Big B Gets the One-Two Punch at KMC Battle in BlueGrass

Photos by Lindsey Fisher

Kentucky is known for many things – horse racing, steel, bourbon, Bluegrass music and even fried chicken. But in the Ultra4 world, Kentucky is known for another thing, one of the favorite races of the year, The KMC Wheels Battle in BlueGrass at Dirty Turtle Off Road Park.

While weather can always be a bit unpredictable on-site, the race provides competitors with a top-notch shortcourse, traditional East Coast tree carving and some awesome rock and hill climbs. This year, over 70 racers and their teams took on the fourth-annual 4WP Eastern Series race in record heat, making it the hottest Battle in BlueGrass to date in more than one way!

Race Weekend:

Race weekend kicked off on Thursday, July 18th with teams pulling in from all over the country. Once the course was released by Race Director, JT Taylor, drivers and co-drivers were off to check out the course, which had minor adjustments from the previous years' routes.

Friday kicked off with pre-running starting at 9am with the full course reaching practice speeds shortly thereafter. Pre-running shut down just before 2pm in preparation for the mandatory drivers' meeting, followed by qualifying starting at 3pm.

Qualifying:

Qualifying got off to a quick start with the Spidertrax 4600 Stock Class hitting the track first. Taking on a single loop of the shortcourse to determine Saturday's starting order proved to be a quick undertaking with the fastest 4600 Class qualifier making the loop in just over a minute and 48 seconds. The class's qualifying times were tight with just 23 seconds separating the fastest and slowest lap times, but in the end it was Zach Fitzgerald in the #4604 car who took the pole position.

After the 4600 Class qualified, the Can-Am Off-Road UTV Class took to the course. With 20 competitors, the UTV class represented the second largest race class at the event. While many big names hit the course, it was current Titan UTV Series points leader, Jamie McCoy in the #70 car who clenched the pole position with an impressive one minute and 25-second qualifying lap.

Next up were the Yukon Gear 4500 Modified and the Branik Motorsports 4800 Legends classes. Five competitors in the 4500 Class took the green flag with Shawn Rants in the #4531 car laying down the fastest qualifying time of one minute and 33 seconds for the class. Nine competitors strapped in for the qualifying round in the 4800 Class, which saw heavy hitter, Casey Gilbert in the #618 car take the pole position with a fastest run of one minute and 24 seconds.

Last on the qualifying course, but certainly not least, the Ultra4 4400 Class tried their hand at laying down the fastest qualifying times of the day. Of the 21 competitors who took the start, 10 of them threw down qualifying times of one minute and 30 seconds or less. While certainly impressive, only one driver could go out on top, clenching the pole position for the 4400 Class with a smoking one minute and 23-second qualifying lap. That driver was Levi Shirley in the #81 car.

Following qualifying and the announcement of the pole winners, who all secured the KMC Hard Charger designation, a drivers' meeting for race day was held, followed by dinner provided by Branik Motorsports at the Team Indiana pit.

For full qualifying results, follow THIS link!

Race Day:

Main race day kicked off with the threat of being a scorcher, with a heat index predicted to be in the 110-degree range. But despite the heat, teams prepped cars and strapped in for a hard day of racing.

First to take on the full course was the UTV Class, lead by Jamie McCoy out of the gate. Racers were flagged to start at short increments, with less than a minute separating them from their closest competitors. It was just a short time after the last UTV had left the line that the first few competitors came charging out of the woods to complete their first lap.

An 8-lap race, the UTV Class raced for just over two hours with the lead drivers completing over 40 miles of various terrain in that short time. The course, which featured tight tree-lined sections, nearly a mile long shortcourse, and some of the very rock/hill climbs that the area's Rock Bouncers have made famous, proved to be a greater challenge than some competitors were prepared for, cutting the class down to nearly half in the first three laps.

Despite the challenges of the course and near constant wheel-on-wheel racing action, pole-sitter Jamie McCoy was able to maintain his first-place position in the end, solidifying even more so his climb to the top in the Titan All-Terrain Cross-Country Championship Series Presented by HCR Racing. With an overall time of just 2 minutes slower, James Cantrell in car #502 took second place, followed by Dustin Robbins in the #311 car, who completed 7 laps in one hour and 56 minutes.

Both McCoy and Cantrell will continue their race season with fellow Titan Series competitors, starting with the Hawk Pride race August 2nd and 3rd. For current points standings in the Titan UTV Series, please click HERE!

Next in line for their main race was the Limited classes, with both 4500 and 4800 Class competitors taking on eight laps while the 4600 Class took on six. Leading the charge was pole-sitter Casey Gilbert with second-place 4800 Class qualifier Bailey Cole chomping at his heels, looking to prove just how competitive the Limited Class race could be.

Once again, it wasn't long after the last competitor left the starting line that the physical leaders were reentering the shortcourse to complete their first lap. The neck-and-neck racing action continued with top drivers consistently going through the Start/Finish Line on every lap mere with mere seconds separating their elapsed times.

In the 4600 Class, pole-sitter Zach Fitzgerald led the class for just a short while before luck got the best of him, dropping him down to a fifth-place final finish. With Fitzgerald dropping back early in the race, Jon Schaefer, Michael Justo, and Chris D'Auria, who started last in the class after not qualifying the previous afternoon, were able to make runs for the podium, eventually finishing one, two, three in the class respectively.

The 4500 Class also saw a turn of events when a small fire on lap four took pole-sitter Shawn Rants out of contention, allowing the other four 4500 Class competitors the chance to get ahead. When the checkered flag dropped, it was Jesse Oliver who took the top finishing spot, with Duane Garretson and John Grounds filling out the podium.

The battle for the 4800 Class title continued to be within seconds throughout the 2-hour race, with the finish coming down to one that only tracked timing could discern the winner from. After many checks, Bailey Cole was determined the rightful winner with just .15 seconds of a lead over Casey Gilbert. Following Cole and Gilbert up to the podium was Buddy Carlton.

Facing the hottest part of the day, 4400 Class competitors took to the course for their 8-lap main race at 3:30pm. After clenching the pole position during Friday's qualifying, Levi Shirley led fellow competitors out for the hottest race of the day.

Twenty one 4400 Class competitors hit the track Saturday afternoon as crowds gathered to watch the high-horsepower racing action. With big names like Josh and Rusty Blyler, Derek West, and Alex Wacker trying to run down the lead, Shirley stayed out front physically all the way through to the last lap. That wasn't without challenge, however, as Josh Blyler stayed on Shirley's tail the entire race, leading to such a little gap between the two it left fans and teams alike to try to calculate lap splits just to see who would come in first on corrected time.

With Shirley and Blyler battling it out, the 4400 Class finish looked to be one of an epic battle. But as you know, racing doesn't always go as planned, and mid lap eight, Shirley lost both radiator fans in his car, causing it to go into limp mode. This opened the gate for Blyler to take the lead and take the checkered flag. A hard-fought victory, Blyler's win was bolstered as his dad, Rusty Blyler, was able to clench a second-place finish. Rounding out the podium was top-three newcomer, Kevin Porterfield.

See full race results from the 2019 KMC Battle in BlueGrass HERE and the current points standings for the season HERE! Next, we're off to Ridgecrest -- check out the race info HERE