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King of the Hammers – 4461 Race Report. Unfinished Business in 2010

A year ago I made my first trip to the place they call the Hammers. I went out to Johnson Valley in February 2009 to check out the race. The terrain, the vehicles and the people were just so amazing, I had a great time checking out the event, and by the end of the week I had set my heart on racing this race. I didn’t know how I would make it happen, but I would. So planning for the 2010 King of the Hammers started for me on the long, 14 hour plane flight home from LA to Sydney, Australia. A plane flight that I have now come to know very well.

As most of you know I hooked up with Randy Slawson from Bomber Fab (Grand Terrace, CA) to purchase the buggy known as the Bomber. I had seen how well it performed in 2009, and all my research indicated that this car was a fast strong platform from which to launch my racing effort. The more I work with Randy I realise the secret to his success. The guy is a perfectionist and this results in the amazing quality of his fabrication work. Randy would not let something leave his shop unless it was 110% perfect, and this made him the best person to be responsible for race prepping the buggy.

We then had to qualify for the race, and I decided that I wanted to truly earn my spot, and learn a lot about the desert so we entered the 2009 Vegas to Reno, teaming up with the other Unite cars and team members. This taught us a huge amount about racing in the desert, how to keep the car cool enough and how to make it last 1000 miles of tough racing. In the end we came away with a third place and a start in KOH.

Over Christmas / New Years I had the chance to spend some time in the Bomber at Johnson Valley. This was very beneficial for me, otherwise the first time I would have been rock crawling in the Bomber would have been race week. I did almost 500 miles of running around the desert in 2 weeks, learning as much as I could about the Hammers – we burnt close to 200 gallons of gas, all the while living in the back of an old Ford van with no heating. By the end of the trip I had been there so long I was told I had dreadlocks!

After another quick trip back to Australia, I flew back in on Monday 1st Feb, ready for the final race prep. Randy worked on the buggy, I tried to help as best I could, however I probably just complicated things! That Wednesday, a little over a week before the race, we took the car to Barstow, to tune our new King Shocks in with King’s race support crew. It was here that I rolled the car at 50 miles per hour,however in a show of the strength of Randy’s fabrication, very minimal damage was sustained, except to my pride!

With the final race prep completed and the rest of the Aussie contingent collected, we set out for the Lakebed on Monday of Race Week. I was blown away by what I saw – the quiet, uninhabited desert I had come to know was crowded by every manner of vehicle, RV, trailer and tent. People were everywhere.

We did a small amount of pre running during race week, mostly just the first 30 miles out to Crowbar and back. Without a second car to thrash on like most teams, we stuck close to camp. This meant there was more time for the team to meet the local, especially their moonshine and tequila!

Race day came and I was genuinely nervous. I got in the car and couldn’t believe I was about to race the biggest event of my life, against the people I read about in American magazines that make their way to Australia. Then the flag dropped and all the nerves went away. We had passed 4 cars before we lost sight of the main lakebed. The car just felt so awesome. As we got into the deeper rougher stuff the car just felt even better and we continued to work our way up the field. Leaving the start line in 23rd position, we were in the top 10 by the BFG pit, and I think 2nd coming back out of the Crowbar loop. On the way from the BFG pit to Main Pit, the previous King, Jason Scherer caught us. Man he was fast – I tried to stay ahead of him, but ended up making a mistake, crashing at pace into a fridge sized rock. This took out one of our tyres and we limped into main pit to change it. The BFG pit crew were amazing and by the time we left the main pit we were still in 3rd place on course. We race out through the desert and schooled Aftershock; I was worried with all the changes that we had made to make the car go fast in the desert it would be effected in the rocks, but it was great. We were making great time and the buggy was running awesome.

Coming out of Aftershock the GPS died, followed shortly after by the helmet pumpers and radiator fans. Soon after the car just died. We jumped out and started stripping panels to try and find the wiring problem. It was heart breaking to watch other competitors start flying past us. We found one loose ground, however I didn’t think that was the problem. After 45 minutes we managed to get the car started and we raced on into Sunbonnet. Half way up the trail the car died again. Thankfully it was in a place where people could squeeze past us. Here I noticed that the battery and winch motor were boiling hot and the winch rope was impossibly tight. Something had shorted making the winch spool in and kill the electrics. We stripped the winch wiring and again waited for the battery to cool, but could not get the car started. Thankfully another competitor cam along and lent us jump cables and we were able to get going again after being down for well over 1.5 hours. We powered through the fast section up to BFG Pit, where Mike (Randy’s brother) got out of the car and Randy got in. We continued through the fast stuff back towards Resolution and Backdoor. As we came up to Resolution Randy spotted two cars slowly climbing towards Resolution and decided that we had to beat them into the rock. This was probably my favourite part of the race as we zig zagged past Nicole Johnson and an F Toy to go launching into Resolution. The car continued to love the rocks and we were soon clear of Backdoor.

Somewhere along the way we lost our front locker and we had to pick our way through Chocolate Thunder. As we passed several broken cars in Boulder Dash we realised we were still in with a chance of a strong finish despite earlier problems, however this was all dashed as I accelerated out of a sandy section and a rear top link snapped, taking out the drive shaft. Frustrating as it was a brand new link for race week. Without the parts to replace both we unfortunately had to call the race at mile 114. I feel we had a super strong team and fast car, and will be back with a score to settle in future races this year and KOH next year.

Coming all the way from the other side of the world to compete in KOH was not an easy task, and I really want to thank the following people and companies for their help:
Randy Slawson at Bomber Fab – Randy builds some awesome stuff, and I love the buggy. His prep work was faultless, and I’m also very thankful to him and his bother
Mike for co driving for me.
BFGoodrich Tires – Thanks to Victor and the team for awesome tires, but also to the BFG volunteers for their pit support.
Raceline Wheels – again, faultless. These really are amazingly strong wheels
King Offroad Shocks – Iribe and the tuning team, thanks for making the Bomber the fastest it has ever been through the bumps.
Superior Axle and Gear
Howe Steering
DJ Safety
CTM Racing Products
Master Pull
Chris Ridgeway – Thanks for helping me out on my New Years trip and the lend of your van
Jeff and Dave – Thanks for making all this possible. Both these guys are awesome, and the event reflects this.

The next race for Team 4461 BNMotorsports will be the Best in the Desert Silverstate 300, in Nevada, April 24th.

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