How To Prepare For One Of The Hardest Races In The World: Expect The Unexpected At KOH
Back in 2008, Shannon Campbell won the King of The Hammers in a buggy that was constructed reality show-style in only a few short weeks. Since then, others have tried to do the same thing but no one has achieved the same results. Both Loren Healy and Jason Scherer have debuted brand new cars at KOH in past years and both emphatically say “Never again!” So what is the right way to prepare a vehicle, and an entire team, for King of The Hammers? A new, untested vehicle might take you out of the race with bugs that went unnoticed, but a well-seasoned machine is just as likely to break parts that are worn out. The secret is finding the balance between these two ends of the spectrum, and top teams were generous enough to talk to us about how they prepare for one of the toughest races in the world.
“Prep is what separates the recreational entry from the guy racing for the win,” Erik Miller believes. “A lot of finishing first comes down to the level of prep. You would think that this would cause the attrition rate to go down, but it has not, since the difficulty keeps increasing every year.” Miller’s race car is completely torn down prior to King of The Hammers, and the team takes detail photos of every item to assure that the vehicle is returned to the same condition after replacing hardware and wear items like rod ends and brake pads.
Pit strategy is another important factor to winning, particularly in 2015 with more race miles and more stops at remote pits than in the main pit at Hammertown, where there are generally more resources available. “We have about a dozen guys at King of The Hammers, double the crew of a typical event,” Miller noted. Dominic and John Balducci are full-time employees at Miller Motorsports. And guys like Rob Ruggiero, Scott Decker, Jake Burke, Kevin Ledder, and Ryan Early are at every race. “Everyone has a specific skill set that complement each other, we have a really diverse and dynamic team. That makes it easy to manage because everyone knows what they have to do.”
Jason Scherer’s crew is even larger. “I have about 20 guys from Rage 4th and Team Awesome helping me out. Basically, you take the entire car apart and check every component, then put it back together again. We have been wheeling and competing together for years so there is great team chemistry and everyone knows what they have to do without being told.” he explained.
“I have gapped the field in past years only to have something silly end my race, and that can happen to any of us out there racing at the front of the pack.” Scherer confessed. “This year we rebuilt the transmission, transfer case, and differentials. We have spare axle shafts from Spidertrax. All of the rod ends are tight though, so we didn’t see a need to change them just for the sake of changing them.” Scherer built “The Gavel” with prep in mind, making components that are easy to access and service. “If the transmission is impossible to get to, you aren’t going to freshen it up,” he noted. “If it is easily accessible, you are more likely to pull it out and go through it between races.”
Loren Healy stripped down his car, “The Red Dragon”, to the chassis and replaced every nut and bolt and rod end and rebuilt the transmission, transfer case, and differentials. “The engine only has about 20 hours on it, so I will run it in King of The Hammers and then replace it,” the reigning king commented. Healy then pre-ran the desert sections of KOH in his UTV and put the Red Dragon through its paces in the rocks. “We actually found a loose pinion nut that could have ended our race,” Healy shared. He has a crew of 10 guys that come out to KOH. “Their backgrounds are in circle track so they really have a handle on little details.” Prior to the race, Healy’s team will swap out the current axle shafts and other components on the car for fresh pieces and keep the other parts for spares, along with checking every nut and bolt.
Of course luck plays a factor in winning, and indeed even finishing at King of The Hammers. But with a history of finishing at, or near, the front of the pack, Shannon Campbell, Loren Healy, Erik Miller and Jason Scherer are certainly relying on a lot more than luck.