by Matt Konkle
Quadratec Channel Editor
Early February in the Jeep/Off-Road racing world means King of the Hammers, which actually has nothing to do with hammers at all and everything to do with high-speed desert racing combined with extreme rock crawling.
It is certainly not for those weak of heart, and the week-long event in the Southern California desert at Johnson Valley features many different daily races—culminating in a Friday ‘King of the Hammers’ competition many believe is the toughest one-day off-road race on the planet. It also draws tens of thousands to Johnson Valley to witness all kinds of excitement and carnage among the desert and rocks.
The key characteristic for any driver who wants to enter a vehicle in the race, is the machine must be capable of four-wheel-drive. Beyond that is just choosing the respective class:
4400 which are the heavily modified racing trucks that are purpose-built for these kind of events, and can push out over 700 horsepower while being able to tackle extremely technical terrain.
4500 which are modified versions of production vehicles, where any kind of engine and transmission can be used, but the vehicle still needs to look like the original mass-produced version. They are also limited to 37-inch tires.
4600 which is the stock class, limited to 35-inch tires and the vehicle’s original motor, transmission, frame and suspension.
4800 which is the legends category—basically retired 4x4 vehicles which must still have two seats, front engine, shocks in each corner and solid axles.
4900 which are production side-by-side vehicles modified to be 1,000 ccs or less, and upgraded with body armor as well as other safety features.
Wednesday’s Every Man Challenge during King of the Hammers week featured 125 drivers in three of these classes—4500, 4600 and 4800—and required them to negotiate a 143-mile course over two laps throughout most of Johnson Valley. Some of it was high-speed open-desert racing, while the remainder forced all drivers up numerous unforgiving rocky climbs and down into nasty canyons.
In the end, Brad Lovell and co-driver Roger Lovell snagged first place with a race time of 4 hours, 53 minutes, and 12 seconds.
That finish was just a tick ahead of second place finisher Seth Van Dyke, who ended up merely 30 seconds behind the winner.