Throttle Down Crown
It started with 12 guys in their trail rigs racing up and down the Hammer trails in Johnson Valley, and now six year later it has grown into a giant spectacle in the desert of Southern California. This year 135 teams competed for the crown as King of the Hammers 2012.
The race combines rockcrawling with desert racing in a real-life contradiction: Vehicles built to go fast often have suspension less inclined to crawl boulders, and vice versa, but don’t tell that to the teams competing in the Ultra Four series, where just these attributes reign supreme. These specially built buggies are pushing the technology to new heights. Lighter, faster, stronger, and more expensive machinery is showing up every year to make a run for the title.
Even more amazing is how well the sport is growing. Compared to other flash-in-the-pan off-road sports that climb then crash quicker than, well, a high-speed rock buggy, KOH and the yearlong Ultra Four series that has grown out of this single race seem to keep outdoing themselves. This year saw the addition of classes for stock 4x4s, stock modified 4x4s, UTVs, and motorcycles. Time will tell whether the sport can keep climbing and growing as fast as the 4x4s on the track.
Want to see how you can get your own 4x4 in this series of high-speed insanity? Check out www.ultra4racing.com, but also take the time to tell your local congressional representative that you are against the proposed Marine base expansion into the Johnson Valley OHVA. To learn more, visit www.fojv.org.
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Words of a King
It is exciting to see a new name on the podium. Though Erik Miller has plenty invested in his vehicle, it is not nearly as high-tech as some of the competitors, with its solid axles and healthy but not overbuilt engine and drivetrain. This year’s winner is from the East Coast, reinforcing the fact that anyone can still enter and win this event with hard work, perseverance, and luck. We caught up with King Erik, the 2012 winner of the King of the Hammers, and asked him a few questions about the race, his buggy, and how he prepares.
4WOR: Tell us a little about yourself. How old are you, how did you get into four-wheeling and racing, what do you do for a living, and what types of racing do you do?
Erik Miller: I am 25 and currently in grad school studying to get my MBA. I was introduced to four-wheeling as a child. My grandfather had a ’57 Willys Jeep CJ-5 that he used on the farm and would take me for “jeep rides” in. I learned how to drive in that Jeep, and we are currently restoring it to original condition.
That old Jeep sparked my interest in four-wheeling. I got into the competitive off-road scene after attending a NEUROC event at Paragon (a closed off-road park in Pennsylvania) in 2004. I was hooked and built my ’03 TJ (Jp magazine cover shot, Dec. ’05) up to compete in the Stock Modified class. I competed for three years and started running some XRRA events in the TJ too. I was severely outclassed, but I loved the sport of rock racing.
The road to KOH began in 2009 when Ultra4 brought a qualifier to the east known as Rausche Creek (also in Pennsylvania). Being a Right Coast guy, I was local to the event and it piqued my interest. I made a few tweaks to my Jeep and ran the race on a whim. We finished ninth out of 10 available spots to qualify for KOH. What was once just a farfetched idea quickly became a reality.
Our current focus this season is the entire Ultra4 series. In addition to that, I race back east at RCrocs and the Line Mountain series. I am also planning on going to Crandon this year with Ultra4 for the short-course event and doing the Polish Mountain Hill Climb in my Ultra4 car.