It’s 1 a.m. on the morning of the King of the Hammers race, and I’m writing this from my motorhome (AKA back seat of my crew-cab truck) in the middle of Johnson Valley, eagerly anticipating what 8 a.m. has in store for me as Larry McRae and I leave from the starting line in a full-bodied race JK Wrangler.
I’ve raced Baja and some others, and done most every type of off-roading there is to do, but I must admit that this race has me a bit nervous. In all the years of working in the off-road industry, I’ve technically never ’wheeled the Johnson Valley rockcrawling trails, and I am about to take the ultimate crash course as Larry and I race for a finish in a full-bodied vehicle.
The last thing I want to do is let Larry down, and I keep telling myself to keep a straight face, expect anything, and everything will be fine. After all, I’ve been doing this gig for more than nine years, and I’d like to think I’m well-trained in all forms of off-roading. Hey, how bad could it be? As I told Larry: He’s a great driver, plus I hate practice and am a quick learner. We’re gonna kill it. And now I have seven hours to convince myself of the same thing.
I’ve taken a few laps with Larry earlier this week and he is possibly the finest rockcrawler I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing a vehicle withand I’m rarely comfortable with anyone besides me behind the wheel. But if anyone has a good chance at kicking ass and piloting a full-bodied JK Wrangler through the course the first time through, it is gonna be us.
We’ll be going up against many guys who have been prerunning this course for weeks and some that have been ’wheeling the ’Hammer trails for years. But there are also a great many like usscrambling to get rides together at the last minute, and some who have never seen this race course before.
We’re going for something a bit different than everyone else, though. We don’t have daggers in our eyes for anything besides the finish line. If we’re able to finish the race, it will be a first-ever finish by a full-bodied vehicle. Others have tried it before us, but no one has yet been successful. And we’re not the only ones attempting it this year. Another JK Wrangler is being entered by Mel Wade and Jack Graef, and Broadsword Racing has made a last-minute switch to a yellow YJ, which we’re rooting for, too.