The Ultimate Mudder: Title Defense at Mudda-Cross Madness

It’s a day for title defense at Highlifter Mud Nationals.

Can-Am Ultimate Mudder John Ferranti, the defending Mudda-Cross Pro B champion, wakes up early Saturday morning to prepare.  Despite the David Nail concert and general rowdiness of the Mud Nationals nightlife, John took it easy Friday night and went to bed early. He’s already prowling the grounds before 9 a.m., enjoying a champion’s breakfast of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and ice tea.

He’s going to need the fuel for two of the most-competitive races at Mud Nationals — Pro B (engines must be between 500-1000cc and have a wheelbase longer than 53”) and Super Modified Open (anything goes). Outside of the EPI Endurance Challenge, this is where the best riders race the biggest machines.

John will ride his custom-built Can-Am® 960R Max, which has been tuned until right until the last minute. Late Friday night, John entrusted Performance ATV Parts’ Shane Dowden to add a new transmission. Normally, John doesn’t let anyone else turn a wrench on his machine. But in a time crunch, he turned to Dowden’s expert hand.

“Those guys are the best in the business,” John says. “If I had to trust someone with my machine, it’s those guys.”

He’s also going to have to not only trust in his Can-Am ATV, but his mental toughness and riding skill to secure back-to-back titles. John paces the grounds, anxiously, talking with other riders. It’s a 3-hour wait from the opening classes until the big boys get a chance to race, so he’s got plenty of time to ponder strategy. The message he’s getting from everyone is clear — win the first few hundred feet into the pit, and win the race.

“The holeshot is key because it’s really, really hard to make a pass in this pit,” John says. Everything in the opening classes echoes that assessment, where nine out of the first 10 races are decided in the opening seconds.

When it’s time to race, John looks completely calm. But he’s slow out of the gates and loses the inside track … the worst possible outcome. It’s over before it begins, barring a miracle pass sometime during the two-lap race. Rounding the final turn of the first lap, John sees a slight opening — ever so slight — and goes for it. If he doesn’t make it, he’s assured a last place finish.

John makes his move, and takes full advantage of the tiny sliver of daylight. The Rotax® engine powers through and John makes a cut inside. He’s now running neck-and-neck with the leader. “That’s why they call him the Ultimate Mudder!” bellows race emcee Big Don from his perch above the race pit. It’s at that moment John begins to pull away. He never looks back and wins the heat in dramatic fashion. It’s one of only a few passes made throughout the entire day.

“I made a pass on a turn,” John says elatedly following the victory. “It’s not where I thought I could make a pass. It’s the inside lane, there’s a couple ways you can approach it. You can try to draw someone out and cut inside or wait for them to make a mistake. If you have that line, you have to make sure you hold it.”

Now only two wins away from repeating as Pro B champion, he faces a new problem. Splashing water resulted in his ATV taking in water through the snorkel, and there’s no doubt from the sound of the engine it’s affecting performance. Without time to drain them, the next heat doesn’t go as planned. Another slow start off the line means John has to go for the inside-cut maneuver again. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, and he falls short by inches.

“That’s why they call it racing and not winning,” John says afterwards. Despite the loss, his spirits aren’t dampened — he’ still out in the beautiful Jacksonville sun, racing ATVs with his best friends. Being an Ultimate Mudder is a lot more than just winning races. Even the best racers on the planet don’t win every race. Besides, there’s still the Super Modified Open.

With his Can-Am free of water and ready for action, John enters the first heat of the Open. Anything goes here — nitrous oxide, superchargers and turbo charges. But John isn’t racing with any of those things — the big Rotax motor is all he needs. And it’s on full display in the opening heat, as John outruns both of his competitors. It’s a relatively easy win for the talented rider. He secures his first hole shot of the day and takes the inside track all the way to victory. There’s no way somebody would use his own maneuver against him.

Next up is the semifinals against an old friend – Shane Dowden, the man who helped John fix his transmission the night before. Shane’s riding a Can-Am Outlander™ 800R that looked untouchable in the first heat.

John leads both laps, even securing the inside track with a quick start. He’s literally 300 feet from a trip to the Super Modified Open finals when Shane blasts out of nowhere down the final straightaway and wins in the final six inches.

Despite Shane’s stunning win, John’s not surprised as he dismounts his ride for the day.

“If the race had been six inches shorter, I could have been in the next one,” John laments afterwards. “There’s absolutely no denying he had the best Can-Am out there today. He’s got a motocross background like I do. If someone had to beat me in the Open, I’m glad it was him.”

Shane moves on and cruises to an easy victory in the final heat in the Super Modified Open. After crossing the finish line, he’s instantly congratulated by John and the Gorilla Axle team. They may be competitors between the racing lines, but outside of them, it’s all about Can-Am camaraderie.

“We always want to win, but it’s all in fun,” Shane says. “We don’t make a living off this, but we have that passion.”

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