Saturday, March 23, 2013

Different Perspectives on the 2013 King of the Hammers Race

2013 King of the Hammers winner Randy Slawson
The annual King of the Hammers race has literally grown exponentially since its beginning in 2007 as an informal race between 13 teams.  KOH is now a world-famous event that attracts tens of thousands of spectators, with coverage by international media and international competitors.  It is universally accepted as being the world's toughest 1-day race for good reason: 2013 had 129 teams start the race, and only 27 even reached the finish line before the end of the race was officially called 15 hours later.  That's a 79% rate of attrition amongst the best-built rockcrawl buggies on Earth!

Robby Gordon's race-ending rollover
This year's event predictably had the best coverage yet.  No amount of media reports can actually replace the opportunity to attend the event yourself, but even if you attended the race you will still have missed most of the action because you can't be everywhere at all times.  Therefore, I have gathered a wide selection of different perspectives on the race so you can get a better understanding of and appreciation for the race, the vehicles, and the men and women who compete.

Fred Williams from Petersen's 4Wheel & Offroad Magazine reported on the race as both a journalist and as a co-driver in his Dirt Every Day video series:

The Discovery Channel's show The Daily Planet had a great segment on the Australian racer Ben Napier's entry, but they don't bother to archive their shows on their website for very long.  Therefore, you'll have to go to YouTube to view a copy, but it's well worth watching:

Nitto Tire put together a beautiful video with interviews from several of the top-tier racers, including the 2009 King of the Hammers winner Jason Scherer.  Yes, this is a commercial advertisement for tires, but it's definitely entertaining and well worth watching:

During the filming of that promo video, Jason accidentally rolled his buggy out on the lakebed while spinning a donut:

He was more successful in keeping the car upright during actual racing.  Jason had a lightning-fast 1st-place qualifying lap that gave him the pole position in the Ultra4 race.  In spite of having no power steering and wasting tons of time with misdiagnosed repairs, he still managed to place a hard-fought 21st place overall.  Charlene Bower from Bower Motorsports Media gives a much better description of Jason's epic battle against the race course than I ever could.  Well worth reading!

Jason Scherer's Air Force-inspired buggy

SEMA produced a KOH video from the aftermarket retailers' perspective.  They really show how big this race has become, and the impact it has had on the aftermarket industry and the racing world as a whole:

Rebel Offroad's Holy Moly Racing put together their own video that also includes some in-car first-person perspective of the race course.  You really get an idea of just how punishing the terrain is on the cars and on the driver and co-driver's bodies:

If you like the in-car view of the course and want to see how hard the suspension works, watch the qualifying run of Homegrown Racing's team.  Driver Ben Swain does a great job here:

Robby Gordon is one of the world's best racers, especially when it comes to off-road racing.  With rockcrawling being rather new to him, he's had trouble keeping his cars together at King of the Hammers.  This year was no exception, but his 4th-place qualifying run was terrific:

The Squealing Tire published Discount Tire's sponsorship and interview of Mel Wade and Jim McGean from Offroad Evolution on the entry of his heavily modified Jeep Wrangler Unlimited KOH car:

A video on his team's efforts at the 2013 race can be viewed here:

Race-Dezert interviewed the winner, Randy Slawson and his Bomber Fabrication team, and published some great photos of the race:

Their video can be viewed here:

Some of the best and most thorough race coverage was published by Autoblog.  Their long two-part article likens King of the Hammers to Thunderdome, with great race coverage and a personal recount of the event.  They also did us all a great service by bringing attention to the fight to keep Johnson Valley open to the public.

Randy Slawson: The 2013 King of the Hammers

Speedhunters has posted some of the most awesome photography I've seen from the race:

In addition to great race coverage, they also give a great account of what the whole race attendance experience is like.  Be sure to follow the link to see some awesome photography!

Another story well worth reading is that of Eddie Peterson "The Cancer Guy."  Yes, he has cancer, and he has used that as inspiration to race.  He finished 21st place, but there's so much more to the story than that.  You can read about it here on Pirate4x4.

Eddie Petersen, "The Cancer Guy"
An interesting topic of debate before, during, and after the race centered on independent front suspensions versus solid axles.  With IFS cars consistently placing well, and IFS underpinning the winning buggies in 2010, 2011, and 2012, many people had dismissed solid front axles as obsolete.  While IFS cars have the advantage of lighter weight and better control at high speeds, this year's winner Randy Slawson has validated my argument that solid front axles have their own inherent advantages and are actually superior in a race like this.

Randy Slawson defied the odds by winning with a solid front axle.

Part of the reason why IFS cars have done so well is that they have been piloted by top-tier drivers with unlimited race budgets.  The amount of time, money, and effort that has gone into the handful of custom one-off IFS setups is orders of magnitude more than is required to build a simpler and stronger Dana 60 or 14-bolt front axle.  Big-name racers get to drive money-no-object cars, but since most racers aren't made of money, the proven solid axle design leaves their limited budget and resources available to make the rest of the car faster, such as with better shocks, bigger tires, and more motor.

A lot of debate has also centered on whether King of the Hammers is won in the rocks or out in the desert.  The amount of time spent over 100mph is a fraction of the time spent at 5mph.  By giving up a little bit of top-end speed in exchange for better performance in the rocks, more than enough time can be made up in a rockrace like KOH.  A solid axle suspension's superior articulation and stability open up difficult racing lines that IFS cars can't even attempt, giving SFA cars the advantage where it counts.

On top of that, the biggest advantage of solid axles is their strength and simplicity.  Starting with either a junkyard axle or a custom-fabricated housing, axle builders can combine a bombproof differential, super strong axle shafts, and unbreakable Reid Racing steering knuckles & inner-C's just like what Randy's Slawson's Bomber Fabrication has done, and they'll have an axle with the speed and durability to cross the finish line ahead of everyone else.

A strong pair of solid axles will give a good driver a real chance to win King of the Hammers, even with a tiny budget.  And in a race like KOH where only 21% of entrants can even make it to the finish line, unbreakable components matter more than go-fast components.

We'll see in 2014 if the solid axle's win this year inspires more racers to stick with tried-and-true strength and reliability in the technical sections, or if more will migrate to independent suspensions in hopes of picking up a bit more speed in the high-speed sections.  If I was to build my own Ultra4 or Everyman Challenge racer, I would definitely invest in a proper pair of solid axles.


  1. Looks like you guys had lots of fun in the quick sand ,up until it rolled over ,but i guess that where all the fun comes in ,the idea of adrenaline rush.

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