This year’s contest was riddled with first timers, records, and epic battles.
This weekend’s schedule of events was destined to bring great performances to Johnson Valley, CA. After the thrill of the qualifying race on Saturday, the anticipation of Sunday morning was building for tens of thousands that were in attendance. Over a hundred racers competed for their starting position and it was time to see if it was going to make a difference on race day. There are so many things that come into play to earn a podium spot that a lot of people don’t realize; qualifying placement, experience, the co-dog, response time, terrain, other drivers, vehicle capabilities—there are just too many variables to consider… And when stacked up against a 143-mile course with the first lap being a 77-mile desert heavy loop followed by 66 miles of brutal rock trails, first place was out there for the taking.
The intensity of this morning far surpassed that of yesterday, true to both competitors and spectators alike. The morning started off much sooner. People began rising from their beds faster than the sun over the mountains. All one hundred and thirty-one racers stood side by side just before the entrance of the course. The engines were warming and adrenaline rising with each competitor waiting anxiously to pull to the start. Spectators came from all around to check out the vehicles before they headed out to take on one of the hardest events in off-road. This is the first time in KOH history that six different manufacturers participated in the lineup: Can-Am, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Honda, Polaris, and Arctic Cat.
After the competitors were queued and accounted for, the race began. Starting off with brothers Cody Miller and Hunter Miller, two cars were released every 30 seconds until every vehicle hit the course. From there, it was armageddon—nothing but head-to-head battle with the only thing more challenging than gaining position was surviving the racecourse itself. The drivers experienced similar terrain during the qualifying match, however, the actual race was a lot more strenuous with sharper and slicker rocks, longer straights, deeper pits, softer sand, rougher gravel, higher climbs, and steeper drops. Think of the most severe riding conditions from every off-road element out there and throw it all in one spot and you have the King of the Hammers race.
Dust filled the air above the lake bed as spectators and media crews jumped back and forth from designated spectator locations to the Monster Energy provided Jumbotron in Hammertown to get the best view of the onslaught. The technical spots of the course became far more technical as the day went on. As each driver passed, it would not be out of the norm to see massive boulders moved and thrown about that created all new lines for those behind them. There were a lot of spots that really tested the communication and the abilities of the driver and their co-dogs as they worked together to get through.
The obstacle known as Back Door was popular because it not only allowed people to get insanely close to the action, but it was a perfect stage to see what these drivers were made of. The final descend was a steep drop off with a cratered landing point that had drivers holding on and crossing fingers. Many found themselves on their side or with their bellies up. The drivers that did make it through regained confidence on the course and headed toward the open desert and onto the next mountain of challenges.
One of the next spectator-friendly perilous features to pass was Chocolate Thunder. It was a beast—a narrow passageway covered with giant loose rocks and deep ruts. The only path was the one you made. It was through these slower, more demanding and technical locations on the course that people began gaining some ground. There’s only so much someone can do to prepare for when the course is always changing. You have to learn quickly to what the area demands and even the slightest turn of the wheel or not giving enough gas could cause some serious damage to your vehicle. This portion of the course played a huge role in allowing competitors to finish the race. For if competitors made it to this point, they had to bumper-car through a dozen other racers and day-ending rocks to shoot toward the finish line.
Safely claiming the toughest one-day race in the world, just thirty-three contestants out of one hundred thirty-one managed to complete the race. Title sponsor, Can-Am, had plenty to celebrate with not only their first KOH victory, but a podium sweep with newcomers Hunter Miller, Kyle Chaney, and KOH vet Phil Blurton, and the favorable majority of the Top 10. A bold statement, no doubt. Nonetheless, each competitor across all manufacturers did an incredible job while competing at KOH. We can’t wait to see who comes out on top next year at King of the Hammers! Check out the following link to see who raced and which positions they placed: https://ultra4racing.com/2020-can-am-utv-koh-race-results