2011 Jeep JK Wrangler KOH Race - VIN Plate Racing, Part 2Posted in How To on July 1, 2011
I think it was about the time I strapped myself into the five-point harnesses that I realized there was a little bit of lunacy in what we were trying. I had never hit the ’Hammers, Larry McRae and his team had been up for days building the race ride, and we were about to compete in an off-road-buggy race using a full-bodied Wrangler that had been shotgun blasted together in just 17 days. To finish any vehicle build in that short amount of time would be impressive…but to finish a race-worthy 4x4 in that amount of time?
If you missed last month’s OFF-ROAD magazine, here’s a recap: Dave Cole, Larry McRae, Mel Wade, and I started in on a plan to race a full-bodied vehicle through the King of the Hammers race—a contest that only buggies have finished. And not even that many buggies…it’s a brutal 120 miles. If we were able to finish the race in the full-bodied Wrangler, we would be the first team to do so in the history of the event.
The plan was proposed fairly late in the game, and by the time the 2011 Wrangler was picked up, there was less than three weeks to tear it down and outfit it for the race.
The Jeep started at EVO manufacturing, getting the majority of the suspension put on. But EVO’s owner, Mel Wade, had entered a JK into the KOH race with Jack Graef, so he was scrambling on his own Jeep, as well. After the suspension went on, the new Wrangler was delivered to Larry McRae at Poison Spyder Customs, so he and his team could finish the rest of the build while Currie built the axles with all the goodies it could.
The finished race Wrangler is similar to what you might be able to buy in the near future at your local dealership—minus some axles and a few race necessities like the rollcage, fuel cell, and window netting.
And of course, you’re wondering how it did in the race. Unfortunately, it didn’t finish, but we made a heck of an effort, and without question we proved that a full-bodied vehicle can in fact race competitively at the King of the Hammers race.
Without us (or the other two full-bodied entries) finishing, there is still that pot of gold waiting for the first one to finish a King of the Hammers race in a full-bodied vehicle. Maybe it will be you next year.
Day Before The Race
The race started early in the morning, with the cars lining up side by side, taking off two at a time from the starting line. The weighted-down race Wrangler was gutless in the high-speed sections, but we were taking the tortoise’s approach of slow and steady. If we could finish the race, it would be a win for us since it would be the first full-bodied vehicle to finish the King of the Hammers.
Everything was going smoothly until we hit some bad traffic on the Outer Limits trail where a buggy had rolled and there was a bottleneck of more than 30 vehicles. Once we were through Outer Limits (the first time), we continued on our way until we came down a waterfall on the Wrecking Ball trail where the Wrangler did a nose stand and started to pivot sideways. I said to Larry, “Man, too bad, we were doing pretty well, too.” I thought it was over (literally). The JK was heading over lid first when gravity decided to be kind and let us touch a rear tire to the side of the waterfall. Larry carefully maneuvered the JK back onto all four wheels (which is much easier to say than was to actually do) and we continued on until we started to lose the power steering box. Larry and I removed the hydraulic-assist ram from the tie rod and plugged the PSC steering box, hoping that would solve the problem. At the next pit, the support crew furiously worked to rip off the box and replace it with a new one in time to get back into the race.
We were back on track, a few miles from starting the final lap, when I decided to start fiddling with the radio and my belts while we were banging through some of the smaller rocks at about 20 mph. Big mistake. I started to get nauseous—and if you’ve ever had that happen before, then you know it’s a feeling that doesn’t go away quickly. Larry heard me starting to yawn over the helmet com (a natural upchuck suppressant) and asked if everything was all right. Of course, I answered, “No worries, everything is great.” About five minutes later, I made the call: With the nausea I might be a real detriment to Larry and the race effort if he needed me for something and I was possibly too sick to perform my duties. I called ahead on the radio and made sure Shad Kennedy was ready to jump in the Wrangler when we passed the next pit.
My race was over, but the Jeep was still running strong. I chased the Jeep with Lawrence Equipment and Tribe 4x4 for the rest of the night, until a fateful call came through at about 10 p.m. The race Wrangler had made it three quarters of the way through the King of the Hammers race, but a final blow came when the rear Dana 60 ring-and-pinion gears broke in Outer Limits during the second pass. It was disappointing after all the effort everyone put in, but that is the way racing often goes.
In my opinion, we definitely proved that a full-bodied vehicle can successfully race the King of the Hammers. Even though ours broke and didn’t finish, it was a common break that happened to many other buggies with the same axles. The rest of the full-bodied Wrangler survived excellently (thanks to Larry McRae’s driving), and I think it was undeniable proof that a full-bodied vehicle will soon finish a King of the Hammers race.