A Year of Ultra4: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Heading
I've had the great pleasure of attending EVERY Ultra4 race in 2014, both domestic and international. Like a kid on holiday, I found myself exhausted almost every weekend... but always craving and ready for more. For my year end review, I’d like to walk thru the 2014 Ultra4 year with you here, one race at a time, providing a few small bits from each venue as they unfolded for me. Click on any race title for further DrivingLine coverage of that race. Without further ado, let's dive right in.
If Christmas came in the beginning of the year, its name would be King of The Hammers. This is the race that started it all for Ultra4, and the one that EVERY racing fan needs to see in person at least once in their lifetime. It's a week of racing godliness, with final raceday Friday reserved for an all out, winner takes all, shot to be King. For 2014, it was Loren Healy who would take top honors. After crossing the finish, Loren would become the 2nd person in history to have 2 King of the Hammers wins under his belt. Little did the racing field know, Loren was already underway building a new IFS racer for later that same season. More on that, and Loren, to come. Off to Arkansas.
I love this race, hard to say exactly what does it for me, but it has everything I like. A challenging mixed terrain course (could use more rocks, but still), fantastic local crowd, and a host city with plenty to do for the family. After the main race is over, Ultra4s and local Rock Bouncers duke it out in a winner takes all "showtime" style extravaganza. From morning to night, there is something for everyone here in Hot Springs. This year's top honor went to Chicky Barton, who drove his brand new Ultra4 racer to the absolute limit. Time for Scotland.
King of the Glens | Scotland
Ultra4 Europe kicked off the 2014 season with King of the Glens, in Aberfeldy Scotland. First time venues are tough for any sport, and this race was no exception. European racers were hoping for those fast tracks and technical rocks they associate with Ultra4. What they got were mud pits deep enough to swallow them whole, and that's not a metaphor. Jim Marsden, who is no stranger to navigating the harshest of harsh terrains, ran away with the win in Scotland. Racers will be happy to hear this venue is not on the 2015 schedule, France is currently slated to replace it. Back to California.
Bring on the Ultra4 short course. While venues such as the Norcal Stampede stray pretty far from the roots of King of The Hammers, they are popular with both drivers and fans alike. Over 100 racers signed up for this year's Norcal Stampede, making it the largest race, at the time, outside of King of The Hammers. Couple that with a first-ever land rush start, into a massive man-made rock pile, and it's easy to see why Norcal is a hit and here to stay. Tom Wayes grabbed top honors here, coming from all the way in back of the pack for a surprise victory, great racing at its very best. Off to Italy.
European Ultra4 racers were hungry after Scotland, and Italy delivered in a big way. King of the Mountains was like a well-crafted marinara, just the right amount of every ingredient for that oh so perfect taste. From valleys to mountains, racers were all smiles as the two days of intense racing unfolded. When the dust settled, it would be U.S.'s own Levi Shirley who would take top honors. Levi signed himself up to race the entire 2014 European & US Ultra4 circuit, and he’s got the European courses figured out well. More on that to follow. From Italy to Indiana, here we go.
Another favorite of mine, Badlands seems to have it all in a way only Attica, Indiana can deliver. A town parade the night before race day, terrain that offers a mix of rocks, sand, and mud... there's something for everyone. The mud does seem to get worse every year, and with that I usually hear drivers proclaim it's their last time in Badlands. Despite nasty weather and driver proclamations, every year this venue seems to grow in numbers. Shannon Campbell took top honors two years in a row in Badlands and even though he's from Arizona, Shannon seems right at home in Attica. Funny how that works out. Back to California.
Short course, take 2. This race is one of the most insane Ultra4 endurance challenges of the year. It's built off a Lucas Short course track, which drivers complete PLUS continue onto even more challenging track. Lap this many times for roughly 2-1/2 hours straight, and you get one grueling race. Loren Healy debuted his newly finished and currently untested IFS racer at Glen Helen, nicknamed the Red Dragon, and took the lead from start to finish. He seemed unstoppable, and this was far from a lucky win, as we’ll see moving ahead. Wales, here we come.
Walters Arena of Wales is the birthplace of Ultra4 Europe, and this venue definitely delivers on it's original promise. Well organized, competitive landscape, and solid turn out makes for great racing. Like Badlands, it gets a bit wet at times, but all I saw were smiles, once again, for two straight days. Couple that with amazing local history, and ale, and Wales is a favorite in my book. Levi Shirley would take his 2nd win for the Ultra4 European season, dominating the course for two days straight. Off to sunny, and dry, Utah.
Here's a venue that attempts to blend the best of both words. Short course meets man made rocks, all visible (for the most part) from the seats of the Miller Motorsports Park stands. The main race was just insane, watching the best Ultra4 drivers in the States going (can I say "bat shit") crazy for 20 minutes straight, pure bliss. Loren Healy + Red Dragon = Unstoppable, yet again. He didn't run away with this one, it was close, but Loren grabbed himself another top finish. This venue is no longer on the 2015 schedule, sad given I quite like the course and it's the closest to home (just an 8 hour drive). It's replacement has not yet been officially announced, but rumor has it NORRA is the runner up. That would be fun! Kentucky here we come.
Ultra4s at Sturgis was another first time venue for the season. Replacing the Rausch Creek Qualifier in Pennsylvania, Sturigs sought to bring more crowd and more drivers to the east coast field. A twist on the west coast short course, Sturgis had drivers go from short course to tight woods. Course was a little strange at first, and challenging to say the least, but given it’s first time venue status I'd say it was a success. Winner? Loren Healy, yet again, in that Red Dragon. Seeing a trend yet? Time to put on some miles, Portugal is up next.
Vimioso, Portugal was home to the final Ultra4 European race of the season. Hands down the best rocks outside of King of The Hammers, this race was true Ultra4. I can't imagine a single U.S. driver who wouldn't be in love with this course, just amazing from every angle, every turn, start to finish. The race was close, and competition fierce, but it would be Levi Shirley, once again, who would take top honors. With three European wins back to back, Levi would also secure the series win for Ultra4 Europe. King of Portugal was the furthest traveled Ultra4 race of the year for me, but that extra distance was well worth it. I sure do love those rocks! Now let's wrap up the US series, off to Reno.
From the early days of King of The Hammers, it was a dream of race organizer Dave Cole to bring those Ultra4 elements to the masses. The American Rock Sports Challenge attempted to do that, but didn't quite get the job done for reasons that still puzzle me. This year's Nitto National Championship, another first time venue, didn't just hit a home run; it was an out of the park grand slam success! 5,000+ fans filled the grandstands, on their feet as the best Ultra4 racers in the world battled it out for all to see. It was a beautiful mixed short course meets rock boulder field that entertained us all, glorious from start to finish. Want to guess who the winner was for this final Ultra4 National race? Yup, Loren Healy in his new Red Dragon. At that evening’s awards banquet, Loren took home the East Cost, West Coast, and National Ultra4 Championship titles. All three titles for one driver, a first in Ultra4 history.
As I write this recap my heart is pounding, I'm excited for more, but all seasons must come to a close. Fear not, for the 2015 Ultra4 race season is going to bring a whole new level of competition, excitement, and scenery… and I can't wait! With that said, while we have to wait patiently for this year’s King of The Hammers to kick things off, please enjoy some of my favorite photos from the year right here on DrivingLine or head over to www.liveatkoh.com for everything being said about #KOH2015. I do hope to see you in person at one (or all) of the amazing Ultra4 events in 2015. Till next time.