There is only one winner, only one crown, only one king, and at this year's King of the Hammers that winner was a black horse for sure. In case you're not hip to the latest craze of rock racing, the King of the Hammers (KOH) is part desert race and part rockcrawling race and it takes place each February amongst the Hammer trails in Johnson Valley, California. It is a short race by desert racing standards, just 135 miles, but it is a long race by rock racing standards.
Plus, whereas most desert race trucks and buggies are two-wheel drive, the rockcrawling portions of KOH demand four-wheel drive, front and rear locking differentials, and at least a 37-inch-tall tire (more likely 39-, 40- or 42-inch rubber). This is exciting, as it furthers the trend of rock buggy technology to start really crossbreeding with the desert technology, resulting in a new hybrid go-fast-over-any-terrain machine.
Brothers Brandon and Stephen Watson have slowly been upgrading Brandon's trail buggy into
One of the original goals of KOH was more of a "bring your trail ride and race it" type of deal, especially since trail rigs have been morphing from rough-riding leaf-sprung flatfenders of yore to the coilover-shocked, super-strong-axled, fuel-injected tube machines popping up on nearly every trail ride we attend these days. Of course, as soon as there was a purse (over $20,000 in cash and prizes for first place this year) the idea of trail rigs got usurped by dedicated race machines. Luckily the best type of race machine for this event has two seats (driver and co-driver), space for tools, and a spare tire, and it is safe and comfortable over a wide array of terrain. Sounds like a great trail rig if you ask us.
Racing does require a fair bit of expense, as you need to add communication equipment to talk to your pit crews, spare parts, safety equipment like bladdered fuel cells, special fuel shutoff valves, catch cans, helmets, racing suits, and window nets; but since high-speed rollovers aren't unheard of, it's hard to argue against installing this stuff on your 4x4.
So how can you get involved? There are a handful of races across the county to qualify, or you can enter the last-chance qualifier's race (LCQ) a few days prior to the main event, also in Johnson Valley. This year the LCQ race was a roughly 6-mile rockcrawl and desert loop, and 25 entrants progressed to the race and joined the previously qualified teams to bring the total to 100 race day starters. Only 43 finished the 135 miles, and only one was crowned king.
To find out more about the race and the rigs visit www.kingofthehammers.com.
Jack Adams is a rockcrawler at heart, but he trades in a few months of prime wheeling time
And The Winner is...
Loren Healy and co-pilot Rodney Woodey took top honors at this year's King of the Hammers. They had entered the last-chance qualifiers race two days prior to the main event and came in fifth, earning them the 53rd starting position on race day. So how did they climb from 53rd to First Place? They simply drove smart and ratcheted their way up in the ranks. As media, we jumped around a fair bit to cover the race, and every time we saw the leaders of the race (say, the top 20 cars) Healy and Woodey were there, though never in the actual leader position. In fact, every time we moved to another section of race course and the leaders came by, there was a different leader. Healy just stayed in the fight, and even though he didn't cross the finish line first his overall time of 6 hours 57 minutes 53 seconds earned him the crown.
4WOR: You won the 2010 Griffin King of the Hammers. Congratulations.
Loren Healy: Thank you very much; I never really thought it was possible.
4W: How long have you been racing?
LH: This is my second year racing. We ran the LCQ last year and made 23 miles of the main race when we broke the output shaft on the transmission. Other than that, we run a local desert series called NMORL here in New Mexico.
Kevin Yoder and his co-driver, Joel Swanson, started the race in the 51st position and man
Michael Feagins and his co-driver, Josh Wilson, came out from Batesville, Indiana, to comp
Hobie Smith and Mark James are one of the few teams competing in a Hendrix Motorsports X-c
Rick Mooneyham had the difficult task of coming off the starting line with the pole positi
4W: What type of wheeling do you do at home?
LH: I live within walking distance of Choke Cherry Canyon here in Farmington, New Mexico, so our group (667 Rockers) gets to wheel two or three times a week. I love steep vertical walls that require a lot of throttle to make, and we have a lot of that here!
4W: What can you tell us about your buggy?
LH: My buggy was built by Jimmy's 4x4 in Cortez, Colorado, especially for racing KOH, the Grand Slam series, and the IEC series. It is a lot of racing all over the country, and I hope to make all of it.
4W: What did you do to it to make it work in both the rocks and the high-speed desert section?
LH: It is really a fine line to build a buggy to work well in the desert and the rocks. I wanted it to be long, wide, and low so that it would be more stable at higher speed but also not be worthless in the rocks. Things like big Griffin steering and transmission coolers, bypass shocks, and a redundant fuel system all make the car survive the desert but add weight, hurting the performance in the rocks. It is all about how much you are willing to give up in one area to gain in another area.
Johnson Valley is a wide-open desert badlands. It's not difficult to get lost out there, s
4W: Did you have a game plan for the race?
LH: Not really. We didn't get to prerun any of the course, so we were playing it safe for 90 percent of the race. We had a goal to place in the top 10 so we could be competitive in the rest of the series.
4W: What was your favorite part, the high-speed desert or the rocks?
LH: Every time I got into the rocks I told Rodney (co-driver) that all I wanted was back into the desert. The rocks in Johnson Valley are brutal and take a toll on your buggy. My favorite part of the course was after the remote BFG pit around race mile 80, where the roads were flat. You could see for miles and could really open the buggy up. That was awesome!
4W: Did you have any breakage, rollovers, or major problems during the race?
LH: We had to stop and get out two times, once to change a tire and once to change a fuse when a fuel pump shorted out. I would say we had about 30 minutes of downtime.
There were a lot of big-name sponsored racers in the KOH, but you came out of nowhere, got in through the last-chance qualifiers race, and went on to win the whole deal. What advice would you give other four-wheelers who think they might want to want to race?
Go all in! Spend every last penny you have and a bunch you don't have. It is a huge commitment but definitely worth every bit of it. Do your research to find out what it takes to make a buggy survive this brutal race.
4W: Is there anyone you'd like to thank?
LH: Jeff and Dave [Jeff Knoll and Dave Cole, the race promoters-ed.], I never had any desire to race until you started KOH. Everyone at Jimmy's 4x4. And of course my family for supporting my addiction! I would also like to thank all my sponsors: PSC steering, BFGoodrich Tires, Twisted Stitch seats, Turnkey Engine Supply, Radflo shocks, and HIDX lighting.
4W: Anything else you'd like to tell the readers of Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road?
LH: Thank you for all your support, and I can't wait to see you on the trails!