Updated Feb. 6, 2018
Happy February, race fans!
Every year in this wonderful month of love, tens of thousands of spectators and more than 400 competitors descend upon Johnson Valley (a.k.a. Hammertown) for King of the Hammers (KOH). This week-long event includes five off-road races throughout the week, with the granddaddy of them all – the Nitto King of the Hammers – wrapping up the week on Friday. This race combines desert racing and rock crawling spanning 200 miles of grueling trails. It’s no wonder 40,000 people flood this otherwise deserted desert valley to witness all the havoc.
So, if you happen to find yourself in the middle of the California desert this week or maybe just happen to check out the live stream coverage, we’re about to breakdown everything you need to know before witnessing this one-of-a-kind event. Load up the RV, grab your bonfire hoodie and get ready for the world’s toughest one-day off-road race.
Conceived in 2007 on a napkin in a bar, the inaugural KOH was devised by two racers in search of bragging rights and a case of beer. Dave Cole, a championship rock crawler, and Jeff Knoll, a desert racer, sought to combine the best of both racing worlds and invited 12 pals to the middle of the California desert to race more than 35 miles with 12 checkpoints.
The first race was run in secret with no spectators or vendors – just a bunch of off-road/rock-crawling dudes having a bunch of fun. Ten years later, the race has grown into a full week of racing, with hundreds of competitors and tens of thousands of spectators.
Saturday, Feb. 3 kicked off racing with UTV/4600 qualifying and part one of the King of the Motos. Racing continues throughout the week leading up to the namesake King of the Hammers on Friday, Feb. 9. Competitors start side by side, with two vehicles leaving the start every 30 seconds.
Racers must complete the gnarly 200-mile desert/rock course and seven checkpoints in less than 14 hours, all while staying within 100 feet of the centerline of the course while stopping to rest. No chase cars are allowed, and any repairs must be done on the track by the racers or in the designated pit area. First one to cross the finish line encompassing all the above tasks is declared the winner and, subsequently, “King.”
What does it take to participate in the toughest one-day race on the planet?
First, you need a vehicle. Vehicles are unlimited four wheel drive and capable of competing in multiple racing disciplines (extreme rock crawling, high-speed desert racing, short course) termed “Ultra4 Unlimiteds.” Competitors typically compete in the Ultra 4 Series, but it is not a requirement. Past multi-time champs like Erik Miller are looking to take the checkered flag once again, but there will be a slew of newcomers hungry to take them down, or maybe at least just finish the grueling course. With only 17 out of the 129 cars finishing in previous years, carnage is sure to be witnessed.
If paying with cash only, having no cell service, scaling rocks to get a great view and leaving covered in dust isn’t enough to scare you off, the KOH provides an experience like no other. Tens of thousands of fans trek out each year for this “Burning Man meets Off-Road Racing” event, which some say resembles a scene from Mad Max. With no hotels nearby, the desert becomes flooded with RVs, campers and tents in this once-a-year resurrected city called Hammertown. And, with community bonfires held each night, you’re sure to leave with more friends than you came with.
And let’s not forget why all these enthusiasts trek out here: the racing. With highlighted spectator areas like the “Backdoor,” “Chocolate Thunder” and “The Hammers,” there are plenty of options for witnessing all of the KOH carnage.
Oil Recycling at This Year’s King of the Hammers
All visitors coming to Johnson Valley are encouraged to dispose of their motor and gear oils properly by visiting the BF Goodrich garage located just outside of Hammertown.
Stop by the AMSOIL booth inside Hammertown on AMSOIL Ave. for more information and to enter each day for a chance to win a free UTV oil change.
Click here to catch the King of the Hammers live stream.
A complete schedule of events for this year’s KOH race can be found here.