The King of the Hammers (KoH) off-road race is unique in motorsports, combining high-speed cross-country sections with some of the most challenging rock crawling trails in existence. In just a few short years, it has gone from a friendly casual competition among friends to one of the largest off-road events in the world. This year, Wilwood Brakes were on the vehicle raced by the man crowned king, and many others driven by the men vying for the title.
Back in 2007, off-road rock crawling enthusiasts Jeff Knoll and Dave Cole were having a few beers and discussing challenging trails in Johnson Valley, CA that all had names like Sledge Hammer, Dead Blow Hammer, Jack Hammer, etc. They wondered if anyone had ever done them all in one day and then pondered how long that would take. A dozen friends were invited for an off-road weekend, and they had a blast racing between the trails and rock crawling them as fast as possible.
In 2021, even with Covid-19 precautions in place (all racers, crew, and spectators had to present recent negative test results), there were ten times as many racers in the main event as there was that first weekend. There were different classes of Jeeps, trucks, buggies, UTVs, and motorcycles racing all week. Wilwood has supported off-road racing for 40 years, and our brakes are used in many of these custom builds, including UTVs. Here are some of the racers and winners from this year's Ultra 4 King of the Hammers who we know are using Wilwood.
The Everyman Challenge
In the early years of KoH, racers used whatever off-road rigs they had already been driving, with some being rock crawlers and some being more like Baja 1000 desert racers. As they say, things escalated quickly, and now the specialized unlimited class racers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build, with four-wheel independent hydraulic steering and crazy articulation. The Everyman Challenge (EMC) is a race held the day before the main-event with less extreme classes of vehicles, including some that had been serious main event contenders just a few short years ago. They are mostly limited by smaller tire sizes, though the 4500 Modified and 4600 Stock classes also specify standard two-wheel steering.
The top class in EMC is 4800 Legends class, for vehicles on 37" DOT tires that are now outclassed by the unlimited racers in the main event. This year, the top three EMC finishers were Legends class, and all used Wilwood brakes:
- Chayse Caprara
- Brad Lovell
- Casey Gilbert
Two-time Everyman Challenge (EMC) winner Casey Gilbert brought his 4800 class LS7 V8 powered Jeep CJ home in third place in this year's event. At one point in the sand, he rolled it dramatically (on video), going flat out, landed on his wheels, and kept going! Casey was battling for the lead for much of the race, but it was not to be. "The rocks were a lot tougher this year... Bender Alley gave us a ton of trouble," He said.
The man who took second was Brad Lowell, in a Ford Ranger based truck that has raced in every KoH event since the first; some years in both the Unlimited and Everyman races! Brad has won the Everyman Challenge three previous years, but this time couldn't quite get there. He drove a clean race without a single flat tire but could not match the winner's speed through the fast sections.
Perhaps Brad and his brother/co-driver Roger will have better luck next year when driving a new 2021 Ford Bronco that they helped develop with Ford. This new 4600 Stock class truck also features Wilwood brakes and is powered by a 2.7 liter EcoBoost V6 which should make it plenty fast.
This year's king of the everymen, Chayse Caprara, is only 19 years old and racing for the first time in the 4800 class. After three years racing UTVs (from before he was legally allowed to drive on the street) and co-driving with his father in a 4400 car, Chayse proved more than ready for the challenge. To illustrate how much faster he was on high-speed desert sections of the course, and the rock trails, he had an 11 minutes lead at the end despite being plagued by six flat tires. Brad Lowell, in second place, had none. Chayse actually crawled through one of the rock sections with a flat and drove back to the pits on a rim with barely any tire left clinging to it.
Part of the credit for what makes Chayse so fast has to be his new truck, a Bomber chassis built by this year's overall King of the Hammers winner in the unlimited class, Randy Slawson.
The King is Crowned
Randy Slawson won KoH twice before but had his heart broken last year when his truck's differential broke out on the trail while leading, and he couldn't fix it in time. After more than seven hours of crawling and bombing flat out across the desert in this year's race, just nine minutes separated him from second place.
"This is like the only thing that I live eat, breathe, sleep, dream... King of the Hammers" said the man now once again was king of Hammertown.
Unlike most of the unlimited cars in KoH these days, Slawson's Bomber still has solid axles front and rear. The newer independent suspension designs allow longer travel for absorbing high-speed bumps and more articulation for crawling. According to Randy, "out in the desert… this was not the fastest car we've ever had. It was kind of beating me up," and Dustin, his co-driver, told him, "Man, just wait, save it for the rocks."
"...And the rocks it goes where you point it, and it's a really well-rounded machine for rock crawling and racing... we just drove around, it was super smooth... I believe I didn’t even see any rock trails out there. We finished on the same BFGs we started on, and the PRP seats are insanely comfortable."
"The last Bomber... that I built last year, a 19-year-old kid won the EMC in. And I was like, man, the last time I had one of my customers win the Every Man Challenge, I won the next day. I was like, just taking it as an omen."
Besides the prize money, as the king, Randy also gets to drive home a brand new 2021 Ford Bronco street car.
Paul Horschel, who had won the King of the Hammers class at last year's Baja 1000, had a string of bad luck and broken parts and had to bow out before finishing the third lap. His week started badly with a blown motor before qualifying, then he got a flat on the trail and somehow did not have the correct tools to change the tire out on the trail. Another racer came by and lent him the socket, but then his cooling system sprung a leak, and he had an overheating problem. In the end, it was none of those things that put him out of commission for good, though; his transmission failed. Loren Healy, who had split the driving duties with him at Baja, managed to finish in 13th place.
Finishing in fourth place in the main event was Bailey Cole in lucky number 13, who also managed to finish the UTV class race two days before in 17th place. Son of KoH founder Dave Cole, Bailey was raised off-road and has been a competitive racer for a decade now, ever since he turned 15. "...doing Backdoor the first lap... to just go out and get the hard rocks out the first lap when the car was healthy," he said at the finish, but "Everything was going fine until Sledge, and man, it kicked our butts."
Sixth place finisher, Rusty Blyler, beat out Erik Miller in seventh place, which must have stung a bit, as Miller built both trucks. Josh Blyler, Randy's son and last year's King of the Hammers, finished in 15th this time. "Didn’t have a flat all day. How you can do that to a tire and keep racing, I have no idea. But it works," Rusty said.
Bailey Campbell had to sit out this year's event because she is pregnant, but her co-driver Ryan Miller brought her car home in ninth place. That was still better than Bailey's father, Shannon Campbell, who finished in 14th place. Wayland Campbell, who was running as high as second place over the course of the first lap, ran out of fuel and waited nearly an hour before another car towed him in. On his second lap, things only got worse, with the car breaking down out in the rocks, and he was unable to finish the race.
Bryan Crofts qualified strong, starting third and leaving the start in Hammertown at 8:01. Unfortunately, he was back in the pits with issues about 30 minutes later. After replacing a broken throttle cable he was back out on the course, only to have the throttle stick wide open, which resulted in him rolling the car. Bryan is hard on his brakes, and Wilwood has been using his feedback over the past year to develop and improve our off-road packages.
Cofts and all the Campbell teams are running Wilwood's Aerolite 6R calipers with huge 14" x .81" rotors. These larger calipers have more pad area and a stiffer closed bridge body to transfer more of your pedal effort into clamping force with less deflection. They can run this package thanks to the wheel clearance available inside the forged 17" Method Race Wheels all of the Campbell crew are running.
You can find a full listing of finishers at the Ultra 4 Racing website.
All photos courtesy of Ultra 4 Racing/King of the Hammers