The King of Hammers

Blog Post Number 14 Written 05-28-2021 Posted 04-22-2022

I’ve got a couple of high school friends, one of which is the owner/driver of an off-road racing team that participates in the Ultra4 league, another of which also serves as the marketing and media coordinator for the team. I like to think of myself as pit crew chief, but in reality, I have only participated in two races. The team is now starting its third season. We participated in the 2019, 2020, and now the 2021 ultra 4 race seasons. They didn’t go to the 2021 king of hammers race, because The team owner’s wife was due to have their second child. But I participated in both the 2019 and 2020 king of hammers races in Johnson Valley California. The King of Hammers is the season opener race, and is also the most difficult race. (Edit: They went for 2022 too, but I was unable to attend this time because of my previous job sucking away my life.)

If you are not familiar with it, The King of Hammers is renowned in the off-road racing world as the most difficult single-day race on the North American continent. Not only is it the first race of the season, but in 2019 it was also our first race as a team.

As friends from high school we had grown up together, cutting up old go-karts, and wrenching on his Suzuki Samurai for years, been wheeling in the dust with the team owner/driver since before we were old enough to drive. He was of course very aware of the education I had, and the experience I had wrenching on aircraft and such. So naturally, I was on his list for people he wanted for the pit crew of his race team. Along with three or four others he had met along the way, while building his buggy.

It was going to be with a race vehicle I had never seen before, in a state I had never been in before. exciting stuff. I drove down to his house in my / our home town. Met up with him and the other people, most of which I had never met before either.

After several hours, we were running late, but finished getting everything loaded. We had two trucks, each with a trailer plus the team owner’s mother and her car, and his first child and everyone’s wives. and so on. and we drove all night, across the majority of the state of Arizona to get to the middle of nowhere desert, Johnson Valley California. Spending the entire trip cramped up in the cabins of our Tundra and F-350 haulers none of them with empty seats. Lots of snacks, Lotsa drinks and caffeine, and stories and laughter and getting to know the new teammates. Then we arrived. Found our pit box, got our gear set up, squeezed a bunch of adult men into a little camper trailer. And then it rained. For the first time in the history of the king of hammers, it rained. It was late January 2019 and it was cold already and then it rained. The thin finely granulated sand turned into peanut butter. It stuck to your shoes, made you taller as each layer piled up after every step. It was awful. It was cold, it was always cold, it was impossible to get warm, I literally melted the soles of my boots, (just a little bit) because I had my feet too close to the fire because I was trying to get my arm. Being that cold for that long for what was it… four days? Five days? That was a special kind of awful.

The field started with roughly 140 race vehicles. If I remember right only 30-35 finished. And that’s typical, because KOH is long, and hard. Our team, Revival racing finished 75th in the field. Though we didn’t actually ‘finish’ They broke a Tie rod and got it changed, and then a couple of hours later, broke another later. The total race I think was about 145 miles. That doesn’t sound that far, but you only had eight hours to finish the event, and again I realize that sounds like a long time to cover about 150 miles, but you have to remember this is across the desert, over mountains scrambling over rocks and boulders the size of the race vehicles. It was not easy going, there were some fast parts across the flat dry lake bed. But mostly it was meticulous rock crawling. We learned so much about working as a team, it wasn’t a win, but it didn’t feel like a defeat.

The 2020 race was much the same, except for there was no rain, instead, it was the wind. The wives and the kids didn’t come along this time, and we had some of the same guys and some different guys. Whatever friends we could scrape together. It didn’t feel like the professional operation that it technically was. We were/ are a ragtag bunch of red necks. They didn’t finish that race either, a broken right rear brake caliper and a burnt-out clutch left them stranded about two-thirds of the way through the race. Again finishing roughly 70th out of 114 I think was how many teams started on the line. The second time we went through qualifying the night before the race, and they managed to roll the race car in qualifying.  And we spent most of the night between qualifying and the actual race the next morning changing out all four front A-arms as the driver’s side tie rod broke in qualifying, causing the rollover and bending the driver side upper a-arm into a taco and tweaking the passenger side a-arms as the vehicle came all the way around. So that was a fun night we were all tired during the actual race. It wasn’t as hard the second time and even though we weren’t all the same crew, we were the same driver, co-driver, and two of the four pit crew. I could go on and on with stories and memories but that would exceed the scope of this, take too long to write and read. I just wanted to illustrate that it was the best worst time I had ever had and I can’t wait to do it again for 2022. The team is running through the 2021 season even though they didn’t make it to King of Hammers this year because of the birth of the owners second child but after wrecking the race car beyond repair near the end of the 2020 season, they now have a new and different race car for the 2021 season and on top of that, a second vehicle racing in a different bracket of the ultra4 league. I haven’t gotten to see either because life is keeping us apart, but I would love the dirty rewarding life of travel and sacrifice and racing and community out there with the other gear heads. ( I ended up helping with a Race at Sturgis during Bike week in the latter part of the season.)

I got so many great pictures from both those events too. The stories to tell, staying out long after dark after both races trying to get to, find, and drag back broken race cars to the pits. That was probably the hardest part, figuring out how to get a broken race car that couldn’t move under its own power out of the rocky canyons, wandering through Hammer town trying to find a porta john that still had toilet paper in it, or dropping a duce on top of a mountain because you’re forty miles from electricity and running water, only eating one meal a day cooked ‘round a campfire, or hot plate or whatever we had. The fireworks in the background, the collective fun, brotherhood, and hooliganism when 4,ooo red necks show up from outta state overnight to the middle of nowhere rocky desert California with hundreds of 1000 plus horsepower monsters. When they line up all those beasts on the starting line and they fire them big turbo v8s up… that is the music of my people. Anyway… before I go too deep down the rabbit hole of memories, I suggest everyone pick up a wrench, and get in the dirt Or do something to have an adventure. Best way to write amazing thins, is to do amazing things so you know what it feels like. I’ll see you out there.

Published by chacerandolph

Science fiction author and Avionics Technician

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