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.
I can only hope that all three of us finish this year, setting a new precedent and encouraging others to try silly things like racing full-bodied vehicles through some of the most destructive and horrifically rock-strewn trails in the country.
Check out the VIN Plate Racing story on Page 50 to see the start of our race JKa vehicle that was started just 17 days before the race. Tune in next month for the results of our attempt and the finish of a full-bodied race-ready Wrangler. OR
We were sitting around the office the other day, talking about what the most popular truck in the desert is. A few of us insisted it is a Ranger, while a couple other guys said the Tacoma has taken over as the hottest build truck. What do you think? We want to know! Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us why you think a Ranger or a Tacoma is the best to build for desert use. The top 10 letter writers will receive an OFF-ROAD Magazine hat.
We went racing through the roughest (mile-for-mile) off-road course in the world. Check out how brutal the King of the Hammers can be on Page 56, and take a look at the first part of our series on a street-legal, full-bodied, race Wrangler buildwhich might possibly be the concept car and predecessor of a ride you can buy at a Jeep dealer near you!
We also got some great info on the different types of shocks available for your truck or SUV (Page 44). Plus, if you’re looking for an off-road exhaust to clear that new long-travel suspension, check out the new MBRP exhaust systems specifically made for off-roaders with clearance issues (Page 32).