[Slideshow] It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King Of The Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

Click Here to BeginIt’s a wild week of racing in the middle of Johnson Valley OHV near Landers, CA. The Nitto Tires King of the Hammers powered by Optima Batteries bills itself as the ultimate one-day race. Dave Cole, owner of Ultra4, promised to make it harder for everyone and he delivered.

The two main races most enthusiasts pay attention to during the week are the Smittybilt Every Man Challenge and the big one, the Nitto Tires King of the Hammers powered by Optima Batteries. However, there is more racing than that with UTVs, Motos, and the Holley EFI Shootout between the East Coast rock bouncers and the West Coast Ultra4s. This temporary town is the Mecca of Off-Road for just seven days, but what a seven-day pilgrimage it is.

While the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center had been a thorn in the side of enthusiasts and Ultra4, things have changed within the last five years. Since 2013, there has been an official policy to not only allow the race to happen but keep Johnson Valley open to all enthusiasts for a minimum of 305 days while for a maximum of 60 days, the Marines would only close off 55,000-acres from the public for exercises.

During the KOH Pre-Show at 4 Wheel Parts in Compton, CA, Dave Cole made a promise that this year’s King of the Hammers wouldn’t be as easy as everyone parroted. He delivered, maybe even going a bit too far. On Wednesday, February 7th, the Can-Am King of the Hammers UTV Race had 115 entries but only 15 would take the checkered flag before running out of time. The win would go to Mitch Guthrie, Jr, who was his father’s co-driver until 2017. Mitch Guthrie, Sr, who had won six of the previous nine UTV races and remains the winningest driver in the class, finished third and sandwiched Branden Sims. Branden was hit by a 15-minute penalty for taking a shortcut.

Thursday, the 8th, would be the day that the Smittybilt Every Man Challengers took their turn on the course. For the first time, the G2 Axle and Gear 4800 Legends and Rubicon Express 4500 Modified classes would start together. In two-by-two formation, pairs would launch in 30-second intervals starting at 8am. However, Bailey Cole, Dave’s son, would not make the start line due to a transmission oil leak. He still got the car going as best he could and would run as support for other drivers who needed help through the day.

Rick Lavezzo would end up rolling over when he took the second turn too tightly. The 4800 Class rig hit the rut on the inside of the turn and rolled on to its roof. His day wasn’t done immediately but he would end up not finishing the race as he wouldn’t continue to his second lap. Another driver who had a bad start to the day was Vaughn Gittin, Jr. Near race mile 12, the car either hit a rock or took a compression wrong and rolled his 4800 Brocky. While he was ok, his co-driver was complaining of back pains and taken to the hospital for observation. Vaughn had planned to get it to the start line of the King of the Hammers, but the damage was too extensive.

The overall winner of the EMC would be Dan Fresh in the number 88 Fox Racing Shocks/Savvy Off Road 4500 Modified Jeep. Incredibly, this is the same Jeep that has taken John Currie to his many wins in the EMC and now has taken Brandon Currie and Dan to wins. Taking second overall and the 4800 Class win was Casey Gilbert, who fought against Dan all day. More impressive, however, was that the Overall Podium would be the first-place finisher of each class. So, not only did Jessi Combs take the Savvy Off Road Jeep to a Pro Comp 4600 Stock Class win but she would take third place overall as well. The shock of the day would happen 10-hours later. Of the 137 drivers entered, only 11 would finish in time as Justin Bodewitz in the 4830 Pro Comp Jeep would finish but just outside his 10-hour cutoff time.

Because of those two races having shorted so many finishers, the King of the Hammers course was altered to allow more vehicle to potentially finish. It showed as out of the 101 drivers entered, 29 would finish before their cutoff time and 32 would eventually cross the line with those last three not making their cutoff window. Every year, it seems like drivers are getting closer and closer to a wheel-to-wheel finish for first. For most of the Hammers, Jason Scherer in the Safecraft 4400 and Randy Slawson in the Bomber Fabrication 4400 were battling side-by-side. One would pass the other and swap places again. Even in between this action, Scherer fixed a transfer case issue and was still able to keep up with Slawson. However, the pass of the race might have been at Backdoor.

As they climbed their way down, Randy was literally feet ahead of Jason. Each driver took the waterfalls in the line that seemed the fastest. At the base of Backdoor, however, Jason took a driver’s right line through the rocks. Before getting to the sand, Jason hit a bolder with his right rear wheel and bounced into the right front wheel of Slawson. While no damage was visibly done, Jason was able to hammer down and take the lead.

For Slawson, however, it would all end on Lap Three with a transmission issue taking him out. This allowed Erik Miller in the Miller Motorsports 4400 to swap into second. However, even with his hard charge in the last minutes of the race it wouldn’t be enough to overcome the 12-minute, 13-second deficit between himself and Scherer. Jason would take the victory and be crowned the King of the Hammers for the second time in his career. Wayland Campbell in the Monster Energy 4400 would take Third Place just 1-minute, 43-seconds behind Miller.

“We had the raw speed in the desert,” said Scherer, “We were trying to save it all the time in the rocks and that’s the balance and that’s the part that’s tricky. We fixed a transfer case in the car, but we never changed a tire. We didn’t have to stop for anything but fuel. It was flawless.”

“It’s bitter sweet,” Miller said, “We built this car all last month pushed it hard to get it here. We pushed ourselves to the limit all day. I woke up feeling like hell and battled that all day. It was a bad luck kind of day. I’m just grateful to be here.”

“It’s been a rough one and I’m glad to be out the car,” Wayland said, talking like he had been through a gut-punch boxing match with the car, “One of the belts has been hitting my sternum and all over I hurt pretty bad. I just tried to catch everyone. I couldn’t see anyone, I just head chatter on the radio about where people were at and then I would try and got faster.“

When Dave Cole made the promise that this year’s King of the Hammers wouldn’t be so easy, he delivered on that promise. While some may have seen it as overkill, a majority raised up to the challenge and overcame. By the time you’ve read this, Hammertown will be gone. The week is over, but people are already talking about 2019. Which is good because, before the race ended, the BLM gave Ultra4 a five-year permit to continue racing. The Ultra4 Season, however, has only just started and will end at the Ultra4 Nitto National Championships in Sparks, NV. Then a few months later we all come back to the tent town in Johnson Valley and crown a King once more.

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

It’s Hammer Time – 2018 King of the Hammers

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