By John Duckworth
After winning the sportsman class King of the Hammers race in 2014 in our Polaris RZR XP 900, I set my sights on the 2015 season. It was time to step up to the new and more capable Polaris RZR XP 1000. The car I purchased already had some quality components on it and I knew it would be a great base to start. Got the RZR home and went about prepping it for a shake down run. The XP1000 was definitely a different machine than my XP900. The extra wheel base and travel of the XP1000 really shined in the rocks and desert.
I added a long list of upgrades to the XP1000 so it would hold up to the brutal journey I was about to put it through. Scott Smith, owner of High Lifter offered to sponsor us with their Max Clearance line A-Arms, Trailing Arms, DHT Axles, and Radius Rods. Next came a new Super ATV Steering Rack and Tie Rods, Beadlocks, Tireblocks, 30″ tires, sway bar links, Gusset Kit etc. Of course as with any race car communications and safety are a must, so we went with Rugged Radios, Beard Seats and Pro Armor Harness along with a TMW Offroad cage and doors.
I called Mark MacDonald of Desertcraft to see about the R2C air filter. He offered to sponsor us with the filter and some other goodies for the RZR. He also mentioned that he had been working with Bilstein Shocks. I didn’t know much about the Bilsteins, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with the set up I had. Mark met us in Johnson Valley for some pre-running in December 2014. Knowing some of the sections I struggled with in the past I set out to see how the Bilsteins would perform. Man were they smooth taking on the biggest whoops with ease. In the rocks they articulated really well and overall were a huge improvement over what I had been running.
King of the Hammers
The first race of the season was The 2015 King of The Hammers. RGB signed up to Co-Dog again this year. He is an integral part of our team and I say Thank You Rob. We lined up a great pit crew and were ready to go. This was not our best race, we blew a tire and cracked a rim going into the first rock section. Lost a tie rod bolt and another tire before making it to pit 2. Our crew was on it and getting out of pit 2 we were somehow in 3rd only about 12 minutes behind the leaders. Unfortunately our race would end with a catastrophic transmission failure in the Jack Hammer section of the course. If you would like to read our full recap from KOH, you can click here: TEAM DUCKY 2015 KING OF THE HAMMERS JOURNEY.
Metal Cloak Stampede
The Metal Cloak Stampede held at Prairie City OHV in Sacramento would be the second race of the season and the first race in the Ultra 4 West series.After rebuilding and upgrading the transmission we had the car ready for the Metal Cloak Stampede. The track consisted of 2 miles of fast paced short track with three rock (car breaking) obstacles. We brought the car from 15 of ride height down 13.5 for this race. This made the rock portion a little bit harder to get through, but the car was able to stay flat through the corners. The prelim was a tough battle and after swapping places a few times we came out on the pole. The start of the main event did not go as planned. We lost an axle and power steering due to a collision in the rock section. However after the battle was over we took 1st. This course took out over 50% of the competition and left me and the RZR pretty banged up.
Glen Helen Grand Prix
Next up was the Glen Helen Grand Prix.Since Glen Helen Raceway is only a few miles away from Desertcrafts shop, Mark volunteered to set up, pit and spot for us. This was a fast grand prix format consisting of a 1/2 hour qualifier and a 1 hour main event. We got some testing in on Friday. Desertcraft had a brand new offering for me to try from Bilstein. The new 8125’s were bad to the bone with 2.5″ bodies, reservoirs and 7/8″ shafts front and rear. We had done zero testing on the new shocks so Mark arranged for his Bilstein contact to meet us at the track for final tuning. The fronts were spot on, but the rears needed some attention. We were able to take the shocks off the car made the valving change and had them back on the car in under an hour. That did the trick. They did everything I asked of them and more. After testing Friday we developed an engine problem and could not determine if it was fuel delivery or electrical, but knowing the competition this was going to make it hard to compete. Mark brought his XP1000 with him for the pits, so we proceeded to swap out every part we thought might be the issue and called it at 11:30 pm not knowing if we had resolved the problem. During the pre-lim, the car ran great. Unfortunately my brakes faded near the end. We qualified .5 seconds from the pole. The main would see 17 UTVs at the starting line. The brakes failed halfway through the first lap. With three laps to go, Mark radioed and he told me that my gas cap was missing and fuel was spilling out. Just as he told me this the car sputtered and I had to make an emergency pit stop. With the help of Mary ( Desertcraft) and one of our competitors (4 Wheel Parts) who gave us gas and a gas cap from Marks RZR we were back on the track. I lost three positions during the stop. A lap and a half later Team Ducky was back in first place and held the lead to the checkered flag. After pulling a tire it was determined that the rear brake pad fell off and the rotor ate up the caliper.
The Fallon 250 was our next destination. Held in Fallon Nevada, the course consisted of 6 laps on a 41 mile loop. During our one lap practice run we used up 6 gallons of fuel. The car was running very bad and I could not determine the problem. My race strategy of stopping every 2 to 2.5 laps was out the window. The dust was ridiculous, visibility was almost zero. I put in a pretty good first lap, but had to stop in the pits for fuel. I did not have any pit support for this race and Andrew Gorman, fellow UTV racer had his pit team help me out. Thank You Andrew! Three cars passed me up during that pit stop as I was the only one that needed fuel. By mile 26 of the loop on the second lap I was back in the lead and pulling away. Again the suspension components were working overtime and to perfection.
I thought that maybe I could get 60 miles out of a tank of gas and get to the second pit area. 5 miles from the second pit I ran out of fuel. I tried to walk through the desert to the pit area and that was a very bad idea. After 2 miles I had to turn around and get back to my car as I had fallen down twice heaving my guts out all over the desert floor. ¼ mile from my car there was someone broke down with a flat tire. They had no tools and no jack. I traded them a gallon of gas for the tool and I helped them dig out the tire and change it. Team Ducky was back in the race after a 2.5 hour delay. The rest of the day was a blur as I put the pedal down and just drove. The last lap I had to stop to give a racer a part and then at the remote pit for my last three gallons of fuel. That lap time was 54:48 which was as fast as most of the Ultra 4 guys fastest laps. The car held up to the abuse with no mechanical failures. I later found a broken wire that goes to the MAF sensor and thats what made me use so much fuel. We finished 5 out of the 6 laps and that was good for 2nd place.
Ultra4 National Championships Reno, Nevada
We went into the final event of the year in good shape. The RZR had taken on some of the most brutal races during the season and was getting a little tired after so many race miles. The field had thinned at this point down to a dedicated group, all wanting to prove they could complete one of the hardest off road racing series in the country. Fridays practice went pretty well, but the track was going to be a challenge for the little RZR’s. The boulder fields were intimidating and simply dwarfed the UTV’s. We found some decent lines through the rocks and felt good about the set up on the car. On the last lap of practice the car developed a bad clanking noise that sounded like the transmission was coming apart. We found that the U Joint was hitting the main frame brace on the chassis. The brace had been bent from a season worth of abuse. Brian at Desert Concepts offered to help us out. They had their hands full after a failure on their own Ultra4 car, but were ready to help. Mark and Brian agreed that cutting out a pocket so the u-joint had clearance would be the way to go. They cut out the pocket and welded strips around the cut out to strengthen it. Next was the carrier bearing. Brian (Desert Concepts) suggested trying a clamp around the bearing and through the mount. It was worth a try, so we pulled out a large hose clamp and installed it. That seemed to do the trick and felt like it would stay together for the race.
The rest of the car was in good shape so we got some rest and prepared for the pre-lim on Saturday. The 7:30 am start would see conditions on the track changing rapidly with a steady light rain. They did a hat draw for the starting positions, which ended with us in the back of the field. Flag drops and I find myself three wide into the rock section and made it first through the rocks. Flew through the rocks and had a pretty good lead. Decided to take it easy to save the car for the main event, but got caught in the rocks by the second place car. They rammed us so hard in the rocks that they destroyed the back of the cage, climbed up the back of the car and slid off the driver side ripping the whole left side of the car off. Second got by us due to a missed shift. Ended up dragging the fender assembly around the track for two more laps until it finally fell off in the main rock section. We finished the qualifier in second which would give me a front row start for the main event. There was now a constant rain and the track was deteriorating rapidly. The track was turning to gumbo, and the rock sections glistened with mud and rain. The bearing fix was holding and the dive shaft was staying in place. Inspection of the belt showed that the “Slide Guide” by GForce racing was doing its job. Except scrapes from the rocks the OMF rims fitted with the Moto Race tires looked like they were holding up well. Cover the car and wait for the main which was a few hours away.
It rained right up to the start of the main, the track was in bad shape and I knew getting through the rocks was going to be a challenge. The car that nerfed us at least 10 times during the pre-lim broke his front diff and was out of the race. Starting on the pole I reach the rocks first and got through without issues. The rest of the field bunched up in the rocks and most got stuck. Next time through the rocks I found myself having to pick a harder line to navigate around the field that was stuck in the rocks lapping most of the field. I got through only to feel something wrong on the right rear. Mark radioed and informs me that we had lost the right rear tire getting out of the rocks. Tried to keep up the pace the best I could and got around to the front rock section. With the slick conditions and a flat rear I really struggled to get out of the rocks on lap 3, working the car too hard and busted three out of four axles, but I still managed to clear the rocks. Getting around to the down hill rock section I let gravity take me for a ride and got through it. The next rock / hill climb on the course would prove to be too much of a challenge with only one axle and a flat. I had to pull off and watch the rest of the carnage from the side of the track. This was an absolutely brutal final and not one competitor made it to the checkered flag. After the final racer moving on the track came to a stop due to failure they called the race.
This race was crazy. Based on lap count we ended up getting a podium finish in third. After calculating all of the points for the season not only did we win the West Ultra4 Title we also clinched the Ultra4 National title as well!
Running the Ultra4 series was an amazing journey filled with ups and downs. Countless hours of prep and changes to the car, and strategy all played a huge part in keeping us in contention. Of course I could not have done it without the support of my wife, family and friends. Our sponsors were also key and the personal support we received from Mark and Mary at Desert Craft was invaluable. Thanks to all!!!
Team Ducky Racing Sponsors:
- High Lifter
- Moto Race Tire
- OMF Performance
- Factory UTV
- Muzzys Performance
- Tire Blocks
- Dirty Dawg Clutch
- Pro Armor
- Rugged Radios
Ultra4 National Championship photos courtesy of Danny Adair,Vision X