In the morning, the 30-degree Fahrenheit weather is affecting everyone. Everywhere you look, you see people sipping coffee, or standing around with hunched shoulders and face masks. Some breathe into their hands in a futile attempt to warm up. It’s the opening moments before the start of the Ultra4 Smittybilt Every Man Challenge.
But the look of determination is shared among all. In a field comprised of 3 classes – 4500, 4600, and 4800 – there’s plenty of competition to go around. 125 drivers in all, with 30 in 4500, 29 in 4600, and 66 in 4800.
The course is 143 miles long, completed in 2 laps. It’s the same course as the UTV race that happened on Sunday. And when the green flag waves, nobody is sitting still!
At 8am, the green flag dropped. They left in twos, the first being Cade G. Rodd in #4807 and 2018 Baja 1000 champion Cameron Steele in #16.
The first lap took them into the far northeastern reaches of Johnson Valley. Initially, it was a breezy high-speed drive through open desert. Then the drivers passed through a demarcation line into Marine base territory, and then back into BLM land for their first pit stop. Some had bad luck and stopped to swap out busted tires. Others simply refueled and carried on.
It was here that they hit an area known as Cougar Buttes. It was comprised of rocky stretches raised up over the desert, with more crevasses than shrimp in the ocean. It’s a section drivers had to take slowly and steadily, because that’s how one leads the race.
Speaking of leaders, #1950 Logan Goodall led the first lap for much of the driving in this northeast sector. He was trailed by #81 Levi Shirley, who was a good 3-4 miles behind for much of the lap. Behind Shirley was #4838 Seth Van Dyke, whose chase was much tighter than Shirley’s.
By 9:30, an hour and a half into the race, it was clear that Goodall was leading this event. He’d covered 60 of the 125 miles, averaging about 15 minutes between each 10-mile checkpoint.
We caught up with the drivers as they came through Guacamole, a rocky canyon leading toward start/finish. Levi Shirley flew by, followed about two minutes later by Van Dyke.
Mistakes Cost Time
The next point of interest on the map was Backdoor/Resolution. The unforgiving canyon has one of the steepest drops right in the middle, and we caught one driver make his way through only to pick a bad line near the drop, and wind up “turtled.” Luckily, a support vehicle was on hand to winch him up and over.
We stopped back at the media center to get the latest on the race leaders. Goodall was still in the lead by a healthy margin, with Shirley still a good four minutes behind as of race mile 120. These guys were in the second lap by now. The teams were getting into the rocky waypoints east of Hammertown, banging through Fissure Mountain, Upper Sledgehammer, Jackhammer, and eventually, the ever-famous Chocolate Thunder. We opted to head them off at Race Mile 134, and see if we could catch the leaders coming through. Little did we know that it was in the rocky sections that the entire leading pack would change.
Race Mile 134 was a home-stretch sprint in open desert north of Hammertown. We got out there thanks to the free shuttle service courtesy of Ultra4, hopping a ride in Louie Morosan’s 2017 F-250. Louie is the founder of LGE-CTS Motorsports, a high-tier build garage based out of San Dimas, California.
It was about 11am by the time we got there, constantly checking the YB Races app to follow the leaders. It was here that we noticed Shirley had fallen back a few spots, running in fourth, as Van Dyke was now in first, followed by Lovell and Goodall. Goodall, who was leading for miles and miles – over 90 percent of the race – was now out of first place and duking it out with Van Dyke and Shirley.
The Winner’s Circle: Lovell, Van Dyke, & Shirley
We barely got back in time for the winner’s circle, with Lovell taking first place, Van Dyke in second, and Shirley in third. In off-road terms, it was a photo finish for Lovell, as Van Dyke was only 30 seconds behind him!
We stuck around to hear from the winning trio and what they had to say after such a demanding race. “On the whole first lap, we were being cautious, not wanting to kill the truck,” said Lovell. “We got into a sprint race toward the end, and then I started thinking like Ricky Johnson, going as fast as the truck would go.” The Lovell brothers thanked AMSOIL for their sponsorship, as well as BF Goodrich, FOX shocks, Spidertrax, and others.
Next up was Seth Van Dyke. His was a surprising upset, as this marked the first time he’d ever driven in King of the Hammers.
“I pushed it way harder than I ever thought I’d have to drive this car,” he commented. “We pushed, we tried, and man, this chassis is killer. We should’ve destroyed 20 tires out there, but this thing is impressive.” In the end, Seth’s finishing time was a nailbiting 30 seconds behind Lovell: 4 hours, 53 minutes, and 42 seconds. If Van Dyke had only been a little faster, he could’ve had Lovell beat. Still, a remarkable finish for a KOH newbie.
Finally, in third place was Levi Shirley. Levi is just 27 years old, but has been a fixture in Ultra4 racing since 2011, when he was only 18. Coming in third in a race this intense is no small feat, and his longtime second-place hold (following Goodall for much of this race) was still fresh on everyone’s minds.
“We were making good ground initially, but the dust was terrible,” said Shirley. “We were doing well for a while, following Goodall, but once we got into the rocks, it got bad and I made a couple of mistakes. The boulders blocked off favored lines and hung us up. We wound up having to winch a couple of times, and it cost us.”
But Shirley ended on a high note, congratulating Van Dyke and Lovell. “I couldn’t ask for better guys to compete against,” he said. Hearing that kind of sportsmanship and good attitude reinforced our love of the Every Man Challenge, and speaks to the kind of racers that bring their all to this event.
Stay tuned for more KOH coverage this week. We’ll be covering the Toyo Desert Invitational next. We can’t wait to see how these badass trucks do here in Johnson Valley!