JP Gomez Captures the Checkered Flag at the Rigid Rampage at Ridgecrest 2018
Temps where high and the cars were fast at the Rigid Rampage at Ridgecrest. Team Nitto driver JP Gomez notched his first Ultra4 victory, leading the way for Team Nitto taking the top seven spots in the 4400 Unlimited race! Set in Ridgecrest, California, the course was a punishing 51-mile desert loop (three laps for the Unlimited race and two laps for the limited classes) that included high-speed desert, beat-you-senseless rough terrain, two rock sections and a whole bunch of dust. JP Gomez withstood challenges from Kings and Young Guns alike to bring his single seat UFO car across the line in first.
Temps during the day were running near 110 degrees as the desert got ready to claim victims. To minimize the worst of the heat, the main race would start at 4 p.m. and the limited class races were scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. Night racing is not a staple of Ultra4, but like everything else about the series, you have to be prepared for anything. A few weeks ago racers battled mud in Kentucky at Battle in Bluegrass, and now they’re dealing with high temps and dust in a California night race. The truly diverse race conditions of Ultra4 always test these ultimate off-road vehicles and their drivers.
Teams laid it all on the line for qualifying, trying to get clean air for the main event. The qualifying course was one mile of actual race course—with teams having the choice to head back to pits or continue on course with pre-running (at a reduced pre-running speed). Anticipation was high as several heavy hitters were getting ready to show what their cars could do in the desert, notably Team Nitto drivers Nick Nelson and Loren Healy in their Jimmy’s 4x4 cars, the Campbell family and the Gomez Brothers.
When the dust settled, it was Loren Healy on the pole, winning the KMC Hard Charger award, follow by newly-back-in-the-Ultra4-seat Nick Nelson less than a second behind. Both cars were screaming on course and appeared poised to be the cars to beat on Saturday. Shannon Campbell qualified third, followed by Paul Horschel and JP Gomez for the top five. The race would be an adjusted time race, with cars leaving the line in one minute increments—but heavy dust and a burned-out track would wreak havoc, so the closer to clean air, the better on this one. Cole Clark took the pole in the 4900 UTV class, Team Nitto driver Cade Rodd was first in the 4800 Legends class, Matt Howell was the 4500 Modified class hard charger and John Snell took the pole for the 4600 Stock class.
Early Leaders Experience Problems
As the green flag dropped, the twin Jimmy’s machines—driven by Loren and Nick—shot off into the desert. Hard, dusty and much anticipated, the first lap went fast. Both Nick and Loren’s new cars are two seaters and the co-driver/navigator role showed its importance early on. Nick took the lead from Loren on lap one and was in the process of extending his lead early into lap two when the front end let go and ended his day. Loren also had issues, only his on lap one, that took away his pole position advantage. On an adjusted time race, Loren would not only need to come across the line first, but he would have to put time on the whole field.
With Nick falling off the lead, Shannon Campbell, JP Gomez and Wayland Campbell took up the mantle of frontrunners and proceeded to put on a heck of show. Having all started within three minutes of each other, it was a race for position as well as against the clock. Shannon started pulling one of his patented madman charges to the front, only to be caught by Wayland. If you’ve ever seen these two race, there is no quarter given. Having to earn the pass, Wayland got around his dad and started working on running down JP on the last lap. With both JP and Wayland reaching speeds over 100 mph through the desert, it was a wild 51-mile dash on lap three.
Waiting for the Win
A common theme in Ultra4 races this year has been the intense focus on the clock after the leader crosses the finish line. JP crossed the line first, in a cloud of fury and dust. All heads (and stop watches) then turned to watch for Wayland’s dust. There was a one minute differential that JP had to overcome. One minute came and went and the smile on JP’s face kept getting bigger and bigger. After a few more minutes, Wayland came across the line, locking up second place and solidifying JP’s very first Ultra4 racing win, as well as the first U4 win for a UFO chassis.
Teams continued to cross the line—hot and dusty but relieved to see checkers. After time adjustments, Team Nitto driver Cody Addington continued to show why he’s a worthy successor for the Red Dragon. Cody laid down fast lap times and overcame an eleventh place starting position to land on the podium for the second time this year. In his first race in the new-to-him car, the 2018 Stampede, Cody took home second—so he’s now taken a podium in two of his first three races in the Dragon.
In addition to sweeping the podium, Team Nitto took all of the top seven positions. Fourth place went to Shannon Campbell, Raul Gomez took fifth, Loren Healy roared across the line in sixth and Bailey Cole capped a solid run with seventh. Jeff McKinlay was eighth, Brian Caprara was ninth and Levi Shirley rounded out the top 10.
A very special congratulations to JP Gomez, Gomez Brothers Racing and UFO fab for their first Ultra4 victory. This has been a long time coming and is a well-deserved victory for a classic “checkers or wreckers” race program that always leaves it all on course.
The Underclassmen at Night
Heading off into the desert after dark, all four limited classes raced a classic night race on the same course as the 4400 Unlimited cars. Starting off the line in one minute increments, the Underclassmen raced two laps in a roughed up and rutted out course already burned in hard by the early race. Teams had to overcome navigation, terrain and car issues to soldier on through the night. Some teams finished well after midnight as recoveries lasted until the early morning hours.
Matt Howell, the 4500 Modified class pole sitter, came in first overall, just ahead of Team Nitto driver Jimmy Jack. Sarah Amaral rounded out the podium. Brad Lovell put together a solid run to win the 4800 Legends class, followed by Cody Young and then Jade Wickham for third. Sean Gill won the 4600 Stock class, followed by Josh Atteberry and Dawson Allington, respectively.
The 4900 UTV class had perhaps the most drama of the night with Chayse Caprara crossing the line first, only to be bumped to second by Scott LeSage on adjusted time. Scott won the 4900 class, with Chayse in second and Jacob Versey barely edging out Team Awesome’s Casey Scherer for third.
Western Series Championship
The Rigid Rampage at Ridgecrest marked the final race of the 2018 West Series and crowned the West series champion. Congratulations to Team Nitto driver Wayland Campbell for winning the West! Three-time King and Off-Road Hall of Famer Shannon Campbell took second for the series. Levi Shirley came close to repeating his 2017 championship, but finished the year in third, capping off another successful race campaign.
Brad Lovell continues to show his consistency and experience by taking the 4800 Legends Series Championship, edging out David Hartman for the top spot. The brother duo Jade and Kyle Wickham took third for the season, while Team Nitto driver Jimmy Jack won the 4500 Modified West Championship in a hard fought, season long battle against Matt Howell, who finished second. John Matthews wrapped up third in the West. In the 4600 Stock class, Dawson Allington edged out Brian Behrend to win the top spot.
Nationals Coming Next
The story of King of the Hammers, the East Series and West Series have been written for 2018, which means the Nitto Tire Ultra4 Nationals are right around the corner. Truly the most spectator friendly venue in Ultra4, Wild West Motorsports Park just outside Reno, Nevada will be home to the final event of the year. Only 100 points separate the top four drivers: Erik Miller, Wayland Campbell, Josh Blyler and Shannon Campbell. All four drivers are members of Team Nitto and are guaranteed to put all on the line as they battle for the championship. Teams will have all of September to prep their cars for the finale on October 19. Plan your trips to Reno now and head to www.ultra4racing.com for more information.