View Full Version : Team NAXJA #52 King of the Hammers race report

March 10th, 2009, 00:14
Well, I'm finally taking a few minutes to write down some notes about our '09 King of the Hammers race. I hope you don't mind, but this is kind of long. We raced my buggy, which is a cut down XJ with D60's front and rear. Paul and I raced KOH last year, which was the first ever competition for either of us, and we came in 7th out of 43 starters. We knew the bar would be raised considerably this year, so we spent a couple of months doing upgrades to the rig, which included many items designed to make it more durable, some stuff for safety, a new 4.6L stroker motor, and new ORI air shocks. Plus, we added more fuel capacity and a spare tire mount.

We got the race course on Monday, and spent part of Tues and Wed pre-running the desert sections. Most of it we ran in Paul's buggy, trying to save mine for the race, but we did run part of it in mine trying to do some last minute shock tuning. The desert sections of this course were ROUGH, it wasn't comfortable ridng in the passenger seat, and I was already feeling for Paul who was going to have to ride through 90 some miles of this abuse. We also needed to practice driving down the waterfalls on Backdoor and Wrecking Ball, since the course went down both trails. We did good coming down Backdoor, but not so good coming down the Wrecking Ball waterfall. The first time down we went right over the nose and pieroetted onto the drivers side facing the other way. I knew we needed to get it right, so we drove back up it and tried it again, almost rolling again. So, we drove back up and came back down it one more time and got the line right and we were fine. That night "Jump This" Rick and Bonnie cooked a great dinner for our whole team, pit captain Grant Barclay led a team meeting to cover our pit strategy and assignments, and the crew jumped on last minute race prep on the buggy.

Friday morning we were up before light, getting ourselves ready to be lined up by 7:00am. Steve Hamilton and friends were cooking pancakes and hash browns for our crew and whoever else came by and wanted some breakfast. The start time came pretty quick, and our first problem might have been a sign of what was to come. Somehow the t-case got shifted into low range the night before, so our hole shot against the rig next to us was short lived, and I had to slow down to get shifted into high range. We still passed the other rig in the first 1/4 mile, but we were unwilling to flog the buggy through the first mile or so of nasty crossgrain and so got caught and passed by a few rigs. We got passed by a couple more rigs as we headed towards the dry lakebed, speed across flat out (62.5 mph) and headed into a sandy section and after that some monstous whoops. We were getting into our rhythm, passing and getting passed but gaining overall. Then the course cut up a wash and we begain miles and miles of tight and twisty sections through sand and big rocks and in and out of big washes. We passed the first rig we saw roll, and passed a few that were already broken down, and gained a few places here and there. I got frustrated that we got passed by a couple rigs in another whoop section, because we thought we were pretty fast in the whoops, but Paul kept saying to be patient since we were being smooth and the others were much rougher and in less control. We did hit another section of good whoops and were able to pass a couple rigs, then we came to a narrow rocky canyon with the helicopter overhead. I got a good pass inside on a couple rigs, then slowed to shift into low range and enter the narrow spot and caught the front diff on a rock. I thought "oh great", do a cool pass with the helo filming and then smack a big rock. We got going again and popped up through the rocks and went through more tight stuff before coming down a big sand hill and getting back into the open and more whoops. I saw a chance to pass a few rigs and decided it was time to get after it, so I nailed it and entered a sand wash and then more whoop sections all by ourselves, quickly coming past campers and spectators and to check point 1 at mile 23.

Our crew told us later that we were the fifteenth rig to check 1, and since we started 27th and had been passed by a number of rigs I guess we did pretty good. Three rigs before us had turned off the course to go to the pits, so that put us in 12th position on the course. The helicopter was flying low right next to us and we were getting it pretty good through the whoop sections on the south end of Means Dry Lake. A few miles out we passed another car while going flat out through the whoops, then another mile or so later we heard a big whoosh and thud and knew we'd blown a rear shock. Damn! At first we thought it was over, but then remembered that we'd figured Paul's shocks were the same length and mounting width so we could use them for spares. We spoke to the main pit crew and told them to pull Paul's rear shocks while we limped the few miles back to the main pit. The crew did a great job of getting both shocks swapped out and we headed back across the lakebed and back onto the race course. We later found out that the spare driveline had come loose on one end and had hit and broken the schrader valve on the shock. Bummer!

Paul's shocks were tuned for his rig, which was lighter since my rig now had a spare tire and parts and more fuel, so the shocks were too soft and would bottom out hard if we went too fast. We kept a comfortable pace for the next 6 miles or so of desert and passed one rig that was stopped and another rig that was on fire, before coming to the start of Aftershock, the first rock trail. A little ways into the trail we came to a broken rig and a bit of a traffic jam as cars worked their way around, and in the process of us trying to get around we rolled. This was going to be a long day. Paul got out and found a rock to get a strap around, and we winched ourselves back over, and then did one of the more dumb things we did in the race. Instead of just winching ourselves on through the obstacle, we tidied up the winch cable and then wasted another 10 minutes or more fighting to get through, and ended up hooking the winch back up to the same rock and winching out.

We did fine the rest of the way up Aftershock, passed a couple of broken/stopped rigs at the top, and headed over to Hell's Gate and Sunbonnet. Near the top of Sunbonnet we came up on another major traffic jam with a rig broken in the trail and buggies trying a couple different lines to get around. We picked what we thought would be the quickest line, behind a couple of other rigs, then found out that the front buggy was also broken, so two broken rigs blocking the trail. The FOJV buggy was pulled part way up and off the trail, and RJ Brown was stuck behind it with a broken rear end. It took awhile, but eventually a course worker pulled his CJ down to use as a winch point and the one broken rig was winched out of the way. In front of us the next rig tried to get past the FOJV buggy and couldn't get by, so they started to get out the winch. At one point three rigs where winching through on three different lines while we sat and waited, and as soon as the middle line cleared Shannon Campbell came up and drove right through without even hesitating and was gone. We finally got our chance and drove right through, swapping some paint with the one broken rig.

I was getting frustrated that our tires weren't gripping like I wanted them to with the pressure we were running, so we radioed ahead to the pits and told them to be ready to drop 2 lbs out of each tire, and we ordered some lunch, since now we were much later than we had anticipated. We came to the first remote pit, the guys dropped the air pressure, checked and tightened some bolts, Paul and I each got a sandwhich, then we headed off to go down Outer Limits. Other than while rolled or stuck in traffic jams, we had yet to be passed by a rig on the trail. Coming down Outer Limts we were caught by Bender in the FU2 buggy and he honked, so we let him fly by. We later found out that he had a broken trans and was trying to get through before the trans spit out all the oil. We finished Outer Limits and headed out onto a few more miles of desert and whoops, dissapointed that we couldn't really nail it with the softer rear shocks, so we just kept a comfortable pace. We passed through some more slow and technical desert sections, and check points 3 and 4, and then through miles of more whoops and crossgrain on the way over to the top of Resolution.

CTM Jack caught and passed us in some sandy crossgrain, then we caught him as we started down Resolution. All of a sudden smoke started billowing out from under his hood and they had to stop to check it out. It was electrical and now the car wouldn't start. Paul and I considered a tippy line around him, thought the better of it, and decided to try to push him a few feet forward so we could get around. That was a big mistake. His front tire was up against a big rock and we got stuck facing down a steep incline with our rear end diffed and unable to back up. We weren't moving until Jack moved. Now two of the rigs we had previously passed on the trail came up and took the tippy line around and were OK......what we should have done. It took about 30 minutes, but we finally got Jack moved forward enough that we could get around, and we headed down the trail, drove down Backdoor, and headed into the main pit.

The pit crew gave us some gas, and tried to fix our rear locker, but it didn't work. We ran most of the course without the rear locker. It was now 3:30 when we pulled out of the main pit, and we still had 30 some miles and all of the actual Hammer trails to go, and we needed to finish before dark or we would DNF. Paul and I both felt that we were back in the groove as we went up Boulderdash and down upper Big Johnson. We then had a surprise as we came over the sandy ridge on the out of Lower Big Johnson, the helicopter was below us in the canyon. They swooped over to us as I started to put the pedal to the metal coming down the hill and through the sand wash with the rotor wash blowing sand all over the place. Paul and I were both glad that we had just put our goggles back on.

We headed up Clawhammer and passed a car or two, then drove down Wrecking Ball and passed Clay and Branden, the two rigs that had passed us while we were stuck on Resolution. We were coming to the last pit, but everything was fine so we decided to not stop and keep going. The guys all cheered as we went past and headed up Jack North, then they all looked up and saw us in a big cloud of smoke. I had taken my eye off the road for a split second and hit a big rock and rolled, for the second time that day. Thankfully Branden Johnson stopped and let us winch off of him to get back over, then we let the oil drain back out of a cylinder or two while Branden worked on the next obstacle and Clay Egan passed us back again. We eventually got the motor started OK, and caught both of them again at the top of Jack North, then passed them both coming down Jackhammer. We passed another couple of rigs at the bottom of Jackhammer and headed up Sledgehammer, where we couldn't get up the ledge at the plaque, especially with no rear locker. I turned to Paul and told him I'm sorry, but he was going to have to get out and hook the winch up again. We winched through, then Paul made sure Brandon winched through OK, then we were on our way again.

We finished Sledgehammer, went through a short new rocky canyon, and headed out over Fissure Mountain trail watching as the sun was getting close to setting. We had one more new rocky canyon to descend, then it was just a race back to Means Dry Lake before it got dark, not going too fast and bottoming out those rear shocks. The sun set as we were driving right into it and we hit the finish line at 5:36. It had been a long day, and a very long and brutal course, and we were both thrilled that we had been able to finish. As we came to the finish line we were surrounded by a crowd of yellow Team NAXJA shirts as our whole crew and friends were there to greet us and celebrate that we had been able to finish the race. Paul and I both were drenched in beer as we came to a stop and the partying began. We were in 31st place, out of 92 starters. Not the 7th place finish from a year before, but it was tremendously satisfying to have held it together and finish this grueling 90 some mile course.

And, we put a spare air shock on the rear to replace my broken shock, Paul got his two rear shocks back, and we went wheeling Sat and Sun. Fun times!!

March 10th, 2009, 11:52
You make it sound like it was a difficult race. ;)

Paul S
March 10th, 2009, 12:41
I'm almost all healed-up, just a sore right shoulder/neck. Still worth it:D


March 10th, 2009, 12:58
I can't stop thinking about next year........

I also keep slapping myself...........


Jump This
March 10th, 2009, 13:02
I can't stop thinking about next year........

I also keep slapping myself...........


Can we wedge a V-8 in there, build some sort of a variable wheelbase set up, also a self connecting winch line, XM radio for the passenger, maybe even some magic finger chairs......?

Paul S
March 10th, 2009, 13:04
I can't stop thinking about next year........

I also keep slapping myself...........


You need to realx & enjoy post KOH 09, you can start thinking about next year in..................................October....... ......


March 10th, 2009, 21:03
I also keep slapping myself.... maybe even some magic finger chairs......?


March 11th, 2009, 13:23
Just after 7am lining up:

Talking it over, and some last words for the pits:


Helmits on, paul on board, Grant is looking for any instructions:

Next up on the starting line:

. . . and they are off:

I drove out on Boon road to watch them come by check point one:

Andy in Pa.
March 12th, 2009, 07:59
also a self connecting winch line

LOL... sounds like some Lassoo-ing lessons are in order for the co-driver...:D

Thanks for the re-cap Richard, I enjoyed following the race (from 3000 miles away...) and reading the re-cap threads/pics on how it all went. I am scheming a way to make it out there next year, it would be great to be a part of this.


March 12th, 2009, 10:39
LOL... sounds like some Lassoo-ing lessons are in order for the co-driver...:D

Thanks for the re-cap Richard, I enjoyed following the race (from 3000 miles away...) and reading the re-cap threads/pics on how it all went. I am scheming a way to make it out there next year, it would be great to be a part of this.


I scheming to try to get out there as well Andy... Maybe we should scheme together.

Jump This
March 12th, 2009, 18:29
I scheming to try to get out there as well Andy... Maybe we should scheme together.


April 20th, 2009, 19:17
I just read every word. Great great write-up. Sounds soo fun. I hope to meet you sometime. Congratulations on an excellent race of attrition. Whew, that sounds so damn fun.

April 21st, 2009, 10:11
Pit crew:


Deadman 94 xj
April 21st, 2009, 20:08
Awesome!!! Great play by play :cheers:
Sounds like a blast.

Rob D
April 24th, 2009, 13:08
Thanks for the write-up Richard. It brings back memories of way back when I used to race desert races on motorcycles. Good times, but rough on the body.