King of Hammers – The Toughest Race in the West
The King of Hammers is one of the world’s most punishing desert races. Every year, a dry lake bed in the California desert is transformed into a small city called “Hammer Town” to accommodate the racers, worldwide media, and over 50,000 fans who come to be a part of the Nitto King of the Hammers Powered by Optima Batteries race.
Since the first O.G. 13 run in 2007, the event has expanded to an entire week of events and racing. King of the Motos is an extreme endurance event for motorcyclists that takes place during the week. There is a UTV race, the Smittybilt Everyman Challenge for more limited cars, and the big show, the 4400 cars which takes place on Friday. What started with a dozen drivers has become “the toughest single-day offroad race in the world” rivaling in stature the SCORE, Baja 1000, and the Dakar Rally.
King of Hammers combined competition rock crawling, and high-speed desert racing to create something very unique. Those immersed in it from the beginning have witnessed the cars evolve from spindly rock crawlers riding on air shocks, to high tech, high horsepower works of art. They incorporate brute strength with the latest suspension technology honed in desert racing.
In order to survive hours of pounding through the rocks, every component has been buttressed and beefed up. This has posed a problem for shock tuners as the huge tires and robust suspension components, (unsprung weight) sometimes exceeds the sprung weight of the chassis. This creates an upside down car that has to be engineered to work in the high-speed desert sections. Although the cars are dirty, scratched, and dented, they are engineering marvels that defy gravity and redefine the limits of traction. They assault the senses with their thundering sounds, and incredible feats.
It’s a major accomplishment just to finish any race at King of the Hammers. Cody Webb was the only rider to complete all 140 miles of the Schampa King of the Motos extreme off-road race to take the win.
The Can-Am UTV King of the Hammers presented by HCR had 118 entries and only 12 finishers. First time winner Mitch Guthrie Jr. gained his knowledge while riding next to his father Mitch Sr. who has won the race 6 times. The Sr. Guthrie rolled his Polaris UTV on Backdoor, but recovered to finish on the podium in third. Branden Sims finished in second place. It was the third time he was runner up prompting Guthrie Jr. to dub him “Queen of the Hammers.”
The Smittybilt Everyman Challenge had similar results. Nearly 137 competitors in three separate classes took the start, only 12 finished. Interestingly, one driver from each class finished on the overall winner’s podium. Dan Fresh finished first in the 4500 class, Casey Gilbert was second racing in the 4800 class, and Jessie Combs, one of three women driving at the King of Hammers, was third overall; driving through the pack in her 4600 stock class Jeep. She was the 57th truck off the line.
Being a King elevates a driver into a rare club. Only five active drivers in the 4400 class have been crowned over the last nine years. This year’s winner Jason Sherer, joins Randy Slawson, Erik Miller, and Loren Healy with two wins. Sherer battled wheel to wheel with Randy Slawson all day until a broken exhaust header boiled the transmission on Slawson’s Bomber car. In a real heart-breaker, Slawson coasted to a stop only a mile from the finish after running strong for over 7 hours.
Shannon Campbell is the only driver with three titles. He won the first “race” in 2008, then again in 2011, and 2017. With the level of competition, the stresses put on the machines, and the nature of the challenges on course, anyone can win, but these gentlemen have shown they have it figured out. They won’t have it easy as a crop of fast, young drivers are coming for them. Former King Erik Miller finished second. Shannon Campbell’s son Wayland finished in third. It was Wayland’s second podium in a row.
Despite everyone leaving the lakebed, dusty, tired, and emotionally exhausted, plans for next year’s race are already in motion. Every year the King of the Hammers gets bigger, and badder, making it more than just a race – it’s an event in every sense of the word. It sets the tone for the entire 2018 rock racing season.
King of Hammers Photo Extra!