The true story of King of the Hammers

The friends off-road battle for a case of beer, it's as much of a festival and celebration of all-things off-road as it is a race, despite races taking place, has transformed into a weeklong annual bash that brings upward of 50,000 people from all over the globe to gather in the California desert. Today, the King of the Hammers has achieved a huge reputation among all offroad enthusiasts. But who really knows how KOH was born?

Photography and story by Paolo Baraldi

king of the hammers history

King of the Hammers, the world's hardest one day off-road race

king of the hammers history
Dave Cole

Today, the King of the Hammers has achieved a huge notoriety among all offroad enthusiasts, so much so that it is considered the toughest one-day offroad race in the world. Every year, in the Johnson Valley, more than 60 thousand enthusiasts follow the actions of their heroes. The official story of King of the Hammers is also well known to all. The race was born in 2007, from an idea of Dave Cole and Jeff Knoll, both offroader but in different disciplines, who wanted to challenge themselves with some of their friends in a race that would join the characteristic tracks of the Desert Race to those of the Rock-Crawling. The first edition took place with 12 crews called, and later we will explain why, the OG13. The success and interest was so great that the King of the Hammers grew exponentially each year to the incredible spectacle it is now. Knowing, very well, the characters that are inside the KOH, has made me believe that behind the official story there should be something more. Here, after some questions asked the right people have emerged many interesting details that I will tell you.

king of the hammers history

2007, the first King of the Hammers battle for a case of beer

Jeff Knoll
Jeff Knoll

The location where everything was born was a bar in San Bernardino, to be precise Chili's bar. Here Dave Cole and Jeff Knoll planned the first King of the Hammers on a paper napkin. Cole was a Rock-Crawler champion and had good relations with the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), Knoll was involved in the Desert Race and had experience in managing motorsport events. After working on logistics and creating a team to run the event, they invited twelve of their friends to the Johnson Valley with the excuse of spending a day together in offroad. To the guys was not told anything that happened until they all arrived. The very first edition of the King of the Hammers was handled in secret: no spectator, no journalist and no sponsor; only the drivers invited and as a prize a case of beer. The route of this first KOH, 35 miles long, was presented to the participants like that: "Lakebed to Outer Limits up Outer Limits down Aftershock down Sunbonnet up Devil's Slide down Hell's Gate take a right towards Landers up the Slide Towards the end of Sledge  up Jack (hammer) down Jack North up Wrecking Ball down Claw (hammer) back to the Lakebed ". Twelve checkpoints were set up along the track where each pilot had to sign a log to ensure that all trails were completed. JR Reynolds, with the advantage of competing at home won the race with a surprising time of 2 hours and 57 minutes. Tracy Jordan, a "virgin" from the Hammers, arrived about half an hour later. Most of the others took more than five hours to cross the finish line. Some pilots, like Jordan, had never been to Johnson Valley and relied solely on GPS to find their way. After the "non-event" was disputed, Jeff Knoll posted a simple question on a famous American offroad forum: "How do you think it takes to run 8 Hammers trails consecutively?". Dave Cole, immediately he stimulated even more attention by betting 100 dollars that no one could do it in less than five hours. After receiving the interest of the forum, they published the results of the secret competition and at that point everyone wanted to prove that they were faster. Thus the King of the Hammers was born!

Who are the King of the Hammers OG13?

But, why the first KOH participants are called the OG13, the Original 13, if in reality there were only twelve?

A reliable source, JT Taylor, told me: "I was in charge of making the T-Shirts for the drivers, I called Dave and asked him: how many drivers are there?" And Dave replied:  13 . "So I asked him: Do we call them OG13? "He told me yes, so I printed the shirts and only on the day of the race I discovered that we were 12 ... but since then we are known as the OG13."


The OG13 are:

- Bart Dixon

- Brett Porte

- Chris Gieger

- Hobie Smith

- Jack Graef

- Jeremy Toney

- John James

- John Reynolds

- JT Taylor

- Scott Ellinger

- Scott Porter

- Tracy Jordan 


The 13th person didn't race. It was Steve Parker, Hammer Hog. He was invited to race but opted not and was the CB Radio relay to make sure everyone made it back. 

king of the hammers history

In 2008 the first true and official King of the Hammers took place even if still without public. The track was of 50 miles with 7 Hammers to be overcome over the desert tracks. About 50 drivers, all top drivers of Desert Race and Rock Crawling, participated in the event, and each of them wanted to demonstrate its value. On that occasion, Shannon Campbell was crowned King of the Hammers after moving from last place in the lead with an epic race that has attracted even more interest in this extreme race. Soon the Hammerking Productions were created, the public was invited to watch the race, the first sponsors appeared, the Ultra4 category was defined and the Ultra4 Racing championship started.  

king of the hammers history

The King of the Hammers "KINGS":

2007: JR Reynolds 

2008: Shannon Campbell

2009: Jason Scherer 

2010: Loren Healy 

2011: Shannon Campbell

2012: Erik Miller 

2013: Randy Slawson 

2014: Loren Healy 

2015: Randy Slawson 

2016: Erik Miller

2017: Shannon Campbell

2018: Jason Scherer 

2019: Jason Scherer

2020: Josh Blyler

2021: Randy Slowson

2022: Raul Gomez

2023: Raul Gomez