What is KOH? King of the Hammers, the hardest one day race in the world. 3 laps combine one desert lap with speeds up to 130mph and two laps of the hardest rock trails ever! Once you have completed the first desert lap you come into main pit for fuel and a once over on the car, then you are heading out for two laps of extreme rock trails with names like, Thors Hammer, Kings Vito, Chocolate Thunder, Turkey Claw and Jackhammer. After each lap you come through main pit for fuel and you hope the car is still in one piece. Within these rock laps you are also in some desert stretches with speeds of up to 130mph, you hold on and pray nothing significant was broken while rock crawling.
"Toughest one-day off-road race in the world."
"Largest spectator event in California"
Driver: Jeren Gunter
Co-Driver: Matt Bowers
Event: King of the Hammers
Dates: Feb 2-11
Class: 4400 Unlimited
Size of Field: 107
Qualifying Position: 34
Arrived at KOH on Jan 31, began set up for dry camping for 2 weeks in the Johnson Valley with 100K+ people kicking up dust and getting ready for race day.
The weather was colder and windier than usual, with lows in the high 20s at night. The heater went out in the RV on the 2nd night we were there, which took a few days to fix. Overall the wind and dust were worse this year than in the past.
King of the Hammers is a blast —getting our crew, family, friends, and supporters together— it's a great time, so a big part of our experience, apart from racing, revolves around setting up a good camp with a fun atmosphere. A lot of that involves food. We outfitted our area this year with a full kitchen with a Recteq smoker and Blackstone grills. Several in our group are excellent cooks, and this year, we also had a professional caterer among us. On a typical day, we feed 20 people in our core group three times a day for 10 days.
The Patriot Off-Road crew hosted their annual seafood dinner on Monday. Tuesday tread lightly! held a dinner at our camp. Wednesday, we hosted a BBQ with Texas Brisket for 50 people! It's highly entertaining with good people, and we had a lot of laughs.
We had arrived at KOH with a fully prepped race car; having put all the heavy work in before the race, we did not have any work to do on the car until qualifying. We did a couple of test runs through Chocolate Thunder to put in a good test on the new transmission. The car was absolutely incredible. It was the fastest it has ever been, so we were all pretty content with that.
Wednesday was qualifying day. Heidi came down with her parents ( who had not been on a plane in 15 years) and our boys. They immediately wanted to play with the RC cars, then Jax marched into the garage and wanted to work on the race car. We had a full-time videographer with us this year, so we got a lot of great footage of Jaxon working on the car.
I had not finished a race in this car yet, and we had put a tremendous amount of work into it. I was more nervous about this qualifing than I have ever been. I had not been in that area many times before and had not pre-run as much as I should have. During the run, I was careful. I didn't push it because I was trying to be conservative and save the car. It ended up being the worst qualifying round I have ever had, with a 34th.
After qualifying, we went through the car; pulled the rear diff, changed the fluids, put a new axle shaft in, replaced all the unit bearings, and it was as fresh as could be for the start of Saturday's race.
Wednesday Night was the driver's meeting, which turned out to be a bit dramatic. Heidi and I dressed up as Ricky Bobby and his wife. We got a few laughs out of that, and quite a few pictures were taken, which lightened the mood.
On Thursday we spent time shooting videos and doing a photo shoot while finishing the car. Then we made our way to the course and watched the UTV race and Sublime's concert performance.
Friday, we did not have to do anything with the car. We spent that evening laying out our pit strategy, discussing fuel consumption, how far we can go on a tank, and those details. We had the plan in place by 8 PM, and I turned the rest over to the crew and headed to bed for a good night of sleep before the race.
The crew got things rolling and warmed up the car at 6 AM. At 6:45, they did a final once-over and topped it off with fuel and took it to the line. I arrived at 7:15 for an 8 o'clock start. With a 34th qualifying position, I left the line from Row 17 at 8:16.
This is the most challenging single-day off-road race in the world, and no other vehicle on the planet can do this. A lot of desert guys can't rock crawl, and many rock guys don't know how to do the desert stuff. That's the unique challenge with this race. You have to be able to do it all and have a vehicle that will hold up to it. The Baja is grueling because it is 1000 miles long, this is only 200 miles, but it is 200 miles of hell.
There is only one rock section in lap one and certain rock trails in lap 2 that are difficult. The most brutal lap is lap three, with the hardest rock trails, and you are running into the cars in front of you that are breaking.
You are always picking your line as far ahead as you can. If you lose your line, you get high-centered and have to back up and start over. You are always trying to pick your line by looking as far ahead as you can, but there are times when you can only see 12 yards ahead due to not being able to see over the obstacles. These 5000 lb vehicles are moving rocks as they navigate through these tight trails, so it is different from what it looked like the day before. The driver and the co-driver are looking out of their window, trying to stay on top of rocks and get over the holes, so they don't get stuck and trapped over broken cars.
Lap 1 was flawless; we advanced 12 positions to 22 while battling heavy dust and traffic.
In lap 2, we suffered a flat tire which took a while to repair, yet we still managed to move another 5 spots to 17. Coming into the main pit for fuel the crew discovered a tear in one of the CV boots. The crew filled it with grease and wrapped it with tape, which took another 15 minutes off our pace. I thought we were done right there because I did not believe the CV boot would hold. In lap 3, we hit King Vito about halfway in. There were some broken cars we had to winch past ( thanks to Warn) - which took an hour. After all this beating the car has gone through, then you have to get back out in the open desert at 90 -110 mph at the dry lake bed as you try to get back without falling apart; this year, my top speed was only 105, although it has been 120 in the past.
In lap three, I came across the line in 11th (corrected time), the 13th car in actual time. 107 cars started, and just 35 finished. Robby Gordon finished only one or two spots ahead of me .
Overall I am happy we finished. I am disappointed in the places we finished because I can do a lot better. I wanted to prove that I could finish. Last year I qualified in 10th; in lap one, I was in 5th overall and I believe third for corrected time, then broke half way through lap 3. I know the pace now and where I can push harder. When I get the assurance that the car can take the beating, then I gain confidence.
When I came across the line, our entire crew was there, all of our friends we have been wheeling with for the past 20 years. The kids and I got in the car and did a media interview. The journalist asked what part of the course I liked the best, and I replied, "this one right here."
Dirty Life Wheels, Warn Winches, and FK Rod Ends have been helpful allies in our program. It's the toughest one-day off-road race in the world, and you can only overcome the hammers with the best equipment.