Call me crazy, but I think King of the Hammers is far more than a race. It is, in fact, an event far more important than the mere race it is, as it gathers together all factions of the off-road community, and that’s a very good thing. It’s good for the sport, off-roading, and keeping our public lands open to all sorts of activities. And it’s great for me and many others because it leads to a week of fun wheeling.
KOH started out seven years ago as a novel idea on the back of a cocktail napkin sketched out by off-roaders Jeff Knoll and Dave Cole. They envisioned using the Hammer trails in Johnson Valley as a race course to combine the best of both rock racing and desert racing. As far as most people were concerned, those were two separate worlds of off-road motorsports and never the twain shall meet. Sure, you had a few fast spots in rock racing and a few rocks in desert racing, but the types of vehicles and competitors were as different as NASCAR and Formula 1. For the most part, desert racers knew that rock guys couldn’t go fast, and rock guys knew desert guys couldn’t do rocks. At least most of them felt that way, and that set the stage for an evolution in off-road motorsports. Back then, there were very few drivers who could; rock champ and desert racer Shannon Campbell being one of them. But flash-forward to the present day and the line between desert and rock champion is getting blurred—the sport is growing with drivers from both areas of expertise.
One big problem with either sport is the decided lack of spectator-friendly venues. Unless you are in a closed course, such as stadium racing or crawling, the spectator aspect is pitiful. It’s either zoom! there they go, or flopping around racks all day in one place. If you aren’t a hardcore racer or related somehow to the race, it just isn’t that spectacular. With the venue at Johnson Valley, all that has changed. Dedicated spectator areas, and this year a giant live-feed jumbotron back in base camp, brought the excitement and spectacle of the race to thousands of people all week. Safety has also been improved, with the BLM and Hammerking Productions monitoring the crowd and safety aspects constantly.
But again, KOH is more than a race. Any gathering of so many people with disparate views about off-roading can lead to tension or problems, but not here. In fact, this year there was even a motorcycle race as well as the UTV/ATV division, and thousands of people enjoyed everything. People from all over the country came and for the most part were mainly recreational 4x4 people who brought their bikes, Jeeps, trucks, buggies, projects, and toys to enjoy the event. That’s not what you get at a stadium race, or even a rockcrawl or desert event. This is different; it’s thousands of people coming together for fun as well as to watch a race and be a part of it. Now if we can only turn all those people into voices for preserving access to the area, we’d have it made. Give it a try at www.savethehammers.org.