Loren Healy Storms Through the Pack to Win 2019 Ultra4 MetalCloak Stampede
Just when you think Loren Healy can’t surprise you anymore, he goes from flipping end-over-end in qualifying to nearly lapping the field en route to victory. As raceday began, the question was how hard he would be able to push his rig, not how hard he would be pushing the rest of the field—simply amazing. However, the day wasn’t without competition. Paul Horschel stayed right behind him up to the end, and the Gomez brothers looked good all weekend, with JP being the one to snag a podium spot.
In contrast to last year’s dry, dusty track, the rain poured the week and night before the race. There were literally rivers of water running down the racecourse. But this isn’t just any racing series. This is Ultra4. These cars can handle it, so the race went on. It was just a bit harder to tell who was who in the earlier parts of Saturday and drivers had to adjust their strategies and driving style to accommodate all that mud.
All of this played out in front of an amazing atmosphere in the packed stands, and when we say packed, we mean it. Around noon, they ran out of parking, and twice they ran out of passes to give spectators hoping to get a peek at the action. Ultra4 keeps growing, and there’s nothing like seeing these races in person.
Prairie City Course and Race Format
Ultra4’s second race of the season may still be in California, but it’s a whole world apart from the King of the Hammers, where the season began. The short course at Prairie City OHV—located in Rancho Cordova, California, just outside of Sacramento—is a two-mile short course with rock sections that is mostly viewable from the grandstands, unlike the gargantuan course in Johnson Valley.
The 4400 class competition is split up into a few different sections. It starts on Friday with solo qualifying runs that determine the start order for the heats on the next day. On Saturday, all drivers run in one of three heats, with the top seven finishers in each heat qualifying for the main event. After the heats comes the Main B race, which allows for a few more qualifiers. Then comes the Last Chance Qualifier race, a three-lap scramble where only the top driver makes it in. The racing is always fast and frenetic, especially over the rocks, and this race was no different.
Flying Through Qualifying
Qualifying kicked off on Friday—or should we say, took flight. The definite highlight of the day was Loren Healy losing control of his rig over a jump and going end-over-end before landing back on his wheels. It doesn’t matter how grippy his Nitto Trail Grapplers are if he’s upside-down in the air.
“We got a little too excited in qualifying. Blew a corner…probably should have checked up a bit more going up the gun, I slid off my line a bit, and packed the rear and it sent me for a tumble,” he said.
Despite his car ending up in the same position it started in, it wouldn’t go, so he was not able to finish qualifying. “Luckily, a circuit breaker popped on the ignition, because if I could have gotten the car started again, I would have kept going.”
It really was lucky that he couldn’t get it moving, because he would have undoubtedly done more damage to the car. It had a separated oil line, the back end of the chassis was smashed down about three inches and the radiator was broken in half. Not being able to lay down a time in qualifying may have been the thing that allowed him to run at all in the main. Sometimes it’s just like that.
As the heats got going and wore on during Saturday, one question started filling everyone’s minds: Was Wayland Campbell going to miss out on qualifying for the main? He won last year’s race and was the 2017 Ultra4 series champion, but one problem was piling up on top of another. During his heat, he lost a belt and overheated, unable to finish. The Main B wasn’t able to save him, as he again was not able to finish, leaving his only shot at qualifying for the race as winning the Last Chance Qualifier. Of course, this is Wayland Campbell, so he powered through the field of LCQ drivers to take the win and get into the main. Problems that take down other drivers are just a proverbial bump in the road for him.
Paul Horschel, Raul Gomez and JP Gomez won their respective heats, meaning that they would start at the front of the pack for the main. Not to be left out of the prelim winner’s circle, Marcos Gomez, brother of Raul and JP, won the Main B to qualify, as well.
Underclass, From UTV to Legends
Underclass competition began with the UTVs, giving us a taste of what was to come, even if we didn’t know it at the time. Loren Healy came away with the victory, followed by Ben Jones in second and Phil Cagliero in third. As Loren left to get ready for the main, it was apparent that he knew the racecourse, but could his 4400 rig hold up after getting smashed up in qualifying? It had looked fast in the heats, and we would soon find out.
Next up was the 4600 stock class. Albert Contreras took the win by a healthy 20-second margin over Josh Atteberry. Pearson Allington finished third to round out the podium.
In the 4800 Legends class, Bailey Cole took the field to task, winning by one minute and 13 seconds. There were quite a few rolls between the first two rock piles, but nothing fazed him on his way to victory. Behind him were David Hartman and Craig Allen in third and fourth.
Now that Vaughn Gittin Jr. is racing full-time in the 4400 class, the 4500 class is up for grabs. Jimmy Jack took the first victory of the year in the Everyman Challenge at KOH, and he looked poised to go back-to-back after starting on the pole. However, he started to fall back, ultimately finishing fourth. Kevin Stearns was in the lead for a while early on, but he lost a belt on lap five and was not able to finish. This opened the door for Dan Fresh to win, followed by Rick Lavezzo and John Grounds.
Loren Storms to Victory
With the conclusion of the underclass races, it was finally time for the 4400 main. Paul Horschel, Raul Gomez and JP Gomez started out front, looking to use their wins in the heats to propel them to victory in the main. The muddy race surface was pretty rutted-out and sloppy from the racing earlier in the day, but fans nonetheless were expecting an exciting main event. They cheered as the cars roared past the start/finish line, and the race began.
The positions started mixing up quickly. After the first two rock sections, Paul Horschel and Raul Gomez remained out front, but Shannon Campbell and Loren Healy had passed JP Gomez for third and fourth. However, a podium spot wasn’t enough for Healy.
By lap four, he had taken the lead and started to put some distance between himself and the rest of the field. What had started as a tight race quickly turned into a few frontrunners pulling away. The only driver who was able to truly keep pace with Healy was Horschel, and the two of them began to lap the field as the race wore on.
As the race neared its completion, three drivers remained with a shot at victory: Loren Healy, Paul Horschel and JP Gomez. While Paul tried everything he could to get up to and pass Healy, it wasn’t enough, as the checkered flag waved over Loren Healy for his first victory of the 2019 Ultra4 season. Horschel finished just two and a half seconds behind Healy, with JP Gomez rounding out the podium in third, five seconds behind Healy.
The Trail Grappler showed why it’s loved by so many racers this weekend. Not only did Loren Healy win on the 40-inch variant in 4400, he also ran the Trail Grappler SxS to victory in the UTV class. With excellent performance both in the mud and rocks, it’s no surprise it was so dominant on a muddy rock course like Prairie City.
Even though only eight drivers finished on the lead lap, there were solid days all around. Mike Bergman finished fourth, Raul Gomez held position in the top five to finish fifth, Daren Henke finished sixth and Shannon Campbell finished seventh. After Wayland’s difficulty in qualifying, he was able to get everything working in the main for an eighth-place finish. Levi Shirley finished ninth and Marcos Gomez rounded out the top ten.
Other notable finishers were Bailey Campbell in twelfth and Vaughn Gittin Jr. in thirteenth. After finishing seventh at King of the Hammers, Vaughn followed it up with a respectable run at the Stampede. We can’t wait to see how he does going forward.
Looking Ahead to Tear Down in Tennessee
Up next for Ultra4 is a new race, the US Gear Tear Down in Tennessee at the Adventure Off-Road Park in Pittsburg, Tennessee. The race kicks off the 2019 4WP Eastern Series. As this is the inaugural event, we don’t know exactly which trails the course will use, but with over 120 to choose from, the course designers at Ultra4 are sure to create an amazing race.