Day -133 – A Look Back at KOH

kohThe earth moves on the lakebed like nothing you’ve seen, in my mind it compares to a sand storm in the Sahara or a snow storm in the rockies, low visibility, abrasion, all in all, not so much fun.  But that’s what you can expect when you spend ten days on a dry lakebed in February.  For the uninitiated, KOH stands for King of the Hammers, it is a halo offroad happening each year in Southern California.  At one time it was an event, in current time it is bigger than that, I heard it compared to Burning Man for gearheads.

Last Friday was the eighth running of KOH, it started as a simple event, thirteen guys running for a case of beer, it has evolved in to a multiple race event covering almost an entire week.  Tens of thousands of people make the pilgrimage to take part in what is billed as the “toughest one-day off road race in the country.”  If the attrition rate is the measure, that is sure to be true.

Throughout the year, we host events all over the US to prepare competitors and their teams for this day, some years we are more successful than others.  I am proud of our Dirt Riot competitors and their accomplishments, while I would love to take credit for their efforts, the truth is it takes tenacity, hard work, perseverance, talent and sometimes, just pure luck to get through race day.

These are the folks who make every day a pleasure, who provide us with a lifestyle we love and who live their passions.  Not everyone made the podium, not everyone made the finish line, hell, not all of them made the start line, but they made us proud and they represented us well – whether that was their intention or not, we appreciate them.  Thank you to all.

The week started with the King of the Motos, not many racers or rockcrawlers participate here, it is an entirely different group of athletes that challenge the rocks on their bikes, but a shout out is well deserved to Craig Thompson, former competitive rockcrawler.

The UTV race was up next, the best finish came from Matt Enochs, in fourth place.  Matt was the 2012 UTV National Champion at Bridgeport, Texas.  Finishing seventh was Wesley Gryner, winner of two Central series events in 2013 in the UTV class of Dirt Riot.  Other competitors from Dirt Riot included Dean Bulloch, Chris Barnett, Brian Bush, Cody Nygren, Rob Usnick, Darryl Dunlap, Lindsay Syler, and Terry Kenyon. 

The next race of note was the Every Man Challenge, there were several races within the race in numerous classes on this day, we were represented in all of them.  In the 4500 class, champion rockcrawler Team Superchips Aaron Sykes placed sixth; eighth was Paul Bickerton, tenth was Alan Johnson from Letzroll, twelfth Jesse Bayne, thirteenth Jay Callaway, other competitors included Shawn Rants, WE Rock Unlimited Champion Justin Hall, Broadsword Racing’s Adam Arsenault, Daniel Sach from Olympus Offroad and rockcrawler Jeremy Eaton from Washington.

The 4600 class was represented by Matt Salyers, another member of the Letzroll team finishing ninth and Jason Kaminsky in his Superchips LJ finishing 10th.  Other Dirt Riot competitors were Victor Buness, Matt Peterson and Mike VanZyl.

The Spec class included former champion rockcrawler and former King Shannon Campbell.

The Legends class saw Brad Lovell placing first, with Matt Messer in the second place position, both are competitive rockcrawlers, Matt still competes in the unlimited class, Brad races the Moab Dirt Riot race, winning that in 2012.

And then there was the big race, Friday’s race determined who was the King…for a second time, Loren Healy won the event.  I would love to claim Loren as ours, but honestly, he was already King before he started racing with us.  We are still very proud.   Lots of other names make that very proud list, of the 154 cars that started the race, only 32 finished.  Finishers that have competed with us and hold that special place in our hearts:  Bill Baird, current National Finals champion finished third; Derek West, second place National Finals champion finished fifth; Rick Mooneyham, sixth, Andrew McLaughlin, 2013 third place National Series points, tenth; Roger Lovell, twelfth; Travis Cook, thirteenth; Wayland Campbell fifteenth; Dave Ashman, eighteenth; Brian Shirley, 2013 National Series points champion, twentieth; Levi Shirley, 2013 Runner-up National Series points champion, 21st; Hunter Sparrow, 23rd; Jason O’Neal, 29th

Others who competed and deserve a great round of applause and our respect; Spencer Murphy, Chris Hoyt, Randy Rodd, Airen Patrick, Matt Lee, Jeff McCullough, Kenneth Goodall, Jesse Haines, Dustin Isenhour, Adam Macke, Masa Tsuda, Kenny Blume, Billy Briney, Chicky Barton, Clay Gilstrap, Matt Burkett, Jeremy Hammer, Jonathan Terhune, Matt Nieman, Chris Sommer, Adam Carter, Dustin Sexton, Carl Langerhans, Shelby Gilstrap, the other Matt Peterson, Mike Nappi, Chip MacLaughlin, Greg Lundeen, Aaron Peters, Travis Leach, Peter Basler, Ben Swain, Tony Arledge, Jeremy Dickenson, Chad Wheeler, and Mike Klensin,  Congratulations to you all, each of you has a story to tell about your journey to KOH and the heartbreak that befell you there, be proud, we certainly are.

Day 238 – King of the Hammers T-0 Race Day

The King of the Hammers Race Day finally arrived, early morning saw the wind gusting to 30 mph; temperatures around 30 degrees.  One hundred twenty-nine drivers took the green flag to begin the race; 28 drivers completed it. One hundred sixty-five miles in the hardest off-road rock race in the world.  Trails with names like Chocolate Thunder, Backdoor, Resolution, Wrecking Ball, Boulderdash, Claw Hammer, Outer Limits, Aftershock, and Elvis.   The first driver to complete the race was Randy Slawson in the Bomber chassis in just over seven hours.  Another 20 drivers finished in the next seven hours with the last seven coming in after that.  Most racers who finished were in their cars for more than 12 hours.

My Rich is generally referred to as Big Rich in the off-road community; his job was to own Chocolate Thunder.  He and his crew ran that trail to ensure there was no bottleneck on that trail.  The boys owned it.

The reason he is called Big is because his son is called Lil’ Rich.  Lil’ lives in Alaska now, but came down this week to work the race.  The trail he owned was Backdoor.  He and the San Diego Jeep club made all the recoveries on that trail.  Lots of compliments flowed their way for the job well done.

Today was the day we had all been working for all week, it ended up being a huge, expansive show.  An incredible event all around, we all had a blast.  Kudos to the Ultra4 crew Shannon, Chris B. and Dave.  Big kudos to their volunteer staff, too numerous to count, but particularly Shawn B., Shon W. and Roxy (at least from my perspective).  I loved working with Lujan all week long and am thankful I got to be a part of it.

Particular thanks to “our” drivers – those of you that regularly compete in Dirt Riot with us, we thank you for the efforts that were put forth in being here and competing.  There are so many that I want to thank personally and list here, but I’m so afraid of leaving someone out.  Love you guys, thanks for making us proud.

 

Day 240 – King of the Hammers T-2

I know there is a lot of other stuff going on out here on the lakebed, but all I can see is the side of the trailer that says www.mobileviewscreens.com That’s the view from the registration tent window.  In theory, we can see all of the qualifying that went on today, after all, we are in the Red Bull tent and it has windows that look out over the race course.  By in actuality, we never get to look out that window.  The line at registration for pit bands has been so long every hour that we are open, that we barely get time to look up and acknowledge all the people that are there.

I love that our lines are long, it means people are here supporting the racers.  The pit support is outstanding for all of the teams.  Tonight we hung out by the fire pit for a little while after we closed registration and the crowds were huge.

Now, I’m one of the lucky ones, I know hundreds of people out on the lakebed.  Drivers and their families, co-drivers and pit crew.  They come from all aspects of our circles, some are rockcrawlers, some are racers, some are people we camp with.  Often they are people from Anywhere, USA who are just part of the off-road community.  So, imagine my surprise when I really didn’t know many of the folks around the fire pit.  It means we are meeting new people and making new friends on the lakebed.  Love that part.

The Qualifying today was exciting, early in the morning Marcus Gomez, first year racer, beat all of the times from the day before by a full six seconds.  He held the pole position until the Power Hour started.  Power Hour is designed to put ten of the fastest guys through qualifying while it is being shown live on the internet.  There was no disappointment when they started.  The first driver, Jason Scherer, beat Marcos time by over 20 seconds.  Three more also beat his time by the end of the hour.  The starting line up is full of the top names in racing, Shannon Campbell, former King; Robby Gordon, Nascar and Trophy Truck driver; TJ Flores, Class One Driver; Loren Healy, former King; Matt Messer, champion rockcrawler; Derek West, champion rockcrawler and rounding out the top ten are JT Stephens and Randy Slawson.  Now the last two are particularly exciting because they are both LCQ drivers.  They made the trip to the Valley without a spot in the big race.  Because their times were so good, they not only are in the race, but they are off the line in the first five rows.

The KOH race is on Friday beginning at 8:00 a.m.; live coverage can be seen at www.ultra4racing.com.  Thursday is the Everyman Challenge (EMC), really looking forward to getting to race day.

 

Day 245 – King of the Hammers T-7

Seventy-four drivers were registered on this first day of the official race week.  The Main Event is next Friday, in between now and then there are several other events taking place.  The King of the Motos will go off on Sunday, there are forty-five teams registered for that, most of them Pros.  Names that if I was up on motorcycle racing, I probably would recognize.

On Tuesday and Wednesday will be the Last Chance Qualifier, or LCQ.  This event has sixty drivers entered, it’s a short course with a lot at stake.  The top ten drivers with the best times get to be part of the main event, the rest go home.

Thursday sees the Everyman Challenge, or EMC.  I haven’t looked at how many drivers are registered for this one.  These are the stock rigs, the trail rigs that have been modified to meet the safety requirements for racing in a race as tough as this one.

Friday is the main event, KOH, King of the Hammers, this is the daddy of all four-wheel drive races, to some it qualifies as one of the top ten hardest races in the world for any type of motorsport.  On a league with Dakar and the Baja 1000.  There will be 110 entries to this race, one hundred that have spent the year qualifying for the race and the ten that transfer from LCQ.

There are two trails, Backdoor and Chocolate Thunder that will have full recovery teams standing by to help them right themselves and get out of the way should they have trouble.  When we pre-ran the other day, we had our own little trouble on trails that weren’t anywhere close to as hard as the ones needing full time recovery crews.

Before the races begin, I will spend my time making sure the process for the drivers is easy.  That all of the questions get answered, that everyone is happy, then I’ll spend sometime at the campfire listening to their stories, so looking forward to that.

Day 248 – King of the Hammers T-10

Only ten more days to the big race, the city continues to unfold, 47 tents up by the end of the night Tuesday, war games being played at the Marine base over the mountain, two international teams have arrived (Italy and England), food vendors have been dropping trailers all day.  Word is the wind will die down by tomorrow so a lot more work can be done.

We were able to get the download for the race course today, since we are technically “staff.”  Out in the XJ to do some pre-running, Rich took me out to Cougar Buttes to show me around, then we connected from the powerline road to the race course at mm 34.  There is an initial 51 mile loop, so we took that in, or at least that was the plan.  Most of the sections were pretty easy desert, a couple of harder rock sections had us scratching our heads a little and then we came to the notch.  Being in the XJ, out by ourselves, we opted out of running that part of the race course and came back in to Hammertown around the tip of the mountain.  We had a great time wheeling today, but that is a whole lot different than taking this course at race speed.  That will change the game completely.  Pre-running will probably start in earnest on Friday when the teams are here to register and get their downloads, in the meantime, we are listening to them rev their engines all over the lakebed.  Love the sound of that.

Day 249 – King of the Hammers T-11

I woke this morning to the sound of the earth moving, sand being thrown against the side of the trailer by Mariah.  She is kicking up her heels out here on the Lakebed.  The wind is our nemesis, over the weekend it rained, so the lakebed has been kind of still, Mariah started up on Sunday afternoon and hasn’t quit.  Today she had dried out enough of the crust to create an earth movement.

Just a quick update on the building of Hammertown, the day ended Monday with fifty miles of race course marked, another two teams (both from Kentucky) on site, 25 tents of the total of 80 are up, two trash bins, lots of generators got delivered today.  We left the lakebed because the wind was blowing, I get cabin fever having to stay in the trailer, I’d much rather be in the Jeep.  Stay tuned, the city is building.

Day 250 – King of the Hammers T-12

koh12The staff level has jumped to 18, motorhomes on site to 20, eleven tents are up, perimeter fence is up to four miles, two teams have arrived onsite.  The growth is just beginning at Hammertown.  Dave Cole owns Hammerking Productions, the promoter of King of the Hammers.  We’ve been staying at Dave’s compound for a couple of weeks because it was convenient for the semi truck.  Dave is running a crew of at least 18 out here at the lakebed, most are volunteers.  Danny and Jack are old-timers, they’ve been out here for years. Matt, the Texas Jesus, (you would understand if you saw him) works for Dave fulltime, as does Shannon and Chris.  There’s a big contingent from Washington state here, Matt, Travis, Noah, and several others.  Shawn is here from Utah, Simon is here from Tucson, but the hero of the lakebed this week is Tina.  Tina is Travis’s wife and she is responsible for feeding the staff.  She is working hard to serve three meals a day to all of those boys, and man can they eat.  I got to sit next to her and listen to her schedule, she’s spending 14 hours a day cooking for this crew.

All the boys are singing her praises, the food is fresh and homemade.  I listened to them talk about how they ate last year and there is no comparison.  Usually everyone loses 10 to 15 pounds these two weeks, based on the amount of work that is being done and the lack of food.  One of the guys described it as his new year’s resolution – how do you lose weight after the first of the year – work at the hammers.  Tina has changed all that, these boys are eating better then they eat at home.

It’s been interesting listening to the radio, Dave is doing a great job running his crew, he thanks them profusely and from what I can tell, they all feel well appreciated.  I’m proud of him, it is awesome to see people be appreciated for a job well done.  Building Hammertown isn’t an easy task and these people are working hard for everyone to enjoy the race.  Only 12 more days, stay with me and watch this community grow.

Oh, and the petition I asked you to sign yesterday, we made it – 25,000 signatures in just 12 days -thanks to all for your help.

 

 

Day 251 – King of the Hammers T-13

ohvA dozen staffers, half a dozen motorhomes, a satellite tower, eight light towers, three big tents, two miles of perimeter fence, a campfire.  Hammertown is starting to take shape.  The Means Dry Lake bed is the home of the largest Ultra4 Rock Race of the year, it’s located in Johnson Valley, California.  We are two hours east of LA, just Northeast of Twenty-nine Palms and Southeast of Barstow.  The area is all desert and mountains, it is desolate and cold and the wind blows.  It’s the typical weather that flows from any high mountain desert area, just wait a few minutes and it will change.  The weather can be clear and blue, then change instantly to overcast and blowing.

Johnson Valley OHV is in a siege at the moment, the Marine Corps is working hard to expand their base at Twenty-nine Palms.  There is a movement afoot to expand west, we as off-roaders, want them to go east instead.  There is ground on both sides of the base, enough to provide the Marines with what they need regardless of which way they go.  Johnson Valley is an OHV designated area by the state of California, it is managed by BLM.  Thousands of people use the OHV area, many of them on a weekly basis.  For the people in our community – the off-road community, this is a fight worth fighting.  We have a saying about public lands…they should stay open to the public.

There are a number of ways that everyone can participate in this fight, organizations that are set up to fight for Johnson Valley,  Save the Hammers.org is one; there is also a petition to get the attention of the White House, there is a two-step process to sign the petition, but it is worth the few minutes it takes.  No guarantees that any action will be taken, but there is always hope.  Let’s take a minute and participate in the process, everyone counts.

Day 272 – Wheelin’ California

johnson valleyJust two days ago we were north of the Phoenix area wheelin’ some virgin ground for a race course, today we spent the day in the California desert wheelin’ some space that is very well known.  Johnson Valley lies east of LA, between 29 Palms and Apple Valley, there is a nice little mountain range with a dry lake bed on it.  It is used primarily by people on motorized vehicles of some sort.  We saw everything today from motorcycles and ATV’s to 650 hp buggies out there.

We played in the sand a little bit with some guys that are testing their vehicles for the big event coming up next month.  The King of the Hammers is a race that happens every February.  It is an Ultra4 event, so we know a ton of people participating, from the promoter to some of the UTV stock guys and a lot of folks in between.  This is the race all aspire to be in.  We will be out there camped on the lake bed for a couple of weeks ourselves.  It’s a great time to spend time with friends from all over the country and to get acquainted with new ones.

Today was purely a social call, we were a little afraid of breaking the Jeep today, so we didn’t play on the rocks.  It just didn’t make sense with our next destination.  We are headed out on a Mexican Riviera cruise for the next week and didn’t want to miss the boat.  My goal is to write every day we are away, but not post until we get to port.  My Mexican Tel-Cel card will work there, and is so easy, even I can do it.  Besides, there will be too much to do to worry about posting too!  Have an awesome week everyone, bon voyage.