Of all the disciplines in off-highway driving, no two could be more different than rock crawling and desert racing. Rock crawling is typically turtle-slow and very technical. A buggy used in rock crawling typically has a mega-low-geared, multi-stick transfer case and a short, narrow wheelbase. Conversely, desert racing is wide-open, foot-to-the-floor, blazing fast. A machine used in desert racing typically has a monster motor that's geared for speed and a wheelbase and width designed for high-speed stability. Clearly, rock crawling rigs and desert racing rigs are mutually exclusive.
Oh wait. Apparently, the folks over at Hammerking Productions didn't get the memo, because they created the incredible "King of the Hammers" off-highway event, which merges rock crawling and desert racing into one spectacular race. Known simply as "KOH," this event debuted in '08 and immediately had a permanent impact on the off-highway community. The '09 event, held last February, further solidified the fact that, almost overnight, KOH is a major player in the world of off-highway events.
This year's KOH returned to the Johnson Valley area of southern California. To ensure that KOH doesn't negatively impact the public's ability to access this open area, KOH organizers thoughtfully held the event during the week. Further, there was no entry fee for spectators to watch the race. Base camp was on Means Dry Lake, where a massive RV city sprung up like magic. The hub of the action was the Raceline Main Tent, and it was surrounded by a number of aftermarket vendors. This was also where the start/finish line and tech inspection areas were located.
The racecourse was roughly 90 miles in length and included almost every type of terrain found in the Mojave Desert. As you can imagine, a race like this had its fair share of drama. Crashes, equipment failures, and intense competition were part of the race. Here's a look at KOH '09.
The Top Ten
Here are the top ten finishers from KOH '09 with their elapsed time
|1. Jason Scherer||4:42:49|
|2. Casey Currie||4:58:57|
|3. Rick Mooneyham||5:20:01|
|4. JR Van Ortwick||6:02:16|
|5. Brad Lovell||6:05:47|
|6. Rob McKinney||6:10:12|
|7. Adam Woodlee||6:19:39|
|8. Joachim Schewiesow||6:23:13|
|9. Greg Hussey||6:33:30|
|10. Wayne Israelson||6:37:00|
If You Go...
King of the Hammers is held about 50 miles east of Victorville, California, in Johnson Valley. If you want to do a Google search to find the location, use 8500 Boone Road, Johnson Valley, California. There is no such address, but it'll get you close. This year there were numerous banners strung up on Highway 247 at the turnoff to Means Dry Lake, so it was easy to find. Most competitors and spectators choose to camp in and around Means Dry Lake, but there are many motels in the Victorville area as well as in Yucca Valley to the south. Hammerking Productions says that KOH `10 will remain similar to KOH `09 for spectators. This means free admittance, free camping and available course maps. There is food available on the LCQ and race day. This year's event featured six viewing areas within 1-mile of the main camp. Two of the areas were equipped with a PA system to keep spectators apprised of the action. Weather in the Mojave Desert in the spring can run the gamut from hot to cold, so plan for both. Next year, the KOH field of competitors will be chosen via three qualifying races as well as at the LCQ. Check the King of the Hammers website for the qualifying race dates and locations as well as next year's KOH race dates.
For Those Of You Who Want To Be King
If you think you have what it takes to capture the crown at KOH, listen up. Our very own Feature Editor Robin Stover has raced the event on two separate occasions with friend and cohort Bart Dixon of Dixon Racing Enterprises. Dixon was one of the original 13 wheelers who started the event in 2007. Despite years of Baja racing experience and an equally well-rounded background in extreme rock crawling, the two have yet to finish the grueling KOH event together. However, during the event's inception year, Dixon did manage to place Third overall. With each race effort since then, Dixon and Stover have made several revisions to Dixon's aluminum-bodied Jeep buggy based on what they've learned. As such, the pair know a thing or two about what works and what doesn't at KOH. Here are a few of their secrets on how to be competitive in the fast-growing KOH class. You may want to consider them if you're thinking about competing in future.
Link-style suspension arrangements with heavy-duty rod-end-type pivots work best. Avoid bushings if at all possible because they don't hold up when subjected to repeat rapid-force events such as whoops. Coilover and bypass shocks are a must, and the larger the diameter, the better. The trend towards air shocks is worth consideration, but only if your rig is built light; heavier rigs tend to overwork air shocks quickly. Pneumatic bumpstops are highly advisable, and well worth the investment considering the high speeds exhibited by those in the top ten. Pro Comp Suspension sells the pair shown here for $380.00 (PN MX2040B).
Failures are almost a guarantee; therefore it is essential to carry extra parts, such as steering pumps, driveshafts, axles and any other vulnerable items that can leave you sitting stuck.
A KOH contender's steering system should be robust, with appropriately sized rod-ends to handle the extreme forces involved. Factory-style ball joints simply don't hold up in the KOH environment. Fully hydraulic systems have proven to work well, yet a new trend in rack-style steering setups like the ones found in Trophy Trucks is beginning to change this. Rear steering is a good idea for the rocky sections, but requires significant planning to set up correctly. Heavy-duty billet steering arms like these from Spidertrax are favorable because of the added strength afforded by the keyed knuckle interface.
Build It Light
The lighter your rig is, the easier it will be to climb rocky ledges and the better it should work in the fast desert sections. Consider dimple-died sheetmetal structures in places where tubing isn't absolutely necessary; Items such as track bar mounts, chassis supports, and battery trays are good examples. Try to keep the center of gravity low in the vehicle, and always consider using aluminum instead of steel where possible.
A large-screen GPS unit like the Lowrance shown here will enable the co-driver to keep the driver informed, no matter what speed the vehicle reaches. Additionally, a larger GPS unit allows the co-driver to stay focused on calling out the pre-run course when large unexpected bumps are encountered at speed.