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.
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 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
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.
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.
Going Back In Time
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.