Josh Blyler Wins Inaugural Ultra4 Tear Down in Tennessee
Another Ultra4 race is in the books, and yet again, the action on the course was riveting. For the first race of the 4WP Eastern Series, Ultra4 went to a brand-new venue, the Adventure Off Road Park in Pittsburg, Tennessee. Josh Blyler conquered the muddy conditions and the rest of the field with his Nitto Trail Grapplers to win the inaugural US Gear Tear Down in Tennessee. In a race that many thought would be dominated by Eastern racers, Western Series driver Levi Shirley battled for the lead before finishing second, and Eastern Series veteran Derek West finished third after qualifying first and looking strong all day.
Adventure Off Road Park
We couldn’t ask for a more quintessentially Eastern Series course than what we got at the Tear Down: trees, rocks, hills and mud—lots of mud. While it wasn’t a downpour, like was forecasted, it rained off and on all weekend, creating a slippery race line and havoc for drivers. Crashing into the trees was common. The first hill was so muddy and slippery that Ultra4 created a bypass around it after the first lap of the UTV race and continued to use it for all classes the rest of the day. Josh Blyler summed it up best: “It proved to be the very definition of tight, muddy East Coast woods racing.”
Despite the rain, spectators flocked to the stands. One nice thing about the Adventure Off Road Park was how easy it was for spectators to watch the race. With a few different spectator areas positioned on the outside of the course, fans could easily move from one spot to another to follow the action. It made the winding course much more enjoyable to follow.
Familiar Names Qualifying on Top
First up on the weekend was qualifying, with a few familiar names ending up on top. In 4400, Derek West took the pole position. A long-time off-road racer from the East Coast, Derek West has been making his competitors’ lives hard since before Ultra4 was even a sport. In 4800, Casey Gilbert continued his dominance with the top qualifying spot and left himself perfectly set up to continue his winning streak. Duane Garretson was the top qualifier in 4500, Ken Carter was the top 4600 Stock Class qualifier and Matt Zeiler would start on the pole for the UTVs.
Underclass Slipping Through the Course
As previously stated, the first hill of the UTV course was so slippery that it was immediately cut from that and every other race. That should give a pretty good idea of what the conditions were like. Slipping on the rocks and down hills into trees was the norm across all classes, including the underclasses.
Building off of his pole position, Casey Gilbert continued his dominance of the 4800 Legends Class, literally lapping the field on his way to a victory. There was a bit of drama for a moment, when he stopped because he thought that he had thrown a belt, but after inspecting the rig for five minutes, he realized that everything was fine and continued on to another win. Coming in second in the Legends class a full lap behind was Jonathan Terhune, with Irl Christie finishing third two full laps behind him. This was not a race for the faint of heart.
The race proved to be equally challenging for the other classes, as well. Finishing first in the 4500 Modified Class was Jesse Oliver, followed by Shawn Rants in second and Duane Garretson in third. For the 4600 Stock class, who were able to use another predetermined bypass on top of the first hill bypass, Jon Schaeffer finished first, Ken Carter second and Chris D’Auria third. They were also the only three stock racers to finish at all. Finally, Matt Zeller finished first for the UTVs, Dustin Robbins finished second and Anthony Yount finished third.
Three-Way Battle in 4400
If you thought the muddy conditions would keep any real competition from emerging, as what happened in 4800, you’d be dead wrong. From the moment Derek West took off from the starting line, a three-way battle emerged between himself, Levi Shirley and Josh Blyler. Josh is a familiar face at the front of Eastern Series races, as he won the Showdown in Shamokin last year, but Levi Shirley being at the front was a bit of a surprise. No one is questioning his talent, but considering how tight and slippery the racecourse was, it was quite different from the desert racing he is used to out west. But talent trumps all, and the drastically different racecourse didn’t matter.
Before the race, Josh Blyler got the inside scoop from his Nitto teammate Casey Gilbert, who had just finished winning the 4800 class, and decided to air down his tires to gain traction in the wet conditions and stick to their plan to drive more conservatively in an effort to keep the car and tires in one piece. As the day wore on with so many drivers having issues, this proved to be a great decision.
After swapping positions lap after lap, Josh Blyler emerged from the mud on top, just 24 seconds ahead of Shirley. West finished a few minutes behind them in third. It’s the fittingly exciting end this muddy and fun race deserved. Right behind West was Rusty Blyler, Josh’s father. “I also got to tangle with my dad for most of a lap and feel very blessed to be able to race with my father making memories!” Josh said after the race. Vaughn Gittin Jr. continued his run of solid finishes with a fifth place result in Tennessee, landing him at the top of the points race for now. There’s still a lot of racing to go, but his inaugural season in 4400 has been a complete success so far.
For the rest of the top 10, Alex Wacker finished sixth, Chip McLaughlin seventh, Jeff Caudill eighth, Nathan Gesse ninth and Mike Feagins tenth. Congrats to all of the finishers at the US Gear Tear Down in Tennessee!