King of the Hammers: The Most Intense, Grueling Single Day Race in America

Darrin BoltonContributor IFebruary 6, 2012

Photo Credit: CS Designs
Photo Credit: CS Designs

The year is 2007, and the worlds of off-road racing and rock crawling are about to collide in one colossal spectacle.  The event, dubbed the King of the Hammers, was to be contested in California's Johnson Valley, with many competitors coming from across the country to win the crown.

Fast forward to 2012, and the sixth running of the King of the Hammers is set to run.  Now, a growing number of entrants and spectators are threatening to take this underground, specialty race into the mainstream world of auto racing.

The brainchild of Jeff Knoll and Dave Cole, the KoH (as supporters call it) was created as an event to test the skills of two different disciplines: desert racing and rock crawling.  Advertised as two separate crafts, both forms include different variables to define success.

Desert racing, a form of off-road racing, is point to point racing.  Drivers race through the deserts and countrysides trying to amass the fastest time possible.  Rock crawling is more technical—competed through the hills, where the ability to read the layout of the rocks is crucial.  Sometimes being slower and more thorough is beneficial.  Due to the nature of the rocks, getting stuck is a common occurrence and almost eliminates your chances of winning.

With many different factors coming into KoH, the chances of mechanical failure are extremely high.  The amount of wear put on the race cars is extraordinary—tire hazards, stress on the drive train.  KoH can break anything, and even the most high priced components can fail; things are expected to go wrong.  Having spares with the car and a co-driver to help with repairs is the norm.  

The race course, spanning 78 miles, is competed in a single day format.  Drivers have to complete two laps to finish the race.

Photo Credit: CS Designs
Photo Credit: CS Designs

Many mechanical issues arise, but the physical demands put on the drivers are just as common and serious.  Dehydration, weariness and muscle fatigue are just a small selection of complications that face the competitors.  With all of the negative factors, why would people risk so much money and physical strain on a race?

What is the appeal?

2011 NorCal Rock Racing Series champion Alex Hardaway was asked that question.  He'll be driving the 4481 Hardaway Racing entry in this weekend's KoH.

"The appeal of the Hammers is the extreme challenge. The reason every driver wants to compete in the KoH is because it's a true test of endurance and the skill of the driver."

While the King of the Hammers is only in its sixth year of existence, it is quickly growing in popularity, with approximately 20,000-30,000 people expected in attendance throughout the weekend.  Notable entrants include NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Robby Gordon, as well as Paul Teutul Jr., of American Chopper fame.

When probed on why the event is so large and desirable by so many, Hardaway responded with an answer many drivers could relate to.

In my own opinion, the event has grown so big because of the fact that "anyone" can compete. If you have the desire to race, just bring your junk out and give it a shot. Of course you will have to qualify, but there are very few restrictions to the vehicle specs, with safety being the main concern. Other than that, what ever you think will work is more than welcome, and everybody has a different idea of what will work.

An event like the King of the Hammers captures the imaginations of many in the 4x4 community.  It has given people the ability to compete in an event that most wouldn't have thought possible.  Pitting drivers from multiple disciplines, it truly is a unique race event that concludes with the crowning of the best of the best.

It will only be a matter of time until auto racing enthusiasts put the KoH in the same company as the Baja 1000 and the Dakar Rally as one of the crown jewels of off-road racing.

Darrin Bolton is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.