The Ultra4, King of the Hammers Powered by Optima Batteries race, is arguably the most demanding off-road race on the planet. Referred to as the toughest single day off-road race on Earth, it has now become a week-long event with incredible action taking place every day.
Shannon Campbell is the first and only racer to take a third King of the Hammers crown. Having his Son Wayland on the podium in second for the UTV race and the main event, made 2017 an incredible year for the Campbell family.
Held on the infamous “Hammers” trails in Johnson Valley, California, the race has events for bikes, UTV’s, four-wheel-drive trucks, and the unlimited Ultra4 cars. Without a doubt, this year’s event was dominated by the Campbell family, Father Shannon, Mother Tammy, Son Wayland, and Daughter Bailey from Gilbert, Arizona.
A new trail for 2017 was Full of Hate. High up on the mountain above Claw Hammer, you can see Upper Big Johnson in the background. Jeremy Schneider is seen here picking his way through the boulders.
A huge part of the rock crawling and rock racing scene from the beginning, Shannon Campbell took his third King of the Hammers crown, the only driver to accomplish that feat.
On The Lake Bed
Bailey Campbell was the early leader during Wednesday’s Can-Am UTV King of the Hammers race. Here she leads Dad Shannon down Backdoor. Eventually, Shannon would take the win with Bailey’s Brother Wayland in 2nd.
Competing for the first time ever in the UTV race, Shannon took the victory there as well. All three Campbell family drivers, Shannon, Wayland, and Bailey raced in the UTV race. Bailey had the early lead but ran into an issue that dropped her to 15th position. Shannon won, with Wayland finishing second.
Amazing results, but it didn’t end there. During the Ultra4 race on Friday, the final 20 miles or so saw an intense battle between Shannon and Wayland, who was first across the line. At times, they were side by side. Literally driving the wheels off his car to beat his Son.
Jessi Combs (top left) brought Gerald Lee’s SAVVY Offroad Jeep home to a 12th place finish making her the highest placed female in the race. Josh Blyler’s (top right) Miller Motorsports built Jeep looks rusty but those are only graphics. Blyler was anything but rusty; taking the 6th place finishing position. Tony Pellegrino (bottom left) started 115th off the line and finished in an amazing 11th place. Here he avoids a stuck vehicle by turning uphill in loose rocks and letting the Genright car eat it up. Drifting and automotive mayhem video star Vaughn Gittin Jr. (bottom right) was back for another try at KOH. He was gitting it up a steep hill trying for a pass when he rolled Brocky. He says he will be back next year.
Shannon crossed the finish line with three tires and a bare rim. It took everything he could muster, but the effort gave him the win on corrected time by a scant 28 seconds. It was incredible, amazing, and well deserved.
Shannon Campbell’s will to win goes beyond most. He chased Son Wayland through the desert for miles literally driving the wheels off. On three Nitto’s and a bare wheel, he edged out Wayland to win by 28 seconds. He shows what it takes to be the first to earn three KOH crowns.
Going Back In Time
With only a few miles to go on lap three, Shannon Campbell is in hot pursuit of his Son Wayland just ahead. They are both about to blow past no. 725 Chris May who has no idea what is about to descend upon him.
In order to fully appreciate what Shannon Campbell has accomplished, you have to go back to the very beginning of Ultra4/King of the Hammers (KOH). Shannon was not an OG-13 member, the group of drivers who met on the lakebed in 2007 to see if it was even possible to run several Hammers trails in a single day; all for a 12 pack of beer.
He was instrumental in creating what we have today by winning the first organized race in 2008 in a car he built in his own Campbell Enterprises shop. Shannon started dead last and won the event in 2008.
Shannon Campbell went from dead last to win the crown in 2008 in this rock crawling buggy. An early pioneer of independent suspension, it would be the last time he would compete at KOH in a front straight axle car. Shannon Campbell was a stand out in rock crawling long before he became a three-time King of the Hammers winner. His beautifully designed and constructed cars and competitive streak have led to great success.
“We had a dream that KOH would be a huge event, but not much else,” said Dave Cole who founded KOH with Jeff Knoll, “Jeff knew that I wrote code and asked me to write a program to organize a virtual race. Competitors would run the trails and then upload their tracks to prove who did it faster. The problem was that it could be easily rigged by inputting false data. Instead, we set out to do the race as an actual event. It took a lot of work and some creative solutions to make it happen.”
Wayland Campbell annihilates a sandy corner on lap three with the TV helicopter filming overhead. Hobie Smith, one of the original OG-13 drivers, was producing the event coverage for NBC-TV. The huge scale of the mountains and desert in Johnson Valley that contain the KOH course make it a truly unique venue to hold the race.
Sunrise over Hammer town on race morning was a spectacular way to start the toughest off-road race on Earth.
After word got around of the OG-13 run, there was interest in the race but how much was not known. Dave told everyone the race would be limited in entries so everyone should sign up. In order to create interest, he made it exclusive. In fact, every competitor who signed up was told the spots were full and that they were on a waiting list. That way if they could not pull it off, nobody would be upset.
Clay Gilstrap had an excellent race finishing in the 9th spot. Here he drops down Full of Hate trying to outrun eventual race winner Shannon Campbell on his tail.
Once they had enough drivers to pay the cost of the permit, it was on. As it is with all things, there were naysayers. One thought being bandied around was that you could not start in the back and win. Shannon Campbell blew that right out of the water with his last to first win.
Two-time and defending King Erik Miller was in the hunt all day and finished in fourth place behind another former King, Jason Scherer in third.
“We drew for starting positions the morning of the race,” said Dave Cole, “We were getting down to the last couple of names left when I noticed we had more drivers than names in the hat. I asked that anyone whose name had not been called to raise their hands. Only Shannon and one other driver raised their hands. With only one slip of paper, I only had to pull that slip out as the final draw. Thinking back on it, I think Shannon didn’t put his name in for the drawing. Despite how the drawing went for Shannon, his win that day completely silenced the idea that you had to start up front in order to win. It was a huge victory for Shannon and for KOH.”
Fans look on during the Hour of Power qualifying event on Wednesday. Many fans come to Johnson Valley to recreate during the year. They range from UTV drivers to hardcore 4 wheelers. Tha Hammers trails were originally created by 4 Wheel Drive clubs like the Tinbenders and the Victor Valley 4 Wheelers. Many families come to KOH each year to compete or take in the spectacle. Here (right) three generations of fans watch the race from their lofty perch.
The volunteers and recovery crews really work hard to make the race what it is. Hat’s off to the KOH crews!
Shannon has been back every year driving a creation built by his own hands. His cars always look top notch and are filled with the latest technology. He was one of the first to adopt an independent front suspension.
While KOH cars come in all shapes and sizes, Campbell cars are big, loud, and burley; they scream, I will crush you. One reason Campbell Enterprises cars are thought of that way is the aggressive driving done by Shannon and now Wayland.
Levi Shirley ran a good race in his Campbell Enterprises car. He finished a very respectable 7th place overall.
A warm and humble man, Shannon turns into an absolute animal one he gets behind the wheel. No line is too tough to drive and nothing will stand in his way. You can usually tell when he is within a mile by the liberal use of horsepower and the cheers from the crowd. His immense popularity with the fans comes from his actions both in and out of his rig.
One of the most endearing traits of all Campbell’s is their down to earth nature and willingness to help everyone. At last year’s event, Wayland was running out front when he broke a driveshaft on Sledgehammer.
After breaking his rear driveshaft on Sledgehammer in 2016, Wayland Campbell literally pitched in to help Sister Bailey get over the waterfall; then assisted many of his competitors until he could fix his own car and continue on to a 15th place finish.
He was stuck right in the preferred line near the top of the canyon. While he waited for parts to arrive, he pitched in to help spot and winch fellow competitors; even though every car he assisted put him further back in the pack. Despite his situation, he got his car repaired and finished the race 15th overall.
Shannon finished the race in fourth, with Bailey right behind in fifth. Being the first to win three crowns and Wayland and Bailey progressing quickly, The Campbell family’s legacy will continue to grow for many years.
Jason Scherer was the fastest qualifier again in his Safecraft Safety Equipment car. When it comes to all out speed, nobody is faster.
Despite the Campbell family’s dominating performance this year, KOH was as always, a finicky race where anything could happen. There were three other former Kings with two wins vying to be the first to pull off the hat trick; Loren Healy with wins in 2010, and 2014, Randy Slawson, 2013, and 2015, and Erik Miller who won in 2012, and 2016. Healy went out early with a blown engine, Slawson ran into problems and finished 50th after battling for over 13 hours, and Miller was 4th, right behind another previous king, Jason Scherer in third.
Ultra4 is expanding to China and several teams were here to compete. Binglong Lu no. 92 (left) catches some air during qualifying on Wednesday. JP Gomez (right) has quickly become a threat to take the win at King of the Hammers. He finished in 5th place.
The baddest mustache in the race, Tom Wayes, had a good lead on lap two, but had issues that dropped him to the 22nd spot. Other stand out families who competed at this year’s event where the Gomez brothers, and the Pellegrino’s. JP Gomez was running in the front pack all day and finished 5th. Brother Raul Gomez came home in 10th. The third Gomez Brother Marcos, qualified 25th but failed to finish the race. Raul’s son Darian competed in the UTV race where he finished 17th.
Raul Gomez (top left) charges towards the finish on lap three. He spent nearly eight hours on the course en route to a 10th place finish. Tom Wayes (top right) runs too fast not to put together a win sometime soon. He was the first one down Full of Hate on lap two but had issues that dropped him to 22nd place at the finish. Cody Waggoner (bottom left) leans his Lasernut car through a corner with only 10 miles to go. He finished the day in 8th place. Jason Scherer (bottom right) in full kill mode on lap one. Always fast and an excellent rock crawler, many think he is overdue for another crown. It will have to wait until next year; he earned a third place podium finish.
After Jordan Pellegrino finished 2nd in the Smittybilt Every Man Challenge Rubicon Express class 4500 on Thursday, Jordan’s Father Tony climbed from the 115th starting position to finish just outside the top ten in 11th place.
Every single competitor at King of the Hammers has their own story to tell of sacrifice, accomplishment or failure; it’s the nature of the beast. If you have been to the race, you know. If you have not, you owe it to yourself to witness the most incredible event on the planet. To see where everyone stacked up, complete finishing results can be found at the Ultra4 website.