By Ray Alexander • Also see All-J Racing Prepares for King of the Hammers
To follow up on an article on a build by All J Racing and our own “MoparNorm,” I went to the Smittybuilt “Every Man Challenge,” the day before the unlimited class was unleashed in the “King of the Hammers” (KOH) offroad race.
The event took place in Johnson Valley, California, where some evil diety or power had put together an ocean of soft sand and a sea of boulders that can not be parted, solely for the enjoyment of Jeep people. As I looked at a particularly ugly pile of boulders several hundred feet high, I wondered who was the first guy that thought he should climb this?
This place was not that far from Los Angeles, but on a direct route to nowhere. You would not be near this place unless you were very anxious to get to the 29 Palms Marines Base. Las Vegas, not this way. Palm Springs, no and if you were searching for Santa Barbara you were really lost. Yet spectators came here and spent a week, perhaps to test their own vehicles, watch qualifications, or check out vehicle construction?
I came with my ATV and was prepared to ride several miles, if necessary. I arrived about 7 am and easily drove to within a hundred yards of Hammertown. Parking, unloading the ATV, and looking for my prepaid wrist band was not a difficult chore; nor was finding the porta potties. Then I got back on the ATV and went about 10 feet before I decided that I was going against the contestants coming to the starting line. I quickly parked the ATV and walked in the opposite direction.
I was wearing my “Best in the Desert” media vest, thinking it would look enough like Ultra4 media clothing to allow me to gain access to restricted areas. Actually, it looked a lot more official than Ultra4, but it worked just fine. I soon spotted the 4540 car and congratulated Mike on a fine qualifying effort. In a field of 51, he ran 50th, and qualified sixth. He told me that All J was on the corner of King and Nitto (Hammertown had street signs.)
I went inside the restricted compound where the contestants started in pairs. During the event, though, my camera died a horrible death, with its eye open. When I got home there was nothing on the SanDisk card. While looking online for something to try to fix the disk, I picked up a virus that caused my PC to experience a death worse than the camera. The only thing I could get was a picture of three leaves and it wasn’t my picture. (The intrepid Allpar staff later plugged the disk into a Mac, where it showed all the photos, so we never did figure out the problem — likely some odd directory damage.)
Just inside the compound I found the vehicles that were running the 5.7 L Hemi crate motors as part of a Mopar-sponsored spec class. The drivers and co-drivers were known in the industry, but not necessarily as drivers. Below are the drivers and co-drivers and their qualifications. These vehicles will compete in other Ultra4 events on the west coast (see end of story for a list).
The clock had rolled around to eight and the first two vehicles were off. The 4540 made it away from the start line looking okay. The 4700s started after 4500 class and before a class with smaller engines and maybe less ground clearance. Ground clearance here pertains to how large a boulder the vehicle can clear.
I left the start area, reclaimed my ATV and started to look for an action spot. I went back to where I had gotten my wrist band because I had seen maps there. They couldn’t tell me anything except “the trail is out there, be careful to stay off of it.”
Back outside was a beehive of activity. I saw a guy with a truck missing 50% of the sheet metal and what remained looked like the truck had barrel rolled several times. I stopped him and said, “Surely you can tell me where to find a nice rocky uphill?”
He replied, “No, this is a self-clearancing vehicle.”
Then I saw two media guys heading out on motorcycles. I followed them to an uphill that I had seen in videos. I looked at the map and believed I was at “Chocolate Thunder.” To me, that could only mean one thing and it had nothing to do with the flavor of chocolate.
There was no need to hurry, because it was 2 hours and 45 minutes before the first competitor showed up. He went up the hill fairly cleanly.
The second vehicle was close behind and scaled the hill faster than the leader. No need to record the numbers because I was photographing each car (or thought I was). Then there was a half-hour wait for the next car. After, that they came regularly.
About number six, one driver was unable to make it up the hill. He stalled directly in front of about a 4 and ½ foot vertical climb. A decision was reached that they needed to use the winch. The co-driver got out with a strap and placed it around an 80 ton granite boulder. Then grabbed the winch cable and some line was paid out, then the winch direction reversed retrieving cable. After some theatrics the winch cable was hooked to the strap and power was applied.
The strap slipped over the top of the boulder about the time the next competitor arrived. He went around the stalled vehicle and approached the step at a horrible angle. With some reversing and maybe nudging the stalled vehicle, he made it up. A course worker showed the co-driver a strap that had been placed securely around an even larger boulder. The winch refused to pay out enough cable to make the connection. The co-driver was obviously irritated. A couple more cars made it up and over. Finally the winch was firmly attached to a boulder. Power was applied. The vehicle moved about two feet then the winch failed.
Vehicles began to show up with little elapsed time between them. There were four stalled or waiting and we witnessed passes in two different places. One guy honked his horn. Geeze, if you are gonna pass someone, don’t honk, just show ’em your taillights.
The 4701 went up the hill smoothly. The 4540 never showed up; in fact, by 1:30, only about twenty vehicles had made it through.
Here is a snippet of the rules for transporting parts. A spare part can be transported by the vehicle driver or another vehicle currently in the race. Any other assistance given to a race vehicle outside of the pits will result in disqualification. The information below was supplied by MoparNorm.
There were so many people in that area using cell phones, it caused the system/grid to crash. The era in which I raced had no cell phones and we managed. I really liked the commercial where some guys were going camping and they didn’t stop until they had no cell service.
At mile 78, the 4540 was running in fourth place when they broke a steering box. It had been installed immediately prior to starting the race. No report of hitting something like an open mine shaft. It just broke. It was two miles to pit #2. The driver, known as Mad Mike, ran the two miles to get a replacement steering box (Mike is not exactly 29 years old, he has five grandchildren).
He was rigged so the part was on his back — with the needed fluids, around 40 pounds to carry. He ran the two miles back, where Quinn, the co-driver, had the defective box off. By the time they were mobile again, they were running among the slower vehicles.
This event was watched live on internet TV by over 2 million people. The announcer somehow found out what was going on with the 4540 and dubbed the driver “Iron Man Mike.”
At some point during the day, three families in non-race vehicles strayed onto the race course and became immobile. If you break down on a closed race circuit, you will be towed, and the tower does not have a lot of concern for your vehicle. That is the primary reason for tow hooks on race cars. The race officials need a big Dodge Power Wagon to go out and tow those people. Once would likely fix that problem for the next ten years.
The driving team reported that every canyon looked like a junkyard.
Six in the evening was the time limit for the event. The 4540 was 35 minutes late; none of the crew members ever gave up. Crew members and fans stayed at the finish until the car came home. The weather turned quite nasty later in the afternoon. I drove through a lot of wind and rain getting home.
This car will run other Ultra4 events on the west coast and maybe a “Best in the Desert” event in 3700 Outlaw class. That would be Iron Man Mad Mike and Quinn the Outlaw.
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