Industry News

2023 King of the Hammers Recap from Corry Weller

King of the Hammers

By Corry Weller

First, I want to preface this by clarifying that when we say we are racing King of the Hammers, we are racing the ROCK race. The actual KOH UTV Hammers Championship, not the desert race that was the weekend prior.

This year started off much like last year, with a lot of pre-running and a couple of weekends in Johnson Valley prior just to get the feel of the car again, get back into the rocks, and for me to remember how to use the winch rope and get in and out of the car on the right side instead of the left! This year we would be racing the same Can-Am X3 we raced in 2022, which was nice for me because I had all of my stash spots and tool bags already pretty much ready to go and I was already comfortable with the co-dawg setup in that machine.

We headed to the Lakebed on Thursday before race week, the same day the course map is released. Jason drove the stacker and 3 of our race cars, and I drove the pusher with a trailer and two of our other UTVs. We were doing double duty this year – Great American Shortcourse was holding Round 1 also at KOH, so we had to bring out the SR1 (which I was racing) and our short-course X3 (which Jason was racing) as well as the KOH vehicles!

With the course map released, we immediately headed into the rock trails to see how they had changed, and to get a look at the qualifying loop / Chocolate Thunder. I always say that the hardest days of KOH week are the pre-running days, and it was just as true this year! We put a lot of hard miles on our race car AND our bodies, and by Sunday I was already getting pretty beat! Sunday night we also practiced for GAS, and it was a WINDY and VERY COLD night when we hit the short-course track for the first time!

Great American Shortcourse

Great American Shortcourse – SR1

My SR1 felt good, the track was long, sandy and very fun… practice went well until I realized my brakes were pretty much gone (basically lap 1 – haha). I dealt with it until after practice, and then we got a good look at what was going on and saw that we had a split rear brake line and no rear brake line kit to fix it with. Thankfully, SDHQ was there to save the day with a fitting so we made our own line and spent a miserably cold bit of time late that night putting it in there (huge thanks to Nick, Tim, Nate and Jason for the help!).

Great American Shortcourse

Great American Shortcourse – Jason puts his Can-Am Maverick X3 on the podium

Monday was a busy day for Jason and I – we had early morning GAS qualifying for short-course, then had to head over to Chocolate Thunder for KOH UTV qualifying, then back over to the short-course track for the actual GAS race that day. My SR1 qualifier was short-lived as my motor died before I could finish lap 1. I endured the “tow of shame” back to my pits only to find out that I had simply run out of gas. We had a checklist, and it was checked off that it had been filled, but ultimately it hadn’t been and as embarassing as that was, it was also the least expensive outcome! Regardless, I was starting in the back in the main!
Jason’s qualifying session was much better – he qualified 1st in the Prod Turbo class!

We then headed over to Chocolate Thunder for our KOH UTV qualifying lap! We watched a few runs, and then had the option to go early, so we decided to get it over with and jumped into line.

Last year Jason qualified without me, since it was on the short-course. This year, I would be in the car (anxiety level at a 10 lol) in case he had to winch up Chocolate Thunder. The plan was to give it one shot, and if I had to winch, I would jump out, winch him up and he would leave me there and finish without me.

King of the hammers

Qualifying on Chocolate Thunder

Green flag dropped and we headed into Chocolate Thunder, running the line we felt was the least torn up from the many nights of public revelry on the course that happened prior to this morning! Jason hit it, had a little bit of a bad bounce, had to back up for a second and hit it again, and stayed in it and we made it up with a pretty awesome wheelie in front of the crowd! Up Chocolate Thunder, over the ridge, down into the wash, and back around to come down Idle Issues, which was a little gnarly all on it’s own. Made it down with no problems, and would wind up with a 37th starting position out of about 110 racers. With so much bad luck in prior years in qualifying, Jason drove a little conservitively to make SURE this was a decent run.

The remainder of the day we both raced GAS – I would come from the back of the field in my SR1 race to finish 3rd, and Jason would lead from start to finish in the Prod Turbo race!

Tuesday we hit the desert loop to dial that in and get all of my notes in the GPS. Wed we hit a few more rock sections and went through tech and contingency, and made sure all of our pit crew and tools and plans were ready for the big day on Thursday!

I was in bed by about 8:45 Wed night, to be sure I got a good night’s sleep before what could be a grueling day in the rocks! I also have to say without doing Crossfit on a regular basis, I wouldn’t be able to do my co-driver job as efficiently as I was able to do it! Being in shape and being flexible for this event is crucial if you run into trouble!

Thursday AM we were up and ready to go! Strangely, I didn’t have any butterflies or any real nerves….just ready to get the ball rolling and get into the race! We were prepared….we had done everything we could do, now the race just had to play out!

King of the Hammers

Corry and Jason on course during the UTV Hammers Championship

Green flag dropped, and we were off! We hit dust right away, as there was only a slight breeze in the morning, but we worked our way through it and had our pace set pretty early on. The desert course layout was fairly simple this year, but there were still some rough sections due to the trucks that had raced that weekend prior. Our goal was to get through the desert at a good pace, and be there at the rocks far enough up in the field to NOT get hung up by cars that would struggle through the harder rock trails.

That goal went to crap as we were coming into the Main pit. Jason said that he thought we had lost 4-wheel drive, so we radio’d into our pit to be ready to check the front end! We wheeled into the pits in 4th or 5th in our class, but realized our stop wasn’t going to be quick as they saw a front axle had popped out of the diff, and we had a torn rear boot. Up on all 4 jackstands and I realized I had a quick minute to run to the bathroom (thank God! You have to take those breaks whenever you can!)

King of the Hammers

Main Pit

As soon as I got back I jumped into the X3 and got all buckled back in, about the time Jason jumped back in, too and our crew had us ready to go back out! It was a quick stop for what it was, but it was much longer than our planned splash of gas and go… we knew going into the rock trails we had our work cut out for us.

The rocks were going well and we were making passes until we got into Thor’s Hammer, and saw the huge backup there going up the side of the mountain to the pinch point. I jumped out and ran up to the top where there was a car broken in the main line, another car laying half on top of him who had tried to go around on the left, and another car was trying to fumble it’s way through a pile of boulders, and blocking another line. What a cluster!

King of the Hammers

Bluetooth communication between Jason and Corry is a huge benefit

This year I had Bluetooth communication with Jason even when I was OUT of the car, thanks to PCI! I was able to relay info to Jason from up on the hill while he was waiting to make his way up. I was also busy helping any way I could to try to get cars through that mess. I saw a number of undercut rocks that I started filling, big rocks that were in the way that I could shove out of the way of the main line, and mostly just trying to build a path for Jason when he got up there – the whole time he’s yelling at me to save my energy (he had a valid point, but I can’t sit still and just watch anything!)

By the time he had worked his way up and the traffic had started to move, we had our lines picked and our plan of action. He easily made it up to the winch point, and I was already ready for him. We winched up and out of there in no time, and I jumped back in and off we went to try to make up some time.

The course was TORN UP by this time, and it was an extra challenge to get through places that we had pre-run with no issues prior. As a result, we lost a front axle in Boulderdash and had to do a quick trail fix there. We have seperate tool bags for seperate repairs, so that type of organization helps with trail fixes and we got up and going again pretty quickly. I was in and out and winching quite a bit when we’d get stuck having to go around broken cars, so I was a very busy co-driver for this race!

King of the Hammers

Winching on Sledge Hammer

We got through everything else pretty clean, and headed into Sledge (more direct route than the alternate Jackhammer, even though you usually have to winch there). This was the trail I dreaded the most last year, and this year I swear it was the easiest trail! I was out and running ahead before we pulled up to the waterfall, had him hooked up and winching without hesitation just to save the car…..ran up ahead through the canyon to be sure he didn’t need me again, and then jumped in when he made it through. We were in and out of Sledge in record time!

We wound up getting bound up in a weird spot in another rock trail that we usually don’t have any issues in, and I think frustration had set in for Jason and we tried just a little too long to get out of a crappy spot, and we lost a rear axle in the process! Out of the car again, and I helped spot for him to get out of that mess and we drove out of the trail in three-wheel drive until we got to a flat spot where we could fix it. Fortunately it was a REAR, because that was the only spare we had left! We did that axle change in record time (with our drone buddy filming away), and were back in it and headed off! The third pass through Remote pit 2, we radio’d into our crew to tell them get ready to refill the spare axles. They did this in seconds, and we were off to finish out the final couple of rocks trails before the last little desert section.

There were a couple of sketchy trails that could have easily put us on our side, but Jason did a great job of driving down those and we managed to keep it on all 4s for the whole race!

We sped through the desert, headed into Turkey Claw and made quick work of that little rock trail, and headed into the infield to cross the finish line!

We knew that the race had been won long before, but we still wanted to have a good finish and were hoping for a top 10 in our class (Stock Turbo) despite the trail fixes we had to do.

We wound up with a 9th place finish in our class, and a 26th overall finish out of the whole field!

King of the Hammers

At the finish of the UTV Hammers Championship

It’s difficult when you are at the main pit 70 miles into a race and you know you are down on time, to watch your competitors go by, and knowing that you are going backwards a position every time a car flies by. The only way I get through it without getting frustrated is I just try to focus on the next task at hand, the next footstep – what is directly in front of me at that moment. Fix the car….then, get into the rocks….then, clear the current trail….then, fix the axle….then, clear the next trail, get by the roadblock….one task at a time without looking up at the big picture and losing hope. Lose hope early in the race, and you are already giving up the fight. KOH is all about not giving up that mental game, staying in it if at all possible, and having the satisfaction of crossing that finish line.

So as much as we are disappointed that we didn’t get on the podium, it feels good to have brought it home and give Can-Am another X3 in the top 10 in the stock class!

Yamaha RMAX

Kyle Anderson and his Yamaha RMAX on the podium

Huge congrats to Weller Racing’s own Kyle Anderson and his co-dawg Chris Atchley who raced a VERY stock Yamaha RMAX and WON the Stock NA class, and I believe he was the only Yamaha to even finish KOH this year. No one in their right mind would do what these two did! They are two crazy peas in a pod lol!

Also huge congrats to our good friend Scott Webster and his co-dawg Brandon Kilgore who were KOH Rookies and who took on their very first KOH in our Pre-runner X3 from last year! They made it through the desert and far into the rocks before they had a winch failure that ultimately took them out of the race. To even take on a challenge of this magnitude is worthy of congratulations in itself!

Thank you to Suzy Webster for taking care of Tucker for me on our pre-running days!! Thank you to our entire crew that came out for the dusty week on the lakebed and put in countless hours with us to make this race happen!

King of the Hammers

Weller Racing

Thank you to Can-Am Off-Road for welcoming us into the Can-Am family 6 years ago and for being such an amazing company and brand to represent! Congrats on your continuing dominance in this event and in this market! And thank you to our sponsors that support us in all of our endeavors: SPARCO, Demon Powersports, AIM, Factory UTV, Action Sports Canopies, and all of our guys back at Weller Racing! Also to companies like PCI Race radios, BFG, Raceline, CT Raceworx and SDHQ who worked with us to get all the parts we needed in time for this event – and to our many awesome fans and customers who follow our journey!

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