Levi Shirley is a young firebrand eager to prove his mettle in the Ultra4 series, and a recent addition to the Yokohama race team. He’s been all over the USA and abroad to places like the U.K. and Portugal, and come home with trophies and wins. Still, King of the Hammers is the flagship event of the series, and this year, we stopped by to chat and find out what makes him tick. Our interview took place in between the Smittybilt Every Man Challenge and Nitto King of the Hammers.
Despite only being 28, Levi has nearly a decade of racing experience under his belt. “2011 was the first time I ran a full series of Ultra4,” he said. “I raced my original 4400 car, Layla. That car is now my 4800 car for the Every Man Challenge.”
It was last year that Shirley first started racing in the 4800 class in the Every Man Challenge. “Using my old 4400 car, I called my marketing partners and outfitted the car with new axles, new shocks, and so on,” he said. Shirley took 13th place that year. This year, however, he finished in 3rd place, making the podium and proving once more that he had what it takes to make the grade.
2020 Every Man Challenge
We got to talking about Shirley’s performance during the EMC and how he ended up in third place. “We left the starting line in the 11th position, and there was absolutely no wind at all,” he explained. “That made dust just hang in the air, but we started to work through it. By the time we got to Pit 1 on the first lap, we’d made a handful of passes.”
The focus and drive carried on into the second (and final) lap. “We were out in Cougar Buttes, where it was slower going and the dust wasn’t as bad, so we had a better idea of what was going on,” said Shirley. “We started picking off cars and made it all the way to second place. It became a chase to get to Goodall. I pride myself on my desert racing performance, but this time, I couldn’t gain any ground on him.”
Nevertheless, Aaron Dupree, Shirley’s co-driver, offered sage advice to keep his driver’s cool. “He told me to keep running my race, and that’s what I did,” said Shirley. “But then we got into the rocks and started having issues. I got us high-centered and we had to winch out two or three times. I got passed by Van Dyke and Lovell going up Wrecking Ball, who had better momentum. And if you’ve ever raced in the rocks, then you know how important momentum is.”
Shirley kept going, and eventually passed Goodall near the end of the final lap. “It was in Backdoor when we passed him, which is very, very close to the finish line,” said Shirley. “We also had to think about the corrected time, since Goodall started in front of me, and I had to beat him by a minute to clinch my place after the finish. It all worked out in the end!”
Shirley took 3rd place overall with a time of 4 hours, 56 minutes, and 57 seconds. Incredibly, he managed to make it through the entire race and only pitted once. “We pitted in the main pit for refueling, and that was it. I came back from the race and told my crew, ‘Glad I didn’t get to see you today!’ It was a great feeling seeing how far the car went without issues.”
With a heart-stopping finish and another winner’s circle notched into his belt, Levi Shirley is poised to become another legend in Ultra4. “I definitely want to get ready for next year’s race,” he said. “I could go either way – shave some weight off of the current car, or build an entirely new car. I’m so hooked on that class now that I want to get the win someday.”
After our interview following the Every Man Challenge, Levi would go on to take 13th place in the King of the Hammers race on Friday. This is just the first Ultra4 event of 2020, and there are several more to go. Be sure to keep an eye on Levi, Loretta, and Layla – they’ll make things interesting.