesus” Matt Fallis laid out a punishing and diverse course that tested both man and machine at this classic course. The weekend’s event at Badlands Off Road Park in Attica, Indiana attracted the largest number of competitors yet for a Ultra4 4WD Hardware Eastern Regional Series race.
Qualifying and the “Spirit of Ultra4”
Qualifying started on Friday, with Clay Gilstrap #26 laying down a blistering 59:28 lap time, taking the pole away from Jason Shipman #4414 and Team Nitto driver Derek West #20. The combination of Clay, Jason, and Derek promised to be a fight once the main event got started with all three drivers qualifying within 30 seconds of each other. Kent Fults #4805 took the pole for the 4800 Legends class, with always-fast Duane Garretson #26x taking the 4500 Modified class pole position going into Saturday’s Main.
Qualifying on Friday would also prove to be a preview of the coming day with mechanical issues and last minute repairs plaguing many teams. As teams worked together and shared parts with competitors the "spirit of Ultra4" shone through. The original spirit of Ultra4 (13 buddies racing for a case of beer in Johnson Valley) speaks to the roots of friendship, family, wheeling, and competition that are still evident today, 10 years after the birth of the series.
One example of the “spirit of Ultra4” was Casey and Camron Gilbert #618. They qualified 2nd in the 4800 class and ran a clean race on Saturday, however, after suffering driveshaft failure in the 4800 race, they hustled back to the pits and, working with the Big B Motorsports crew as well as Erik Miller & Miller Motorsports, they got the car ready for the 4400 class event.
This was a last minute decision by Casey to run with the “big boys,” and for the main event. During which, THE “big boy”- reigning King of the Hammers, Bad Judgment Advisor, and Team Nitto driver, Erik Miller himself - hopped in the passenger seat to push Casey to a top 10 finish in the 4400 class. Casey, who is driving an early Miller Motorsports chassis and car, placed high enough to qualify for the 2017 King of the Hammers and will be competing against Erik in the big event this February. This was Casey’s first event driving on his brand new Nitto Grappler 37” DOT tires.
4400 Class Race Recap
Saturday morning broke full of promise and excitement for top tier Ultra4 driver Clay Gilstrap. He was piloting a dialed-in car with the pole position on a tight course with limited passing opportunities. Knowing a battle would be coming with Jason Shipman and former National Points Champion Derek West on his heels, Clay prepared for battle and started off fast. After owning the lead the first 4 laps, Clay and co-driver Lindsey Gilstrap started smelling something odd from the car. Despite having lost radios, they were able to communicate with each other and decided to hit the pits and figure out what was wrong. They discovered that the smell was the rear end. It was fried. Knowing that finishing the race with just front wheel drive would create a hazard for other drivers as well as having the potential to block the course, they called it a day and took a 15th place finish.
Team Nitto driver Derek West started 3rd off the line, but it was not without challenge. Prior to Qualifying, Derek and co-driver Nick Cooper lost the center out of the water pump while pre-running. In another example of the “Spirit of Ultra4 racing”, pole sitter Clay Gilstrap not only had the exact water pump as well as a spare, but was willing to loan it to Derek for the race. After earning 3rd in Qualifying, Derek pushed the car hard on the first lap, passing Jason Shipman and moving into 2nd place.
Hearing an odd sound and not wanting to risk damage to the engine, Derek and Nick took a pit stop on lap 4 for what they thought was a loose tailpipe. What they discovered instead was a broken header. Jimmy’s 4x4 team members and Brad Mullikin were able to use a Ready Welder and a battery to weld the header back together and get the car back on course. Despite the team’s best efforts, the time for repairs was too much to overcome. Derek finished 11th overall, just missing the top 10.
Throughout the race-drama and mechanical failure, perennial East Coast top driver (and all-around super nice guy,) Jason Shipman laid down fast lap after fast lap. Despite always being competitive at Badlands, Jason had never taken home a win at this course. With a wicked sounding motor putting horsepower to his Campbell Enterprises chassis, Jason drove a strong, competitive race, never falling out of the top 3. Consistence, talented driving, great equipment, and perseverance brought Jason across the finish line in first place - more than 5 minutes faster than official 2nd place. Always a class act and fierce competitor, Jason has now won 2 of the last 3 East Coast Ultra4 races in addition to having finished 6th in the 2016 King of the Hammers.
2nd place went to Josh Blyler #41 of Klingerstown, PA, who also qualified for the 2017 King of the Hammers with this result. With a racing history in Line Mountain, Josh was racing in his very first Ultra4 event. Nothing like starting your Ultra4 career on the podium! Macy Higgins #1215 busted his tail in getting the car turned around after competing at the Ultra4 Racing West Coast Glen Helen Grand Prix to make the race and rounded out the podium with a 3rd place finish.
4800 Legends Class Race Recap
In the 4800 Legends class, Jason Fish #4817 from Colorado drove from last to first, taking the top podium spot in the main event! Taking a rear start due to a DNS for Qualifying, Jason drove though the pack over the course of 5 laps to take the top spot by more than 20 minutes. One of only 3 drivers to finish on the lead lap, Jason also notched a Top 5 at the 2016 Everyman Challenge during KOH.
2nd place in the 4800 class was taken by Kent Fults #4805 out of Missouri. 2016 has seen a good rivalry develop between Jason and Kent, as Kent edged out Jason for 4th place earlier in the year at the 2016 Everyman Challenge. Kent won the 4800 class at the first 2016 East Coast event in Hot Springs, making this Kent’s 2nd podium finish of the year. Attrition was the rule of the day in the 4800 class, however, with 3rd place finisher Adam McGough #4844 being the only other driver to finish on the lead lap.
View the full 2016 Ultra4 Badlands race gallery.
4500 Modified Class Race Recap
Matt Howell #4510 took home the big trophy in the 4500 Modified class after just finishing in the Top 5 at Glen Helen two weeks prior on the West Coast. Running with the leaders of the 4800 class all day, Matt finished less than 5 minutes behind 4800 class winner Jason Fish #4817 and a full lap in front of the 4500 class 2nd place finisher. Immediately following the 4500 class race, Matt and co-driver Adam Scherer had to abandon their car at the finish line and sprint back to be co-drivers with Keenan Leatherwood (who finished 4th in the 4400 class) and Doug Jackson as their respective co-drivers. It was a full day of racing for Matt and Adam!
Rob Matzell #4573 of Matzell Motorsports overcame losing a tire on the first lap as well as falling a lap down to eventually take the 2nd place finish. The team stole some lug nuts off of their other wheels while in a mud pit to get the car around the course and do a proper repair at the end of lap 1. Rob and team got faster and faster each lap, but couldn’t overcome being a lap down. Original pole-sitter Duane Garretson #26x suffered mechanical failure, blowing out both front and rear axles, dropping him from 1st to 3rd, taking the final podium spot of the day.
Next up is another East Coast Ultra4 event with the show moving on to the Dirty Turtle Off-Road Park in Bedford, Kentucky (full race coverage here) on July 30th. A new venue for Ultra4, rumor has it that the Jumbotron will make an appearance, it’s a spectator friendly course, and the short course section is outstanding.