King of the Hammers: What To Know, Before You Go
Nine years ago, 13 racers took off from Means Dry Lake Bed in Johnson Valley, California, in an effort to see who could finish the Hammers trails the fastest and be the first back to camp. An Idea that was planned on a tavern napkin by founders Dave Cole and Jeff Knoll has now become the biggest off-road week in the nation. We’re talking about Nitto’s King of the Hammers.
What began with a single day race is now a full week jammed full of off-road action! Starting it all off on Sunday the 31st will be the 2016 King of the Motos. This event is certainly one to spectate, starting in a desert-style line up, the flag drops and they take off in a stampede up some of the most difficult rock canyons Johnson Valley has to offer.
Not to worry if bikes aren’t your thing because the following night Monday the 1st will be the Vision X ULTRA4 vs. SRRS Shootout Presented by King, which can offer some of the best action of the week. Both "Pros and Joes" fight for the fastest time up the canyon earning them a significant purse prize and bragging rights for the week.
Tuesday is when we get down to business with our first day of the 4Wheel Parts Qualifying. In past years, these courses have been awesome for spectators with drivers looking for the fastest times in order to secure a starting position near the front of the pack come race day. The Fastest times will be put down during the Power Hour. The final hour of qualifying each day is reserved for only the best. Drivers like Erik Miller, Loren Healy, Shannon Campbell, Tom Wayes, Randy Slawson, Levi Shirley, Wayland Campbell and a handful of others will be gunning for the number 1 starting position.
Wednesday is Jammed packed with action starting with the 2016 Polaris KOH UTV Race, which will pit UTV racers not just against each other, but against the harsh Johnson Valley terrain. This race is truly about endurance with an average attrition rate that would discourage even the most seasoned UTV drivers. The day wraps up with the final round of 4Wheel Parts Qualifying, setting the starting order in place for Friday morning.
Thursday morning you’ll want to be up at the crack of dawn to watch as team’s line up for the Smittybilt Every Man Challenge. This race is for those that want to compete and race at the hammers, but do not have the budget to compete on a 4400 level. Containing Spec Cars, Toyotas, Jeeps, and any other off-road vehicle that has been outfitted to challenge the Hammers trails make, this race a favorite among spectators who can easily relate with their weekend warrior trail rigs.
Friday is the day that we have been waiting for all year long, its race day! Be up early for this as well as teams will be getting in line and warming up the cars before the sun comes up. They line up two at a time and take off in 30 second intervals tearing off into the desert. There is plenty of time to view the start of the race in Hammertown and make your way over to Backdoor, Chocolate Thunder, or the Hammers trails before the first racers come through. The reigning king Randy Slawson will be hard pressed to keep the crown on his head with a stacked field and past kings looking to reclaim the throne. Keep an eye on Loren Healy who has stepped back from the Red Dragon into a freshly built solid axle car nearly identical to the one he took the crown with in 2014. Purpose built to reclaim the crown.
So, that’s the schedule. Here is all the other important stuff you need to know as a spectator.
Daytime highs can reach the 70’s in the sun. Evenings can get into the low 20s and high teens. The racers and spectators kick up tons of dust, so be prepared to get dirty. Snow, Rain, Wind, Hail, are all commonly experienced.
Hammertown: This is not an actual town. In fact, for most of the year, the lakebed sits empty. However, From January 31st to February 6th Hammertown is alive and well. It’s located on Means Dry Lakebed roughly 51 miles from Palm Springs and Victorville California (your closest place for groceries and supplies). Fuel in Lucerne Valley (28 miles to the west) or Yucca Valley (15 miles to the south). In Hammertown, you can find food vendors, off-road vendors, racer pits, communal fire, bathrooms, two jumbotrons, and of course, the start/finish line. Also be on the lookout for prototype builds and new tech like the new Armada Engineering built car for Cody Wagonner sporting IFS and IRS.
Outside Hammertown: Johnson Valley is an open OHV area, so other than Hammer Town, Campers are able to camp essentially wherever they would like to as long as it’s not within 150′ of the race course. Firewood is for sale on the lakebed. Cell service is spotty and gets worse as more people get on the lakebed, so bring radios for communication. Also for note: concealable firearms must be transported unloaded and in a locked container and no rifles or pistols may be discharged in the JV OHV area.
Best Spectator Areas
The closest obstacle to Hammertown is roughly 1 mile north. This dry waterfall sits inside a boulder filled canyon. This is the home to the shootout on Monday night as well as a part of the EMC and 4400 race. The waterfall can be a winch-fest, but is still a great place to see race action.
This washed-out canyon can be found just under 2 miles northeast of Hammertown. This canyon has always been a favorite for spectators and media with multiple lines for passing Chocolate Thunder has been known to get pretty crazy/
Head due east about 2.5 miles from Hammertown and you find yourself at the mouth of the canyons that started it all. Jackhammer on the left and Sledgehammer on the right. These famous trails were the first born in Johnson Valley and offer some of the most difficult terrain, often times leading to major traffic jams.
Qualifying course: Though the course tends to move around from year to year, it usually takes place within close proximity to Hammertown, Follow the crowds on Tuesday and you’ll end up in the right place.
There is always something to do during the week. Outside of the scheduled events, the trails remain open for anyone to run. Backdoor and Chocolate Thunder are the places to be when the sun goes down as crowds of people gathered in the canyons heckling and rooting drivers on. The communal fire pit in central Hammertown is another great gathering place right under the big jumbo screen. Remember some of the best memories are made and shared around the camp fire. We hope to see you all out there this year, but if you are unable to make it out you can catch updates here on Driving Line.