We met with Loren Healy in November of 2014 at the SEMA Show. The newly crowned Ultra4 Racing Series Champion was there getting his new 4×4 race car ready for display in the Nitto Tire booth, but sat down with Off Road Xtreme to talk about his recent successes, the new car, and how he plans to go after a third King Of The Hammers win.
Loren Healy: “Yeah, 2014 was kind of a dream season. I never really imagined that I could have put it together like this. King Of The Hammers is the big race of the year. That’s our Daytona 500. I go out there and try to do everything I can to win King Of The Hammers. It’s just such a lofty goal to win that race, so that was huge. That just made my whole year, and it makes you feel like you’re good to go for a little while.”
ORX: That was not the first King Of The Hammers win for you, right?
LH: “That was the second time I won King Of The Hammers. I was really on cloud nine after this year’s win, so we just wanted to go into the rest of the season putting down good points at each race and try to go for the championship, because King Of The Hammers is part of the points series.”
“I didn’t really think that I had any chance of winning the number of races that I did. We won five out of all eight races this year, and had two second-place finishes. It’s almost unheard of, I mean no one has ever done it before.”
“The series championship is determined by your five best races, so we had a perfect season of 5000 points. And no one has ever won the Eastern Regional Series, the Western Regional Series, and the National Championship before. I sort of still don’t believe that it really happened.”
ORX: Where did you get started racing?
LH: “I was just a rock crawler out of Farmington, New Mexico. I loved rock crawling, that’s what I did as a hobby in my spare time. But I never really liked the competition rock crawling, I thought it was too slow and boring. So when Dave Cole threw desert racing into rock crawling at King Of The Hammers, I decided to go try to be a racer.”
“We took my trail rig out there in 2009, that was my first time doing King Of The Hammers. We broke the thing in half, busted the tail-housing off the transmission, broke the seats, the car caught on fire, and that was only about 15 miles into the race.”
ORX: Did that turn you off to rock racing?
LH: “No, I got hooked. I went back and got a second mortgage on my house. Then began to build a budget race car, and won my first King Of The Hammers in 2010. That was my first race win, and it’s just snowballed out of control.”
ORX: I understand you built a new car earlier this year (2014).
LH: “Yes, we finished it up mid-season this year. So I raced my old car at King Of The Hammers and the first three races of the year. We had been working on the new car, and wanted to try to have it done for King Of The Hammers, but it seems like every time we rush a car through, it has flaws in it and you never get those flaws out of a car, so we didn’t want to put a deadline on it.”
“We wanted to take our time, do all our research, and make sure the car was put together right. We were just not going to rush it, and it has really paid off. It debuted at Glen Helen, and we have won four straight races in the car. The car is undefeated, and it works just great.”
ORX: The discussion goes on every year, and especially last year at King Of The Hammers, as to which is better for that race, IFS or solid axle.
LH: “Solid axle, but I think you can win in either. I think King Of The Hammers is probably a solid axle car race still because there is a little bit of a benefit in the rocks, but I sold my solid axle car and am racing my new IFS car at King 0f The Hammers next year (February 2015), so I guess I’ll tell you the real answer after that.”
ORX: What in your opinion are some of the advantages of the IFS car?
LH: “IFS is better in the desert, the improved handling, steering, and control of the car is a huge benefit. It just doesn’t work quite as well in the rocks. With an IFS car, the bulk head is always pushing down low into the rocks, you don’t get as much steering angle, so there are limitations.”
“However, I still think it’s 50/50 either way. It’s going to be the driver, and you have got to have a well-prepped (mechanically) car. I think you can win with either, IFS or solid axle.”
ORX: You mentioned your new car. It’s a front-engine design. How did you come about that decision?
LH: “I had a two-seat IFS car that was a rear engine car, and I was fighting mechanical problems, and ring and pinion failures, and everything spinning backwards, and not doing what it was designed to do. I didn’t like mechanical failures, and I didn’t really like the way the car worked.”
“I wanted to go outside of the box, and looked at how Pro-4 short course trucks were set up. All of them have the engine sitting next to the driver in a forward/mid-engine, offset position, so we decided to try and see if we could shoehorn one like that into an Ultra4 car and make it work that way.”
“The engine is offset 10-1/2 inches, so that the front drive shaft lines up perfectly with the front axle housing. We were trying to eliminate any drive shaft vibration with that type of set up. There are no harsh CV angles.”
“Everything’s really happy and doing what it was designed to do. All the gears are spinning in the right direction, and it’s not running on the rear output of the transfer case, which you shouldn’t be doing. The car has done just great.”
ORX: So what’s your game plan for 2015 King Of The Hammers?
LH: “In that race you have to finish. If you can’t get to the finish line you have no chance, and if the faster drivers get to the finish line they’re going to be in the top three or four positions. If you’re fast and don’t have huge mechanical problems, you’re going to be up there.”
“I also have to pre-run better than I ever have before. I’m driving a single-seat car, and a lot of the single-seaters get lost. So my pre-running is going to be a huge part of my race prep. I am also going to prep the car better than ever, take my time, make sure everything is mechanically sound. Then just try to keep calm and cool, and not over-react or make any big mistakes.”
ORX: Where do you see yourself in say three to five years from now?
LH: “My roots are in Ultra4 so I will always race Ultra4, but I want to start branching out. I want to be the next Robby Gordon, BJ Baldwin, or Rob MacCachren, so I want to venture into desert racing and short course off-road racing. I have to get more sponsors on board, keep moving forward, and getting myself out there.”
Photography by Stuart Bourdon and Nitto Tire