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5 Stories You Haven’t Heard From 2016 King of the Hammers

Posted in Events on February 10, 2016
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By now you likely know that Erik Miller of Cumberland, Maryland, won the 2016 King of the Hammers (KOH) desert race. It was his second crown (2012 was his first) in this race, often referred to as the toughest one-day desert race in the world. This year’s racecourse stretched 176 miles over three laps across the open desert terrain and boulder-strewn canyons of Johnson Valley, California, a section of the Mojave Desert considered by many to be ground-zero for gnarly rock-crawling.

Miller and his co-driver Ron Ruggerio nearly had an uneventful race. The team was fast, very fast. They started 27th and were leading by the third lap. Then at the top of Sledgehammer, the car developed a driveshaft problem that kept them to a 20 mph maximum speed. In the middle of the fix, the car popped out of gear and nearly rolled down the ledge. After having the wits scared out of them, Miller and Ruggerio finished up repairs and took off. They were the first to cross the finish line, and with an elapsed time of seven hours, 30 minutes, and 55 seconds, beat their closest competitor by approximately 25 minutes. And to answer that on-going IFS versus straight axle debate, Miller took the win in the same straight axle car he has been running for four years.

Slayer Slawson

Taking second place overall and second in the 4800 (Legends) Class in Thursday’s Smittybilt Every Man Challenge race, Randy Slawson, another two-time King, had engine-computer problems and ended up in 8th place during Friday’s KOH race.

But what about the rest? Randy Slawson slayed them all last year, collecting his second crown, and was one of the favorites to win this year. However, because of an engine computer installation error, they lost valuable time during the first lap trying to figure out what the problem was. A good rally in the second and third laps got them back through the pack, but an 8th place finish was the best they could do in the 2016 KOH.

The Red Dragon

Loren Healy, a two-time winner of King of the Hammers (KOH), brought a brand new car, but blew the engine during pre-running. Luckily, he had his old car (nicknamed the Red Dragon) on deck and although Healy put in a heroic effort, mechanical problems caused him to go out of the race before he could finish his third lap.

Loren Healy, also a two-time KOH winner, had built a new two-seat straight axle car for this year’s race, but blew its engine during pre-running. Luckily, he had brought along “Red Dragon,” his single-seat #67 IFS car that helped him win the Ultra4 Racing Championship in 2014. Healy was fast, leading from mile marker 31 through the first lap, and was first to the 10-foot rock cliff known as Backdoor on his second lap. He made a handful of talented attempts to clean-and-jerk the obstacle, but during the last try, the engine’s serpentine belt came loose and the car lost steering. He was able to back the car off to the side of the canyon and replace the belt. He then did the smart thing and parked the car up against the cliff, then got out and unreeled his winch cable to its fullest extent. However, it was not long enough to connect to the tow strap strung from the course official’s Jeep parked as an anchor at the top of this particularly tricky stretch of canyon.

Unable to move the anchor vehicle (KOH rules), and with 4 feet of air between the cable and strap, it looked as if Healy was done for. His frustration was evident, and the crowd of spectators let out a chorus of sighs to show their own frustration. All was not lost though, as Healy spotted a second tow strap on the ground near the anchor vehicle, and using it to bridge the gap between his cable and the strap hooked to the anchor vehicle, he was able to winch his racecar (while giving it power from the driver’s seat) up and over the cliff. The roar of cheers in the canyon was deafening, as Healy sped away and up the canyon. Bad luck eventually caught Healy again, though, as during his third lap, the belt flew off again, and he was forced to walk 3 miles back to his pit for a jumper box. His car would not start, and Healy never finished that third lap.

Sheer Scherer

Jason Scherer had his share of troubles on the way to second place in the 2016 KOH. In the lead early, he had driveshaft issues in Jackhammer canyon and the car was limited to about 20 mph until they could make repairs.

Jason Scherer and Loren Healy were 1-2, respectively, during qualifying and took off from the start line side by side. Lightning fast in his single-seat racecar, Scherer seemed like he had it in the bag for a while there, leading all the way to Remote Pit 1. However, right after his first lap, the car began overheating and that slowed him way down. It took 45 minutes for his crew to diagnose the problem and get it fixed, but as soon as they did, Scherer was off like a shot again. Unfortunately, only so much of the time lost could be regained before the finish line at end of the third lap. Scherer nailed second place, and has a good start on the way to an Ultra4 Racing championship this year.

Crossover Talent

Off-road racing champion Rob MacCachren (seen with Larry McRae of Poison Spyder Customs on the left) gave KOH a third try for 2016. That number must be the charm, because MacCachren finished the race for the very first time, coming across the finish line in 13th place.

A handful of successful racing drivers from other disciplines have tried their luck at KOH, including Robby Gordon and BJ Baldwin, but none until now have had much luck. Ron MacCachren, one of the winningest off-road racers, threw his hat into the ring back in 2010, but didn’t finish the race. MacCachren again competed in the 2015 KOH, but did not finish. This year he drove Larry McRae’s Poison Spyder Jeep again, and crossed the finish line in 13th place after an 11 hour, 27 minute, and 2 second race. The most quotable comment of the day came from McCachren when he said, “I just won the Baja 1000 for the second time, but this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done to finish.”

Drift champion Vaughn Gittin Jr., gave KOH a shot this year, too. With moral support, advice, and co-driving from Loren Healy, Vaughn raced a car in the 4800 (Legends) Class, one of the racecar classes that compete in the Smittybilt Every Man Challenge (EMC) race that goes down Thursday, the day before King of the Hammers. Out of more than 100 entries in the EMC, Vaughn finished 10th in class and 14th overall. Not bad at all for a guy a long way from his pavement world.

Campbell Clan

Two-time KOH winner Shannon Campbell is legendary for his driving ability and his likeability. He is a favorite among fans and competitors, and aside from Randy Slawson’s Bomber Fabrications (a proponent of the straight axle, with 10 drivers running his cars in last year’s KOH), Campbell Enterprises Custom Fabrication is the largest fabricator of Ultra4 Racing cars. Shannon is also the only driver to win KOH with an IFS car.

Shannon was running strong when he entered the canyon called Backdoor on his third lap. Shannon’s strategy has always been to make as much time as he can during the first two laps and then tackle what many consider the most challenging obstacle on the course, the 10-foot cliff just above the entrance of this canyon. Backdoor is a bypass route on the course that can be done on any of the three laps, but must be done to win.

Shannon struggled to get his car up and over the dry waterfall. The effort shattered the driver-side rear axle shaft, leaving Shannon’s car with three-wheel-drive. He was able to get the car off to the side so others could pass, and began to make repairs on the racecourse. Shannon borrowed a hydraulic jack from another broken-down competitor in the same canyon, jacked up the driver-side of his car, and then removed the wheel and the broken axle shaft. He then pulled out a spare axle shaft that was strapped inside his racecar, used it like a broomstick to pull broken bits from out of the axle tube, inserted the spare shaft in the axle tube, and proceeded to bolt it all back up, including the wheel and tire.

While working to replace a splintered axle shaft on his car, Shannon took time to assist other drivers through the obstacles in the canyon, including his 19-year-old daughter Bailey who would go on to finish KOH in 5th place just 20 minutes behind Shannon, who scored a 4th place finish for the day.

Shannon accomplished all this while assisting other drivers winch and climb over the dry waterfall, including his 20-year-old son Wayland and 19-year-old daughter Bailey, who were both racing their own cars. Shannon was on his way soon, and at one point it appeared as if all three Campbells would stand on the podium. But KOH is not a forgiving mother, and Wayland would soon break a driveshaft in his single-seat straight-axle car while negotiating Sledgehammer.

Waiting for a spare burned up a lot of time, and Wayland ended up finishing 15th with a time of 11 hours, 33 minutes, and 26 seconds. Shannon and Bailey Campbell had better luck. Shannon ran strong and unhindered after his on-course repair to land in fourth place, just over 2 minutes behind third place (and first-time finisher) Raul Gomez. Bailey (the only woman on the 110-driver starting list) scored big in her straight-axle two-seater, coming in about 20 minutes behind Dad for a fifth place finish. Bailey said that what helped improve her driving the most was “doing her own car work, and turning wrenches in her father’s garage.”

Heroic Hammers

There are many more stories we can’t verify, or just don’t know about yet. However, there is no end to the heroic tales of competition and cooperation that come out of the King of the Hammers race in Johnson Valley, California. Have no fear. There will be more. Stay tuned to for all the action from the 2016 10th Annual King of the Hammers!

Erik Miller, a KOH winner in 2012, played the course smartly and when he came to Backdoor, one of the harriest obstacles on the route, his co-driver immediately hopped out to hook up the winch cable, allowing them to crawl through this section without damaging the car. Plenty of luck, and a tried-and-true four-year-old car with excellent prep, brought Erick Miller his second KOH win and the King’s Scepter for 2016.

Having more than his fair share of trouble, Paul Horschel hammered Backdoor too hard, did a back flip and ended up on his roof. The car was winched over on to its wheels, and then Horschel and his co-driver tried again, this time winching over it with little trouble. Unfortunately, the pair took 21:48:34 to cross the finish line, and although they were the last to physically finish the race, they were past the time limit and scored as a DNF.

Carnage is rampant at KOH. John Gugliero had his rear driveshaft come apart, and although he and his co-driver made the repair on-course, it set them so far back on time that they too went over the limit before finishing their third lap.

With spotting help from a fellow competitor who had broken down in the same canyon, Shannon Campbell struggled to get over a boulder due to a broken right-rear axle shaft that had shattered just minutes earlier.

Shannon Campbell was eventually able to get his car off to the side of the racecourse, where he replaced the broken axle shaft with a spare he carried in his car.

Brad Lovell and his co-driver and brother Roger (on the left) were fast. They were so fast that after starting 72nd they were in 7th place after the first lap. Dealing with a couple of flats and a failed GPS unit along the way, they duo brought their nine-year-old ex-KOH car in for the Smittybilt Every Man Challenge overall win, and first place in the 4800 (Legends) Class.

Erik Miller (his car is at top right in this particularly tough stretch of Backdoor canyon) had his co-driver spot him through the last of the troublesome obstacles in the canyon, while below Shannon Campbell struggled to get over the 10-foot waterfall, which led to his right-rear axle shaft shattering.

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