The Long Road
The anticipation ahead of an event like the King of the Hammers is monumental, to say the least. Day in and day out we tediously reconstructed the X3 for such race: in doing so, we turned every nut and bolt on the car, welded countless beads for structural rigidity, and ensured the contingency of every mechanism in the event of a failure. To us, this event was the ultimate proving grounds for our ability as mechanics and as drivers. In consideration of the event as a whole, we had many more successes than we did failures. Our work was not in vain- it is merely the beginning of a long path to victory.
Attitude and Composure- The Keys to Success
Anxious to prove the vehicle we had constructed, we arrived at Johnson Valley as fast as we could. Our drive spanned over 17 hours- we were exhausted and yet, simultaneously full of energy. Tech inspection, our first with Ultra4, went very smoothly. With the exception of needing leather race shoes, we were immediately cleared to enter the course for pre-running.
An Unfortunate Turn of Events
Within approximately 1 mile of starting the course, we severed our upper passenger control arm. This was immediately noticed by a violent right-turning tendency: had we pressed much further, we would have likely lost a ball joint and hub. Our attempts to limp the vehicle back necessitated a temporary fix for the arm. We tried using the winch to pull the control arm back together as well as using our spare-tire ratchet strap to do the same: ultimately, both attempts failed. Greg trekked back to Hammertown, on foot, in an attempt to procure a new arm. Luckily the team at S3 Powersports directed him to Cory Sappington with Desert Toyz- Cory had a single passenger control arm with a pre-pressed ball joint. Greg rushed back into the desert on the pit vehicle and delivered the part- from there, we assembled the front end and drove the car back to camp. Our entire first day was lost and, for the beginning of that night, we spent significant time solidifying the driver-side arm.
Draco Doesn’t Quit
The night before qualifying we were restructuring our control arms to ensure survival in the actual race- having not tested this new setup (not knowing how it would hold up), we qualified at a very conservative pace (89 out of 144). At this point, we were in- the car was still together and with qualifying complete we were in the running for the actual event.
The morning of the race was an incredible feeling: we were so ready and yet, so unknowing of the course to come. We hadn’t pre-run an ounce of the actual course: the rock obstacles, the desert, nothing! As every other competitor had done, we lined up on the streets of Hammertown at 7:00 AM. Funny enough, the car we were starting next to was numbered 805- hows that for a coincidence!
Waiting for the flag drop, we briefed a plan for the start of the race: hold back nothing and get out front. Racing in a dust cloud, behind your competitor, is a horrible experience and was not something we planned on doing. With this in mind, we rocketed out of the gates- racing past the crowds of spectators. Many cars fall within the first several miles of the event- between the first 10 miles, we passed around 10 vehicles. Once we got into the desert, we began passing people with ease- our setup was able to handle 75 miles per hour over massive whoops and ruts. Since we do not run oversize injectors we were able to make a pit stop at pit 1 after Cougar Buttes, giving us the advantage of sustained momentum.
A Change of Pace
Entering the second lap of the course, we knew of the dangers to come. The Hammer trails are some of the toughest, most unforgiving trails in the nation- they make the Rubicon Trail and much of Moab look like a ride at Disney World. Driving these trails, especially in a racing environment, requires patience, an active co-driver, and one tough rig.
Backdoor is the first of these obstacles- this year the drop was roughly 13 feet tall. Many vehicles flip over this obstacles, luckily we had no difficulty! Approximately 20 miles away, nestled in lap 2, is the first of the notorious Hammer trails- Aftershock. Coming straight out of the desert our mindset was not quite setup for the rocks- we made a single bad decision and found ourselves high-centered on a boulder. In an attempt to free ourselves of this rock, we lost a U-Joint on our front axle.
Decisions to Be Made
3-wheel drive is a very bad place to be- it behaves nothing like a 4-wheel drive configuration thus leaving the X3 with a severely limited rock-crawling ability. Believing that the Can-Am OEM U-joints with Summers Brothers shafts were ‘bullet-proof’ we had no spare on the vehicle. This forced us to rely heavily on our winch and required excessive throttle inputs to bounce over obstacles. On a course with 144 race vehicles, this task was much more difficult in practice. Other competitors were indifferent to our situation and, by constantly driving around us, heavily impeded our flow through ‘Aftershock’. Needless to say, we lost a substantial quantity of time with this setback. To further obstruct our progress, our Demon Powersports rear axle let go and effectively halted any remaining drive-ability of the car. On the 2 remaining axles, we crawled into pit 2b for extensive service.
Revival Racing- An Incredible Alliance and Group of Individuals
Our 2020 partnership with the Revival Racing team was invaluable, to say the least. These guys were awaiting us at pit 2b and, in NASCAR-like fashion, swapped both axles out in a mere 15 minutes. Full fuel, fresh axles, and mass-adrenaline was all we needed- with this, we set off to see just how far our vehicle would take us. At this point, we knew what needed to be done: we began bashing the X3 into boulders, bouncing over car-sized pieces of granite, and dropped down waterfall-line ledges without second thought. Unfortunately, we forgot that our tires were aired down to 6 psi and, after a small stretch of rough terrain, blew a tire with our pace. In changing the tire, we blew out our jack as well! Fortunately, we it was high enough upon destruction to swap tires out. Under the time constraints we resumed our pace, passing through ‘Jack North’, ‘Sledge Hammer’, ‘Her Problem’, ‘Idle Issues’, and ‘Chocolate Thunder’. The car was handling incredible and, before time had ended, managed to traverse 127.5 out of 143 total course miles.
Nearly Stranded on ‘Wrecking Ball’, a Long Night
We hadn’t eaten anything in over 10 hours, barely consumed any water, and were finally feeling the effects of fatigue from this race at the point of sunset. Unfortunately, our determination to finish left us nearly stranded on ‘Wrecking Ball’ in utter darkness. Descending ledges and monster boulder gardens at night is a surefire way to transform a racecar into salvage and can lead to serious personal injury- we were conflicted solely due to a potential 20 mile hike into camp (leaving the car on the course until the next morning). After all of our work, in the race and on the car, we were not going to leave anything or anybody behind: the car was coming with us one way or another.
A Stranger’s Tip
With our limited GPS capability, we initially decide to continue the course in darkness and rendezvous at the second intersection of pit 2b. After 20 minutes of upward progress, a fellow competitor was hiking along and warned us of the impending terrain- he advised that we turn around and work our way down the mountain, off of course. Using this information, we radioed our pit members and local search crews of our intentions. Over the next hour, we crawled down the mountain and finally met a group of searchers near the bottom: we almost rolled a handful of times and continued to bash the vehicle against the nasty terrain. Miraculously, the car was still running and suffered no further mechanical damage.
Our Equipment- (Most) Everything Worked So Well
Without a doubt, we are so thankful for the opportunity to run Sedona tires on our X3. The Rock-A-Billy is a phenomenal tire that is up to the task of a massive span of terrain. In the rocks, it gets incredible traction (especially around 10 psi) and yet, in the desert the tire is able to traverse miles on end and show minimal signs of wear. We love the low weight of the tire and our blown away by the durability offered. Expect to see us running the 32″ Rock-A-Billy at other events due to this beautiful characteristics.
Safety equipment is so important BUT it has to be comfortable: otherwise, nobody will ever want to use it. Our PRP seats were so comfortable we had zero fatigue after 12 hours of sitting- additionally, the containment is a massive benefit in the rocks as it prevents body sway. Having used other brands of harnesses, we were absolutely floored by the advantage of PRP 5-points. They are phenomenally plush and, combined with the HANS taper, you nearly forget that they are there. Undoubtedly, however, harnesses need to stay tight. We’ve used other brands that do not do this very well and, from this, are beyond impressed with the PRP latching mechanisms. After using their equipment, there’s no way we would ever try anything other than PRP.
Warn Winch is arguably the single greatest reason why our X3 is with us now- the AXON 5500 possesses ridiculous amounts of power. At times, our winch was pulling the vehicle over 5 foot tall boulders- we’ve never seen a winch handle the amount of abuse that our Warn was able to take. Of all the equipment to skimp on, do not skimp on your winch- it’s the best insurance policy one can have in the rocks. Trust Warn- you won’t regret it!
Our Method Race Wheels worked phenomenally well over this event: the 15” wheels prevented rock intrusion between the trailing arms and added incredible stability to the vehicle with the low offset (5-1) spacing. The Mishimoto Race Radiator and J-Line intercooler kept temperatures insanely cool during the event- the charge air for the turbo helped keep the power high and the temperatures on our Can-Am gauge were consistently between 1 and 2 bars for the radiator.
SuperATV is a huge element of our chassis- we use their radius rods, trailing arms, ball joints and control arms. Shy of the control arm fluke at the beginning, these components served us incredibly well. Liqui Moly lubricants kept the engine and differential running strong- we’re confident that the oil will look just fine upon the next change. Our Trinity Sandblaster belt stayed together for the entire 127.5 miles of our race as well as through the qualifying event- it had ambient air temperatures at around 130 degrees Fahrenheit for the majority of the race. The Rugged Radios equipment (RM-60 radio and 660 intercom) held up very well and enabled clear communication between the car and pits. The KC Hilites equipment worked phenomenally well and directly contributed to a safe recovery while we worked our way down through ‘Wreckingball’ at night. We are so thankful for all of your support and look forward to further testing all of the aforementioned equipment throughout the rest of our race season!
Driver of the #428 Draco Motorsports Polaris RZR. Co-Driver for the #804 Can-Am X3 during King of the Hammers. Ultra4!!