Event Coverage: Sixth Annual Griffin King of the Hammers
Where machine and rock battle to be King
Once again, man and machine battle against rock, sand, and unforgiveable mountainous terrain to become the champion at the Griffin King of the Hammers. This week-long event, held Febuary 3-10 in Johnson Valley, California, turned the Means dry lake bed into Hammer Town, with thousands of RVs, trailers, tents, off-roaders, Motos, and UTVs from around the world. The heart of Hammer Town boomed bigger and better than ever with rows of vender booths, food venders, and a huge JumboTron for those who weren't out chasing the action on their own.
On Sunday, the 5th, the Smittybilt Every Man Challenge kicked off the first of many competitions for the week as lesser-modified everyday vehicles fought for the title. The Challenge featured two classes: The stock class was limited to factory engines and transmissions, full frames and bodies, tires no larger than 35 inches tall, mechanical steering, and a single 2.5-inch shock per wheel; Stock Modified vehicles were allowed two 2.5-inch-diameter shocks per corner and tires no larger than 37 inches. With 37 vehicles at the start of the 77-mile course, much like the KOH terrain, only 23 contenders crossed the finish line. Number 4688, a stock class Jeep Wrangler driven by John Currie, took first place in the Challenge in just under 2 hour/45 minutes for a place in the main event on Friday. Currie would not take that position since he was already scheduled to co-drive with his nephew Casey Currie for the big race.
Spectators and campers kept rolling in on Monday as most of the teams prepped their vehicles for the Tuesday and Wednesday 4Wheel Parts Time Trials. Tuesday's 2.3-mile qualifying course through the boulders of Chocolate Thunder was not easy for the teams. After overcoming mental and physical frustrations, only 55 of the 66 qualifiers made the cut on Tuesday. Rick Mooneyham, laying down the fastest qualifying time at 4.41.25, was followed by reigning King and Monster Energy driver Shannon Campbell with 4.57.06.
Day two of qualifying brought out some big names and fast rigs for 4Wheel Parts Time Trials. Robby Gordon and Eric Miller were crowd favorites, but the fastest time of the day was set by Nick Nelson from Las Vegas, Nevada, in his yellow buggy, with 4.46.87, putting him second with the fastest run. Having finished fifth in last year's race, Maryland resident Eric Miller qualified at 4.58.87, putting him in the second row start for Friday's big race. Off-road racing legend Robby Gordon had a lot to prove after his fifth-place loss in Dakar. Gordon's impressive run finished at 5.06.47, putting him in the top-five fastest drivers. Only 55 out of 70 starters reached the finish line by the 10 p.m. cutoff time.
As the drivers and spectators waited to see what teams would make the cut for Friday's main event, Hammer King founder Dave Cole announced that all 134 drivers would be allowed to compete this year. Normally, Griffin King of the Hammers is limited to a field of 100 racers, with the last 20 winning entry by competing in Last Chance Qualifying. Cole then went on to explain that proceeds from the additional drivers would go directly toward the effort to keep the Johnson Valley OHV area open to the public in view of the proposed expansion of the 29 Palms Marine Base, which would include most the 188,000-acre off-highway-vehicle area -- and the loss of KOH.
While drivers and teams rested up on Thursday, two events growing in popularity kept the crowd on their toes: the 2012 Pit Bull Tires King of the Hammers UTV Race and first-ever King of the Motos. Thirty-nine UTVs competed in five classes for cash prizes and the KOH Hammer trophy. Winning for the second year, Mitch Guthrie and his Polaris RZR XP900 crossed the finish line in 2:20:46 to become the 2012 King of the Hammers UTV overall winner. In an invitation-only competition, King of the Motos invited 20 of the best top riders from all over the world to race a 65-mile course with high-speed Baja-style desert racing mixed with extreme rocky terrain. With 21 starters, only six competitors finished. Graham Jarvis and his Husaberg TE300 two-stroke proved a worthy match for the terrain, crossing the finish line in 2:57:19 to become the first-ever King of the Motos.
With the sun starting to crest the mountaintops and the morning light filling the valley Friday morning, Hammer Town was buzzing as drivers filed in with their buggies and crawlers to their starting lineup positions. Bundled-up spectators still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes listened quietly to the opening ceremonies, waiting for the words, "Drivers, start your engines!!" The crowd watched as the parade of machines wound through the town, past the pits, and to the starting line. At the front of the line, competitors lined up two at a time to leave 30-second increments. Some rigs leapt out of the start while some saved their vehicle's strength for the rocks. And a few didn't make it far from the starting gate before they started having issues. Robby Gordon's bright-orange rig suffered a blown engine just a few miles from the start.
As the last teams crossed the start line, spectators jumped into their personal off-road vehicles and headed to one of many spectator stops along the race route. As the race drivers made their way through the sand and dunes for the long speed stretches, most the crowd went east to Chocolate Thunder to watch the rigs climb the thunderous boulder ridge.
After going through Fissure Mountain and Jackhammer, and then barreling down the backside, the race rigs faced the uphill battle at Chocolate Thunder. The front-runners flew up the loose boulder hillside as the rest of the pack followed. A jam-up of metal carnage unfolded as rigs flipped over and were forced to wait for help from Masters Pulls' recovery team. Chocolate Thunder claimed more than a handful of teams that day.
As drivers worked to get their vehicles out of Chocolate Thunder, the leaders made their way through Wrecking Ball, Clawhammer, Big Johnson, Boulderdash, and back onto an open stretch of flat sandy trails that circled to the backside of Resolution/Backdoor.
Spectators encouraged the drivers as they maneuvered down the vertical drops of the rock waterfalls waiting for the one that might make the wrong move -- and some did and rolled -- forcing the drivers and co-drivers to scramble as fast as they could to winch themselves out. Once safely at the bottom, it was a mad dash to the finish line -- just to start the second lap for a full 165-mile race.
And still the hammers claimed more rigs the second time around.
After 6 hours, 3 minutes, and 51 seconds, Erik Miller was the first to cross the finish line, winning the coveted title and $25,000 prize purse. Rick Mooneyham of Trick Toys Fabrication crossed the finish just under 12 minutes behind Miller; and last year's King, Shannon Campbell in his single-seat IFS buggy finished third at 6:33:40 and was the last to finish under the 7-hour mark.
Only 49 vehicles crossed the finish line before the 10 p.m. cutoff.
The full list of KOH finishers click here!