The Can-Am King of the Hammers (KOH) presented by HCR takes place in the open desert, and rugged rock trails in Johnson Valley, California. This year’s event was especially brutal as only 12 out of 118 teams finished the course within the time limit. Hammerking promoter Dave Cole’s goal was to lay out the toughest course ever, and he accomplished it with lots of help from Mother Nature.
In 2015, there were only three that finished on time, (Mitch Guthrie Sr. won), but the cars have progressed quite a bit from then, so the challenge needs to be increased as technology advances. Despite advancements in the drivetrain, and suspension, they are still riding on only 32-inch tall tires. It’s amazing that the UTV’s get through the same trails that challenge the high horsepower Ultra4 cars with their huge 40-inch tall tires but they do.
Mitch Guthrie Jr. took his first win as a driver at KOH. He had a great mentor, as his father has won the race back to back, and four times in a row; all with Mitch Jr. riding along as co-driver.
Mitch Jr. drove his own car for the first time last year but was denied the win by another family team, Shannon, Bailey and Wayland Campbell. Shannon finished first and Wayland second. It was the Campbell’s first time racing in the UTV class but all are seasoned competitors at KOH. Shannon Campbell is the only driver to win the Ultra4 race three times.
Mitch Jr. also competes in desert racing. He has won prestigious events like the Mint 400, and the UTV World Championships. “I don’t know what to say, it’s been a long road getting here riding with my dad a lot and we had a few wins but I really wanted to do it by myself,” said Guthrie Jr, “I was trying to keep a level head. I won the race in Sledgehammer. CJ (Greaves) was ahead of us and he rolled it. We didn’t know if we could get by him because it was super tight, but we squeezed by him. We got the lead and then had a clean run.”
Second place was Branden Sims. Sims is no stranger to the podium at KOH. He finished 2nd in 2014, 2016, and now in 2018. At the awards ceremony, Guthrie Jr. called him the Queen of the Hammers. It wasn’t a slight; it was an acknowledgment of his three times finishing in the runner-up position. He has not won yet, but Sims is always a contender.
“We qualified 19th so not the best place to start, but we got out in the desert and were catching people, said Sims, “The desert is where I’m from. I run Best of Desert and SCORE, and I feel like I can make up time there and keep the car together. I fought back and forth with the Curries and the Greaves. I wasn’t expecting there to be that many waterfalls and cliffs on Outer Limits, and Spooners. Once we got through there it was the desert section and home. I think I went back and forth with Casey Currie, four or five times. We swapped positons a lot on those limited width trails.”
In 3rd place was Mitch Guthrie Sr. He rolled his Polaris RZR coming down the waterfall drop on Backdoor, but still managed to pull down a 3rd place finish. There is no question he has the skills and the strategy to win every time out.
“This race is so special because I’ve been coming up here forever doing these rocks and four-wheeling; it feels like home,” said Guthrie Sr, “It doesn’t get any better having my son enjoy an event that’s so important to me. It’s unbelievable (that he won), and I knew he had it in him. He’s so fast. I have no words, I’m speechless. It’s going to be a question about returning next year. I would like to, but I don’t know if I’m a top guy anymore with the young guns coming up. This was the worst one ever so far this year physically. There is no way to explain how brutal it is out there. My brother and I were like, “This is insane.” It’s so hot and you never get a chance to breath.”
King of the Hammers is referred to as the toughest single day offroad race on earth. You won’t find anyone who’s done it to dispute that claim. Despite the remote location, the unpredictable weather, and the brutal challenge of the races, there is a huge family participation every year.
You see it with the Guthrie’s, Campbell’s, Currie’s, Pellegrino’s, The Scherer Brothers, the Gomez Brothers and their kids; the list goes on and on. The list of Ultra4 drivers and past Kings of the Hammers that are racing in UTV’s gets longer every year. Joining three-time King Shannon Campbell in the UTV race was Erik Miller (crowned in 2012, and 2016), and Loren Healy (2010 and 2014).
The UTV race also had a few women competing. Bailey Campbell has had solid results at KOH racing her UTV and her Ultra4 car. In 2016, Bailey finished the Ultra4 race in 5th place, one position behind her father. She is the first female to win an ULTRA4 Qualifier. Former X Games competitor and Supercross racer Sara Price was back at KOH with co-driver Erica Sacks and their all-women team to compete. Sacks is a Rally Racing co-driver and competed in the all-women’s Gazelle Rally in Morocco.
There are also some young stars on the horizon including Robby Gordon’s nine-year-old son Max, who races in the desert, and 9-year-old Cash LeCroy. Also known as “Cash Money,” Cash drove a custom RZR to an eigth place finish in the Holley EFI Shootout. It would be nice to see him competing in the UTV race soon. There is plenty of new talent in the wings, young, and old. For anyone who has never been to KOH, you have to experience it. Everyone who attended KOH this year is still a little tired and perhaps dusty, but already busy making plans for 2019.