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The Battle Continues: 5 Epic Ultra4 Face-Offs of 2017

While we're counting down the days to the launch of the 2018 Ultra4 racing season at King of the Hammers, it's the perfect time to be reminded of the epic battles that ensued this past year. From specific races, to tracks, to the machines that got us there—read on for our top picks of the biggest battles in Ultra4 racing. Think we missed something? Add it in the comments!

1. Campbell vs. Campbell @ King of the Hammers

Top 5 Ultra4 Shannon Weyland

In a battle of Biblical proportions (or at least Star Wars proportions,) father and son faced off in the first big race of the year—King of the Hammers. With roughly 40 miles to go, Shannon caught Wayland and took the lead from his son. Wayland didn’t take it laying down and pushed himself to new levels that translated over the course of the entire season into a National Championship. Back and forth in the canyons and across the open desert, these two battled with no quarter given. With less than three miles left to go in the race, Wayland took the lead back from his father to cross the line first… then he held his breath.

Shannon had started deeper in the field, and KOH is a time-corrected race. After crossing the line second, the calculators came out fast and furious. With just seconds to spare, Shannon Campbell had won his third King of the Hammers, bumping his boy down to second. When asked about being the first ever 3-time King, all Shannon could talk about was how proud he was of Wayland’s driving. This is what Ultra4 racing is all about.

2. Wayland Campbell vs. Levi Shirley

Top 5 Ultra4 Podium

Two young warriors—in matching cars—faced off all year long in a battle that took eight head-to-head battles and over 1,000 race miles in six states to settle. Levi and Wayland have a lot in common: second generation Ultra4 drivers, both under the age of 25, zero Ultra4 wins despite numerous podiums and matching single-seater Campbell Enterprises cars. Wayland struck first with a win at the Vaquero 250 in Texas. Following his KOH performance, it looked like Wayland’s year. Then Levi stepped up to challenge him with back-to-back victories at the MetalCloak Stampede and the RCV Badlands Brawl. It was on!

These two battled back and forth the rest of the season, Wayland answering with his second victory of the year at the KMC Battle in Bluegrass. Wayland won the Eastern Championship, Levi won the Western Championship. It all set up a powerhouse battle at the Nitto Tire National Championship race in Reno, NV. While Jason Scherer won the race, Levi finished second and Wayland finished third. Two car-lengths worth of points ended up separating these two at the end of the year, with Wayland edging out Levi for the overall 2017 Championship trophy. Can’t wait for the 2018 King of the Hammers to see these two in battle again? We can’t either.

3. Ultra4 vs. The Oklahoma Weather

Top 5 Ultra4 Oklahoma

Sometimes, Mother Nature decides she wants to play too… and in Oklahoma this year, she almost won! Ultra4 prides itself on being the “Swiss army knife cars” of the off-road world. Cars are setup and raced over everything from rocks, to desert, to woods and creeks—but Mother Nature sent 2 tornadoes and almost a foot of rain to make things more interesting this year. Race day was delayed by 2 hours to allow for the creek/river to subside enough just to let teams into the facility. Car-swallowing mud holes soon made the course very interesting, and the impact of the mud on the cars was felt for several races afterwards as teams dealt with water and mud related issues turning up as engine problems. Despite her best efforts, however, Mother Nature lost to Ultra4 and Texan Clay Gilstrap notched his first victory in Ultra4. This also marked one of the few victories Texas had over Oklahoma this year. Border war anyone?

4. Old Timers vs. First Timers

Top 5 Ultra4 Old New

2017 was a watershed moment for first-time winners, yet the two winningest drivers in Ultra4 history had something to say about that. Wayland Campbell, Levi Shirley and Clay Gilstrap owned the heart of the Ultra4 season this year, each landing their first U.S. Ultra4 victories. In the case of Wayland and Levi, multiple victories. Although Shannon Campbell claimed his third King title at KOH, 2017 looked like the year the “old timers” were being put out to pasture and the new guard was taking over.

Loren Healy - Red Dragon - Fallon Win

Then, Mr. Loren Healy had something to say about it! In a convincing flag-to-flag victory at the Fallon 250, the “old guys” were back on the table. Former King Jason Scherer added a third victory for the “King club” by notching a "W" at Nationals. So, for the year: 3 different Kings won and we had 3 first time winners. Maybe it isn’t the changing of the guard just yet. But for the record, one of the first timers was on every single podium this year, so only time will tell. King of the Hammers 2018 should give us a great preview of what’s to come in 2018. Slawson, Campbell, Scherer, Healy, Miller, and Campbell have dominated every KOH to date. Is it time for a first timer to claim the throne?

5. Modifieds vs. Legends 

Top 5 Ultra4 Lovell

Every year at KOH time, the “discussion” cranks back up about which is faster—the Modified Stock class (4500s) or the Legends class (4800s). The root of this discussion comes from the starting order at KOH, where clean air is an advantage, especially if you tackle the rocks early in the race. 4500 class drivers claim an advantage due to having two shocks and essentially the same rules as the Legends class. The Legends class claims victory as the fastest class due to typically larger engines and proven cars. Which is right?

I statistically broke down every single race for the 2017 season—from KOH all the way through Nationals—and frankly, this is only a battle in theory, because the results speak for themselves. In side-by-side time comparisons, 4800 cars won 7 of the 8 events. In total podium spots (based on times), 4800 cars took 19 of the 24 podiums (if the classes were combined into one class) for a 79% podium ratio. Average gap between the first 4800 class car and the first 4500 class car? 10 minutes and 57 seconds. Unless the 4500 class can produce an overall winner during the EMC this year, this battle goes to the Legends class. Maybe we will get to see a Brad Lovell (4800 class) vs Vaughn Gittin Jr (4500 class in Brocky) battle as one of the top of 2018? We’ll see.

Bonus Battle: IFS vs. Solid Axle Cars

Erik Miller - Ultra4 KOH 2017 - Solid Axle

And no list of battles in Ultra4 would be complete without the ever present IFS versus Solid Axle debate. Conventional wisdom had been that IFS is faster in the desert and on short course and that Solid Axle is faster in the rocks… yet Erik Miller can tear up a short course and Shannon Campbell can levitate through the rocks. Conventional wisdom has been that you must have solid axle to win King of the Hammers, yet 3-time champion Shannon Campbell says differently—especially since all 3 podium winners and 8 of the top 10 cars were IFS last year.

Get all your 2018 Ultra4 and KOH coverage here on Driving Line—now you can even subscribe (for free) to the magazine!

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