If Mad Max put on an off-road race it would be exactly like King of the Hammers. The race was founded by off-road enthusiast Dave Cole and Jeff Knoll as the ultimate desert race. The race derives its name from the particularly brutal set of rock trails/mountain climbs surrounding Johnson Valley, CA referred to as “The Hammers”. A fitting name because no matter what type of vehicle you build it will end up either totally broken or “Hammered”. Nearly thirty-thousand people make their home in Johnson Valley for the week of the events leading up to the race. Straight out of a scene from the 1985 film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Hammertown, the temporary city built on a dry lakebed creates a post-apocalyptic setting for the epic race. The Thunderdome refers to a gladiatorial arena where conflicts are resolved by a duel to the death. Simply put, two men enter, one man leaves. This race exemplifies this theme perfectly; kill or be killed. This race has a desert stretch that features short choppy high-speed whoops that tear cars up combined with the biggest, most punishing rocks, and rock trials climbing straight up over mountains! This race has forced racers to build evolutionary off-road vehicles specifically for this race that can tackle for both high-speed open desert and slow technical rock crawling. And as if one race wasn’t enough, the week leading up the race has two days of last chance qualifiers, and every man challenges, a UTV race and the newly spawned King of the Motos, where 20+ of the best enduro-bike racers start in a landrush straight up a rocky mountain!
Heading up the Monster Energy team effort is rock crawling legend and multi-time champion, Shannon Campbell. The two-time KOH champion, Shannon has lead the evolution of this race as a racer and a builder being one of the first to successfully build and race an independent axle 4-wheel drive off-road super buggy that is capable of speed excess of 120mph yet able to climb over mountains laced with boulders. Short Course Champion Casey Currie is also racing King of the Hammers in a custom built Shannon Campbell built car. Casey has placed 2nd twice, his focus is the overall win. Rounding out the team is enduro bike legend and multi-time champion Destry Abbott, here to tackle the newly spawned “King of the Motos.”
No need to qualify for King of the Motos, as the race would begin with all 21 bikes in a land rush start. As if that weren’t difficult enough; the competitors were not given a route map until 20 minutes prior to the race. “I practiced extreme, gnarly stuff because I’ve ridden the desert so I know how to go fast there. The tight stuff where the extreme trials guys were going to be fast at was my weak link.” stated Destry. with no outside assistance, it was a test of endurance as racers had to constantly push and pull their 200 lb bikes up a jagged mountain. Three hours into the race, Destry had to take 5-minute breaks to calm his heart rate and depleted body. Destry has raced ISDE all over Europe and has raced the most extreme stuff, but he rates this race in the top 3 most challenging courses he has ever raced. Destry finished the race in 3:29:16, claiming a 3rd place podium finish.
Qualifying for KOH took place on one of the most famous Hammers trail, Chocolate Thunder. Thousands gathered to watch racers snake through one of the most brutal rock crawling sections of the course. Only 110 of the 134 racers finished the 2.3-mile loop, with times ranging from 5-15 minutes. Rollovers, flat tires, and mechanical carnage tormented racers all day, as many drivers had to bust out their wenches to pull themselves forward through the rocks. Shannon Campbell accelerated up Chocolate Thunder and finished 3rd, while Casey Currie would begin in the middle of the pack in 85th position due to mechanical issues.
Race day was a dust party. As racers went off the line side by side, thick dust began to linger in the morning air. Smoking his competitor off the line, Shannon Campbell looked to have a promising start. Only two other guys were ahead of him, but without the wind, as in previous days, the course turned in to a nightmare fast. “You couldn’t literally see 10 feet in front of you. I kept wiping my GPS off, wiping my lens off, but you just gotta keep going,” said Campbell. Near the start, Shannon took a wrong turn and got lost, falling back in the process. After getting back on course and battling even more dust now, Shannon battled through mechanical issues including ripping a brake line off and running flats down to the wheel. Falling as far back as 30th, Shannon still managed to take an impressive 3rd place with a time of 6:33:40.
Casey Currie rounded out the top 10, finishing with a time of 8:16:04. “The hardest part about King of the Hammers is just finishing. I don’t care about any 170 competitors. It’s about taking yourself and your car 160 miles without ever stopping, without getting flat tires, or without breaking, and keeping the momentum going all day long,” said Currie. Only 49 of 134 racers would see a checkered flag and to come from 85th to 10th is an amazing feat. “To come that far is an amazing feeling. I’m stoked. We finished. 2013, I’m coming back and going to be ready to do it all over again.”
Congratulations to all three Monster Energy athletes for completing the 2012 King of the Hammers.
Photos by Jason Zindroski for Mad Media