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King of the Hammers ’21- What Nobody is Telling You (Prep #2)

There’s SO many places that write about King of the Hammers- and it’s all USELESS. Everyone just says the same things- long race, big event, world’s toughest, lots of spectators, etc. NOT Helpful. We wish we had somebody to tell us all of the stuff we’re about to tell you.

  1. We’re Going to Complain a Little Longer
  2. Why you NEED to read this IF you plan on racing
  3. The Race
    • How to Survive
    • How to be Recovered (Separate Article)
    • Packing List Tips (Separate Article)
  4. Closeout

Before We Begin…

We have big aspirations when it comes to racing- we intend to, one day, be the best that there is in the UTV field. In order to do this, we only run the best products you can buy. Sedona Tire and Wheel, Warn Winch, and PRP manufacture the highest quality components you can get. We believe in these products to the fullest extent and will continue running these brands long into the future. They keep believing in us and we believe in them- to our primary and secondary sponsors, thank you.

Now let’s do some complaining…

Last year was our first King of the Hammers and, to say the least, was like drinking from a firehose when it came to learning. We read everything we could on the internet relating to the event and scoured YouTube for any and every video relating to KOH as well as the Hammer Trails. The result? Our preparedness paled in comparison to the level which we presumed we were at. Here’s the issue with everyone else’s information:

  1. WAY Too Vague, WAY Too General
  2. Not at All Racer Specific
  3. Pathetically Short
  4. Overly Sugar-Coated

Example #1- most of the information available on this race is overly vague and overly general. “The King of the Hammers is a week-long event that consist of multiple races across multiple classes. The race lasts approximately 8 hours and covers the toughest trails in the country.” This style of writing, and arguably that exact phrase plagues nearly every information source on the KOH. It is so painfully redundant and practically meaningless for you as a racer.

Example #2- No, almost nothing on the internet relating to this race will be intended for you as a racer. If you need to know how practical pit stops are, how intensive the tech inspection is, when recovery efforts begin, where to find bypasses, style of map to use, equipment you need, equipment to immediately get rid of, etc. good luck. Rugged Radios had a pretty solid article by Jon Crowley from 2017- UTV specific but overall MUCH better than anything else, as we found.

Example #3- Writing articles takes time, trust me- I get it. BUT we expected at least one thorough article to discuss racing this notorious event. Nope: most sources I found back in 2019 would reach 3 maybe 4 paragraphs, often succumbing to the exact issues described above. YouTube was pretty helpful in getting an idea of the trails but you need to view non-KOH specific videos. Most of the KOH videos show the desert, the start, chocolate thunder, and back-door: the rest are very hard (if not impossible) for spectators to access and thus, have practically zero race footage for your viewing.

Example #4- Overly sugar-coated. I think the issue here is more-so in people understating the difficulty and not quite elaborating on the use of ‘toughest race’. King of the Hammers is not tough because you have to go over dozens of unrelenting, pure nasty rock trails and overcome7 hours of aggressive driving: King of the Hammers is tough because you possess a 20% chance of finishing and an 80% chance of having your rig towed back in mangled pieces. It will be one of the longest days of your life: the emotional roller coaster of kicking butt, having to rapidly repair your vehicle, kick butt again, break again, etc. is what makes this race so incredible. Comparatively speaking, it will make Moab and the Rubicon Trail look like the teacup ride at Disney World- get ready.

HOW. TO. SURVIVE. (just KOH)

Get Big.

If you’re running 32″ tires, it’s time to consider an upgrade. The course is getting more and more technically significant as the years go by- what was acceptable in 2018 is too easy for 2021, in the eyes of the Ultra4 team. From what we’ve seen, there’s a growing riff between those who run 35 inch tires and 32 inch tires (in the 4900 class). The primary argument for 35 inch tires is that you can drive the car less aggressively to clear the obstacles- obviously the bigger you go, you need to make more considerations for your driveline, hubs, etc. The industry is moving toward the 35 trend, so it may be better to get on the bandwagon early.

Get Big. (or just in shape)

Your codriver will make or break the race for you- even for a 4400 class vehicle, the codriver will be the difference between a recovered vehicle and a finished vehicle. Unless you have spent days prerunning the course, you’re likely going to need a codriver to walk along the car and navigate you through some of the trails. Even if you have a Lowrance GPS with all the waypoints clearly marked, when a competitor’s car is stuck on your path choices must be made. Between the winch-line pulling, constant hiking, and traffic dodging, your codriver WILL be tested. Being in shape and having offroad fluency will be paramount characteristics.

Let’s Talk Maps (bypasses and pitting included too)

There’s really two options here- you can run an iPad with a LeadNav/Avenza style application or you can run a Lowrance (fishing-type) GPS. The iPad will need a cellular connection (wifi or tethered cellular) on the lakebed in order to retrieve the maps from CartoTracks. We went this route last year and had too many issues. Between excessive glare, sensitivity, battery life, obtaining maps, and utilization during the race, the iPad route was a horrible failure for us. We’ve been using a Lowrance for the past couple of months and feel that it is much better oriented for this application. Getting maps is substantially easier as well- with this style of GPS all you have to do is provide the SIM card to the guys at the PCI Race Radios tent for course maps.

Bypasses are an important consideration for the non-4400 classes: you need to prerun to catch these early and avoid the likelihood of missing them during the race. Teams that don’t prerun, a much greater percent than you’d expect, are not privy to these subtle exits and will fall victim to a much more challenging section of race course. Having reliable maps is additionally necessary to this end- keep your codriver glued to those maps. What happens if you slightly miss a bypass? You proceed with the path you’ve chose. There is absolutely no going backwards on course. Everything is tracked and you will be quickly DQ’d if this is determined.

If you just watch the Monster Energy and X Games promotional videos for King of the Hammers, you may be inclined to think that this race is reserved for only the most top tier of race teams. That couldn’t be further from the truth, however. This event is filled with small family teams, like our own, and is made incredible by the variety of people and vehicles that it attracts. BUT if you’re size limited you will be at a significant disadvantage on pitting. Let us explain:

  • Based on last year, your pit crew would NOT be able to make it in time from Pit 1 to Pit 2a before you. What does this mean? No fuel, no parts, no repair crew before the nastiest of the rock obstacles
  • Based on last year, you NEEDED gas at Pit 1.
  • Based on last year, your pit crew was very busy.

Pitting (not quitting)

If you have everything you need at the pit, you can significantly increase your chances of finishing the race. Unlike a short course race, the time limit at KOH is 8 hours: you have time to swap axles, hard-parts, etc. at this event. However, if you don’t have the parts on-hand at the pit your race will end much quicker than those around you. There are lots of things that will end your race at KOH but there are lots of things you can do to get back in the fight.

Running out of gas is a bad way to go. The best strategy is to play it safe and fill up as you pass the pit. In the rocks, you may be idling much longer than anticipated (either due to breakage or traffic) and extend the risk of running out of fuel. This setback substantially complicates your recovery efforts as well because you won’t have much operating time on the winch (no motor means limited battery life).

Ideally, you need to divide your pit crew into two divisions with two separate vehicles. Bear in mind that there are hundreds of pit and spectator vehicles running around the lakebed, leading to congestion and unforeseen complications. The last thing you want to happen is to show up at the pit all alone. Also! Bring a flag or something that your pit can wave to quickly get your attention. There’s going to be hundreds of trucks lined up out there making it difficult to find your crew.

Be Fast BUT Don’t Overdo It

This isn’t your typical short course race: it requires patience, perseverance, and a level-head. You can and will get beat by a much lower horsepower vehicle if you just try to fly full-speed out the gates. Within the first 10 miles of the race, you are going to pass many flipped over or plain-broke vehicles. Don’t be that guy – you’ve worked too hard to get to this point to do that.

This being said, don’t underdo it. You need to qualify well to extend your likelihood of FINISHING. Obviously, this is mandatory to finish well but it is equally relevant to prevent breakage or running out of time. Let us explain: the people in the back of the pack are likely less experienced, less equipped, and less rehearsed. If you qualify in the back of the pack, you are almost certainly going to get caught in the bottleneck portions of the course. Consider Chocolate Thunder from last year (2020), many teams had their races totally ended to no fault of their own. A couple broken/stuck vehicles in the ONLY two viable routes upended the race for everyone behind them. If the cars are too stuck or too broke to move, your just as ruined as they are. Qualifying puts you ahead of these people- take advantage of this.

“If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail”

-Steve Prefontaine

If you took our advice on running 35 inch tires, you’re going to be more susceptible to rollovers. The terrain is very sandy out there and the ruts build-up quick. Consider rolling over in the desert portion of the course- you’re likely near no rocks, expectedly no trees, and no help. Again, be fast but don’t overdo it. Additionally, being in the front of the pack ensures that you have quality guidance for following- you can rest assured that the biggest names in the sport have done their homework on the course and are worth sticking with (if you can).

How about some closing points?

Sometimes nothing quite beats a short and sweet closeout list of needs and thinking points. We want to offer a lengthy article for those interested but we’ll keep it concise (and save some tips for the next article). Food for thought:

  1. Bring an extra winch line: yes, it’s a common failure-prone part in the rocks
  2. Carry lots of additional tow straps for the race- you’ll break alot (try eBay)
  3. Have a dedicated storage spot on your rig for throwing water/straps/etc.
  4. Get a larger antenna and reprogram your radio for unique channels- the preprogrammed rugged channels are swarmed with congestion at KOH
  5. If using a GoPro, wire additional batteries (typical battery life is 1:30)
  6. Earbuds or helmet speakers? Earbuds are clearer but additional wires will get tangled with your codriver constantly going in and out of the car
  7. Bring extra bolts for EVERYTHING
  8. Eat light on the night before the race- we used a meal replacement drink
  9. If this is your first race, follow the rules for tech- the inspection is STRICT (we’ll do an article on this shortly- focus on your safety gear).

Greg Torney View All

Driver of the #428 Draco Motorsports Polaris RZR. Co-Driver for the #804 Can-Am X3 during King of the Hammers. Ultra4!!

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