By Jon Crowley
UTVs have been part of King of the Hammers for ten years now and I have been to each. Eight of them as a racer and two as a media guy.
King of The Hammers takes place each year in February, on public lands in Johnson Valley, CA. The race has evolved from 12 teams racing for bragging rights and a case of beer, to more than 300 teams competing before more than 35,000 fans in person and nearly 500,000 watching online. There are several other classes that race during King of the Hammers, so there is action on the lakebed for more than a week.
During the first few years, the course was just a sprint through the desert with just a few minor rocks trails. Then in 2013, Dave Cole decided that UTVs needed to be either in or out and created a course where about 10% of the racers finished (see 2013 King of the Hammers UTV Race). As drivers and vehicles improved, Cole made the course harder. 2015 was another hallmark year when less than 10% finished (see 2015 King of the Hammers UTV Race Recap). I raced in both of these years and was thrilled to be on the podium both times. But I am really not a racer, so preparing and executing for this race takes a huge toll on me. I really do love to hate this race because I love to rock crawl and have learned to love the trails and challenges found at Johnson Valley, but I hate the preparation and nerves of race week.
I had planned to race again for 2018 with my good friend Reid Nordin. We raced last year and I was super proud that we landed on the podium (see 2017 King of the Hammers UTV Race Recap). Well something happened along the way, and we kinda lost our mojo to race. Again the love/hate thing kicked in and we decided to be involved as much as possible with pre-running and media, but skip out on the actual race. Looking back now on that decision, I think I slept quite a bit better the last few months, but I know we could have been very competitive on this year’s super tough course.
In my mind, the perfect scenario would be to go back to the original King of the Hammers when it was the original guys on the lakebed with nothing else. Start here, hit these trails and the first guy back here wins. No tech, no qualifying, no trackers. Just a little grudge match. I might make something like this happen at some point, but for now King of the Hammers is all we have.
We made a run to Johnson Valley in early December with a few other racers to check out a few the trails that have been part of King of the Hammers in past years. Always super fun to ride in Johnson Valley, but it is much more exciting once you know something about the course.
With the right driver and machine, #ChocolateThunder is a quick run during King of the Hammers UTV Race. But you better be prepared for alternate lines with winching scenarios because there will be trail plugs on race day! Plus this trail can literally change overnight. @reidnordin from @walkerevansracing shows how a clean run is executed in this #aerialview of Chocolate Thunder. His @polarisrzr XP1000 is setup with Walker Evans 2.5” Velocity shocks, Walker Links and beadlock wheels wrapped with 32-inch @bfgoodrichtires KR2s. Engine and clutch are completely stock and the 55% lower low range in the #CrowleyEdition RZR really shines on tough obstacles here in Johnson Valley. #driverenough #djispark
After the live show, Dave Cole let it slip that the UTV course would include Spooners. Spooners is a tough trail that has been included in the 4400 class for several years, and is always paired with Outer Limits. Reid and I teamed up with Mitch Guthrie, Mitch Guthrie Jr. and Aaron and Maddie from PRP Seats and decided to check these trails out first had.
These two trails are no joke and with over 100 racers already signed up, I knew that this year’s race was going to be epic!
Fast forward to race week, and I showed up on Wednesday night, a full week before the UTV race. My plan was to pre-run as much of the course as possible with some of the top racers to give everyone some insight to the course and the racers.
I got together with Dean Bulloch and his new Textron Off-Road Wildcat XX on Jack North, Jackhammer, Spooners and Backdoor.
I also was out on Outer Limits, Highway 19/20 and Aftershock with the Guthries.
I ran out to Cougar Buttes with Ross Pilgreen.
Saturday arrived and it was time for qualifying. With over 85 set to qualify it was going to be an all day thing. The biggest news here was that Johnny and CJ Greaves topped the list in their turbocharged Yamaha YXZ1000R.
Full qualifying results: 2018 Can-Am KOH HCR UTV Qualifying and Randomized Start Order.
Later in the week I hit Highway 19/20, Resolution and Backdoor with Phil Blurton from No Limit with his Can-Am Maverick X3.
Monday night was the Shootout and Cash LeCroy had entered his custom single-seat RZR XP Turbo against big rock buggies. This kids definitely has a future in off-road racing!
Tuesday arrived and we spent most of the day in tech and contingency.
Wednesday finally arrived and I had picked out a few places to catch some of the action. I skipped the start line and went out to race mile 3.
CJ Greaves was first to pass me in his Yamaha YXZ1000R. The top ten start was basically unchanged through this point, but several racers were already out of the race.
From race mile 3 I moved over to race mile 57 right before they entered the first tough rocks with Resolution and Backdoor. I was amazed when the first UTV that passed me was CJ Greaves again. Mitch Guthrie Jr., Casey Currie, Johnny Greaves, Branden Sims and Mitch Guthrie were all in the top ten.
I watched the top 10-15 through race mile 57, then headed over to Jack North. I had pre-run this trail and knew that it could become a bottleneck with broken UTVs and some winching. Mitch Guthrie Jr. was the first to hit Jack North at 11:15 AM. Johnny Greaves, CJ Greaves, Casey Currie, Cody Currie, Branden Sims Mark Burnett, Mitch Guthrie would follow in that order.
Mitch Guthrie Jr.
Mitch Guthrie Jr. was the first UTV to hit Jack North for #KOH2018. The team played it safe and took their time on this obstacle in their Polaris RZR. The strategy paid off with a win at King of The Hammers!
Posted by UTV Guide on Sunday, February 11, 2018
If you asked us what the chance of @cjgreaves33 finishing #KOH2018 before the race, we would have said 10% chance. Well he proved us and many others wrong on race day. This is Jack North, and most racers had to winch to make it. CJ picked the right lines and hammered right up in his @yamahamotorusa #YXZ1000R @ultra4racing
Aaron and Maddie Wedeking
From Jack North I had planned to head over to Outer Limits because that was the hardest part of the course. But by the time I hiked back down to my RZR, Mitch Guthrie Jr. had already entered Outer Limits. I decided to skip that and try and catch a few coming down Backdoor for the final part of the race.
Mitch Guthrie Jr. coming down Backdoor for the win.
Mitch Guthrie Jr. had checked out and was through Backdoor and on the podium in first place. He finished the course in just 5:54:43! Rounding out the podium would be Braden Sims and Mitch Guthrie Sr.
CJ Greaves crossed the line physically in third place, but suffered a 15 minute penalty for missing a checkpoint which moved him to fifth place. CJ had the fastest first lap time at 1:47:08.
Twelve racers would finish the race in the alloted time. Polaris RZR swept the podium and had six of the twelve finishers. Yamaha had three finishers and Can-Am would also have three.
At the end of the day, about 10% finished the race and this matches the finish rate in 2013 and 2015. I believe this was the toughest course to date, but the cars have progressed so much over the last five years that UTVs are highly competitive against times for the 4400 class. In addition, the UTV race is attracting more driver’s outside the UTV-only world and this raises the bar even more.
Huge congrats to Mitch Guthrie Jr. for the flawless run at the 2018 King of the Hammers UTV race!
- 2018 KING OF THE HAMMERS UTV RACE PREVIEW
- HISTORY OF THE KING OF THE HAMMERS UTV RACE
- 2017 KING OF THE HAMMERS UTV RACE RECAP
- 2016 KING OF THE HAMMERS UTV RACE RECAP
- 2015 KING OF THE HAMMERS UTV RACE RECAP
- 2014 KING OF THE HAMMERS UTV RACE
- 2013 KING OF THE HAMMERS UTV RACE
2018 Can-Am King of the Hammers UTV Race Presented by HCR Racing Results
|1||MITCH GUTHRIE JR||9||8:01:00||1:53:45||4:00:58||0:00:00||5:54:43|
|3||MITCH GUTHRIE SR||6||8:06:30||2:06:03||4:47:04||0:00:00||6:53:07|
|DNF||ROBERT FORREST SMITH||965||8:18:00||3:21:31||DNF||DNF||DNF|
|DNF||BLAKE VAN DE LOO||1945||8:02:00||3:37:54||DNF||DNF||DNF|