All Thriller, No Filler: 2017 MetalCloak Stampede Recap
In a season that started with veteran driver Shannon Campbell winning an unprecedented third King of The Hammers, 2017 is showing itself to be the year of fantastic driver accomplishments, including many long-time-coming and quite a few first-time wins. For the third consecutive 4400 race, the victory has gone to a never-placed-first driver. Wayland Campbell kicked it off coming in victorious at the Vaquero 212, followed by Clay Gilstrap winning the Clash at the Cross Bar in Davis, Oklahoma, and now we see Levi Shirley, 2014 Ultra4 Europe Champion, taking home his first win on U.S. soil at MetalCloak Stampede.
(Photos: Shana Whitford)
After Mother Nature tried to impede the Triple Threat during the 2016 Stampede, and then the biblical floods of three weeks ago wrecking havoc at the 2017 Clash at the Cross Bar, racers and event staff alike were thrilled with the blue skies and perfect racecourse of Prairie City SVRA this past weekend. The third stop on the Ultra4 Racing circuit for 2017, the course of the MetalCloak Stampede is a favorite of drivers and fans alike. Tight racing action, combined with just enough rocks to mess you up and a long straight stretch to open it up, fans can see all the action as racers tear it up in this Northern California race park.
The format for this non-traditional Ultra4 short course is broken into three segments — slightly different from the norm to avoid over-crowding on course. Racers begin with Individual Qualifying for Heat placement, then compete in Qualifying Heats to win a spot in the Main. A different race was firing off for the fans every 45 minutes, resulting in some high-horsepowered fun in the sun.
One of the hallmarks of the Stampede is that Qualifying is often as dramatic as the Main — keeping spectators, teams and racers on their toes at all times. The roar of engines and the smell of excitement hang in the air for two straight days.
Another hallmark of Ultra4 racing is safety. Despite having an Unlimited class where engines, engineering, tires, suspension and design are only limited by imagination and physics, the safety rules for Ultra4 are strict and stringent. That strong commitment to driver and spectator safety may have saved a life this weekend.
Despite a slew of absolutely crazy events in qualifying — like both Loren Healy and Shannon Campbell forced into “rental” cars” — the wreck of JP Gomez was the most serious. JP cased the car on the wrong spot, seriously injuring his back. Medical and emergency staff members were on-site for immediate response, with JP being taken to the hospital for emergency care. Although he’ll be wearing a back brace with a long recovery, the good news is that he is up and walking and will be back in the car before we know it. More importantly, JP will be walking down the aisle for his upcoming wedding! Get well soon, and best wishes on your recovery, JP.
While a bad accident, it could have been much worse, if not for the strict adherence to safety protocol. The safety rules may seem excessive, but they serve a purpose, and that was on display this weekend.
Writer’s Note: Please buckle up when you’re in your rig. We have all lost friends who weren’t harnessed up properly when wheeling — and that includes to and from the trailhead. Helmets too, folks.
MetalCloak 4400 Race Recap: Getting to the Main
Heat 1 started the day off with a surprise, as both Raul and JP Gomez failed to qualify. JP’s car was being piloted by Joe Thompson, the builder/designer of all Gomez Racing vehicles. They’d both have to compete in the Main B for a last chance of making into the big race. Surprisingly, the third Gomez Brothers’ car, piloted by Marcos Gomez, would also miss out and have to race the Main B.
Gary Ferravanti Sr. took the Heat 1 win, followed in Heat 2 by the venerable Jason Scherer taking the win with Loren Healy and Brian Caprara also advancing. Heat 3, however, read like an All-Star race and had the most cars finish on the lead lap of any of the three heats. Levi Shirley would take that Heat and the overall pole position for the Main. He was closely followed by madman Tom Wayes, then Wayland Campbell, and Bailey Campbell. Campbell racing patriarch, Shannon, also finished on the lead lap, but his ninth place position meant he’d missed the top seven cutoff and would be relegated to Main B as well.
Taking Off for the Win
The Main race was stacked with talent; as all three Gomez cars worked their way into the Main, Joe Thompson driving JP’s car just barely, he got in via LCQ. The National Anthem was sung and racers took a short parade lap before lining up for the green flag.
Levi Shirley had the pole, right next to Gary Ferrevanti Sr., but he also had Tom Wayes, Wayland Campbell and Jason Scherer in his rear view mirror. As the flag dropped, 25 cars and 12,000 horses hammered down as the sound of engines and mayhem filled the air. Emerging from the first sweeping turn, Levi Shirley took the hole shot, entering the first rock section in the lead.
By the time cars were coming through for Lap 2, a breakaway group of Shirley, Ferrevanti Sr., Scherer, Wayes and Wayland Campbell set the tone for the no-holds-barred action. Bumper-to-bumper, wheel-to-wheel, flying up rock gardens and drifting the sweepers — the top five showed the crowd what short-course racing in Ultra4 is all about. Showing no fear, racers launched their cars off jumps and dive-bombed into corners, pushing themselves and their cars to the limit. Shirley established the early lead, but gave it up to 2016 Series Champion Jason Scherer with just seven of the 12 laps remaining. Once Jason had the bit between his teeth, he started to run off with the race. With clean air, Scherer took the race to the next level.
Unknown to most of the fans, Scherer was running a new motor. Qualifying sparked issues in it that required repair, and a prayer, as a spot of J.B. Weld inside the headers was all that was fending off disaster. On Lap 9 of 12, Scherer suddenly lost oil pressure and was forced to exit the course and save the engine. The door was opened for Shirley to retake the lead, and we never saw him look back.
Throttling Down Toward Checkers
Driving a very clean, very fast race, Levi showed his experience — eventually finishing with almost a half-lap lead on second place Campbell. On each of the final two laps, however, Levi had his Campbell Enterprises car up on two wheels riding the bicycle around the curve. Lead or no, Levi pushes himself and his car to the max. What could have been a dramatic lead change with one lap to go became just another reason for the fans to cheer on this dynamic driver.
Tom Wayes, whose first Ultra4 victory was on this very track, was closing the gap from third to first with startling speed once Scherer left the race. Known and loved for his come-from-the-back heroics, Wayes was the dark horse to win this event again. An audible groan came from the crowd as he exited the course for the hot pit and tire change. While it was a quick pit stop, there just wasn’t enough laps left in the race to make up for it. Tom would end his day on the podium, however, taking home third.
As they often do, the Campbell crew showed us what teamwork was all about. Wayland drove a strong, smooth race and had worked his way up to second place with two laps to go. He also suffered a flat tire, after taking rocks at speed, and had to enter the hot pits with the podium finish on the line. The Campbell pit crew, led by Shannon himself after not qualifying for the Main, changed the flat in less than a minute, putting Wayland back on course without losing track position. He would hold second place all the way to the checkers, adding another podium finish to his impressive and consistent 2017 season.
After all this insanity, Levi Shirley came across the finish line first, earning his first ever Ultra4 victory in the U.S. Levi has been a podium finisher and constant threat for years, including winning the Ultra4 Europe Championship and virtually living in the Top 5. Smart, consistent and fast — Levi’s experience and determination finally paid off with a long coming date with the top spot. Congratulations to all the podium finishers!
Ultra4 Racing is just fun — that’s all there is to it. If you haven’t gone to an event yet, go! Great venues, like the one in Prairie City this past weekend, bring fans up close and personal to the action.
There is no rest for the weary, however, as the Ultra4 crew and race teams pack it up and move onward to Indiana for the next East Series race, just two weeks away. Isn’t racing life the best?!