It’s bright and early on a Saturday morning in Johnson Valley, California. The question on everybody’s mind is, who is the man who would be king?
If you ask any of the veteran spectators, the answer is one of the greats. Guys like Erik Miller, Jason Scherer, or Shannon Campbell. But the truth is, the King of the Hammers is anybody’s race.
3, 2, 1, Go!
The racers went big and bold coming out of Hammertown. Passing through Remote Pit 1, the leaders were Scherer, Cameron Steele and JP Gomez. The racers made it through the Notches and at race mile 40, the leaders had swapped around a bit. Scherer had the lead, but it was not strong. Behind him were JP Gomez, and further back was Loren Healy. The northern hairpin still had Scherer, Gomez, and Healy leading the pack. Scherer came rocketing into into Remote Pit 1.
At Race Mile 55, Scherer still had the lead. Gomez was behind him, and Steele was in third. By Race Mile 60, it seemed confirmed that these were the three leaders. A distant engine revved from the north as we waited at Remote Pit 1. Scherer drove straight through the pit, not stopping. Gomez did the same, as did Steele. None of them wanted to lose precious time nor positioning.
We dropped out of cell range as we drove back to Hammertown. We hoped to hit up Chocolate Thunder in time for the leaders to pass through, now getting into their second lap. With only a couple of minutes to spare, we made it. Scherer came down CT, before clambering up the other side of the ridge on the way to Not Her Problem. Here at CT, we had cell reception, and we noticed the leading pack had changed again; Wayland Campbell was now in second, and Steele was in 3rd. But what’d happened to JP Gomez?
Scherer’s Luck Runs Out
After CT, we headed back to Hammertown to get a clear picture of the race. The live feed was broadcast to the general square and showed Scherer still in the lead coming through Hell’s Gate (Race Mile 105), but only by a close margin. Steele was in 2nd place and had better corrected time than Scherer. 3rd, 4th and 5th were JP Gomez, Healy, and Greg Adler. 20 minutes later, Scherer kept up a solid lead as he set fire to the desert north of Hammertown. Steele was second but miles behind. Behind Steele, Wayland Campbell. Lap 3 was just around the corner; it was time to scoot again, this time over to Backdoor. The blocky, rocky staircase would definitely hold some tricks up its sleeve.
Mysteriously, Scherer was a no-show. We learned back at Hammertown that he’d run out of gas, and sent his co-driver to go get some more. With his main competitor out of commission, Steele forged ahead. He was now in the lead and went his merry way, having taken care of Backdoor on his first lap. Bailey Cole appeared to be in third place.
We jetted off in a mad dash to Sledgehammer, hoping to catch sight of Steele there. Unfortunately, he’d already made his way through. We did catch Gomez, however, putting the hammer down through the dirt.
Back in Hammertown, the live show gave a clear picture of Steele’s progress (or lack thereof). He appeared stuck in King’s Graveyard, and got passed by Randy Slawson. Steele’s jam must’ve been mechanical, since he wasn’t moving. Slawson took full advantage of his momentum and made his way through King’s Graveyard, and then through Hell To Pay, a mandatory detour for Lap 3.
Slawson Takes It
Slawson was now heading through the desert, finally free of the mountains. He took a good 60mph pace through the open desert, confident in his strong lead. Gomez, meanwhile, seemed to have lost his transponder; he was invisible on RacingtraX, but scuttlebutt in the media tent was he was close behind Slawson. Nonetheless, this was Slawson’s race to win.
The Bomber Fabrication 4×4 came sliding into the finish line and with it, Slawson took the win. Following him were the brothers Gomez, JP and Raul.
Feelings ran high as Slawson made his way to the stage, and parked alongside him was a brand new Ford Bronco. Ford had made a special announcement days earlier that the winner of the King of the Hammers would take home this hot new SUV, and whoops and cheers rang out as Slawson took the keys.
During the interview with Ultra4, Randy was ecstatic about his and the car’s performance. “We bought this car brand new last year and we passed everybody in it, and then the rearend broke,” Slawson began. “It was heartbreaking. But I knew this car was so fast, and I wanted to show everybody what it’s capable of. We had an absolutely flawless day. We finished on the same four tires we started on!”
Afterwards, the Gomez brothers took to the stage at the same time and entertained the crowd. “Driving the hell out of these cars is what we signed up to do,” said JP. “The hardest part about the race today was trying not to go 100 miles an hour out there.”
“I let JP pass me,” joked Raul. But jokes aside, Raul proved he valued human lives over his rankings during the event. He assisted fellow racer Tom Wayes when he noticed Wayes’ car was overturned. “When I pulled up, I turned my car off and I yelled for him to see if he was okay,” he explained. “And he didn’t say anything so then I radioed the pit and couldn’t get him out. Then Cameron (Steele) and Wayne (Isrealsen) pulled up and Tom told us to keep racing.”
For each of the top three finishers, the 2021 King of the Hammers was a race not just against time and each other, but it was an event that showed how tenacity and goodwill play a part in success. We look forward to covering this event in 2022, and encourage you to go check out Ultra4’s website for information on their next event.