Industry News

History of the King of the Hammers UTV Race

Mitch Guthrie

By Jon Crowley

Although 2018 will mark the 12th year for King of the Hammers, UTVs did not participate in the rock and desert race until 2009. A lot has changed in the last ten years and I have been at every race. Five times as driver of record, three times as co-dog (twice in a car I built and once for another owner) and once in 2016 I was just a media guy.

For 2018, I will be just another media guy and the race promises to be epic.  Dave Cole of Hammerking Productions promises that this will be the toughest UTV course to date. And when Cole mentions something like that, he isn’t kidding.

From 2009 through 2012, the UTV race was mostly a 60 mile or less desert run sprinkled with one or two easier rock trails (Sand Hill and Elvis were staples back then). Then 2013 was a hallmark year for the UTV race. Cole said he wanted a course that warranted the name “King of the Hammers – Toughest one day race on the planet”. The race bumped up to over 100 miles and hit up Aftershock, Highway 19/20, JAckhammer, Chocolate Thunder, Upper and Lower Big Johnson and Elvis.  This course wasn’t just a bit harder, it was 10-times harder.

At the end of the day, only three out of thirty-five would finish in the allotted 8-hour time limit. Cole said it was the perfect race. I finished in second place just 16 seconds behind Mitch Guthrie after 8-hours on the course (see 2013 KING OF THE HAMMERS UTV RACE).

The next hallmark year was 2015 when just 5 out of 50 racers finished, and most took 8-hours to do it.  That year included some of the tough trails like in 2013, but also added going up Jackhammer where UTVs had to winch at least twice. It was an incredibly tough course and I was proud to have finished in 3rd place behind Guthrie and Bulloch (see 2015 KING OF THE HAMMERS UTV RACE RECAP).

In 2016 and 2017, the courses were easier than 2015, and racers and vehicles improved.  End result was quick finish times and high percentage of finishers. I raced in 2017 and was back on the podium with the help of my friend Reid Nordin.

2017 King of the Hammers

Waiting for the race start at 2017 KOH UTV Race

2018 Can-Am KOH UTV Race presented by HCR Course Preview

From what Dave Cole said during the live pre-show, 2018 would be the toughest year ever for UTVs with more rocks and less desert.  In typical Dave Cole fashion, he goes from moderately hard, to ridiculously hard and I cannot wait to be there to witness it.  During the live show, he announced a few other little tidbits. First off he said the course would include Cougar Buttes for the first time.  Cougar Buttes is west of Johnson Valley and does not have the same type of big canyons that Johnson Valley is known for. Rumour has it that there will be another spectator area there, and at least one obstacle with multiple lines.

Also out in that area on the way to/from Cougar Buttes is Crowbar which was part of the course in 2015 when we went down.  I could see Cole adding a trip up Crowbar to make things interesting since we will be in the neighborhood.

The other piece that Cole mentioned during the live show was that Spooners would be part of the course for UTVs.  Spooners and Outer Limits have often been part of the course for the big 4400 class on Friday, but to my knowledge no other classes have gone up or down these trails.

Did some pre-running for #KOH2018 yesterday with Guthrie Racing, PRP Seats and Walker Evans Racing. Went up Spooners and down Outer Limits. Both of these trails are no joke. We know that Spooners will be part of the course, not sure up or down, but we are thinking it will be up.Check out our race preview and history at:

Posted by UTV Guide on Saturday, January 20, 2018

The official 2018 King of the Hammers course map won’t be out until Wednesday or Thursday the week before the race.  The last few years, it has been available for download on This is a great resource because it can be downloaded by racers and enthusiasts on your phone or tablet.

At the live show, they also announce that there were 106 UTV registered to race so far and that number will surely increase. I can easily see a field of 130 UTVs which would make it the largest class at King of the Hammers.  Last year 75 UTVs raced. 85 racers will qualify for starting position on Saturday.

A few new rules for UTVs to be aware of:

  1. 6-point cage required to attached to subframe at all points
  2. Window nets are now required (no arm restraints). Must meet or exceed SFI 27.1 Specifications.
  3. All vehicles with operational doors must have positive locking mechanisms on the doors and doors must also have a permanently attached positive secondary latching device (no zip ties or Velcro).
  4. Effective 1/1/18 Secondary Inflation Apparatus that retains the profile of the tire in the event of a puncture will not be allowed. Tire Liner type products with a functional outer diameter of no more than 27” will be allowed. Vehicles can and will be tested at any time.

4400 Drivers Jump In

A few other things are driving the competition level higher for the King of the Hammers UTV Race.  First off, several of the top 4400 racers are dropping down to also race in the UTV class.  Last year this had a huge impact on the race with Shannon and Wayland Campbell grabbing 1st and 2nd and Erik Miller taking 4th. I have heard rumours of many more 4400 drivers (Gomez Brother Racing may run four UTVs) joining in for the 2018 race as well. Plus there is Robby Gordon racing for Textron and Johnny Greaves among others.

Vehicles Become More Capable

Polaris RZR has dominated the series from the beginning, but I expect Can-Am to be a serious competitor this year, especially with the addition of the new 2018 Can-Am Maverick X3 X RC Turbo (see CAN-AM ADDS FULL LOCKABLE ON-THE-FLY FRONT DIFFERENTIAL TO MAVERICK X3 and CAN-AM MAVERICK X3 X RC TURBO R REVIEW). The Maverick X3 is super fast in the rough terrain, and now has a front differential that is legitimate for serious rock crawling. And don’t rule out the new Textron Off Road Wildcat XX with Dean Bulloch and Robby Gordon behind the wheel.

In closing, UTV racers should expect to use their winch this year. There will be bottlenecks.  There will be carnage. Only a few will finish, so bring your A game!

Polaris RZR XP Turbo Dynamix

Pre-running in Johnson Valley

I have been to Johnson Valley once this year since the race to do some pre-running (see POLARIS RZR XP TURBO DYNAMIX ROCK CRAWLING REVIEW) and plan to run most of the course before race day, so stayed tuned to the @UTVGuide on Instagram for all the up-to-date intel on the race.

Polaris Factory Racer Shannon Campbell

Shannon Campbell took first place in 2017

And for a little perspective, Mitch Guthrie has won the race six times. Brandon Schueler, Blake Van del Loo and Shannon Campbell have each won it once.

Mitch Guthrie

Mitch Gutjhrie has won King of the Hammers UTV Race an Incredible SIX TIMES

My History at the King of the Hammers:

2017 King of the Hamemers UTV Race

2017 King of the Hammers UTV Race


Blake Van de Loo and Mitch Guthrie

Blake Van de Loo and Mitch Guthrie battle at 2016 King of the Hammers


Chocolate Thunder - King of the Hammers
Climbing Chocolate Thunder during 2013 King of the Hammers UTV Race


RZR XP 1000 at King of the Hammers
Winching More than Normal Due to Broken Axle during 2014 King of the Hammers


Polaris RZR XP at King of the Hammers
Blake Van de Loo and Jon Crowley at the Finish Line in 2013


Jon Crowley

Crowley and Wallace on their way to 4th place at 2012 King of the Hammers UTV Race


King of the Hammers UTV Race

Pre-Running for King of the Hammers UTV Race


King of the Hammers UTV Race

Climbing the Sand Hill during 2010 King of the Hammers UTV Race


King of the Hammers UTV Race

Climbing Aftershock during the 2009 King of the Hammers UTV Race


More Resources:

The 12th annual KOH week will commence with Hammertown opening to the public on Friday, February 2nd, 2018 and will continue through Saturday, February 10th, 2018. The actual King of The Hammers race will take place on Friday, February 9th, 2018.  All races from 2017 are expected to return for 2018 including: The Every Man Challenge, KOH UTV Race, King of The Motos, and the Shootout.

2018 King of the Hammers Schedule:

Friday 2/2 – Hammertown Opens
Saturday 2/3 4600/UTV Qualifying & King of the Motos Night Race
Sunday 2/4- King of The Motos Day Races 
Monday 2/5 – 4500/ 4800 Qualifying & Shootout (Night)
Tuesday 2/6 – 4400 Qualifying 
Wednesday 2/7 – Can-AM KOH UTV Race Sponsored by HCR
Thursday 2/8 – Smittybilt Every Man Challenge Race (EMC)
Friday 2/9- Nitto King of The Hammers Race Powered by Optima Batteries (KOH)
Saturday 2/10 – Trail Ride and Remote Control (RC) Car Event

About King of The Hammers: King of the Hammers is considered the toughest one-day off road race in the world. It is the largest off-road race event in North America in terms of both competitors and spectators. It combines desert racing and rock crawling, and has expanded from one race to a series of 5 races held throughout the week and takes place each February in Johnson Valley, CA.

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