As the sun painted the clouds with red and orange over Hammertown, the 11th annual Nitto King of the Hammers powered by Optima Batteries came to life with the low rumble of V8 engines. Race cars had to be staged by 6:30am for an 8:00am start. Pit crews scattered to one of three remote pits along race course as the cars lined up in staging areas. Drivers chatted and joked about the adventure that was about to commence as their navigators ensured the race course and notes were on their navigation systems.
In preparation for the epic battle of Friday’s King of the Hammers, Team GenRight had its ups and downs. During shock tuning the transmission lost reverse. Throughout pre-running the car went through three power steering pumps. Once the car was in a fully functional condition it was a scramble to get the shocks tuned with Fox, but Wayne Isrealsen worked his magic and dialed in the new Fox Shox to make the car handle the speed of the whoops and the suspension needed to pick through the rock trails.
For Tony Pellegrino, owner of GenRight Off Road, this was his 8th consecutive King of the Hammers. After losing a drive shaft in Power Hour qualifying on Tuesday which resulted in a DNF; Tony was starting in 115th position. “Everyone in front of me knows I’m headed for the top of the pack, so hopefully some of the slower known vehicles will be courteous enough to let me by.” Said Tony before the drop of the green flag. In 2011 Tony finished second overall at King of the Hammers, and had his eye on another podium finish for 2017.
Two by two, the Ultra4 cars lined up for take off at the drop of the green flag. Waiting not so patiently was the 4485 GenRight Off Road car of Tony and navigator Chris Rea. As Tom Beebe from Griffin Radiators waved the green flag, it was go time. By race mile one the 4485 had passed four cars, and by race mile five they had picked off another six. “I drove hard. I had to. We started near the back and I wanted the podium finish. I picked our way through cars on the rocks, in flats and in the sand. It was awesome.” Tony said about maneuvering his way through 104 cars to finish 11th overall.
The Ultra4 King of the Hammers race was three laps consisting of desert racing, rock trails and sand hills. Lap one took the field of 122 cars west of Hammertown and skirted along the Marine Base for 46 miles, then actually turned onto the 29 Palms Marine Base for eight miles, off the Base and onto a go-fast section across Melville Dry Lake Bed, then climbing to the top of Resolution and dropping down Backdoor, continuing over Short Bus, and into the short course in Hammertown. Lap two took competitors through the rock trails, and lap three mirrored lap two but added in Spooners and Outer Limits, then up Jack and down Jack North. If at this point you are wondering if Ultra4 racing has some of the most unique names for trails, you are correct. Laps two and three also included trails named Chocolate Thunder, Wrecking Ball, and Full of Hate.
“We passed Jessi Combs on lap 3 somewhere on Fissure Mountain, and she passed us back on Jack North. It was a cat and mouse game with a couple of drivers, but for the most part we were just picking off cars.” Explained Chris.
“We had a couple of oh-shoot moments. I’m still not sure how we bicycled the car for 40 yards in Spooners and didn’t flop. In Aftershock on one of the laps I had to use a lot of throttle to get us out of a situation because I cut a downhill turn too early on the bypass above the Z turn. That could have gotten ugly as we heard an EMC car rolled there doing the same thing. And on Jack we had to winch. Actually, everyone was winching. The car held together great! The engine is pretty pissed but the Fox Shox were great through the checkered flag” Explained Tony regarding how their race went.
Fifty cars finished this years Nitto King of the Hammers powered by Optima Batteries race, which is less than half the field that started. King of the Hammers is considered to be the hardest race in North America. Tony Pellegrino driving the 4485 finished 11th passing 104 cars in eight hours, twenty minutes.
King of the Hammers week had seven days of racing action with over 450 competitors from around the world entered to stake their claim within KOH week. GenRight Off Road has been a proud sponsor of King of the Hammers for the last eight years, and the sponsor of the KOH Experience the day after the race.