2019 KING OF THE HAMMERS
It’s not often when something comes along that is an entirely new concept, especially in motorsports. The King of the Hammers race in Johnson Valley, California has done just that. It has spawned the Ultra4 series that holds events across the country and around the world. It combines the high-speed element found in desert offroad racing with the challenge of rock crawling in huge boulders. The result is rock racing, and the biggest rock racing event on the planet is King of the Hammers (KOH).
KOH draws people from all over the world. Every year an impromptu city appears on the Means Dry Lake in Johnson Valley. Tents and motorhomes spread out from the epicenter called Hammertown. Hammertown contains the competitor’s garages, vendor’s booths, the JumboTron, and the start/finish line. You could spend the entire week in Hammertown, and some do. Ultra4 sees to it that live cameras are spread around the course sending their feed to the internet, and the JumboTron in Hammertown.
The terrain out on the course is extremely rough, and some spots require a strenuous hike just to reach, so Ultra4 places cameras in those action-packed places. They even have some cameras set up on cables that run back and forth from one side of the canyon to the other.
…some spots require a strenuous hike just to reach.
The result is stunning footage with an incredible perspective. You can sit in your lawn chair and witness the action in some of the most remote locations on the course as it is happening. You will also be front and center when the finishers roll up on the podium and celebrate their success.
The attrition at this race is huge so just finishing within the time limit is a major accomplishment. In order to mix it up, the course changes every year. There are countless combinations of rock trails and desert tracks available to run.
…you can burn up your car before you even get to the rocks.
The challenge of each trail changes depending on whether they are racing uphill or down. The course will vary by the number of rock trails they do and the order in which they do them. The desert sections usually allow faster competitors to make their way to the front.
Despite a fast time in the desert, competitors still have hours of punishment in the rocks. The desert tests the car’s suspension, and the efficiency of all the moving parts at high speeds. If you get it wrong, you can burn up your car before you even get to the rocks. The drivers have to be sharp as well as the desert can lure you into complacency and then deliver a crushing blow. A flat tire can cost you precious time and many positions.
KOH has had several winners since its inception in 2007, but one can’t help to see that there is a group of elite that can win, and have won on a regular basis. There is a unique set of skills needed to come out on top. Randy Slawson (who won as a co-driver in 2007), Erik Miller, and Loren Healy have all been crowned King twice. Shannon Campbell and Jason Scherer have won 3 times. Scherer, this year’s King, has the additional distinction of having been the only driver to win back to back, as he was last year’s winner too.
They all share success, and they all have similar personalities. They are not demonstrative, or outrageous. They don’t engage in the braggadocio normally associated with motorsports. They do their talking when they get behind the wheel. Scherer is fast because he’s smooth. The same goes for Slawson and Miller.
They do their talking when they get behind the wheel.
They all have strong followings. Healy and Campbell are much more aggressive. Healy just refuses to lose, and the sight of his piercing red headlights coming closer strikes fear into the competition. Campbell is soft-spoken, but a beast behind the wheel.
When he comes within a mile of anyone, the typical reaction is to move back. Not because he’s out of control, it’s because what most people would think is an impossible line, Campbell sees as a bump in the road. His big, loud, black car, that he builds himself, is downright intimidating. While Scherer, Slawson, and Miller make it look easy, Healy and Campbell make it look incredible.
Any way you look at it, KOH is an event unlike any other. It’s the toughest single-day offroad race in the world and ranks right up there with the Dakar Rally, and the Baja 1000. It’s come a long way in just over 10 years and looks to continue its growth in the future. Will Campbell get the 4th win? Will Scherer cement his name in the record books with a 3rd straight win? It’s a safe bet that one of the other top contenders will eventually join the 3x club, but a fresh face might show up and add their name to the list of Kings. It’s anyone’s guess because the Hammers trails will always have the final say.