Each Class On The Podium At Smittybilt Everyman Challenge

The Smittybilt Everyman Challenge at the Ultra4 King of the Hammers race in Johnson Valley California has three separate classes all competing at the same time. Usually, the Rubicon Express Modified Class 4500 trucks, and the even more modified 4800 Legends class trucks leave the restricted Pro Comp Stock Class 4600 trucks in the dust.

Kyle Wickham takes his 4800 Legends class car to a tenth place finish at the Smittybilt Everyman Challenge.

Fourth place overall Jeren Gunter (left) lifts a wheel in the rocks at the Smittybilt Everyman Challenge. The no. 4517 of Jesse Oliver (right) has a wheel out of alignment due to steering damage during the EMC.

Stock Trucks Are Very Popular

Despite a flat front tire, no. 4674 Joe Shilliday tries to hold off no. 4679 Daniel Day-Applegate in the white Jeep, and no. 4675 Alex McNeil coming down the hill behind. None would make it to the finish line in time.

The stock class trucks are very similar to what many drive for recreation on the weekends; factory engine, stock frame, full body, single shock per wheel, and 35-inch tall DOT approved tires. At this year’s race, Jessie Combs broke the mold by driving a Savvy Offroad built Jeep Wrangler to the 4600 class win and 3rd place overall. She started 57 off the line out of the total 137 competitors that were racing; making her drive to the podium even more impressive.

The big vintage Ford of Harley Aigner competes in the modified class at the Smittybilt Everyman Challenge

Baja 1000 Winner Takes Overall In First rock Race

Dan Fresh and Mike Kim in the Savvy Offroad Jeep take the overall win at Smittybilt Everyman Challenge.

First overall finisher at EMC was Baja 1000 winner Dan Fresh. He drove the infamous no. 88 Savvy Offroad built truck to another 4500, and overall race victory. Fresh and co-driver Mike Kim from Fox Shocks approached Gerald Lee of Savvy to see if they could run the car at KOH. Fresh has tons of desert racing experience but is new to the rocks. He credits the Savvy crew for getting him up to speed quickly in his new discipline; rock racing.

Savvy Offroad owner Gerald Lee congratulates Dan Fresh on his overall win at the Smittybilt Everyman Challenge.

“We came into this thinking if we can get a top 20, or a top 10, that would be just awesome,” said Fresh, “It was typical off-road Baja style. We just kept persevering. We didn’t know exactly where we were all day. We had an amazing, amazing team though, the guys really know their stuff at Savvy. I got to pre-run a few weeks ago. We spent a few days in the rocks, they said ‘you’ll do good in the desert but you’ll have a tough time in the rocks. You’re going to have to winch a lot.’ My co-driver Mike was on it though, he’d start winching, and we kept the car moving. We never stopped the car from moving.”

John Currie driving the Savvy Offroad Jeep to the Smittybilt Everyman Challenge overall win in 2014

A long list of talented drivers has won in the no. 88, (including Jessie Combs), the amazing Jeep is just a solid race truck and has won every time it has been raced in the Everyman Challenge.

The 4800 Legends class winner and 2nd place overall went to Casey Gilbert. Gilbert has been coming to KOH for seven years having raced in the 4400 class for two years, and then five years doing EMC; three in the 4800 class, and two years in the stock class.

Casey Gilbert picks his way through the rocks and carves through the deep sand in Johnson Valley at the 2018 Smittybilt Everyman Challenge.

“EMC is special because fans can relate to the guys wheeling out here a little bit better,” said Gilbert, “They can relate their trucks to ours, and the fan base is cool. They hoot and holler when you go by. That’s important to me. That’s’ why we do it. It’s what makes it fun. We come out here as prepared as we can be, but it doesn’t matter. You can have a failure ½ mile off the line. It’s a one in a million chance to win this race.”

Casey Gilbert leans out his window to read the names of his sponsors on the podium at the Smittybilt Everyman Challenge.

Gilbert must have thought the odds were long because he failed to commit his sponsor’s names to memory. As he was interviewed on the podium after his win, he got the crowd laughing as he unabashedly hung out his window and read their names from the decals on the side of his truck. Casey epitomizes the everyman in the Smittybilt Everyman Challenge.

The last two years Brothers Brad, and Roger Lovell have taken the legends class and the overall win at the EMC. This year their luck ran out after they suffered parts failure. There is no crew support allowed outside the pits, so competitors have to make repairs in the field, or get the broken parts to one of the pit areas for repair. “

The Lovell Brother, Brad and Roger, have won the Smittybilt Everyman Challenge two years straight in 2016, and 2017.

We broke the front link leaving the main pit area,” said Lovell, “We had to remove it and run it to the pit to weld it, and also grab a new driveshaft. It also put a hole in the oil pan that we patched with a zip tie and some JB Weld. It cost us about an hour and a half.” Despite his setbacks, Brad Lovell still finished the race 4th place in 4800, and sevent place overall.

The Smittybilt Everyman Challenge was designed to make racing at King of the Hammers in grasp of your everyday racer. Many of the trucks racing are built by the driver in their own garage on a tight budget.

Drifting star Vaughn Gittin Jr. has raced the Smittybilt Everyman Challenge the last two years in his custom early Ford Bronco.

Each class has rules that ensure a level playing field, making the EMC a true drivers’ race. It’s no wonder why the Legends class is one of the fastest growing classes at KOH with close competition at every race. Drifting star Vaughn Gittin Jr was captivated with the EMC two years ago. He showed up last year with a trick looking early Ford Bronco race truck. He has not been able to finish the race yet, (there were only 12 who completed the course in the allotted time this year), but that’s due to the brutal rock trails and punishing desert in Johnson Valley.

Despite having the fastest cars ahead of her, Jessie Combs proved you can start in the back with a stock class truck and still stand on the overall podium. She was the 59th truck off the line in the morning, and worked all the way through the pack to take the stock class victory and 3rd place overall.

“After we did pretty well in the modified class last year, I looked at Gerald and was like, why don’t we build me a stock car because we will then have wins in modified, unlimited and stock,” said Coombs, “I’m still racing tomorrow, (in the 4400 class) and I’m still aiming for the podium; even though I’m in the back of the pack. Racing in the stock class is a totally different animal. You have to finesse these vehicles so much more. We are on 35 inch tires running pretty much what everyone runs on their daily drivers. You’re really taking it back to the roots. It’s a driver’s class. You have to be able to make your car go through and not break; that’s the hardest part.”

Check out this trick early Toyota pick-up bodied race truck belonging to Taran Halarewich.

After some grumbling that the course was too easy last year, Ultra4 owner Dave Cole set out to make this year’s challenge a lot tougher. He did a great job silencing the naysayers. Only twelve drivers in total were able to complete the Everyman Challenge course in the allotted time. In any year, just making it to the finish of this race in one piece is a major accomplishment.

This year, they mingled 4500s and 4800s to put the fastest cars at the front of the field. Despite having the fastest cars ahead of her, Jessie Combs proved you can start in the back with a stock class truck and still stand on the overall podium. There is no better way to get involved with racing at the King of the Hammers than to compete in the Smittybilt Everyman Challenge.

Dan Fresh (right), and co-driver Mike Kim (left) celebrate their overall win at the Smittybilt Everyman Challenge.

About the author

Mike Ingalsbee

For more than two decades, Mike Ingalsbee has worked as an automotive writer and photographer and covered just about everything that burns fuel or throws dirt. His writing and photography has been published in over 20 magazine titles and websites in North America, Europe and Australia. He has worked as a design engineer for several manufacturers in the automotive aftermarket and is a founding member of the Association of Motorsports Media Professionals, (AMMP), an organization that consults with racing sanctioning bodies on safety and media issues.
Read My Articles

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