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King of the Hammers 2013

Coming of Age

Jerrod JonesPhotographerKevin McNultyPhotographerTom MorrPhotographerKevin BlumerWriterMike IngalsbeePhotographerPolaris IndustriesPhotographer

An invitation-only underground trail run just a few short years ago, King of the Hammers (KOH) has become one of the biggest events on the yearly off-road competition calendar. The original concept was to see who could run Johnson Valley's infamous Hammer trails, as well as the open desert sections between them, in the shortest amount of time. Unlike early cone-dodging, rockcrawling competitions, KOH has always been a contest of speed.

Times have changed, though. KOH is no longer the only event with such a racing format. Instead, KOH is now the crown jewel of the Ultra4 Racing Series. KOH's unique fast-and-slow format also gave rise to a new type of competition vehicle. A successful KOH/Ultra4 competition vehicle needs to have the suspension components of a high-speed desert racer combined with the strong drivetrain and low gearing options of a rockcrawler. Fuel adequate to make it from one pit to the next has to be on board, as well as tools and supplies for on-course repairs. In short, a top-flight KOH racer must combine the best of everything because the KOH racecourse contains the worst of everything.

Just as the vehicles have metamorphosed over the years, the event itself has changed with the times. The first races were a single lap, and later on the race doubled to two laps. This year's KOH ran three laps, and there were two extra rock trails added to lap three. Other additions to KOH include the Every Man Challenge (a race for limited-class vehicles), a UTV race, and King of the Motos for motorcycles.

All the previously mentioned ingredients were in place for 2012. For 2013, KOH became more streamlined, smoother-run, and bigger. King of the Hammers has come of age, and we think you owe it to yourself to check it out at least once. Odds are you'll come back for more. OR

If You Go

Planning to attend KOH? There are things to know before you go. First, you'll need to take everything you need, as there are no guaranteed services on the lakebed. Yes, Johnson Valley is in the Mojave Desert, but it's typically cold out there during KOH. Bring warm clothes. Nearby Yucca Valley has almost everything you need, but if you want to reserve a hotel room during KOH, you should do it several weeks in advance. You can get a good view of the race on Hammertown's jumbotron—no need to run all over the place unless you want to. Law enforcement is ever-present, so if you like to be intoxicated and rowdy in the desert, do all of us (and yourself) a favor and stay home during KOH. There are a number of vendors serving tasty food, so bring your palate and your wallet. Finally, the threat of losing Johnson Valley to the 29 Palms Marine Base is still very real, so please visit www.Ultra4Racing.com to see how you can help.