The storm started before the dawn. 140 ULTRA4 cars lined up for the start at 6am huge V8s revving in the early morning dark, breaths and exhausts steaming in the cold desert air. 3 laps, 214 miles, the longest and toughest course in the short history of King of the Hammers and at 8am the green flag dropped and two by two the cars were set off at 30 second intervals.
The first 20 miles were all open desert before a scramble up the first rock crawl, then another rough desert blast back past the pits and up into the mountains, through the canyons with such legendary names as Chocolate Thunder and Backdoor… and now a new one to add to the infamous list; Jackhammer. The leaders went through fine, Eric Milller ahead of Greg Adler and Clay Gilstrap with Levi Shirley doing a nice neat job over the huge rocks. But behind it was carnage. The broken winches and axles caused a tailback and impatient drivers trying to squeeze by caused gridlock. There was a traffic jam of 30 cars at one point. Jason Scherer, after taking Backdoor on his first lap got caught in the traffic and did a great job of practically winching over everyone. Whoever makes his winch cable needs to use the video of him for promotional purposes.
But it was the bad fortune of one former King and the steady progress of another that was the story of the event. No one had an easy day, all the top guys almost lost everything but just before the sun set on a dusty Hammertown it was Randy Slawson up on the stage to claim his 2nd crown, 20 minutes ahead of Miller and Shirley.
Taking his first KoH podium looked like very hard work for the young Lucky Dog racer as he leaned against his stunning Maxxis tyres liveried car. “I hit a car right near the start and that broke the top of the winch housing so when I got out to use it I found all the parts missing. The only thing I could do was reverse and attack it to get through the rest of the rock crawls, including Jackhammer. I knew I had to drive carefully in some places and hit it in others but we didn’t have any spare parts so the crew found an old Toyota pickup in the car park and unbolted what they needed. There was no one there to ask so they left a note and now they’ve got some nice new Gigglepin parts to give in exchange for their missing ones. In Pit 2a they fixed it because the plan was to winch up Backdoor, I got there and the winch worked perfectly, I made it up Resolution too but then something went wrong in the front, there was a vibration and it was bottoming out so I just couldn’t beat it anymore. I passed Eric, he passed me back, then I got him again and finally in this last 10 mile stretch I passed him in the pits. We knew Slawson had won already but I also knew that Eric would be on a mission behind. He got past me and with the front end how it was I just couldn’t keep up with him so had to let him go. But 3rd feels great. It was hard work building the car but there were so many unknowns making it, as so many companies involved with shipping, machining parts and all that… I am beat but I am happy. I’d like to thank Spidertrax, Maxxis Tyres, Tireballs, Dynomax exhausts, ADS shocks, RCV, Advance Adapters and Zero Gravity transmission, which was a key component. I beat on it all day and it didn’t get about 200F!”
Eric Miller looked much fresher and not at all like he’d spent 9 hours behind the wheel. “It was a heck of a day. It was the longest and toughest King of the Hammers course that has ever been put on. We ran more rocks today than we have ever done before but we were able to stick to our game plan. We left the line in first, Scherer opted for Backdoor and I took the desert and the goal was to get to the rocks first in some clean air. Most of the first lap was really good, no problems, just setting our own pace and were in the first physical overall lead… But then at the bottom of Big Johnson the whole right rear of the car sat down and it was my worst fear realised, the uni-bearing had sheared off and the axle was buried in the sand. Our hearts sank because we knew a great day had gone but we had to fix it. We only had a small scissor jack with us which wasn’t good enough so we had to drive dragging the end of the axle through the sand until we could flex up on rock so the wheel studs were in the air and dug a hole in the sand. There was only 2 nuts left so we cross threaded them back on and limped another 2 miles back to the remote pits… and we lost an hour there. Once the guys had fixed the car there was about six cars in front of us but I still knew it was anybody’s race. It was a long day at and knowing I still had a chance I drove with that mentality. We had a clean second lap and found ourselves in the physical lead again. I drove the car at the absolute limit of what it is capable of doing but unfortunately when we were about 20 miles from the finish we lost the steering pump. All the components on the car are the best of the best but we are pushing everything to the limit of what it is capable of. We were able to put fluid in the reservoir and make it to the pits and we changed to steering pump in 15 minutes. I don’t think we’ve ever changed one in under 45 minutes before. We still had a chance because only Randy and Levi had got past this so the first thing I knew I had to do was get passed Levi… and because he started behind us I also had to put a time buffer on him, so I drove at 110% all the way back. We never gave up but couldn’t catch Randy though… The team did a great job and it was just for some bad luck that we did win. My co-driver Rob Ruggiero kept me straight but without those issues we would have had an hour and a half on the others, so actually I’m quite heartbroken to be second, especially as we had the win taken away from us with the steering issue last year. Just bad luck…”
But the most relaxed of all those on the podium was 2015 winner Randy Slawson. “I set a nice comfortable pace that I knew we could maintain and it seems everyone else just overdrove their cars. We had a misfire all day and we actually ran out of fuel at one point because we were burning so much. It was getting about 1.3 miles a gallon and we ran out about a mile from pit one so my brother had to jump out and run to the pits and come back with 5 gallons. And he carried it like a man! We lost about 15 or 20 minutes there. Eric passed us but he was going at a pace that we weren’t comfortable with, and I guess in the end he wasn’t comfortable with it either because he had problems and we ended up passing him at the last pit, and from there we just cruised it in.
This year the tyres were outstanding. We didn’t have a single flat which was the single most amazing thing for me. The second is how amazing the King shocks are because you can slam the car into anything and they just soak it up.
To be a two-time winner is pretty awesome but I’m not as stoked as I was with the first win because I’ve been fighting for it for so long. I was the winning co-driver in the first race in 2007 and I’ve been part of this race every year ever since as a driver or co-driver but last year we got 9th, which I was not very happy about. But I knew the car is capable of winning so we just cleaned it up really nice… and sent it!
Darkness had fallen over Hammertown before the 4th placed car came in but the 2015 King of the Hammers is all about the top three guys. All superb drivers with superb self-built cars. And Spidertrax axles got another 1-2-3!
I would like to say a big thank you to my friend Dave Morganthall who was driving me around in his Jeep, Emily Miller for decking out the press ten with her garden furniture and Mopar for the food and beer.
TEXT & PHOTO: Robb Pritchard