In its thirteenth edition, the Nitto King of the Hammers Powered By Optima Batteries has become an event in the event like no other in the world. After 235 miles of punishing desert terrain and some of the most difficult rockcrawling trails in the world, Jason Scherer wins for the third time the King of the Hammers. Jason made history as the first back-to-back winner.
Photography and story by Paolo Baraldi
The first King of the Hammers, born almost for fun, was held in 2007 with only 12 drivers in race; since then it has grown exponentially to be recognized worldwide as "the toughest one day race in the desert". All this success is certainly thanks to Dave Cole who, together with Jeff Knoll, had the intuition to combine in a single race the two disciplines most loved by the American off-roaders: the Desert Race and the Rock Crawling. Since that famous 2007, the event has grown more and more each year, transforming itself in a short time in a week full of races and show. This year, more than 50,000 spectators were present in the Johnson Valley, and 2,000,000 followed the live streaming of KOH Week. Numbers that say a lot about the fame of this event. As said, it is a busy week full of important events and certainly the race of the 4400 class on Friday is the most awaited.
Qualifying - As everyone knows well, the King of the Hammers is preceded by the qualifications that in addition to determining the starting order of the race, for some drivers are also the last chance to access them. Tuesday 5th February, from 8am, 114 drivers took to the track for the qualifying for 4400 class. The Short Course, which every year is different, was the protagonist of the qualifications and even if short, its path reflects the pitfalls of the King of the Hammers and is able to offer an excellent show. Although all the drivers gave their best during their session, those of the Power Hour were the most awaited by the public and also the fastest. The 19 top divres of Ultra4 have challenged their rig and themselves to get the best time and consequently the best position in the starting grid of the KOH. Starting in the first lines of the King of the Hammers, it is not only a matter of prestige but it is important not to be stuck in traffic jams that are formed along the most difficult trails.
Nick Nelson with a time of 02:18.39 was the fastest followed by Jason Scherer (02:18.46) winner of last year edition of the KOH and Loren Healy (02:19.78). Casey Currie is sixth, Shannon Campbell, the best of his family, is tenth, Erik Miller nineteenth, Levi Shirley twenty-seventh and Bailey Cole thirty-third.
The fastest of Team Europe was the Spanish Inaki Lanzagorta Egia (E), forty-sixth, with a time of 02:46.00. Daniel Roderick (UK) with a time of 03:23.81 is ranked ninety-first, Nicolas Montador (F), back from an unexpected change of engine, with 03:24.15 is ninety-second, Neville Ciantar (M) with 03:30.43 is ninety-fourth and Michael Hen (IL) with 03:39.51 is ninety-seventh.
Nitto King of the Hammers Powered By Optima Batteries - Friday, February 8th from 6am, with the sunrise, the drivers line up in the streets of Hammertown to be ready for the start that for the first two drivers, Nick Nelson and Jason Scherer, is set for 08.00am. The race track of the 2019 King of the Hammers it was long 235 miles and consists of three different laps: the first fast in the desert while the other two cross the most famous and tough Hammers (trails) of the Johnson Valley.
For most of the race, the most direct battle was between Jason Scherer, Erik Miller and Wayland Campbell. Unfortunately, Wayland after a mechanical problem on the third lap lost all chances of winning, leaving the final challenge to Jason Scherer and Erik Miller.
After 6 hours, 32 minutes and 39 seconds of competition, Jason Scherer wins the King of the Hammers for the third time (2009, 2018 and 2019), like him only Shannon Campbell, and is the first to win for two consecutive years. Scherer is a successful business owner who has been off-roading his entire life. He first won King of the Hammers in 2009, when the event was in its infancy. For the next decade he tried to build a better mousetrap and find the formula to repeat that early success. Well, he found it in 2018 and this year. “It was pretty busy from the first corner all the way through the desert,” Scherer noted at the finish line. “It was everything you could ask for from the pressure from the other drivers, to the obstacles, to how awesome the car ran. You can’t imagine how awesome it is when everything works together.” Several drivers contested for the lead early in the race, but Scherer had a near perfect day to beat Erik Miller by five minutes.
Erik Miller, twice "King" (2012 and 2016) is ranked second. Miller greeted his team, wife, and one-month old baby boy at the finish line. “I’m really proud of this sport, with the amount of people who are here (in Hammertown). I’ve never seen more international fans, or people here camping. It’s an absolute zoo.”
Shannon Campbell with 7 hours, 17 minutes and 17 seconds is third. The podium was almost identical to 2018, only in 2018 it was Wayland Campbell who rounded out the podium in third instead of his dad, three-time king Shannon. “Wayland was running second on the last lap, and they said he might be getting close to Scherer, and then next thing you know, I heard them trying to reach camp to get a replacement a-arm,” Shannon remarked. “I got it when I was in the pit and took it to him, so hopefully he can finish. That thing was heavy sitting on my lap!” Bailey Campbell has instead ranked eighth proving to live up to his name and confirming being one of the toughest women behind the wheel.
Only 29 of the 111 competitors at the start reached the finish line within the maximum limit of 14 hours. Among the "non-finisher" some names known as Levi Shirley, Randy Slawson and Jordan Pellegrino.
For Team Europe, it was tough, even more than expected! Everyone was aware that participating in the King of the Hammers was not an easy thing, but unfortunately, bad luck has severely delayed Ultra4 Europe riders. All five crews can not finish within the maximum time but still result in the ranking. The best, 37th, is Englishman Daniel Roderick who has put in this dream everything he had. At fifty-eighth place and second among the Europeans we find the Maltese Neville Cianter, followed immediately by the Spanish Inaki Lanzagorta Egia. The Frenchman Nicolas Montador is sixty-third, Nicolas has accused an important break to the shock in the first lap that has lingered a lot and then the gearbox has abandoned him. The Israeli Michael Hen is ranked sixty-ninth.
The Nitto King of the Hammers powered by Optima Batteries kicks off the 2019 season of Ultra4, which consists of three series (East, West and North) with more races for each series. The next race is the Ultra4 Stampede on March 22nd which will take place near Sacramento, California. Further information on www.ultra4racing.com.
2018 - Jason Scherer e Jason Berger
2017 - Shannon Campbell
2016 - Erik Miller e Robert Ruggiero
2015 - Randy Slawson e Michael Slawson
2014 - Loren Healy e Casey Trujillo
2013 - Randy Slawson e Michael Slawson
2012 - Erik Miller e Robert Ruggiero
2011 - Shannon Campbell
2010 - Loren Healy e Rodney Woody
2009 - Jason Scherer e Jason Berger
2008 - Shannon Campbell
2007 - JR Reynolds e Randy Slawson