Get Locked in for King of the Hammers – the 10th Anniversary of the World’s Toughest Race

King of the Hammers car

The sand flies up in streaming grey serpents of dust, as a loud rumble echoes through Johnson Valley, California. A rodent darts into his hole, startled by over 800 horsepower under the hood of a 4×4 Ultra4 racing truck. After hurtling over 100 miles across the desert, the nimble car takes a run up an incline which would chew up the average race car, and eat the driver for dessert.

The KOH races began on Sunday, January 31st, and will wrap up on Friday, February 5th with the final Nitto King of the Hammers race. Nitto has been sponsoring the King of the Hammers final race for four years running, as well as many of the top drivers.

It takes a special breed of driver to start any of the Ultra4 Racing series of races, and they need a hardcore vehicle to get them through the punishing courses. Boulders, waterfalls, steep vertical inclines, and high-speed straightaways take the four-wheelers and their two-man driving crews to their limits. Road and Track calls the KOH series “the gnarliest racing there is” and you have to be hardcore to even be a spectator for the week.

Some of the favorites to win the Ultra4 4400 series KOH Race include:

  1. Levi Shirley
  2. Derek West
  3. Wayland Campbell
  4. Loren Healy
  5. Jon Gagliero

These are some of the top drivers mid-way through the race week, but after the course takes a pounding, and qualifying takes its toll on the drivers and their cars, you never know what’s going to happen on race day. The two-man driver teams don’t have a chase team, so if they get stuck, or their vehicle breaks down, the driver teams need to get their vehicles back in driving condition, or get out of the way.

Back in 2007, thirteen driving teams competed for a six-pack of beer. A decade later, about 35,000 people brave the heat, relentless sun, and dust to watch in person. About half a million off-road junkies tune in online. The King of the Hammers race is more grueling than any other race. Drivers require a four-wheel drive vehicle, and the skill and gear ratio (as much as 100:1) necessary for the steep inclines and technical rock climbing.

Some popular racing series test drivers’ ability to drive fast, turn left a lot, and avoid collisions with other vehicles. At the King of the Hammers, drivers need to bring a friend, pit their vehicle against the worst Mother Nature has to throw at them, and hope they don’t end up with their wheels facing skyward in a waterfall.


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