What it took to achieve success in our sophomore season serves as a potent reminder about the challenges in campaigning a race car. While it may look easy on paper, there’s a lot more to it than just a shiny paint job and sponsor stickers. Literally thousands of hours by dozens of volunteers went into our race effort in 2013, allowing the team to push hard and have confidence in the Jeep. The same can be said about the components used to ensure reliability and speed; 2013 saw many small changes that made all the difference and gave the team the edge needed to compete in a field where we often found ourselves out-spent and out-gunned. It’s also a reminder that the level of competition is a moving target–2014 is sure to see new, fast teams in the ever-growing Ultra4 “Everyman Challenge” 4600 class. Here’s a quick look behind the scenes at our ’13 season.
Our year began with the sport’s biggest race of the season, The Griffin King of the Hammers. 2013 proved to be even more brutal than usual, both in distance and technical difficulty; so much so that only one 4600 class vehicle finished in the allotted time– sadly not us. #4643 would spend a lot of time using the Warn winch and Viking Offroad recovery gear and struggling with fuel delivery issues. As a result our Jeep would cross the finish line just after dark in physical 2nd place, one of only two rigs in our class to actually take the checkered flag. When people say that just finishing is an accomplishment, they’ve got it right. We were absolutely thrilled to cross the line and celebrate with a trophy.
High off a heroic finish at King of the Hammers #4643 traveled to Sacremento to compete in the MetalCloak NorCal Stampede. You could sum up the Stampede by saying it’s like a compressed version of KOH; good high speed jumps with slow speed rock crawling interspersed, but on a short circuit. It was a lot of fun (the Bilstein shocks sure got a workout) and seemed to suit the Jeep well as we took home the 1st place trophy.
The next stop on the calendar was the 4 Wheel Parts Glen Helen Grand Prix, also a short course style race. This race would prove somewhat more challenging for #4643. A strange transmission glitch reared its head and was causing erratic shifting from the otherwise bullet proof slushbox. An unexpected shift in a bad place left the car on its side as the rest of the pack ran away. After getting flipped back on its wheels, the Bishop-Buehl Racing-built stroker straight-6 earned its keep, and amazingly the team finsished in 2nd place, just 0:1.16 behind 1st place. Not the top spot, but awfully close, and we still got a trophy!
Next up was a trip to Miller Motorsports Park for the American Rocksports Challenge. It’s always a treat to be at such a world class facility as Miller, but their brutal man-made rock sections further exposed the tippy nature of #4643. Ultra4 racing is always a compromise; you need the rig to be tall to handle the high speed jumps and whoops, but as low as possible, otherwise you might roll it in slow speed rock sections. Or, in our case, twice over the weekend.
The time spent on our lid would relegate us to another 2nd place finish, but again, quite respectable considering. Though all this abuse, it’s remarkable that none of our axle components from Yukon ever gave us a problem, and unlike most of the field we’re only running Dana 44s.
The 2013 season would culminate in Congress, Arizona at the Nitto Tire National Championships. All those 2nd place finishes had put the team in the point lead, but there were several teams within striking distance. We needed to finish higher than 3rd place in order to claim the National Championship. We had a big target on our backs, but our strategy was clear. SAVE THE CAR. Finish strong and don’t worry about taking first in the race, look at the national points…just make it to the finish line! This is always difficult when the red mist of racing descends and good judgement gets tossed away in the hunt for speed. The fun course in Congress, AZ made this restraint really hard, with great go-fast sections and technical crawling making it a fitting locale for the KOH/Ultra4 championship races to be held.
The terrain worked very well for the Cherokee, being the most like King of the Hammers of any of the other events of the season, and #4643 crossed the finish line in physical 1st place! After all the dust settled and the times were tabulated, we missed out on the official 1st place trophy by just 0:1.57, interestingly enough to the same rig that finished in 1st place at KOH. Now the real questions…depending on how points were scored/valued, would we be taking home the National Championship title? The officials kept their cards close to the vest, first telling us that we had indeed won the Western Region 4600 Class honors, but that we’d have to wait until the awards ceremony to find out about the National Championship. Finally just when we were about to lose it, the full scope of our achievements for 2013 was revealed:
Griffin King of the Hammers- 2nd Place
MetalCloak NorCal Stampede- 1st Place
4WP Glen Helen Grand Prix- 2nd Place
American Rocksports Challenge- 2nd Place
Nitto Tire National Finals- 2nd Place
2013 Western Region 4600 Class- 1st Place
2013 Ultra4 National 4600 Class- 1st place
For all of our hard work we were rewarded with a featuring role in the 2013 KOH DVD by Heavy Metal Concepts. Here’s a screen cap of an interview gone hilariously wrong.
We were also featured in a video game!
And the cover of a magazine!
It’s been a fantastic year. Hopefully you’ll follow along for 2014…we’ve got some big plans. Thanks to all the individuals who helped make #4643 possible, especially the volunteers from the North American XJ Association, without whom this crazy escapade would likely not have happened. You are far too many to list, but know that we thank you all.
See you in 2014!