Mitch Guthrie Jr. Wins the Can-Am King of the Hammers UTV Race… Again!
Mitch Guthrie Jr. took the checkered flag for the 2nd year in in a row at the Can-Am King of the Hammers UTV race. A messy day of qualifying turned into a perfect day for racing and the 160-mile course proved to be one of the most challenging to date. The field of over 100 cars was a mix of old school, new school, first generation drivers, desert guys and family affairs.
The course incorporated all that mother nature had to offer with long dusty high-speed sections, tight desert canyons, and rocks, rocks, rocks. The UTV’s ran some of hardest and most iconic trails in Johnson Valley, including Outer Limits and Spooners.
There are two words you don’t say at the King of the Hammers: Wind (known as the “W” word, because to say its name is to invite its presence) and Rain. BOTH decided to make an appearance on qualifying day. All drivers lined up on Saturday morning and ran a 1.6-mile loop to establish starting order for the day. Knowing the that W word and rain were on the way, race operations made a decision to remove rock sections from the qualifying course, because it would be impassable once the rain hit.
Cars left the start finish line, looped around a fast infield short course, then headed out to the desert. Going up Short Bus, teams had to speed up a hill, through the Jeep arch, and back down into Hammertown. Mitch Guthrie Jr. set the fastest qualifying time on Saturday, ahead of Midwest short course racer Kyle Chaney by only 2/10ths of a second. Cars would be lined up on Sunday morning, two-by-two, as they headed out to the desert to see who the King would be.
When the green flag dropped, Phil Blurton passed both Guthrie and Chaney in his turbocharged Can-Am Maverick X3 to take the physical lead in the 91-mile desert loop. As nasty as qualifying day was, race day broke bright and sunny. The rain had settled the wind and created the perfect racing conditions. Shooting off the line and into the open desert, teams blasted through the first lap with carnage taking its predictable toll on the field. Race leaders started to put distance on the field as a breakaway group gained ground.
When the race moved to the infamous Hammers rockcrawling canyons though, everything changed. 22-year-old Mitch Guthrie Jr. has literally grown up in Johnson Valley, where his father has won the King of the Hammers UTV race six times. “We’ve been doing a lot of pre-running this week. The rocks are where it counts, and we had some great lines through them. We never even had to wrench,” Guthrie revealed at the finish line.
“I definitely felt pressure after winning (last year), but you learn to deal with it,” Guthrie shared after besting the next closest competitor by nearly half an hour. “I’ve been racing for a while, and you have to think about it as another race, but in the back of your head you know it’s King of the Hammers, and it’s the biggest race of the year.” The 160-mile course started with a 91-mile desert loop that mixed high speed lake beds with tight, twisty ridge lines that challenged man and machine.
Team Nitto driver Wayland Campbell came in second after a penalty pushed Branden Sims back to third place. “It’s a huge advantage to run the UTV race before the 4400 on Friday. The course gets so chewed up and changes, you don’t know what to expect on Friday.” Campbell finished second in the UTV race in 2017 but didn’t finish the race in 2018, “So this was big for us. I saw both my dad (Shannon) and sister (Bailey) on the course. My sister tried to pass me on the lakebed, and I passed my dad around mile 40, but then he caught back up to us. I don’t know where he went after that.” Shannon Campbell was close behind, finishing 4th overall.
Champion desert racer Branden Sims finished on the podium for the fourth time but has yet to win the Can-Am UTV King of the Hammers race. “My expectation was to get first,” Sims confessed. “That’s been my expectation for six years now. A podium is always good, but I really wanted that win. Mitchie was on fire, though, and he’s my teammate. We’ve raced together a lot I, and I know what he can do and what he’s capable of. First would have been nice but maybe next year.”
It is common to find families enjoying weekends in the desert with their UTVs, and King of the Hammers (KOH) is no exception. Just as the recreational market has exploded, so has UTV racing. Now the largest class at King of the Hammers, multiple generations of Guthrie, Greaves, Campbell, Gordon, and McKinley families showed up to do battle in the race. Additionally, a huge number of crossover drivers have tossed their hats into the ring, including past KOH winners Shannon Campbell and Loren Healy.
The next race up is the 4WP Every Man Challenge on Wednesday, February 6th.