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It Feels Good to be a Rock Star

October 27th2014
 By Thom Kingston on 2014-10-27T08:27:41-07:00 | National Championship |

Crowd Pleaser -- 2014 Nitto National Championship

Since the early days of Ultra4 racing, it had been a dream, rather a near impossible task, of bringing the elements of King of the Hammers racing to the masses. Granted, 10s of thousands of die-hard racers, families, and those who have high-octane fuel flowing thru their veins, find themselves in the middle of the Johnson Valley desert at least once a year already. Still, there are those that would enjoy this unique style of Ultra4 racing without traveling a few hundred/thousand miles. Enter the Nitto National Championship.

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Wild West Motorsports Park of Reno, NV was home to this year’s national championship, and will be for the next 2 years as well. A lot was riding on this new venture, can Ultra4 capture the hearts and minds of the local die-hard race fans in a King of the Hammers meets short course style race? It was not an easy task, and an equally uneasy start to the day, as the now well understood red flags came out to visit.

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To keep things safe, and to keep course progress fair among racers in the event of a bottle necked obstacle, the red flag was born. It had a rough intro at the last Ultra4 race, Ultra4s at Sturgis, and the Ultra4 organizers weren’t looking for a Sturgis repeat. In summary, if red flags are out on course, you as a racer must stop in your tracks. Used to un-block an obstacle that has gotten too difficult to pass, the idea is that you and every other vehicle will now make no further forward progress, until the marshalls cleared the course. The good news: the red flags worked as intended, stopping racers in their tracks. The bad news: the red flags worked as intended, stopping racers in their tracks. A short 5 lap qualifying run took over 1 hour to complete.

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Were the rocks too hard? My guess: it’s been almost 8 months since drivers and vehicles have seen rocks as hard as those at Wild West Motorsports Park, if anything it caught us all by surprise. Flashbacks of XRRA races of years past came to mind, there was already a crowd of close to 2,500 people at this early point, impressive by any Ultra4 standard, but will they stick around till the afternoon’s main event? The thought crossed the minds of the organizers as well, and from that point on, every qualifying and prelim run afterward had a modified course. Modified in a way that kept things difficult, but not so much so that red flags littered the field.

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As the day went on, it became clear that this inaugural venue was on a clear path to success. The crowd did not disperse, rather it grew as the day progressed. The event got back on schedule, the fans were loving every minute, and we were witnessing some great racing. As we neared the afternoon’s main event, where the best of the best 4400 Ultra4 racers took the field, by my rough estimate there were over 5,000 fans that filled the stands. Enter the main event.

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The course section that threw out those early red flags was an intense rock wash where drivers had to navigate their way to the top. The course change early on now had drivers going down the rock wash, still challenging but much faster and far fewer bottle necks. As the drivers lined up behind the grand stands, Dave Cole came out to talk with the drivers themselves. In summary, what do you guys want to do? We can’t have 5,000+ fans watching a bunch of parked cars on course, do we go down the rock wash or not? Leave it up to Shannon Campbell to rally the troops, with this quote of the day “Shit goes down hill, we’ll go up”. The rest of the drivers nodded in agreement, and we had ourselves a main race.

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As drivers got the green flag, and land rushed onto the opening rock pile, thousands of cheering fans rose to their feet. The crowd was so loud you almost couldn’t hear the 700+HP motors that littered the field; just AMAZING. It was a 45 minute timed race, so those all the way up front still had to watch out for the drivers hot on the tail; timed means you don’t necessary have to pass to take 1st place. The battle was fierce, the most intense racing seen all year, and it came down to just seconds. Best part: not one red flag, these Ultra4 drivers were just unstoppable.

The Three Amigos -- 2014 Nitto National Championship

The timing, finalized shortly after the leaders crossed the finish, confirmed Loren Healy in 1st, Erik Miller in 2nd, and Levi Shirley in 3rd. There’s some story to share with this top three, and the shortened version goes as follows.

Levi Shirley has become an Ultra4 household name this year, claiming the series win in the Ultra4 European circuit and multiple podium finishes here at home. Best of all, his peers honored him with Sportsman of the Year at the race evening’s awards banquet. That’s the second time the young Levi Shirley won sportsman of the year, and we couldn’t think of anyone more deserving.

Erik Miller, previous King of the Hammers champion and one of the worlds fastest solid axle racers, has had a rough start to the season. For reasons that baffle even the best of race teams, small Ultra4 car blues plagued him what seemed to be the entire year, and race after race his Miller Motorsports team fought hard to get back on top. It’s the way you want to round out a year though, Erik got back into the groove and found himself on the podium for the last three races. These were some of the hardest races to date, so it’s the way you want to end your season as you get ready for the next King of the Hammers. Congrats Erik and the entire Miller Motorsports team!

Now for the man of the year, Loren Healy.

Sometimes You Need an Extra Hand -- 2014 Nitto National Champion

Loren seemed unstoppable this year. Kicking things off with his King of the Hammers win, powered with his older than most Spider 9 solid axle Ultra4 racer, Loren had one trick up his sleeve. Since before the 2014 King of the Hammers, Loren has been working on a new Spider 9 powered IFS racer, destined to be the next level in Ultra4 technology. Since its debut at this year’s Glen Helen Grand Prix, Loren has one EVERY race in his new IFS beauty. Unstoppable would be underselling it, with a field of over 100 racers Loren appeared to be in a class of his own. At the awards ceremony, Loren needed the help of the Nitto girls just to carry the plethora of trophies he received! Loren ended up with 1st for the Nitto National Championship, 1st for the East Coast Series, and 1st for the West Coast Series (plus that King of the Hammers win). Summary, he took all the series trophies home with him. The Nitto girls stayed.

Time for a shameless plug, and a huge thanks. Spider 9 axles and components have powered more victories this year than ever, winning 11 of the 12 Ultra4 races (that’s US and Europe). Spider 9 axles swept the podium at the last 4 races, and have powered every 4400 2014 series win. THANK YOU to all the drivers, teams, and families who have supported our little start-up hobby from college. It’s a dream to do what you love to do, and you have all made that possible for us here at Spidertrax.

That’s a wrap, we have a few months to “relax” before the 2015 King of the Hammers and we’ll be enjoying every minute of it. For now, take a look at a few of our favorite photos below from the 2014 Nitto National Championship, of course for those familiar with our Flickr page, you can find these same photos there in full resolution. Photos by Thom Kingston, co-founder & CEO of Spidertrax, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.

Rockstars -- 2014 Nitto National Championship