ABOUT THE RACE
Is King of the Hammers really the world's hardest, most extreme desert race? Definitely. That's my answer after having completed my first time competing in this race. It combines every aspect of motorized desert sports. You don't have just fast roads, lake beds, and whoop-de-doos. You've also got canyons littered with boulders ranging in size from engine blocks to cars, ridge lines, and the back bones of ridges only accessible by 4-wheel drive or a helicopter. This unique, all-encompassing style of desert course requires a similarly unique off-road vehicle. Rock crawlers will suffer on the fast sections, and desert buggies will suffer on the technical rock sections.
As seen on the website, we did a late-in-the-game build for this race. A new car was constructed to allow more versatility to deal with the changes in the terrain. We didn't re-invent the wheel, but instead took our existing proven design and improved upon it. Typically a rock buggy is designed to keep a low center of gravity. Our S&N cars are usually built to have 3" to 5" of up travel at a fairly low ride height (generally under 6' tall with approx 20" of belly clearance). Starting with our standard chassis, the decision was made to keep the typical dimensions of 69" tall with 19" under the belly. It was also decided we would give an available 7" of vertical up-travel in the front and 9" of vertical up-travel in the rear. It sounds simple enough but you would be surprised at the headaches this creates. The decision was made to upgrade to a V-8 motor to handle the high speeds better and to give more off-idle power and acceleration. Thanks to the help from our sponsor vendors we were able to construct the car in just under four weeks. The car literally fired up, did a once around the parking lot and got loaded into the trailer to head out for the race. Not an ideal way to do things but it couldn't be helped.
After a long two day drive we arrived at the lake bed. We had hand-picked our chase team to include people that helped with the build of the car, so they had hands on familiarity, plus they already had experience in racing. This was a huge bonus in our race effort. The group we brought with us worked flawlessly. Our game plan was to run fast and be as aggressive as we could. If a major failure happened, then we would change our strategy to a "survival mode" or "finish the race" game plan.
We got our camp all set up and started making plans for the week. The goal was to pre-run the whole course excluding most of the rock trails. We would only run a few of those to get an idea of how the new car would react to the rocks. Monday morning was filled with excitement and experimentation. We wanted to see if everything on the car was actually ready to go. I fired the car up and took it for a short run, playing in some of the whoops and to just get a general feel for how the car would handle. After the first spin, I knew our efforts in building this race car had been worth it and that this new rig would be much better suited for what would lie ahead of us on Friday race day.
After letting several others drive the car around camp, we decided to make a run to show everyone the layout of the general area to let them see where most of the trails were. This would give some time for the car to be run and not be pushed too hard. I also wanted to make sure nothing was out of place or was going to fall off. After visiting the entrances to Sledgehammer, Jackhammer and Wreckingball, we ended up near the sand dunes to play for a few minutes.
After that run, we decided to drive up to the entrance of Clawhammer. The group that was with me really wanted to experience some of the rock trails, so we decided to drive up Claw. This trail is by no means the most difficult, and rates way lower in comparison to the other trails in Johnson Valley. Once we had all crested the top, we decided to return back to camp. The car was having no issues other than the temp gauge was still not working (new one was being shipped) but the fan did cycle on and off and the radiator was not boiling over, so all was good.
In the morning we got up and ran over to the registration tent to check in. After a couple of hours we finished up with that and got the race map loaded into our GPS. Trevor (my co-driver) and I decided to pre-run the first leg of the race which consisted of an approximate 25 to 30 mile loop back to the pit area/camp. We went back to our camp, installed the window nets, grabbed our helmets, and headed to the start line. Once there, we suited up and got ready to take off. Nick Campbell yelled to us to take our sunglasses off as he pointed to his bruised forehead and two black eyes. (Apparently, earlier in the week he had tumbled hard and learned the hard way to not wear shades).
Don B. followed in his Willys pickup, plus we had 2 motorcycles to run with us. We took off through the start gate and took a harsh 120 degree left hand turn, and onto a medium rough road. The course then took a right and headed into a canyon where we started going through knee deep whoops for what seemed like 300 miles, however, it was only about a mile. I had to slow down. The ride was harsh and the suspension was beating us and the car really hard. We were forced to slow to a speed of about 25 mph. We were then passed by Shannon Campbell and about 30 seconds later Rob McKinney. Man they were moving! Shannon went by going at least 25 to 35 mph faster than us and Rob was doing about 20 mph faster. Then we heard the loud rumble of a class one desert car as it went flying by. He seemed to be making time up on Rob but not Shannon.
Once you dropped from the canyon you ended up on a smooth flat lake bed. Not knowing if there were any bumps in the road, I kept it to around 50 to 55. At the end of the road it made a long left hand turn and kept going. I was thinking to myself, "70 miles of this and then rock trails, boy are we in for a real treat." At this point we both looked down and noticed the alternator wasn't charging. We decided to continue on despite the possible problem because of the necessity of getting as much pre-running time as possible. At this point Don B. was having issues and turned back. We still had both motorcycles with us, so if any other issues came up they could race back to camp to get us assistance. We continued on.
After about 25 minutes of desert the course took a harsh left, went up a canyon and ended up on a ridge line. It was littered with sections of whoops, then small chutes with small rock obstacles. This continued on for about 12 miles before it looked like it would drop back down. We seemed to be making decent headway when we noticed the voltmeter gauge was showing 8 volts and the car was starting to run rough. Trevor had noticed a sand chute about 50 yards back that would lead us off the ridge line and to a lower, smoother road. Once we made it down there, the car was barely running. We shut it down. We were now approximately 4 miles away from camp so we got out and told the bikes to run back to camp and get someone to tow us. After about 45 minutes they came back with Jason W. and an extra battery and jumper cables. We hooked them up and drove slowly back to camp. It turns out the alternator had to be replaced so Trevor went into town to get a replacement.
We got up to hear that DSI had arrived (he had brought our new temp gauge), and the Bilstein trailer was there as well. Finally! The suspension was quite rough and we were in need of some MAJOR tuning. At this point DSI's car was having some "small issues", so Joel Ward from Bilstein said, "A running car...well let's get started on yours."
There will be a write up separate from this, giving an in depth look into what is required and what you need to do to properly tune shocks. Keep in mind that all other brands are a lot more simplistic internally, but the overall goal to accomplish proper valving is the same. For now, let me just say, that Joel took several videos of the car while tuning the shocks. What he was looking for was balance. Before he started I had a top speed of around 23 to 25 mph through the whoops. When he was done, we could hit them at 50 to 60+ mph. The car went from a "pissed off donkey" to very manageable under high speed chop with ZERO sacrifice of rock crawling abilities. Huge thanks to Joel and Bilstein for taking the car from rough to competitive. We took the shocks off the car and put them back on four times, it took a total of about 9 hours. Quite a full day's worth of work. During the tuning we had to run off for a couple of hours to the drivers meeting while our pit support continued to work on the car.
On Thursday morning Trevor and I decided to try and run the second leg of the course before noon. After that time, the course would be closed to pre-running until the race. We made it only a few miles before we ran into trouble. During our first few days, the shutoff valve on the radiator overflow bottle had been slightly open. We found it the night before, and closed it off. But we hadn't realized that we had lost some of our coolant. That led to us overheating quickly on this pre-run. Once again, Don B. had been following us, so he headed back to camp to get some coolant.
With the radiator filled, we were off and running again. We only made it a few hundred yards when suddenly it sounded like the car was coming apart! It turned out that our tool bag had split open, and tools went scattering across the desert. Don B. was able to grab the tools, and threw them in with him. Finally, we were ready to hit the whoops, again. We made it about 1.5 miles, and the temp gauge started to climb. Just then, steam started to rise out from under the hood. Don B. quickly determined that the radiator fan was not turning on due to a faulty temp sensor. So with that bypassed, the fan came on, and the car quickly cooled. Unfortunately, it was right about noon. Time to turn back and head to the tech inspection.
It turned out than Matt Overton who owns the 2nd Bravo chassis ever built had made it into the race by finishing well in the last chance qualifier. We were stoked! Four S&N Fab cars would be in the KOH. Our pit support was going to be busy taking care of 4 cars.
The rest of the day was spent in Vendor Row in line to get race tech'd. We met several companies on contingency row asking us to run their stickers. Once we were three quarters of the way through, we came to the Rallytracker booth where they added in the Rallytracker device which was meant to provide a GPS live track our progress in the race. Then it was on to the tech guys where the car passed with flying colors. It's amazing how easy it is to pass when you actually read the rules prior to the race! The rest of the afternoon was spent prepping for the race and waiting for the next morning. Later that evening we went over the game plan with our pit support, so they would be able to help service all four cars.
FRIDAY: THE RACE TO CHECKPOINT 1 AND THE MAIN PIT
The organizers had requested that we start lining up at 5:30 am. Screw that! I slept until 6:30 and then suited up into my race suit. You could feel the typical state of nervousness and excitement running through the camp. I climbed into the car and fired it up. It sounded ready for war. Once we were over at the starting gates, we waited our turn in line in. Our starting position was #36.
Our starting position was right next to Casey Currie. I was very confident that starting beside him, I would be looking at his taillights within 10 feet. Needless to say, our time was up and we pulled up to the start line. Dave Cole came up to me and said, "There is an offset whoop on your side. Please take it easy since it is throwing the cars towards the crowd." I thought to myself, "Whew, I have an excuse." The next thing I know the flag drops and we are off! I took it a bit easy over that first bump and just like I had thought, I had a clean view of Casey's tail lights. I would try to keep him in sight since I knew he would keep a good pace through the pack. Thirty seconds later, Casey was no longer in sight.
We rounded the first bend. At this point, Trevor hadn't been in the car since it had been tuned. He INSTANTLY realized the difference. We were still getting beat the same, but we were going twice as fast and it didn't feel like the car was getting beat on. We took the canyon down onto the lake bed (all the while passing several cars) and got up to a nice speed of around high 60's. Unfortunately, the dust was so thick we could barely tell if we were on the course or not. Before I knew it, we were at the end of the lake bed and rounding the wide left hand sweeper and were heading through the chop. Some cars passed by us and we passed several others. I was trying to keep a reasonable speed since it was a long race and to get a better feel for the car. We took off up the ridge where we saw several cars on the side of the course already broken or just stopped.
At this point, Trevor noticed the transmission was running at 230 degrees and climbing. This was odd since it had seemed to stay cool while we were pre-running before. We pushed on, but slowed down some, in hopes of keeping the heat down. Finally, we decided to stop and make sure we weren't dumping fluid since it was at 250 degrees. We found a good spot and pulled off. I got out and went to the cooler. The fan wasn't even on. I turned the thermostatic control to wide open, and the fan lit off. After about 5 minutes it came down to 230 degrees and continued to fall within normal. We decided it was safe to take off, again.
We moved onto the course and after about 30 seconds, I got rear-ended! No horn, no nothing, just a good old push. I moved over. It was one of the Lovell cars. So I let him by and we stayed with him. Then Haines came by and makes a pass only to pull over about a mile ahead due to transmission issues. Next to pass was Rob McKinney and Nick; they were making good time.
Next on the course was a tight chute where in the rear view I could see DSI. I then picked up the pace quite a bit as we headed into a fairly long section of sandy whoops. In this section Easy Rick got past us, but I followed his speed which took us back by others who had passed us. The car at this point was feeling good. We go right on past Rob and Nick and a few others that were moving a lot slower through the chop. The lines were becoming clear and running the car at speed seemed to be more comfortable.
The next think I knew, Trevor yells in the intercom "KICKER!" So like any moron in a race I punched it and the car launched...I wished we had a Dukes of Hazard horn. If felt like we caught 2000 feet of air but in actuality it was about 5' high and about 50 to 60' in distance. But it sure did feel big. The car landed soft and smooth and flew past a few others while in the air. Trevor looked over and said one word, "NICE."
From this point, we are about 7 miles from the first checkpoint. We had been passed by 6 or 7 cars and had passed 10 to 15. We ended up coming around a corner and there are 3 cars stopped. Guys seemed to be shifting down into low range. Rather than get in line and wait, I just left it in high not knowing what this thing looked like and go up it in true pinball fashion. We got to the top and the car felt odd on the passenger front. I told Trevor, "I think I cut a tire on your front, on that last climb when we hit that rock hard." He looked over and said, "Yup," so we found a good spot and pulled over to investigate. We had about a 2" sidewall gash. It's a good thing we designed the car with a jack and a spare on it with a small tool bag. We started to jack up the car, 2 cars go by, and then the number 18 moon car of Brian Shirley rolled about 50 feet from us. Other cars came up the hill and bumped into him while he is on his side. Meanwhile, we had just started to set the new tire on. I told Trevor, "We should help him roll back over." Trevor agreed, "Before someone smashes him hard." By this time, Brian had gotten out and was running with his winch cable when he suddenly realized there was nothing to winch to. We ran over and yelled, "We'll get you over." Back on to his tires he went. He thanked us and took off. We went back to finish the tire and set the car back down.
Now, keep in mind that every time we stopped, we didn't work frantically or rush. We just visited and sipped water while we talked. Once everything was loaded up and the tire was strapped back in, we climbed in and started the process of putting on our seat belts and helmets, plugging into the radio, turning on the GPS and waiting for it to fire up and then trying to install the window nets...only to realize that I can't reach the steering wheel (which I removed to exit the car) while all strapped in. So I took my gloves off again, to undo my belts, to reach the steering wheel, and then started the strap-in process all over again. Ok and we are off, again. We continued along the ridge for about another 10 minutes.
When we had done our original pre-run we hadn't seen any of this, so we were a little blind in this section, relying only on the GPS and the course markers. We then started a long sandy decent onto the valley floor where we could see the lake bed and 4.5 billion RV's and people. We radioed ahead to have a spare tire ready from one of the other cars, since we were going to go to the main pit after checkpoint one to replace the flat. Finally we came through a sand wash at some high speed and there it was. Boone road and the check point. We signaled that we needed to pit and they waved us in. Once in the pits (about 1/4 mile away at 25 mph both directions) the guys un-strapped the tire and gave the car a once over. We drank some fluids and suited back up and then we were off again. We made our way past the RV's and the people watching and headed to the checkpoint where we were given the go ahead to get back on course.
THE RACE TO THE BFG REMOTE PITS
I hoofed it through the long section of whoops and made up for the lost time. We passed by several cars through the chop. Honking and passing, I think to myself, "This is just like when I used to commute to Seattle, but legal. SWEET!!" This section of the course took us on the backside of the ridge where we came to an abrupt turn at 29 Palms Military Base. I would get stuck behind traffic and patiently look for a clean pass. I didn't want to waste time stuck behind anyone.
Finally we came across an F-Toy. he was moving well but I was impatient and didn't want to wait. Then Trevor saw it, "Pass him there on the inside." We then LAUNCHED into the air...sideways on a steep downhill, with big whoops. Pretty much the worst case scenario to be in. The car landed sideways. I was deep into the gas, with the rear brakes locked and it just landed and straightened back out like nothing! It was simply amazing. The car had the amazing ability to just naturally recover from a bad situation because I sure as hell know it wasn't due to my bad ass driving. Needless to say the pass stuck and we kept moving.
The course was starting to slow a bit and was showing signs of rocks. Before we knew it we came across Rob Bonney and the back half of his car was engulfed in fire. I stopped and offered him our two fire extinguishers but he agreed to only take one, since we might need one of them. We continued forward and into the canyon where we slowly worked into the Aftershock Trail. We noticed Tracy Jordan broken off to the side and maneuvered around him. We then continued up where we ran across Doug Bigelow, who was stuck in the middle of the trail and there was another car attempting a go around.
I looked ahead and saw Jason Paulie walking down the trail with Mark Berger. They pointed out a spot to me where we could pass Doug. I had been worried that I would smash into his car on the pass. The car that was working the climb to his right made it over. I tried to shoot in for that climb but another car worked himself in next to me. This was getting to be a mess real fast, so I backed out and tried the left side of Doug, with no luck. He asked us for some jumper cables, but we didn't have any. I backed away from him, and right about then the impatient RJ Brown went right around us, and over the top of Doug's car! Larry Gipson followed behind. I had no choice but to use the same method but I was able to miss his car.
Around the next corner we saw car 000, Jason Paulie, he was broken down. We continued to the top of the trail and on to the exit. Then onto a small ridge that runs right into the Sunbonnet Pass Trail. This is where Dean Buloch passed us doing about 2,343 mph. His car is painted with fire for a reason. He was in a huge hurry for some reason. My guess was a dinner date. We soon entered into Sunbonnet. Not too far into it we came to a bottle neck at one of the waterfalls. This is where there were a couple of rigs broken down and it looked like there were several bypasses to go around. About this time, we found Larry Gipson about 2 cars ahead and he was waiting for his turn in line. While we were waiting, the helicopter came in for a closer look. There were tons of people around. I noticed people up on the sides trying to drive past us while we are stuck down in the bottle neck. Finally, after some time the jeep in front gave up and moved back so the car in front of us could have a shot at the climb. When it was our turn, we ended up making the climb and used the go around at the top. We got back onto the trail and got in front of the car that was in front of us. We were now right behind Larry. I followed him for about 200 yards in the rocks just waiting for him to make a bad line choice. Once he did, I seized the opportunity and passed him.
We now made our way to the exit of Sunbonnet. It was on an old familiar trail. I knew it from years past where Caine Covert and I had spent a day exploring. I knew at this point that the BFG Remote Pits were not too far away. We came across the car of Ian Plain not much further up the road. He was hiking back with a gas can. At this point I told Trevor that he needed to get a bag out of the backpack. We were carrying some of the ashes of Caine with us and I wanted to spread them in that back section where he and I had done some exploring. Unfortunately, Trevor couldn't move around enough to get to them, so Caine would have to ride with us for the rest of the trip.
Shortly after that we reached the BFG Remote Pits. This is where we saw a couple of familiar faces. Erica Covert (Caine's widow) was pointing to where our pit was located.
At this point Don B. informed us that we were only the 5th car he has seen come through. They topped off the tank and let us know that Ian and Nate (The Trailready S&N car) were only 2 cars ahead of us. We rushed and the crew gave the car a once over checking that everything was tight. I was concerned because right after the Outerlimits Trail I knew it was going to be a very fast desert section. Everyone stepped away and the car rumbled to life. We pulled away being lead by Damon on his bike.
THE RACE FROM THE BFG REMOTE PIT TO THE MAIN PITS
Once out on the course we started moving at a good pace with the excitement of knowing a lot of our competitors were behind us. Because of this, the bottlenecks would be at a minimum on the rock trails ahead. Since we shouldn't need fuel for the rest of the race, we would be able to skip the last main pit and continue on to the finish gates. We started into the Outerlimits Trail and got about 2 waterfalls in when a spectator yelled to me, "STOP!!!" and then he yelled "Your tire fell off!" I got out to look and sure enough all six wheel studs had sheared off the driver's side front tire. By this time Trevor was already on the race radio and was informing the pit teams of what had happened. We didn't have a lot of options at this point. If we accepted remote help, we would be disqualified. Another spectator suggested that we steal some studs from the other side. Trevor commented that he didn't think they would fit between the rotor.
Now remember, we only had a VERY limited number of tools on the car. They consisted of 1 tow strap, a jack, a 3/8" drive ratchet with extension, a 13/16" thin wall socket for lug nuts, a 1/2" drive ratchet, an extension and regular 13/16" socket, an assortment of wrenches going from 5/16" to 7/8", 2 different sizes of Crescent wrenches and a pair of Vise Grips. So I took the 3/8" extension and drove out one of the broken wheel studs. Low and behold it fell right to the ground. I was thinking "Oh yeah, we've got this easy." Meanwhile, three cars passed us. I go to the other side and to drive out a full length stud. Well, it didn't fall out. I figured if I use the 1/2" drive extension and socket as a drift and a rock as a hammer I could get it out. It took several tries, but finally one came out. I kept working at it until I got 3 of them out. The next trick was getting in and moving the car with only 3 wheels, to a point where we could get it jacked up.
About this time we heard something fast coming down the trail. It was Shannon Campbell. We spotted him down by the waterfall and then he continued on by us. The last we had heard he had been disqualified, but we just figured he must have gotten his rig fixed. Either way, after we got the car up and the wheel studs partially installed we slid the tire back on and I cinched the lugs down as best I could. But they wouldn't seat properly. Apparently the 3/8" ratchet had stripped out and the 1/2" drive wouldn't fit into the wheels.
Next, we heard RJ Brown coming up behind us, his front end was broken and he was having a hard time. Well we sure didn't want to get stuck behind him, since he was way worse off than us. He began trying to winch by us. We got back in and barely got strapped back in before we took off to stay in front of him and continued down the trail until there was a wide spot. We then pulled back over and I re-tightened the lug studs once more, since the wheel was wobbling. Once back inside we took it easy for a bit and got passed by the Trail Gear car. I got out and tightened the wheel studs yet again thinking to myself, "When will these seat?" Every time I got out, I would have to un-strap the spare tire and the tool bag from under it and then lift the tire out. It was a little warm with the race suit on. I tighten them again, and off we go, where we passed back by the Trail Gear car. He had a broken steering arm. We checked and made sure he had people coming to fix him and continued on.
About another 300 yards and I pulled over to tighten the tire YET AGAIN. Matt Overton checked on us as he passed by us. We told him what happened and told him to continue on. I could see the smooth desert not far ahead and couldn't wait to get out of the rocks. But I knew that the Resolution Trail and the Backdoor Trail lay ahead and on 3 lugs per side it was going to be sketchy considering we had about 20 miles of desert to run prior to them. Going down was a fast descent with a couple of STEEP waterfalls. OH, GOODIE!!! The next thing I saw while tightening the studs was Matt Messer in the Trail Gear car driving with the broken steering arm. He was letting the tire go where it wanted. He got ahead of us and stopped. We got past him and out into the wide open desert. We started driving at a constant speed of about 25 to 30 mph. I watched the tire through my wheel well for any sort of wobble. I was paranoid about it coming loose.
After some long driving we came to an abrupt left hand turn off of the main road. I selected this time to check the lugs yet again. We could see a car coming up in the distance and it soon passed us while we were on the side of the road. Back in I go after tying the tire and tools back down, yet again. We soon caught the car that had passed us while we were sitting on the side of the road.
As we were driving we had the time to look around. There is NOTHING. You are literally out in the middle of nowhere. I asked Trevor to zoom out on the GPS to see where we were in relation to the base camp and the main pit. It looked like we were about half way through the loop so we continued on. By this time our pit crews had been working on taking the wheel hubs and rotors off of Trevor's car so we could finish the race without being wounded. As we drove on, we started up towards the sides of some ridges and down some CRAZY sand hills. I knew we had to be getting close to the rock trails that would drop us into the main pits. Finally we reached the top of the ridge and were getting signs of rocks again. We had maintained about 25 mph through this whole segment. I had wanted to go a lot faster but was too worried about hurting the car prior to the descent down Resolution and Backdoor.
Finally, we started back down. There were stuck and broken cars on the way down. We used a couple of go-arounds and passed a few cars. We saw Matt O. stopped on a drop. We moved over and dropped into a steeper descent and made the pass down into the main waterfall of Backdoor. This was a steep waterfall and I had only 3 lugs per front tire. What do ya do? You pick your line and drive off it.
There were people lining the sides of the trail and the crowd cheered as we drove off of it. It was quite uneventful and easier than I would have expected. But hey, I still had a front tire on each side. So I was stoked. "We can do this, we can finish," I thought to myself. We headed out through the entrance of Backdoor and towards the main pits where they pointed us toward the finish gates and we waved that we needed to pit.
At this point it is around 3:00 in the afternoon and they send me down the start/finish line. They assumed that we had already finished the race. We had to work our way through the crowd and over to our pits. This was when I noticed the tire wobbling, again. I thought to myself, "Just make it to the tarp so we can fix this thing." Finally on to the tarp it went. Trevor's poor car...we had stolen the tire earlier, DSI had pillaged the cooling fan off the radiator, and the front housing was torn apart. It looked like a car from a wrecking yard.
The pit crew instantly went to work changing the wheel hubs. A little after 4 pm they finished and the car was ready to go. Meanwhile, Matt O. had come by, pitted and had gone. We suited up and jumped into the car to "handle" this thing and headed for the course entrance.
THE RACE AGAINST THE CLOCK AND THE FINISH
Prior to leaving, we found out that we had until 6:30 pm plus the 9 minutes later we had left the starting line. But we were also informed that the checkpoints would be closing soon. It was on! As soon as the course official pointed us on, we were off and the throttle went down. We made a good pace to the first trail on the main ridge of Boulderdash. We scooted right on up it and came down Big Johnson. This is where we noticed one of our sponsors (Bobby and Tina Long) from Longfield Super Axle and Odie, they were waving for us to take a left turn 2 feet earlier then what was marked for the course on the GPS.
We went up and over the sand hill and down to Clawhammer. We started up Claw (which I had run earlier in the week) and blasted right through it. At the top we passed Matt O. again and continued up into the exit of Wreckingball to go down it. We made good speed to the rock section and started descending down. There were no checkpoint officials working like there was supposed to be. They were just there, hanging out. A rig that was in front of us just about went over forward, on the first waterfall drop. We dropped in right behind him and moved to pass. As we did this, he informed us we were too late, that we had missed the checkpoint and to quit racing. We called on the radio to have our pit crew check. They called us back after talking with either Jeff or Dave to let us know we only had to worry about the finish time. We asked what time we had until and what time it was then. We then continued down. We got to the bottom of Wrecking Ball and found Ian and Nate and set them up for a pass. We got by and dropped into the desert floor and took off. As we were driving, the GPS started acting weird as we were going cross country. We could see the course markers ahead. I looked at Trevor and asked him which way. He zoomed out and realized we were going to get onto the course further down and were going backwards. We whipped a 180 and got back towards the entrance of Wreckingball and found the trail of where we were supposed to be. The best that we could figure was there was a glitch in the map, since there was no way for the map lines to connect up there.
We started moving and came into the Calrocs Remote Pit where Glen waved and asked if we needed anything. We waved back that we were good to go. He smiled and waved us on and we headed to North Jackhammer. As we started up North Jack we got a call on the radio. "Jason or Trevor, you got a copy?" And it was repeated. Trevor looked at me and said, "Yeah, we got a copy but we don't have a microphone." We shrugged it off and kept working up the trail behind another car. Jack is a little tight to set up for a pass but finally the rig in front made a mistake and we got by. Once on the Jack ridge we could see the sun setting. We knew that our time was limited. This was all or nothing. We were going to have to haul ass and it would be a miracle if we could finish it. We couldn't afford to have any hiccups or tire issues. I tried to make sensible choices to not break the car and we came out of Jack clean and into Sledge Canyon.
We made short work of Sledgehammer until we reached the last waterfall on the trail. At this point Clay Egan was peeling out and tipping over. There was no bypass there. You had to wait your turn. Trevor got on the horn. The sides of the canyon were littered with spectators watching the cars battle the obstacle. Finally Clay's spotter grabbed his winch line and hooked it to a rock and he winched up. We were sitting behind CTM Jack and he was next. It continued to get darker. The frustrating part was once you could get over the rocks and moved forward 100 feet, there was room to let faster cars by. But taking his own sweet time, Clay stayed on top of the rocks where he let his spotter climb in, strap back in, put on his helmet and then put his window net in. Only then did they finally take off.
An exact replay followed as Jack got into the climb up the rocks. I looked over at Trevor and said, "We're not going to make it because these guys are taking their time and not letting a faster car by." He agreed and nodded. Finally, after Jack's co-driver got all tucked back in, they finally moved. I tried the right hand side going up. No go. The car went onto its side. I reversed it back onto to all fours. Trevor says, "You may want to try the left, up by the plaque; Jason and Don B. had to use that line." (Most trails in JV have plaques with the name of the trail.) So I moved over and tried but I slid off. As I looked out, I saw a fin rock that would help the rear tire come up if I moved over about a foot. I worked my way over and started up. The car started grabbing for traction, but was starting to slide back down. I bumped the throttle and up we went. Of course the crowd went nuts. It was pretty cool.
After we got up the obstacle, CTM Jack was stuck on a rock. I saw a spot where we could pass. I pulled around him and made the pass only to hit the front diff and got wedged. We were stuck. I backed up the rear of the car and it fell right onto the front of Jack's car. Trevor tells me to stop, that I was ruining Jack's hood and grille. I didn't want to mangle his car. He backed up and brought my car into his coilover, hood, and grill even worse. All of a sudden we both freed up. I shifted into high range and off we went. I knew the Fissure Trail was way up there in altitude across a ridge, but I had to open it up, wide and fast to make up the time. We continued on that ridge for about 15 minutes when Jason at the pits gave us an update. He said, "You guys have 45 minutes." Soon after that we saw the desert floor again. After a couple chutes, we would be down. At this point, it was starting to get pretty dark. With the headlights turned on, it quickly became obvious that the headlight covers were still on. I knew that once we got there we could move at a really good clip. I looked over to Trevor and said, "We got this."
Once we were back in the desert, we made good time. The checkpoints just waved us through. Finally, when we could see the home stretch, we got stopped by a race official waving a flag. He came up and said, "You're done." We asked "Did we finish?" That was when he told us the real finish line was where we were. The bannered "finish line" was for celebrations and he congratulated us. Finally, we had beaten the course! We drove in slowly like we were told to and came to a stop where we where greeted by our ladies, pit crew and friends.
They asked us why we never answered back on the radio. That is when we explained to them that we had lost the mic in Wreckingball somewhere. My thoughts coming in to the finish were quite vivid: "Get me out of this friggen car!"
I had never been so sore from being physically beaten and mentally drained, all at once, in my life. It was an experience of a lifetime. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! We are already planning on doing the Vegas to Reno race later this year. 1000 miles. YEAH, BABY!!!! YEAH!!!! I guess we didn't learn our lesson. See ya at the races!
- Jason Conover
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