February 2, 2018 – Johnson Valley California
Last week the off-road community descended on Johnson Valley in the Southern California desert for the 2018 running of the Nitto King of the Hammers powered by Optima Batteries. If you’ve never been, there is only one way to summarize this event; the Burning Man of motorsports.
Ultra 4 Racing in Johnson Valley, California
The first official King of the Hammers race left out of what is now Hammertown on Means dry lakebed in 2008, and every year since then everything about this event has gone further over the top! The race trucks and buggies have progressively gone from heavily-modified rock buggies to a mix of competition rock buggy and trophy truck. The terrain constantly varies from high-speed flat dry lake beds to the extreme-terrain that makes Johnson Valley famous…
The unforgiving rock crawling/bouncing trails aptly named “The Hammers”.
The obstacles have names like Jackhammer, Aftershock, Nightmare, Outer Limits, Chocolate Thunder, Backdoor, Wrecking Ball, and Gatekeeper. If those names don’t indicate the extremity of the terrain, how about the fact that only 29 out of over 100 teams finished this year’s race in the allotted time. That is a 70% failure rate… But no-one on that lake bed is a failure by any measure, this race is just that hard!
Life is pretty good in Hammertown where staff, competitors, and attendees share this dystopian gem in the middle of the California desert.
Means dry lakebed is uninhabited for 11 months of the year until mid-January when Hammertown comes together. Comparing this place to Burning Man is not new by any stretch, 50,000+ people living for a week in the middle of the desert makes it a fair assessment though. With street names, a power grid, internet, and an unmatched staff… this is one of the modern wonders of motorsports. This is only made possible by the community of sponsors, staff, competitors, and attendees that call this place home.
Race week at King of the Hammers
There are 5 classes of 4wd vehicles and 3 moto (cycle) classes that share the lakebed for 9 days. Every day you’ll find teams practicing, qualifying, or racing somewhere around the lakebed. Preparation is key considering the race course varies from year to year. But until race day the course is wide open to anyone looking to test their skills and equipment. At any time you could tackle a trail and without warning, a race-truck could fly up an obstacle you just spent 20 minutes conquering! The famous sections close to Hammertown like Chocolate Thunder and Backdoor are FULL of spectators and competitors all week.
King of the Motos is a 3 part race that starts on a Saturday evening and goes into the night! Motos continue the next morning, finishing in the afternoon. Qualifying begins on the Jeep Proving Grounds midday on Monday with the 4500 and 4800 classes. Once qualified, the teams begin to prep for the 4WD races which begin on Wednesday with the UTV’s.
Thursday brings the Smittybilt Everyman Challenge where the 4500 and 4800 racers tackle the course that will claim the majority of the field in the coming days. This all culminates of Friday in the big show where the 4400 racers compete in the Nitto King of the Hammers powered by Optima Batteries. There aren’t words to describe the racing and drama that takes place on Friday.
What would a dystopian town full of off-road racers be without some vivid night-life? Monday night at 6 pm it kicks off with the Holley EFI Shootout. Rock Bouncers and Rock Crawlers compete in a scramble to the top of an undisclosed mountain of rocks. With breakage, rollovers, flying pieces of rock, and tons of horsepower this is the first and maybe the most destructive race of the week. There are other sanctioned night events like a belly-flop contest on Wednesday night and a poker run on Thursday night.
If the in-town nightlife isn’t enough for you just take a trip out to Chocolate Thunder or Backdoor after dark. Each night you’ll find spectators and hecklers goading drivers on as they attack these parts of the racecourse in every type of vehicle imaginable.
Thursday night is, of course, the “Backdoor Bash”…
Thousands of people line the canyon walls around the 8+ foot ledge known as Backdoor. With an impromptu DJ and consequently a ton of partiers looking on, rock-bouncers and crawlers hit Backdoor with reckless abandon. If you’ve never experienced this night before the race tradition you’re missing out!
Like we were never there.
After the awards ceremony on Saturday, the temporary dissolution of Hammertown begins. Once again this is where the Hammerking Productions team proves they are the best in the business. One of the only reasons we can continue to enjoy an event like this is because the staff literally erases Hammertown and any associated fingerprints from the desert. Anyone who didn’t know about Hammertown would never know it existed just a few weeks later.
The King of the Hammers is an event I have no intention of missing for as long as it continues to happen, and maybe I’ll even compete in a future race…
Congratulations to Jason Scherer, the 2018 King of the Hammers winner!
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