Another Nitto Podium Sweep at the 2022 Ultra4 Crandon Off-Road Race
As a child, I had a black shirt with a piece of cardboard held in place by duct tape that read “Racing is LIFE.” Now, as adult racer, I and many other racers both semi-professional and professional, feel that racing is our life, well, because it kind of is. Then, in a blink of an eye, that changed.
During the 2022 Crandon Ultra4 4400 race, a yellow flag went up, then quickly after that a red flag came out—initially, no one was shocked because the track is so fast and historically there is a lot of “rubbing” going on during this race specifically. But, once the race was put on hold and the whole racing community began to come together—we were all stunned and deeply saddened on Sunday morning when we learned several racers were hospitalized for serious injuries and while at the hospital, Zandy Willems injuries proved fatal.
How could anyone make sense of this crazy accident that took the life of an experienced Ultra4 driver? While racing in general has seemingly become so safe it is easy to forget how very dangerous it can be. I am a man of faith and I believe that everything that happens has a greater purpose, but I not know what in this instance that could be. In the meantime, I would like to take a pause and express my deepest condolences to the Willams Family and the Rufus Racing Team. As well as a speedy recovery for Rusty and Kaden Reiner, and Ian Boyce and Kevin Taylor.
Where do we go from here? After wrapping our heads around the crash, we start to wonder what's next. The racers were talking Saturday night about cancelling the race while trying to figure out the most appropriate thing to do, then Zandy's wife spoke with the Rufus racing team and there was a driver's meeting for all the 4400 crews on Sunday morning. The mood was somber, and Racer Director JT talked with everyone and asked questions while fighting back tears. After deep discussions and input from Zandy's wife and Team Rufus Racing, the decision was made that Zandy would want the race to go on. So, crews geared up and got ready for the race, but not for another trophy or because they cared about how many points they had for the season, but because they wanted to honor their friend and fellow racer.
Labor Day weekend at Crandon has always been a huge racing festival with different classes and styles of off-road racing going on for day and fans pack in, in droves, only pushing the festivities later into the night. But come the next morning the stands are packed full in the “The Big House” as the International Raceway is known as, and the racers love seeing it and makes them push the cars to the max. The whole weekend builds with action starting with a car show and parade of racers who will be all battling for the top spot. “And it is bigger than I have ever seen” said Brad Lovell with his Bronco, who later took first in the 4600 class.
Friday kicked off with the parade right though downtown and the whole area was so packed that the locals have guides about how to get around before and after to avoid a traffic jam. Then racing starts later that day and continues into the early evening. But this race is special because there is racing in all forms happening and even different racing series all taking place on one giant compound. Plus, there are tons of other festivities taking place because of the holiday weekend, some of which will carry into the wee hours of the morning. Saturday rolled around and the racing started at 9 am and it was mud and dirt flying action from 9 am to 9 pm, all day long. The thing for me that makes this race so special is the "land-rush" start.
You see, most Ultra4 races have so many racers they have to leave the starting line in 30 second intervals, for about an hour, which is neat to watch.
But, at Crandon, everyone lines up side by side, and races as hard and as fast as they can to the first turn, hitting track speeds of up to 120 mph. And man, it is fun to watch, class after class they get faster and faster and as the night sets in, races start happening under the lights which is an experience in itself.
Sunday morning after the sun came up, the 4400 was rescheduled to race, so drivers begin lining up with the cars that had been fixed from the damage that happened the day before. The cars that were safe enough to keep racing lined up, the race began and the first lap I would say they were not pushing 100%, which was completely understandable. But as the race continued, the cars begin to push harder and harder, the race leaders began to change with Wayland Campbell pushing hard until his engine gave up on him. His father, Shannon Campbell, was right behind him, and was landing harder and harder on jumps to the point where he broke his car's rear suspension so bad that it looked like the rear axle was going to come flying out from the buggy, but he was able to keep racing until he got into a tangle with Vaughn Gittin Jr. in a corner where they almost crashed, with Vaughn barely squeaking by him.
Then as Miles announced the white flag was out, we saw Paul Wolff and Loren Healy were trading places for the first and second place spot almost on each corner. Paul would dive low and Loren would try to monster around him on the outside with the big block power, then the next corner they would trade places, I was on my feet cheering as they both were all out screaming to the finish the last corner. Loren was able to tuck up the inside track and push Paul to the outside and keep in front of him and then it was an all out drag race to the finish line—Loren was able to grab the top spot, finishing first at the course for the fifth year in a row. Paul was right on his heals finishing second, with Vaughn Gittin Jr. placing third for a team Nitto podium sweep. It was an awesome race with lots of position changes and epic finishing battles, but this weekend, the race itself took a back seat, and became far more about the people, the fans, the families, the racing teams, the drivers and co-drivers, this weekend the racing became a small side show in comparison to the racing family coming together, for each other, because, well, racing is life.
2022 Ultra4 Crandon RACE RESULTS
4900 PRO MODIFIED
1.) Tyler Gibbs
2.) Travis Zollinger
3.) Karson Atkins
1.) Chris May
2.) Bill Hillard
3.) Andy Ives
1.) Todd Remmereid
2.) Bryan Hamby
3.) Jeremy Blackburn
1.) Brad Lovell
2.) Bailey Cole
3.) Vaughn Gittin Jr.
1.) Justin Hall
2.) Shawn Rants
3.) Duane Garretson
1.) Jeremy Jones
2.) Brent Harrell
3.) Shaun Rajski
1.) Loren Healy
2.) Paul Wolff
3.) Vaughn Gittin Jr.