• JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler

King of the Hammers Winners Share What it Takes to be the Best

Posted in Features on April 24, 2014 Comment (0)
Share this
King of the Hammers Winners Share What it Takes to be the Best

King of the Hammers is often described as the toughest race on Earth. Although, those who race the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 and the Dakar would definitely beg to differ. The debate could go on and on well into the night—even the next morning. Without a doubt, though, the King of the Hammers can validly claim to be one of the toughest races on the planet. Winning it is no easy task.

Look at the victors of the 2014 King of the Hammers and you will see the names Healy, Currie, and Guthrie—not only this year, but in previous ones. All are repeat winners in their respective classes, suggesting the old saying, “The cream rises to the top,” is indeed true. But what is it that makes them a constant threat to grabbing the top spot of the podium? Do they employ different tactics than other teams or use top-secret weapons? Is it a different mindset, rigorous physical training, or pre-race Zen meditation?

Always curious about what it takes to be a champion and win, we went straight to the sources and asked. Dirt Sports recently took the opportunity to sit down with past King of the Hammers champions to look inside what sets their programs apart from the masses who show up to take on one of the toughest races on Earth. While none would divulge information on any of their top-secret programs, what they did share was intriguing. Let’s find out what it takes to be the king.

2014 king of the hammers racers

Jason Scherer
2009 King of the Hammers Winner

Dirt Sports: How has KOH changed since you won in 2009?

Jason Scherer: The terrain is the same, but the amount of competition has definitely increased each year. The technology is increasing, as well. Components like Tire Balls have allowed the pace to move up.

DS: How has your vehicle changed since you won?

JS: Well I have had a few of them! After the Jeep that I won in, I drove the white Tribe 4x4 solid-axle buggy, then the PSC IFS buggy of Tom Allen, and this year, I am teaming up with my good friend Lance Clifford in his IFS car.

DS: IFS or solid axle?

JS: IFS makes a lot of sense from a packaging perspective. The motor is lower. The front differential and steering are fixed in the chassis. The new car I am designing will use IFS and build upon what I learned from the last buggy.

jason scherers buggy

DS: How do you feel about qualifying?

JS: It needed to happen. The differential of speed between the top teams and some of the more recreational teams is a safety issue, especially in the dust.

DS: How much time did you spend in Johnson Valley this year?

JS: I was in Johnson Valley four times this year, not always racing or testing, though. I was coming here long before the King of the Hammers.

DS: What do you do to prepare for this race?

JS: I spent a lot of time with Lance Clifford this year converting his buggy from a recreational car to a race car. It took more work than either of us anticipated, but hey, that’s racing. Physically I do Crossfit and a lot of cardio to prepare for the race, and I am in the best shape of my life.

DS: How soon did you arrive ahead of the race this year?

JS: I got here Saturday before the race this year, almost a full week.

DS: How many people are on your crew? What are their backgrounds?

JS: I have about 20 guys from Rage 4th and Team Awesome helping me out. We have been wheeling and competing together for years, so there is great team chemistry and everyone knows what they have to do without being told.

DS: Who is your biggest competition?

JS: It isn’t just Shannon Campbell anymore. Nick Nelson, Tom Wayes, Gary Ferravanti, Rick Mooneyham, Derek West—there are a bunch of guys who could win on any given day.

DS: What is your biggest advantage over the rest of the field?

JS: My team never gives up, never. We have finished in the top 25 in each of the past five years, and I am really proud of that record.

DS: What do you think it will take to repeat as King?

JS: I am not a wreckers or checkers kind of guy. I know the pace that we need to run to win, it just has to be my day. I have gapped the field in past years, only to have something silly end my race, and that can happen to any of us out there racing at the front of the pack.

Loren Healy
2010 and 2014 King of the Hammer Winner

Dirt Sports: How has KOH changed since you won in 2010?

Loren Healy: There is more money out here now! There is a lot of desert influence coming to KOH, which has brought more innovation and higher quality but a higher price tag at the same time.

DS: How do you feel about qualifying?

LH: It helps to even out the field on race day. For me personally, I try to qualify in the top 10.

DS: IFS or solid axle?

LH: Well I parked my IFS car so that should answer that question. I feel my strength is in the desert, so I want a car that makes up for any deficiencies when I am in the rocks. I am building an IFS car, though, to race in the rest of the series. I just don’t think it is the best pick for King of the Hammers.

DS: How much time did you spend in Johnson Valley this year?

LH: I actually only make it out once a year for the race, but I do a lot of other racing and ’wheeling closer to home.

loren healys race buggy

DS: How soon did you arrive ahead of the race this year?

LH: I got here on Friday, a week ahead of the race.

DS: What do you do to prepare for this race?

LH: We fully prep the car from top to bottom. It is well sorted out and ready to race. I won’t show up on the lakebed again with a new, untested car again. I have made that mistake before.

DS: How many people are on your crew? What are their backgrounds?

LH: I have about 10 guys who come out to KOH with me, Casey and Clint being the main guys. Their backgrounds are in circle track, so they really have a handle on little details.

DS: Who is your biggest competition?

LH: It is the same 10 guys it has always been: Shannon Campbell, Jason Scherer, Nick Nelson, Rick Mooneyham.

DS: What is your biggest advantage over the rest of the field?

LH: There was a time when I was an underdog and unknown, but not anymore. I have a well-sorted-out car and a calm head on race day.

DS: What do you think it will take to repeat as King?

LH: The level of competition is so high you have to have a perfect day out there to win.

Erik Miller
2012 King of the Hammers Winner

Dirt Sports: How has KOH changed since you won in 2012?

Erik Miller: A lot of it comes down to the level of prep. There are more people taking it seriously with high-end builds. You would think this would cause the attrition rate to go down, but it has not, since the difficulty keeps increasing every year. Everyone is innovating and coming out with new parts, pushing the envelope. We are trying to stay at the forefront of that.

DS: How has your vehicle changed since you won?

EM: I won in 2012 in a Twisted Customs buggy that was a modified rockcrawler with a bigger fuel cell and a bigger motor. We made that car faster with the addition of Fox shocks and Howe steering and little things like lowering the spare tire and making it quicker to fuel. My new car is a dedicated Ultra4 race car, not a rockcrawler. We took everything that we liked about the Twisted car and added a bunch of short-course and desert inspired design cues. It was built specifically for King of the Hammers and is really sorted out now after a year of refinement.

DS: IFS or solid axle?

EM: I am all about trying to push the limits of the solid axle. I think I can hang with the IFS cars in the desert and beat them in the rocks. The steering angle is a huge advantage in the rocks. Coupled with the simplicity and strength of the solid axle.

erik miller

DS: How do you feel about qualifying?

EM: I was one of the people that Dave originally queried about qualifying. It is unfair to have a random draw when starting position is so important in this race. I was a big advocate of qualifying.

That said, I kind of have a different approach to qualifying than most of the field. I don’t need to qualify first, I just need to qualify in the top 10. I ran at 70 percent in qualifying this year and still qualified third, which was confidence inspiring.

DS: How soon did you arrive ahead of the race this year?

EM: I showed up on Friday, a week ahead of the race. I would have liked to have gotten there even sooner, but we were working on cars. We use my old car to prerun in, so we can save the race car.

DS: What do you do to prepare for this race?

EM: The car undergoes a full prep prior to the race; every last little component is fresh. I even took about 50 photos before tearing the car apart to make sure every hose is routed exactly like it was beforehand, the smallest thing can end your day at King of the Hammers. I try to dot my Is and cross my Ts. We had a back-up plan for our back-up plan. You can’t be ready for everything but being prepared is critical. We even had a spare tow rig, and we needed it this year.

DS: How many people are on your crew? What are their backgrounds?

EM: We have about a dozen guys at King of the Hammers and half a dozen at most series events. Dominic and John Balducci are fulltime employees at Miller Motorsports. And guys like Rob Ruggiero, Scott Decker, Jake Burke, Kevin Ledder, and Ryan Early are at every race. Everyone has a specific skill set that complements each other. We have a really diverse and dynamic team. That makes it easy to manage because everyone knows what they have to do.

DS: What is your biggest advantage over the rest of the field?

EM: Fitness, car prep, my team, putting in the time and doing my homework. I train a lot; core work, cardio and being in shape is a huge advantage. I spent two months getting ready for this race, and it paid off. After two straight days of racing, I felt great. We actually went recreational ’wheeling on Friday night after the race!

DS: What do you think it will take to repeat as King?

EM: To sum it up in one word: dedication. You have to live this. It is a lifestyle, and we work all year for this one race. You can’t buy a win at King of the Hammers. Commitment to fitness, to team is important and we make a ton of sacrifices.

Randy Slawson
2013 King of the Hammers Winner

Dirt Sports: How has KOH changed since you won in 2013?

Randy Slawson: The race is really not that much different from last year. Dave Cole has a good formula now with the qualifying and the course layout with the long desert loop to thin out the herd. For me personally, I had a lot more coverage and exposure this year after winning last year, so I kind of feel like there is a target on my back.

DS: How has your vehicle changed since you won?

RS: This year’s Bomber is a lot more polished with a lot more jewelry like Spidertrax Pro Series parts that shaved over 100 pounds of unsprung weight off the car. It has more power from CBM Motorsports, Advance Adapter’s newest Atlas race case, and bigger King shocks. The chassis itself is basically unchanged, but these small changes made the car 20 miles an hour faster in the rough.

DS: IFS or solid axle?

RS: It is pretty obvious to me, solid axle. There is only one win on IFS thus far. Most of the IFS cars are Class 1 size, and I don’t see them working that well in the tight rocks. I like the endurance races with a lot of rocks in them, which is what my car is designed around.

randy slawsons ultra 4

DS: How do you feel about qualifying?

RS: I have always thought that if you cannot qualify through the LQC you probably don’t need to be in the main race. There is definitely an advantage to starting on the pole in clean air, but the disadvantage is everyone behind you can still beat you on corrected time even if you are the first to the finish line. I used to think that if you start in the back, you don’t have a chance, but a number of guys have proven me wrong over the years. That said, dealing with traffic and dust certainly affect your time on course. This year we seemed to be in traffic a lot more than in past years, and there was no wind this year, so the dust was as bad as I have ever seen.

DS: How soon did you arrive ahead of the race this year?

RS: I got to the lakebed a week ahead of the race. Monday night we won the Backdoor Challenge, which was great. For me though it was even more rewarding that Bomber cars took the top three spots for this event.

DS: What do you do to prepare for this race?

RS: Typically, my brother and I have been out there on our dirt bikes prerunning the desert section. This year, I had my winning Bomber car from last year, so we preran the first lap and most of the second lap without putting any miles on my current race car. I was hoping to do more prerunning, but honestly, even what we got in is more than I have done in the past.

DS: How many people are on your crew? What are their backgrounds?

RS: Scott Hartman from Dust Junkies Racing is my crew chief and I utilize all of his resources. Plus Kyle, who works with me at Bomber Fab, was out in my RZR bouncing back and forth between all of the pits to look the car over, too. If I tell Kyle, “The sway bar is coming loose,” he knows exactly what size socket is needed and is waiting when I pull into the pits.

DS: Who is your biggest competition?

RS: Erik Miller and Shannon Campbell are two that immediately come to mind. Jason Scherer is really fast but needs to be in the right car.

DS: What is your biggest advantage over the rest of the field?

RS: I have home-court advantage in Johnson Valley. I have been ’wheeling there for over 15 years. Seat time is definitely a factor. I am out in the desert a lot and try to see what works and what doesn’t. I don’t have a big budget, so I try to learn from other people’s mistakes. And since I build my own vehicle, I know every nut and bolt.

DS: What do you think it will take to repeat as King?

RS: Last year, we never got out of the car, and this year we were out of the car over a dozen times. Having fewer problems than I had this year would be a start. I caught Loren on Lap 3 and thought that we had it won, even on seven cylinders. We lost a steering hose, though, and it cost us a bunch of time, but that’s racing.

Related Articles

Comments

Connect With Us

Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Magazine

Sponsored Content