Heading into the final RockCross event of the season, UROC and Ranch Pratt were as enveloped in controversy as ever. In early November UROC announced that it would be holding the first event of the 2008 Skyjacker RockCross series at Area BFE in Moab during the Easter Jeep Safari. Traditionally this has been both the location and the date of the XRRA season opener. Although not working with Area BFE, Mike Weaver of XRRA has stated that they will still be holding a rock racing event in Moab during the Jeep Safari. "When we found that XRRA had made the choice to stay in Moab we immediately began to work on a solution." Pratt stated in a press release last week.
This controversy overshadowed some very close point races that were occurring in RockCross going into the final event of the season. The Lovell brothers were sitting in first place in the Modified class, ahead of Jim Mabey. Plans to send their Fabtech Ranger to Australia for the WE Rock World Finals kept the Lovells from paying the series fee though and even with an event win and a second they were not in the running for the series championship. The Super Modified class was anyone's game with a three way battle for first between Shannon Campbell, Cottin Rodd, and Nate Williams.
In the first two RockCross events, three vehicles were on the course at a time, competing for three to four laps. Typically there was a high rate of attrition and the last vehicle running (and upright) was declared the winner. In Phoenix the field was doubled, with six vehicles on the course at the same time. This change in format essentially eliminated the brackets, since only six vehicles showed up for each class in Phoenix. The wider course at Firebird Raceway allowed for additional vehicles, with more places to pass than in previous events in Salt Lake City and Pomona. Unfortunately Pratt had to modify the course from his original vision. The skies opened up on Friday and dropped more rain than central Arizona has seen all year. This is not the first time a UROC event at Firebird Raceway has been affected by rain; Pratt had to postpone a rockcrawling event two years ago after the site turned into a pond and the obstacles became islands. Instead of delaying the RockCross, the course was modified and the big climbs were eliminated. What was left could be best described as a "RockBog". Even though the show went on, the weather was enough to keep a large number of fans away. Was karma catching up with Ranch Pratt or was it just bad luck?
Qualifying was conducted in the morning in traditional fashion with one vehicle on the course. With a smaller number of competitors than past events this went quickly and smoothly. Notably absent from Phoenix were Joachim Schwiesow, Clay Egan, and Robert Lucero. Back on the course, each driver was allowed to make two test passes prior to qualifying. It was clear from the start that the mud would be a major factor, as competitors had a difficult time keeping their vehicles on the course and their hands on the wheel. Full face helmets with tear-offs became necessary to maintain visibility. Shannon Campbell attempted to clear the double located after the first turn, but came up short and ended up on his lid. This led other teams to drive conservatively through this section of the course after that, although Nate Williams and Jim Mabey did successfully climb the vertical wall in the middle of the track. After qualifying most of the teams attempted to clean their vehicles as thoroughly as possible, particularly radiators and engine bays.
Qualifying times were used to determine lane choice for the races. A 90 degree right turn at the beginning meant that most teams opted to start on the right side to get the inside corner. Five vehicles across made the starts exciting, but the location of the start and finish line made it difficult for spectators to see this crucial part of the action. By the time the competitors were in view they were spaced apart coming down the chute on the far side of the course. Typically the vehicles bunched up again on the last climb, much to the delight of spectators. Multiple lines up the wall in this section made for an ideal place to pass. In the first race, the Lovells won easily ahead of Jim Mabey, who was one of the only drivers we saw all day trying various different lines on the track. This strategy allowed Mabey more opportunities to pass when sections of the course became blocked. In Super Modified, Campbell walked away from the field on the first lap and never looked back. Cottin Rodd's buggy started smoking when she experienced a power steering failure, but the Rodd's were able to get the buggy together for the next round.
After their win, the Lovells got to sit out the second round. Jim Mabey won this race as Karl Nielson had trouble finding traction on the last climb, RJ Brown broke his front axle, and Steve Bulloch rolled. Like the Lovells, Campbell got a breather while the rest of the Super Modified drivers took to the course. This gave the Monster Energy driver a chance to repair a front air shock that had overextended during the first round. Nate Williams won the second round after the Rodds had more steering issues and Rick Deremo broke a rear link. The air shocks on Deremo's moon buggy mount on the links instead of the axle tube. While this works in rockcrawling, the stress on the shank of the rod end is too great to withstand jumping and racing. The entire rear end rotated 180 degrees, throwing the belt off of the supercharger and pulling the rear driveshaft apart. In the Modified Semi Finals, there were no finishers, so Brad Lovell, Steve Bulloch, and Jim Mabey were all saddled with a loss. Lovell blew an oil line, Mabey blew a transmission line, and Bulloch could not climb the last obstacle due to lack of traction. When the Super Modified drivers lined up for the Semi Finals, it was all Shannon Campbell once again, with his brother Nick spotting him via radio from outside the buggy. Jason Feuilly rolled the last lap of the race and Campbell lapped Brandon Johnson, leaving Nate Williams in second yet again.
When it came time for the Modified Class finals, the Lovells were all alone. Jim Mabey was unable to fix his transmission and all of the other teams had already been eliminated, so the Lovells cruised around the course alone. Brad and Roger drive together, with Roger operating the air lockers and looking for the fastest lines through the course. As dull as the Modified Class finals were, at least they took place! Nate Williams was scheduled to face Shannon Campbell in the Super Modified finals, but after learning that he had already clinched the season championship Williams chose to avoid the risk of breakage in the finals in order to run the Pure Adrenaline Cup, giving the event win to Campbell. Campbell and Williams did line up against each other for the event finale: the Pure Adrenaline Cup. Everyone who was still running was welcome to run in this race, regardless of which class they were in. The Lovells and Johnson threw their hat in the ring with Campbell and Williams. Campbell jumped out to an early lead carrying his right front tire way in the air through the first turn. He never let off the gas, sliding all the way across the track and off of the course. Quick thinking and a calm head allowed Campbell to stay in control and in front of the pack for the whole race, much the same as he had done all day.
Awards and After Party
Event trophies were handed out and series champions were crowned after most of the crowd had left. Campbell and the Lovell brothers took first in Phoenix in the Super Modified and Modified classes (respectively), while Nate Williams and Jim Mabey were declared the series winners. The only confusion surrounded the Pure Adrenaline Cup, which was awarded to the Lovells after Shannon Campbell was disqualified for going off the course. The good natured Campbell took the DQ in stride and invited all of the competitors to his nearby shop for a barbeque dinner and party after the race. In addition to the array of moon buggies and trail rigs, Marty Hart's CORR Pro Lite truck and a new circle track car were also found within the walls of Campbell Enterprises. Campbell informed us that he plans to race the circle track car over the winter to get more experience racing in traffic before making the jump into CORR's highly competitive Pro Lite class in 2009. Hopefully Campbell can find time in his busy schedule to compete for next year's UROC Skyjacker RockCross championship.
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