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How To Compete in King of the Hammers Without Going Broke

Posted in Features on May 7, 2014
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Photographers: Brian Sumner

One of the principal complaints about King of the Hammers—any racing really—is its high expense. This complaint is typically followed by references to Ben Napier’s Penhall car or Loren Healy’s toterhome. Those grumbling seem to forget about Randy Slawson, who won KOH last year in a car he built himself. Although it wasn’t built in a two-car garage on a beer budget, Slawson beat plenty of teams who outspent him.

For many, winning isn’t even the goal at King of the Hammers. Off-road motorsports are unique in that they allow enthusiasts and small-budget teams to line up beside the biggest names in the sport. This year, I had the opportunity to navigate for Ben Swain in the Homegrown Racing buggy and learn firsthand some of the tricks employed to run in KOH without breaking the bank. Here are the top five tips Swain shared with us during King of the Hammers.

Ben Swain’s background is in recreational rockcrawling, but he started competing in XRRA back in 2008 in a leaf-sprung Toyota buggy. He sold that buggy to fund a used Jimmy’s 4x4 chassis, which he picked up partially completed and finished out himself.

Buy Used
Swain sold his previous rockcrawler to fund a partially completed roller with an LS1 engine, Atlas transfer case, and 1-ton axles. He then completed the car himself, purchasing parts as he found deals on them to keep costs down.

Get a Common Car
The Homegrown Racing buggy uses a Jimmy’s 4x4 chassis, the most common foundation for Ultra4 cars racing at King of the Hammers. While not as exotic as some of the IFS cars out there, this platform is well proven and its popularity makes it easy to replace parts as necessary.

There are more Jimmy’s 4x4 chassis being raced in King of the Hammers than any other buggy. This means if you run into a packaging issue, someone else in the same predicament has probably already resolved it. And it is easier to swap and share parts on race day.

Shake Down Your Car
If you show up to King of the Hammers without have your car sorted out, you are just wasting money. Before going to King of the Hammers, Swain raced his buggy in the Dirt Riot series for a full season. Along the way he made major modifications to the car, including ADS bypass shocks at all four corners and a Torq Super 14 Bolt rear axle with an ARB Air Locker.

Right: Swain started racing in Dirt Riot in Colorado and Utah to get more familiar with his car and identify any issues before racing in King of the Hammers. One of the biggest changes was replacing the ORI air struts with ADS coilovers and bypass shocks.

Get the Best Parts You Can Afford
When you are racing on a budget, the lure of free parts can sometimes be irresistible. The fact is, most of your racing effort will come from your own pocket. If you view this as a money-making venture, you will likely be disappointed. However, if like Swain, you are having fun, it is money well spent. He has chosen components like Nitro Gears and ADS shocks because the companies not only produce high-quality components, they are also at the races and take the time to support and service smaller-budget teams.

Team Up
Swain came to KOH with the Rock Addicts, who all race out of Colorado. With a total of six cars racing, they were able to pool resources when it came to logistics, pitting, tools, and communications. Running common tires and wheels would make it even easier to share resources.

The Rock Addicts supported six cars in the King of the Hammers. By pooling resources, fewer volunteers were required than if each racer pitted alone. Hunter Sparrow did the best amongst the Rock Addicts, finishing 23rd overall.

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