After qualifying for the 2010 King of The Hammers (KOH) race in December at Put Up or Shut Up (PUSU), Curtis and I returned home to an inbox full of KOH race information. There were team bio's for different KOH sponsors due, applications, and a ton of race prep required. It took us most of the week just to wade through the information we received, at which point it really sunk in just how much work this entire endeavor was going to be. We had an idea what the 2010 race would bring, having attended the 2009 KOH race as part of the Evolution Machine and Fabrication team. However, the course in 2010 would increase to 135 miles and include 4 pit stops that teams could stop at multiple times. The course would not be released to the competitors until the February 7, 2010 and race day was February 12. KOH, for those that do not know, is a race that combines high speed desert with the slow hardcore rock crawling Jammer trails in Johnson Valley OHV park in Southern California. The 2010 KOH race would be the 3rd official year of the race and as usual a step up in difficulty over the previous year. For our team the resources required would also be a major step up from what we are used to.
Prior to PUSU, Curtis and I had started recruiting team members to assist in the preparation and pitting strategy for the 2010 KOH with the idea that if we did not qualify at PUSU we could always try to qualify at the Last Chance Qualifier held on February 9th and 10th. Dave McCluskey and Artur Pasternak were recruited as our Crew Chief and Co-Crew Chief. The reasoning behind the selection of these two is that they have similar laid back personalities to ours and have competed in a few local wheeling competitions. The four of us then proceeded to recruit other team members for the next few months based on personalities that would fit with our team and skills that would contribute to our effort. In the end we ended up with Jon Bruce, Lynn Anderson, Jeff Bordignon, Scott Medlock, Randy Carr, Tom Sanford, Doug Ballentyne, Lance Koch, and Chris Stephens. After the team selection process we ended up with a lot of team members that Curtis and I did not know because they had been recruited by Dave and Artur. Curtis and I talked on the phone a lot about this particular issue and I know he was quite concerned as he had knew nothing more about these people than their names. In the end I told him that I had met a few of the guys at our planning meetings and they seemed like good guys and also pointed out he needed to have faith in Dave and Artur. As it turned out we could not have found a better group of people to hang out with in the desert with and act as support crew. If you were to walk by our camp at anytime during the week you'd hear people laughing and having a good time even with the stress of preparing for the race. And that is saying a lot because we put a ton of work in on the buggy and support vehicles while on the lakebed. I don't think we stopped working before midnight any day we were down there.
The plan for the 2010 KOH race was to finish my buggy and use it as a prerunner for the course as the buggy is very similar to Curtis's race vehicle. We came up with the idea while watching JR Reynolds break a control arm mount in the 2008 KOH costing him the race. The consensus was that he had stressed the chassis with all his prerunning. So our idea was to save our race chassis by breaking mine. My buggy was quite a ways from being finished when we came up with this plan. The result was that I spent a ton of time in the garage from December until the very last minute. And I really mean very last minute. On Thursday February 4 Curtis was going to get towed down to California in Jamie Colbert's new 48 foot enclosed trailer, along with LCQ competitor Joey Weber. Jamie and crew ended up iron-manning from Calgary to Vancouver with a slight stop in Salmon Arm to load up Curtis. The plan from there was to meet in Abbotsford and head south. Curtis kept calling me saying, "we are in Kamloops are you done?" then "we are in Chilliwack are you done yet?" etc. My day had started out bad with work phone calls on my day off, issues with my tow rig creeping up and nothing seeming to go right with my buggy build. Just the day before I had discovered that the aftermarket Kevco oil pan for my LS2 put the remote oil filter fittings right where I wanted my driveshaft. Sadly, in order to get at the oil pan to cut off and weld the fittings back on I needed to pull the entire drive train. And with that I had lost another day. So, instead of having a finished buggy, I planned to winch it into my enclosed trailer and finish it on the lakebed. Now, remember that bad day I was having! I kept working on things up until the last possible minute. When Curtis called from Chilliwack I started to prepare to winch my truck into the trailer but the winch would not work. I tried different controllers and tore apart the solenoids etc. to no avail. Curtis called from the Campbell store on 176th Street, right by the Canada-USA border, and asked what was going on. At that point, they all decided to just come to my place. So, at around 10:00 pm they arrived and Jamie got to work on the winch controls. Curtis looked at the buggy and said, "you aren't very far off on the wiring," then proceeded to grab some miscellaneous wires from around my shop floor and create jumpers so we could start the truck. In less than an hour we had the truck running, but still no winch, so we drove it into the trailer. I literally pitched every tool I could into the trailer around the buggy, all my clothes and we set off around midnight.
The trip to California was fairly uneventful for our standard road trip. Jamie blew 3 trailer tires and his new Ford F450 with the diesel particulate filter was going into regeneration mode all the time. Semi's were passing us going up the mountain passes. Jamie would later rectify this problem by purchasing a tuner and DPF delete kit on the lakebed. The entire reason we were driving through the night was that Curtis had broken the gears in his Atlas transfer case and we were suppose to pick up another one outside of Bakersfield, CA, before Advanced Adapters closed on Friday. With all our troubles, we had missed their closing time and talked one of the guys into meeting us somewhere with the transfer case. When we realized that we were making horrible time, we ditched Jamie to make a dash for our transfer case. Turns out we ended up meeting one of the Advanced Adapters guys on the side of the road 50 miles from Bakersfield at midnight. Thank-you for the great customer service!! We were able to catch up to Jamie even after our detour as he was driving so slow and still having trailer tire issues.
Saturday we arrived at the lakebed at 6:30 am to a rain storm. A really bad Noah's ark type rain storm. People were getting stuck all over the place and nobody was able to get them out. There were trucks in the lakebed for days afterwards. We were all tired and not interested in getting soaked, so we stopped the trucks and all took a nap. After a refreshing nap, well not really, we started to unload. Once Jamie's trailer was clear enough we proceeded to swap the Atlas transfer case into Curtis's truck as it was still raining outside. The day seemed to drag on forever and at some point in the late evening we finally finished the swap. What should have taken a few hours took us a full day due to lack of sleep and maybe a few to many beers.
On Sunday the rest of our team arrived, unpacked and started to work on the race preparations. Artur went to work on his caged Suzuki which we hoped to use as a communications relay center during the race and the rest of us started preparing my truck to prerun. After a lot of hard work on Sunday my buggy ran, but did not have a working gas pedal. The LS2 I have utilizes a drive-by-wire set up (electronic gas pedal) and for some reason it wasn't working. We believe we traced it to a bad motor on the throttle body, but would require an OBD II reader to verify. And to top it off Artur took his truck for a spin and broke a shock mount. So we finished the day with not a lot accomplished and a long list of things to still complete on the race buggy.
Monday morning we decided to focus the entire team on the race buggy so we could use it to prerun the course for the day. By around noon we were ready to head out and prerun. I had recruited Tom Sanford to help us prerun prior to heading down to California. Tom's buggy is set up fairly similar to our race buggy and my buggy with LS1 power. I also know Tom likes to use the skinny pedal and that he'd be a perfect fit to keep up to us prerunning. We decided to start at race mile 36 and proceed to Aftershock, Sunbonnet, Outer Limits and a few other remote areas of the course. We flew out the course and immediately realized that we needed a lot of tuning in our fox coilovers. We were still able to hit 50 mph through some rough sections and have an absolute blast. As we neared Aftershock Tom bent the bead on his rim and lost air in the tire in the exact place that Clay Kraatz of Evolution Machine and I had wrecked a 54" Bogger in 2009. We called back to camp on the cell and told them to send someone with an air compressor to air up the tire. Curtis and I decide to run Aftershock as we waited for the air compressor. We maybe got half a mile before we ran into Tom (owner of PSC) and Dean Bulloch (driver of the PSC rock crawler/racer). They had put a hole in their oil pan and lost all there oil. They were able to patch the hole but were waiting for someone to bring them oil. We didn't have any but know both these gentlemen from other competitions and events, so stopped and BS'd with them for a long time. We swapped competition stories and all had a good laugh when they relayed to us how finicky there race car was. It seems in the Vegas to Reno race they had their crew replace every sensor and electronic gizmo they could find in order to finish the race, but the car just had a mind of its own. In Dean's words "as we came to the end of the race and the finish line was in sight I saw a river just beyond. I stated that after we cross the finish line 'I'm driving this #$tch into that river!!!' at which point the car immediately stopped." They carry spare everything for their race vehicle, and offered a drive-by-wire throttle body, pedal and ECM. After some more BSing somebody arrived with oil so we filled up there buggy and proceeded down to Tom Sanford as they had a CO2 bottle. They aired Tom up and we went on our way to Sunbonnet. We were flying along and apparently flew by Dave M, but Tom noticed him flagging him down. Dave had brought out the air compressor for us and had rolled his quad off of a ledge trying to get up to us. Nothing was hurt except for his pride. Tom took the compressor and hauled after us. Good thing too, because only 20 minutes later he cut a sidewall in a different Irok. We plugged it, aired up and headed along the course. We made it to the Master's Pit at race mile 55 at which point it was getting really dark. We did not have our lights for the race on yet so we decided to head back to camp.
Tuesday we planned another day of prerunning with Tom. We would start at race mile 55 and head out to the farthest reaches of the course and back to main camp. Just a little ways after the Master's Pit we hit a few rock trails. We got hung up so I got out to spot Curtis after Tom pulled him off a rock. There were some really nasty sections and Curtis kept worrying about his Ford knuckles. After the rock trails we hit some flatter desert sections and were really flying. We hit 80 mph on a flat section and were doing 65 mph in the whoops. The suspension still wasn't set up properly. At one point we blasted into a section of large whoops and the truck turned into a bucking bronco. I saw nothing but dirt then sky, then dirt, then sky and so on. Curtis again mentioned his concern with his Ford knuckles. We slowed down and realized that we needed to spend the next day getting the suspension dialed in. The farthest pit from camp was labeled the BFG pit and we pulled in here for a stop. Tom was having a smoke and checking over his buggy. He noticed that his Ford knuckle was cracked almost all the way across the top. We all breathed a sigh of relief that it didn't come apart just minutes earlier a 65 mph. We immediately called Wil and North Shore Offroad and ordered a set of Dedenbear Knuckles for Tom as well as a set for Curtis since we were taking it as an omen after he was concerned with ours all day. We then called camp and had the guys drive out with the tow rig and trailer to pick up Tom's truck. Curtis and I decided to run the course back to camp and I mistakenly told Jon Bruce and Lynn Anderson that the course was easy back to camp and they should drive there CJ back that way. About halfway back to camp I realized I had led them astray. However, it was getting dark. We had installed our LED race light bar, but every time we hit a bump they turned off. So, we ended up ditching Jon and Lynn and hightailing it to camp before we couldn't see at all. It seems Jon and Lynn ended up getting lost, but eventually made it back to camp just as we were sending out our search party.
On Wednesday the crew started to install our race radio setup in the morning and Curtis and I focused on tuning the suspension. Hammerking Productions also put on a few courses during the day on GPS use and coincidentally shocks and shock tuning. Before knew it, it was late afternoon so I ran into town to replenish our fuel supplies and pick up some parts while Curtis took Dave M. for a ride. It turned out that the truck was setup really well, so they made a bunch of high speed blasts through the desert until they tore apart a Toyo Tire while buzzing a photo shoot with Nicole Johnson. They swapped the tire and proceeded back to camp. That evening we received our new Dedenbear knuckles and the crew attacked the truck to swap them on. I volunteered to swap one of the tires onto the bead lock with the cut tire. For those of you who have done this, you know it is a very methodical and boring process. Just as I was torquing the last bolt on the bead lock Curtis asked if I realized I had just swapped his spare on with a boot in the sidewall. I had not and didn't want to chance running a tire like that in the race, so after I threw the tire at him I swapped a better one on. Jon Bruce also tackled the new intercom setup from Rugged Radio's. The intercom we had come down with for the buggy would arc out on one of the push to transmit buttons. I tried to keep this system in the buggy thinking the shock therapy would be good for Curtis, but he wouldn't go for it. The Rugged Radio guys and girls were awesome and provided us with a new system and assistance. Artur was working on some very cool looking light brackets for our Vision X HIDs with the assistance of one of the Torchmate CNC machine guys. This would supplement our Rigid Industries LED light bar we borrowed from Sportsman in Kamloops. The brackets with integrated number plate looked sweet when done. We all finished that night around 1:00 am and were all visibly tired, but spirits were still high.
Luckily for the entire crew Thursday was basically a day off. Contingency row was to run from 9 am to 3 pm in the vendor area with tech inspection happening as well. We got dressed up in our best clothes and entered the vendor area. We joked around with each other, checked out all the other rigs and Artur and Chris used there best pickup lines on the Griffin Radiator girls. It was a great day for de-stressing prior to the race. The crew was having a great time and a number of people, like one of the marketing guys from Griffin, commented that it looked like we were the team having the most fun out there. It is just a testament to the great personalities of the entire crew we had recruited. The Masterpull winch line guys out of Washington also dropped by and convinced us to install one of there nice new winch lines on our buggy. We unspooled the old line and spooled on the new synthetic line. This would turn out to be a foreshadowing of things to come, and I for one am glad that we had this new and longer line. Thursday night we gave the truck a once over, had a team meeting and reviewed pit strategies. I had decided with our smallish 12 gallon fuel cell we would pit a little more often to make sure we didn't run out of fuel. We were going to stop at race mile 23, 55, 78 and 105 for fuel and to check the buggy over. Any other stops would only come in an emergency. Each crew member was also told their assigned duties and responsibilities. Scott Medlock, a volunteer fire fighter from Hope, reviewed fire safety and how to suppress a fire in case of an emergency.
On Race Day (Friday) we were told to start lining up at 5:00 am. At 4:45am when my alarm went off all I wanted to do was stay cuddled up in my warm sleeping bag. We got dressed and headed for the start area. We talked with Ian Johnson from Extreme4x4 on Spike TV (a Canadian as well) about how much we all would love a Tim Horton's coffee. Apparently he was actually trying to get a sponsorship from them. Rich Klein (lil'Rich of WE Rock fame) was lined up near us and we bantered with him about nerfing each other. For those that don't know, nerfing is used in the off-road racing world to let a competitor know you are behind him if he doesn't hear your horn. Lil'Rich said that when he was interviewed he was telling everyone he was going to "nerf anyone around him, especially those Canadians." We were starting in the 40th row beside Kevin Sacalas, the Vegas to Reno 4400 class winner. They seemed like really cool guys and their truck looked like it would go fast in the desert. When we were second up at the start line Curtis said, "I'm just going to pin it through first gear then back off to get it out of my system," to which I agreed. When the starter flag dropped Curtis dropped the hammer and didn't let up as he started shifting gears. We had taken Kevin down the stretch, but I was screaming to slow down and let him by as the course went from two lanes to one. The adrenaline had gotten to Curtis so he had a hard time doing this but relented. I told him to be calm and not try to keep up to Kevin. We were still travelling pretty fast through some rough sections and passing a ton of people, but Kevin disappeared never to be seen by us again within the first few miles. After around 8 to 10 miles we passed lil'Rich and I laid on the horn for a laugh. After a few more miles someone seemed to appear out of nowhere in our rearview mirror. Then WHAM followed by a horn. Lil'Rich had been true to his word about nerfing the Canadians. Somewhere around the 15 mile mark the front of the truck felt really weird and Curtis kept asking if we had a flat. I told him to stop so we could check, but we didn't find anything.
We then bombed through the BFG pit, at the 25 mph speed limit of course, and moved on to Crowbar, the first rock trail. The trail was already quite plugged up with competitors. As we travelled through we methodically picked our way through and passed a few other competitors when we could. We turned a corner and lo and behold lil'Rich was off to the side retying something down. Curty pulled off the trail, I laid on the horn and we nerfed his car, then proceed on our way laughing. At the end of Crowbar there is a decent sized 8-foot drop that we hit blindly but smoothly. We pulled forward, shifted into high and Curtis pinned it. The result was a horrible metal breaking sound and the front tires locking up. We got out and found that the front driveshaft had been pushed through the back of the transfer case. We unbolted the drive flanges and started out in two wheel drive. I radioed the issue to our BFG pit and told them we wanted to JB weld the crack up and try to make it to the main pit where our spare transfer case was. We had timed it as being 55 minutes for the parts truck to drive from the main pit to the BFG pit and we figured we could make it quicker to the main pit in two wheel drive. Now this is the same section that I had told Jon and Lynn earlier in the week was an easy section and for some reason I had forgotten how hard it was until after we left the pit. At race mile 33 there is a long, and I mean long, sand hill climb that even trucks with 4 wheel drive can have issue with. When we got there I told Curtis to take a long run at it so we could get as far up as possible before winching. It seemed like a good plan until we were doing 40 mph and saw a very big rock in our way. We came to a dead stop very quickly and I figured we'd flattened a tire. I got out and the tire was fine, but we had busted a rear axle so we were now down to 1 wheel drive. At this point our 3 hour winch fest began. We tried to stay out of the way of other competitors as we winched, but a few had to drive over us to pass. Curtis and I went through the entire emotional spectrum while we winched for 3 hours. We started off saddened that most likely our chances of finishing after all the prep was done, then moved on to being frustrated and angry with each other and yelling at each other, then ended the last hour with making jokes and kidding around because there was nothing else we could do. The high point of our winch fest was the fact that we had put on the Masterpull winch line because to reach a couple of rocks to winch from we ended up only having 3 wraps on our winch drum left. We were also very lucky that our new, untested Kodiak winch performed flawlessly over this long period of time. After our winch fest, we proceed along the course with our goal of making the main pits to swap cases. In one wheel drive the truck was a handful. Thankfully we only had to winch one more time before we got to the pit. At the main pit we rushed to swap the now broken axle and the transfer case. Our winching had taken way longer than expected and it was now into the afternoon. I think I may have had slight heat stroke from being in the sun and in a hot race suite for hours, so I actually crashed in one of the trailers while the others worked. As the work and day progressed we came to the realization that we were running out of time. When we went to install our spare atlas we realized it was clocked differently and wouldn't work. We made jokes about putting the truck together and going out to pass Joey Weber by 100 feet so we could say we beat him, but ended up not making the 5:30 pm deadline for leaving the main pit. While in the pits we found a broken bolt on one of the control arms and theorized that this bolt probably allowed the front diff to bottom out and break the transfer case. Later the next morning we also found that the front diff gears were completely toasted as well, so they may have also been the culprit of the t-case explosion. With sadness in our hearts we called our pit crews back to main camp and proceeded to drink our sorrows away.
The day after the race we loaded up and high tailed it back to Vancouver. I took a slight detour and went through Pasedena but was still able to catch up to Dave McCluskey after he had a mishap with dropping four dump cans over the freeway. Curtis and I would like to thank all our team members for there dedication to the team. You all went above and beyond the call of duty. Hopefully you still like us enough to come back next year? The team would like to thank our sponsors Toyo Tires, bc4x4.com, Evolution Machine and Fabrication, Sportsman, the Gear Center, Mastercraft Seats, Masterpull, and Aqualu for the resources and parts required to keep the truck competitive and allow us all to attend such a great event as King of the Hammers. The King of the Hammers race is definitely one of the most difficult racing events in North America and we hope to be back next year to conquer it.
- Dave Warner
Comments From A Relative Rookie To The Sport
As written by crew member Jeff Bordignon on his first KOH experience:
I received an invitation to be on the pit crew for the Flying Zucchini Brothers from Dave McCluskey. Dave asked me if I heard of a small off roading event call King of The Hammers. Being a novice off roader I knew what it was and was excited to be able to partake in such an event.
While I was down at the Hammers I gained a lot of experience wrenching on the buggy, pulling two Atlases, changing knuckles and performing various fabrication work. I was also introduced to my next level of off roading experiences. Tom gave me a seat in his four seater buggy and we went pre running with Curtis and Dave. After running Sunbonnet, After Shock and the Outer Limit trails, I told them that those trails were the most extreme I have ever been on. Curtis chuckled and said, "Ya, those were the easy ones." The funny part was that before we left camp Tom told me he was new to this rock crawling stuff, he sure didn't drive like he was.
I would like thank Dave McCluskey for inviting me to be on the pit crew, Curtis and Dave for partaking in the event. I would also like to Tom for taking me out in his buggy. Even though it was one of the hardest working weeks in my life I still managed to have a great time at the 2010 King of the Hammers.
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