A race on a human scale where the difference is made by the drivers more than the performance of the vehicle; this is the 4WP Every Man Challenge. Casey Gilbert won the EMC while Erik Miller and Robby Gordon brought the new Jepp Gladiator into the race; a pre-series given by Jeep to Savvy Offroad to test it in the toughest possible conditions.
Photography and story by Paolo Baraldi
Since 2012, the Every Man Challenge has become part of the KOH Week giving the opportunity to all offroad vehicles to compete on the hard trails of the Johnson Valley.
There are three classes of the EMC:
- Yukon 4500 Modified Class: Factory appearing body, partial frame, mechanical steering, two shocks per corner, 37-inch DOT approved tires.
- Spidertrax 4600 Stock Class: Factory engine, stock frame, full body, single shock, 35-inch tall DOT approved tires.
- Branik Motorsports 4800 Legends Class: tube frame Front engine, two seat, solid axle, single shock, 37-inch DOT approved tires. Legends is one of the fastest growing classes at KOH (second only to UTVs), with close competition at every race.
Each class has specific rules to ensure a level playing field, making the EMC a true drivers’ race. This year starting order will mingle 4500s and 4800s, putting the fastest cars at the front of the field.
Qualifying - Qualifying for the 4WP Every Man Challenge took place on Monday 3rd February along the Short Course. Casey Gilbert with a time of 02:38.1 was the fastest, followed by Jason Bunch and in third place Levi Shirley.
Unexpected for all the spectators, even if we had the chance to see it in preview, the last of the cars in qualifying was the new Jeep Gladiator prepared by Savvy Offroad and driven for the occasion by the 2 times "King" Erik Miller . Gladiator took part in the Stock Class and set the fastest time in its class.
4WP Every Man Challenge - Normally the EMC took place on Thursday but this year, with the Desert Trucks competing that day, it was moved to Wednesday. At 8 o'clock in the morning start the race with a track of 165 miles divided into two laps: one fast in the desert and one more technical and challenging along the rocky trails of the Johnson Valley.
At the end of the first lap, Levi Shirley was leading the race and everyone was waiting for him first at the Chocolate Thunder. With amazement the first to pass in the famous trail of Johnson Valley was Casey Gilbert followed by Levi who from there has just stopped for the transmission break.
After 5 hours (5:08:03) Gilbert wins the 4WP Every Man Challenge. “Starting in the pole position, it’s hard to pace yourself because you know everyone behind you has time on you,” Gilbert shared at the finish line. “It’s really a Catch-22, though, because I like clean air, and I race better when I’m out front in the fresh air. When Levi got around us for about 30 miles, following behind him was tough.”
2016 and 2017 EMC winners Brad and Roger Lovell finished second in the EMC race in their Ford Ranger buggy. The epitome of the Legends class, Colorado’s Lovell brothers completed the race in the same vehicle they have raced at Nitto King of the Hammers for the past decade.
Jason Bunch has physically finished the race in third place, but Bailey Cole is officially third for the times compensation having left behind Bunch.
Jimmy Jack, a veteran of Ultra4, and his wife Amy Jack won the Yukon Gear Modified Class. “Every year he gets better and better at driving and trusts the car more,” Amy Jack gushed after the race. “It probably doesn’t hurt that he has his wife in his ear saying, ‘settle down honey’. I think with me in the car he doesn’t take unnecessary risks and that helps with us finishing. We had a great pit crew and we knew exactly what we wanted to do. We raced our own race and tried not to race against anyone else. KOH is absolutely awesome. I would tell anyone to come out here and try this.”
Interest in the Spidertrax Stock Class has reached a new high this year, with 28 entries for 2019. The 4600 Class has the most restrictive rules at King of the Hammers, requiring the factory engine, stock frame, full body, single shock, and 35-inch tall DOT-approved tires. Longtime Spidertrax Stock Class racer Justin Reece has finished on the podium in the EMC race in the past in his leaf sprung Toyota pickup, but hadn’t finished on the top step until this year. Reece ran a near perfect race to finish 19th overall in the EMC race against more powerful vehicles with larger tires and shock absorbers.
After just over 10 hours (10:04:17), Erik Miller and Robby Gordon finished the race with the Jeep Gladiator; an impressive undertaking for this new pick up. Gordon led the first lap in the desert while Miller took care of the rocks and brought the Gladiator to the finish line. Erik Miller and Robby Gordon rank sixths.
2018 - Dan Fresh
2017 - Brad and Roger Lovell
2016 - Brad and Roger Lovell
2015 - Brandon Currie
2014 - John Currie
2013 - John Currie and Gerald Lee
2012 - John Currie and Gerald Lee