As close as you can get to Utopia
For motorsports fans, there is always that one event; The one that you look forward to for the entire year. In NASCAR, it’s Indianapolis, for Formula One, its Long Beach, and for the off road world, it’s the King of the Hammers. Other races may be more well-known, but none of them can match the anticipation, excitement, and all-out madness of KOH.
The event started in 2007 when a group of 13 friends wanted to see who was the toughest off roader in the desert. The only way to decide was to race. But this was not just who was fastest or who could crawl the biggest rocks, this was who could build the ultimate off road vehicle to do both. That’s what makes this event unique; The race covers the entire spectrum of off road racing in the desert. The founders forced the motorsport industry to create a whole new category of off road vehicle that could stay stable at 100+ mph through the dry lake bed, and crawl over Volkswagen sized rocks at the same time. They called it the Ultra4 car. Today, the Ultra4 cars look like moon buggies, or Mad Max rejects, or even scientific experiments, but the one thing they have in common is that they can take a beating through the toughest terrain found on the planet. Since its inception, the event has grown to include UTV’s, Trophy Trucks, Buggies, and Motorcycles. Each category of vehicles competing throughout the week with the final Ultra4 race run on the last Friday of race-week.
The actual racing goes on for one week in February every year. But, for the week before and the week during, hundreds-of-thousands of spectators, vendors, media, and competitors descend on the Johnson Valley Lakebed to take part in the event. So many people attend that a temporary city is formed. Literally, Hammertown (as it is known), rises from the dust like an ancient civilization coming back to claim it’s glory. The people responsible for the race, Ultra4 Racing, map out coordinates for all of the RV’s and campers that come to stay for the two week event, they plot out booths for the largest companies in the industry to display their products, and they bring in food, water, electricity, big screen TV’s, wifi and everything you could possibly need to put on this event and stream it out to the millions of people around the world that watch the action live.
If you venture away from Hammertown, you still have the vast, open desert of Johnson Valley to explore. You can drive for days out there and not see the same area twice...trust me, I’ve been lost out there more than once. The spectators will bring out their buggies, side-x-sides, bikes, quads, trucks, Jeeps, and home-built thingamajigs that are basically a motor, a seat, and 45” tires, and they will drive them around the desert looking for the next obstacle to overcome. If you have any interest in off roading, there is something out there for you. Between the specialized builds that the vendors and racers bring out, to the mild-mannered daily-driver, you will find something that can inspire you to take your offroading to the next level. And don’t even get me started on the camping. There are everything from “big-rig” trailers to beds in the back of pick-up trucks.
For the 2020 King of the Hammers event, my experience was a little different; Myself and the rest of The Trailchasers Podcast Team were invited to attend the Icon and Friends Overland Experience. This invite only event consisted of a VIP party, a special camp-site, a series of group trail runs to watch the racing, and finally, a red carpet like dinner 100 ft from the race course in the Icon Vehicle Dynamics Race Pits. (As I write this, I realize that it is impossible to tell this story in a way that does not seem like I am bragging, but I will try...) Icon Vehicle Dynamics, an industry leading manufacturer of suspension system and wheels, has recently come on as a presenting sponsor of The Trailchasers Podcast. That is how we got invited. Other social media influencers, industry partners, and Icon customers were included in this inaugural event. I am going to speak for Jeremy Headlee (Icon Marketing Manager) when I say it was a major success.
The goal was to bring the Overland Community to an event that was primarily seen as a hard-core racing event. As with many other recreational hobbies, “off roading” can be broken down into many different sub-categories. And, like many other hobbies, not all of the sub-categories see eye-to-eye. The King of the Hammers event is different, not only for the reasons laid out above, but for the fact that people come out to the desert for extended periods of time which incorporates a larger “camping” component to the event. As the industry has seen over the last few years, extended camping is morphing into what is being called “Overlanding.” Most overlanders don’t have a lot of experience with rock crawling and/or desert racing (a generalization, I know). The event that Icon put on, in conjunction with Trigger Controller and Shift Pods, aimed to bring the Overlanding community to KOH so that they could experience it for themselves and realize how much there was for them there. Social Media creators (@Adventure.Ovrlnd, @SoCalTacomas, @McVenture016, @JillianRebekah, @TheTrailTrek, @TrailRecon) and companies (Mountain Hatch, Shower Pouch, KC Hilites, LGE-CTS) came together to share their unique perspective and products with the others in the group. As participants in the event, we (Cody, Matt, Jose, Casey, and Joe) got to Overland camp, run some off road trails, and spectate an amazing race. It was as close to Utopia as I think you can get.
I have attended this event several times, as a spectator, and this was by far the best time I have ever had out there. But, not so secretly, I want to be a competitor some day. I dream for the day that I can feel the revving of the engine vibrate through my body while the vehicle beneath me rumbles through the desert at a pace that will make most people fear for their lives. Until then, I can watch the racing with 100-thousand of my closest friends and camp with the amazing group at next year’s Icon Overland Experience. You should join us.