Tire of Kings: How the Trail Grappler Dominates the Hammers
When it comes to off-road racing, few events are harder on equipment than Ultra4’s King of the Hammers. Sending participants through the legendary Hammer rockcrawling trails and unforgiving Southern California desert, the race combines two extreme off-road disciplines into one epic race. While the King of the Hammers crown has changed a few hands over the past ten years, the Nitto Trail Grappler continues to be a podium staple in the premier 4400 class.
Nitto’s Trail Grappler tire excels in this environment and has given racers the edge they need to finish and win. From its unique construction to incredibly durable tread blocks, the Trail Grappler was engineered from the ground up to survive brutal off-road conditions. Here, we’re looking at the characteristics that have made the tire so successful and what the top off-road drivers have to say about one of the most dominant tires in Ultra4 Racing.
Tread That Counts
At its core, the Trail Grappler is a mud-terrain radial that combines tread characteristics for on-road comfort. The proven deep and strategically staggered lugs are engineered to provide consistent grip, while allowing unwanted debris to easily eject from between the treads. In Johnson Valley’s brutal Hammer trails, the tire’s aggressive leading edges have proven to be tough enough to grip, moving both race and recreational off-road 4x4s without issue.
“This is one of the most demanding environments that we encounter in Ultra4 Racing. We’ve got small rocks, big rocks, and nasty rocks, but the Nitto tires do extremely well.” —Josh Blyler
A Sidewall Second to None
Nitto engineers’ have studied the effects and abuse of off-road driving on tires extensively. This real-world R&D has allowed the Trail Grappler to have a sidewall capable of withstanding repeated punishment, even at lower off-road racing air pressures. The 3-ply radial-banded sidewall includes additional sidewall lugs to allow for extra grip in rock crawling situations where traction is scarce.
“Sidewall strength is extremely important in this race. When driving fast through the desert, clipping rocks and bushes can leave you stranded without a strong sidewall. In the rocks, the tires will flex much more, and without a strong sidewall, that flexing will destroy a tire and take you out of the race.” —Jason Blanton
Driven By Details
While the Trail Grappler’s tread design may appear straight forward, there are brilliant cues built in to make it excel in the dirt. One of the most effective being the mud evacuation components that rest between the outer lugs on the tire. Designed to eject any type of mud or debris that gets lodged between the tire’s tread—this feature is primarily intended for mud, but the design has proven effective for breaking free the desert terrain found at the Hammers as well.
“One of the big advantages of the Trail Grappler is the large voids between the tread pattern. As an East Coast competitor, I see a lot of value in that. The bigger voids with square tread blocks provide more lateral stability while easily exiting mud and dirt with just a quick blip of the throttle. The sidewall tread blocks also give me an advantage with traction when racing in the mud.” —Erik Miller, 2-time King
The Trail Grappler’s unique construction equates to a consistent and uniformed tire. This means it’s easier to balance no matter the size. This not only translates to a smoother ride, but less component wear on the vehicle. Even in the popular 40x13.50R17 sizing that’s a staple in the 4400 class, the uniformed tire causes less fatigue for drivers tackling the toughest terrain.
“It’s important when we are racing in the desert to be able to go fast. It’s even more important to have a strong uniform tire that can take hits from rocks and other foreign objects, and still be able to drive at speed smoothly stay well balanced.” —Shannon Campbell, 3-time King