Triple Threat at the Stampede: Race Recap from Ultra4 MetalCloak
The Dragon Slayer may be a new car, but the man behind the wheel is still Shannon Campbell. Fearless, fast, and determined, the Off Road Hall of Fame driver lead the charge in a Team Nitto podium sweep of the 4400 Unlimited class. Giving the crowd another classic battle in the Main against Loren Healy’s “Red Dragon," Shannon led from the drop of the green flag all the way to the checkered.
Blue skies and a warm sun welcomed drivers as the race weekend started off innocent enough. Competing at the Prairie City SVRA just outside of Sacramento, teams had access to practice on this fast and challenging short course Friday morning. Dave Cole and JT Taylor led the drivers meeting at 2PM, then the action kicked into high gear with four Prelim races to set the stage for Saturday’s events.
Finish in the Top 3 and that driver was guaranteed a spot in the Main, but the driver still had to compete in Saturday’s heats for starting position. The result of this format was intense and competitive racing across all four heats. The 2 mile short course had a mix of everything for the 88 registered drivers: Go Fast sections, rock piles, whoops, curves, jumps, and elevation changes.
The Prelim heats were not without drama. Eventual winner Shannon Campbell didn’t finish his Prelim due to mechanical issues, nor did Team Nitto driver Jason Scherer. Both would take a rear start in their qualifying heats on Saturday. Reigning “King” of the Hammers and 3rd place finisher at this event, Erik Miller, dominated his heat, as did Loren Healy. Driving out from the East Coast, Erik will be racing the West Coast series this year in his pursuit of a National Points Championship. As the sun set on Friday, the sound of racecars died away and the sound of fixing damaged racecars began.
Rain… a slow, cold, soaking rain greeted drivers, fans, and members of the media on Saturday morning as everyone had to adjust to the new track conditions. Some drivers adapted more quickly than others as driving condition presented unique challenges for all classes. Multiple drivers, including 2015 Points Champion Levi Shirley, had to seek medical attention at the end of their morning race for debris in their eyes. Other drivers simply had to learn to drive on mud.
Legends 4800 Class Race Recap
The Legends (4800) Class had their Prelim in the morning and their Main race in the afternoon. Fielding 15 cars in the fastest growing class of Ultra4, Legends had the track to themselves. The morning session was 6 laps and the afternoon race was 8. Being one of the first classes to take the course with the new conditions, 4400 class drivers watched intently. It became clear from the very beginning that today was going to be very different.
Jeren Gunter #4809 won the Legends Class, followed by brothers Kyle and Jade Wickham # 4823 in 2nd. Team Nitto driver Rick Waterbury #444 rounded out the podium in 3rd, with fellow Nitto driver Bailey Cole just off the podium in 4th. Bailey led most of the race in the #4854, only to suffer a rear drive line issue towards the end that limited him to under 20 MPH. Bailey lost the lead on the final lap as the pack caught him.
Modified & Stock Class Race Recap
Modified (4500) Class and Stock (4600) Class raced together, also with a morning Prelim and afternoon Main race. While the course was wet and sloppy in the morning, the 4500/4600 event saw the worst of the weather and the mud in the afternoon. By the end of the race, it was nearly impossible to tell the cars apart from each other. The 35” tire size limit also proved to be a challenge for the stock class. The Trials rock section in particular proved to be a significant obstacle in the rain and mud.
In the 4500 Class, Justin Hall # 13 brought home first place, followed by Jordan Townsend #4580 in 2nd, and Mike Bedwell #4540 in 3rd. Team Nitto driver Jimmy Jack #63 landed just off the podium in 4th place as he continues to dial in his new car. 4600 Stock class was won by Brian Behrend #4648, followed by Albert Contreras #4605 in 2nd, and “Brian Hays” #4672 in 3rd.
Unlimited Race Recap
The 4400 Unlimited Class race proved to be simply insane. Horsepower and Mother Nature had a fight… and Horsepower won. Loren Healy #67 was dominant as usual in his heat and earned the pole position for the Main, with Erik Miller #4421 showing everyone his experience with wet, slippery track conditions. Both won their heats easily.
Clay Gilstrap, Gary Ferravanti Sr., Levi Shirley, and Team Nitto driver Jason Blanton all laid down blistering times, earning spots in the Top 10. Wayland Campbell suffered mechanical failure in his qualifying heat, but due to a Top 3 finish in Prelims, was still in the main. Jason Scherer #76 fought his way into a 10th place starting position, but it was Shannon Campbell #5 who put on the clinic. In Qualifying, Shannon drove from the back of the pack to the front in a single lap, earning him a spot next to Loren on the front row, starting 2nd.
The Dragon Slayer and the Red Dragon were on the front row as the crowd amped up for what was sure to be an all out battle for the win. The National Anthem was sung, drivers were announced, and it was time for the green flag to drop. Everyone at the track held their breath as the cars approached the opening rock section. Mayhem was about to begin.
The green flag dropped and the track erupted in flying mud, rubbing tires, and cars pushing hard in the rocks for a good start. Track conditions meant that clear air was king. Loren was bumped off the line and off course coming out of the rocks as Shannon took the lead coming out of the first turn and hammered down. Ripping about the first section of course, the drivers were still in a pack as they came to the narrow, wet, and muddy Trials rocks.
Hemmed in on both sides by K rail, the narrow chute of the Trials rocks became the first choke point as one car flipped and blocked the main line, other cars backed over each other in a desperate attempt to get traction, and the frustrations grew as drivers could see Shannon, Loren, and others in the top 5 pull away with an early lead. By the time the leaders were back around, the Trials were in yellow flag state with three recoveries going on at once.
The rest of the race – which due to track conditions and retreating daylight had been shortened from 12 laps to 11 prior to the start – was a whiplash-inducing rush of battles. No matter where you looked, something exciting was going on: Loren was pressing hard chasing Shannon. Erik, Gary Sr., Jason, and Clay were mixing it up trying to catch Shannon and Loren. Levi Shirley was launching over the rock piles in an effort to stay ahead of Raul Gomez, Andrew McLaughlin, and Cody Addington, drivers were fighting for position to qualify for the 2017 King of the Hammers… and then it happened.
With four laps to go, Loren put the Red Dragon on its lid coming out of the rocks. It was fast and a fluke, but it opened the door. Jason Scherer, Erik Miller, and the rest of the pack found another gear as they all now chased Shannon. Shannon, for his part, heard the news from his spotters and was able to back off a little and make sure the car made it to the end of the race.
It took almost a full lap before Loren was recovered and off his lid. Have you ever seen an angry Dragon? Having dropped from 2nd all the way down to 15th position, Loren became a man on a mission and pushed his car and himself to the limits. If the race had run the full 12 laps originally scheduled, who knows... In the few laps remaining, Loren drove from 15th position all the way up to 6th, laying down three of the fastest laps of the entire weekend.
Shannon Campbell took the checkered flag and led the Team Nitto sweep of the podium. Jason Scherer continued to gain ground and finished 2nd, less than 30 seconds behind Shannon. Hot on Jason’s heals, Erik Miller narrowly edged out Gary Ferravanti Sr. for the final podium position.
It was all smiles after the 2016 Ultra4 MetalCloak Stampede, with the winners hopping out of their cars to thank crew, hug family, and shake hands with other drivers. Oh, and the rain? It stopped just in time for the Main. Maybe Mother Nature likes Horsepower after all. Following the Stampede, Ultra4 heads to Hotsprings, read the recap here!
(Photos by author and Shana Whitford)