If you look up “carnage” in the dictionary, you’ll find King of the Hammers (KOH) as the definition. Ultra4’s rock racing extravaganza draws entrants from all walks of life with purpose-built vehicles devised from some of the most creative minds in Motorsports with intention to climb, crawl, sprint, and roost their way to glory. And the guys who brought the world the Yami YXZ Baby Raptor are back in the shop with fresh partnerships, a new crew and all the bad ideas needed to do something fearless. (Or crazy.)
The first winning component is a solid team. The pilots are the face and body of the program. Tyler Thomas, driver of Car One, has had adrenaline in his veins from a very young age. He began his off-road racing career in 2009 and quickly rose through the ranks as a top mechanic, co-driver and – as of 2020 – whiz behind the wheel. His wrenching and sauntering skills couldn’t be ignored in the Avid garage and so he also moonlights as Lead Fabricator. Co-pilot in C1 (a.k.a. “The Burrito”) is Chris Rea has nearly 20 years of experience with the Hammers trails as a KOH finisher in every class – except for UTVs – and as a former Chief Tech Inspector for Utlra4 Racing. He’s ready to complete his record with this next event.
Car number two (“The Taquito”) will be manned by Rodney VanEperen, an engine-powered athlete whose Yamaha Racing-backed Pro Short-Course team competes in the Championship Off-Road series. And his rich competitive history – in side-by-sides, off-road trucks, motorcross and snocross – will surely add an insightful perspective at the helm. His partner in the cabin is Tony Albano, a man that found his passion for off-road events while he was in school for Mechanical Engineering. A valued crew member in various Short-Course and Desert Racing teams over the years, he first hopped into the navigator’s seat when he ran roadbooks for Avid’s founder, George LaMonte, at the 2020 and 2021 Sonora Rally.
While the guys in the cab are integral to crossing the finish line, the folks in the background are key to reaching the start. We know the face and body, but the brains and backbone of the operation hang out on the sidelines. Following the Lead, Fabricators Shane Swigard and Elvis Becirevic are the liquid-metal glue piecing together the important parts. Lead Engineer, Sean Kepler, does all the math to make the dream come true (and not fall apart in the process). And last but not least, Pete Albano keeps this racing machine well-oiled as Team Manager for the effort they’re calling: Project Last Stand.
“We have an incredible opportunity in front of us, with the support of Yamaha and several great sponsors, to show our worth at King of the Hammers. Not just as a manufacturer or distributor, but as builders, racers, and enthusiasts. Our team feels so strong, and they’ve done a lot with not very much time. If nothing else, we’re just excited to be a part of such a pivotal race.”
– George LaMonte, Owner of Avid Racing Yamaha
The world is buzzing at the prospects of all these top teams making the long trek to Mexico to compete in a new round of the W2RC. And now the global media has a bit more insight on what to expect in April. In a conference December 30th, on the eve of the 45th Dakar Rally, Skilton was proud to present the Sonora Rally to the sport’s international elite in Saudi Arabia. To a full crowd, he touched on the history of Sonora and the event and revealed the beauty of racing in these remote Mexican regions. And it was apparent that Darren, along with his team back home, are excited to show a whole new group of passionate rally-raid athletes and fans the magic that awaits them in April. Considering W2RC’s recent announcements, we’re sure to draw several countries South of the Border in 2023.
Will they take this race to the podium? We’ll just have to wait and find out. Maybe the goal right now is just to show up, to present a set of UTVs no one expects and to fight tooth and nail for whatever seat hard work (and a bit of luck) affords them. In a battle filled to the brim with RZRs and Can-Ams, it’ll be refreshing to see what these bad little Yamaha beasts can do. Arguably one of the most underrated contenders in the field, there’s no doubt the crowd is looking for a good underdog story. And Avid Racing Yamaha is ready to give it to them.