King of the Hammers has a reputation as the most difficult one day off-road race in the world, pushing team and machine to their breaking point, and beyond. Attrition in 2021 was as high as ever, with only 37 of 84 competitors reaching the finish line within the 14-hour time limit. Randy Slawson wins the King of the Hammers, fast qualifier JP Gomez and his brother Raul Gomez rounded out the podium in their single-seat in second and third position.
There were numerous lead changes, mechanical carnage, and drama as the race unfolded over 190 miles of unforgiving terrain in Johnson Valley, the largest Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) area in the United States. In the end, Randy Slawson and his cousin Dustin Emick edged out JP Gomez and Marcos Gomez to join Shannon Campbell and Jason Scherer as three-time winners of the event. For his efforts, Slawson took home a $65,000 pay check and a brand-new Ford Bronco. “My year begins and ends in February. It's not in January, like everybody else's,” Slawson explained. “This is the only thing that I live eat, breathe sleep, dream - King of the Hammers.”
While many of the top teams have adopted independent front suspension (IFS) for faster speeds in the desert, Slawson has stayed loyal to the Spidertrax solid axles under his Bomber Fabrication buggy. And unlike other forms of racing where the driver writes a check to buy a race car, Slawson crafted the buggy with his own hands, building not only his own winning car but Chayse Caprara’s Bomber that won the 4WP Every Man Challenge (EMC) the day prior. “The last time I had one of my customers win the Every Man Challenge I won the 4400 race the next day. I was like, just taking it as an omen,” Slawson revealed at the finish line. “And right then Jason Scherer rolled by, and he waved me over to his car, and he gave me a fist bump. He said, ‘you're gonna win it this year.’”
Fast qualifier JP Gomez and his brother Raul Gomez rounded out the podium in their single-seat UFO Fabrication cars. “I don’t want to start on the pole again, it sucks!” JP joked after crossing the finish line. “It took me about a lap and a half to finally calm down. Just slowly catching up my pace. And then that's how I went the whole rest of the day.” Raul stopped to assist Tom Wayes after Wayes suffered a violent rollover in the desert, valuing the safety of his rivals over his own success on the track. “When I pulled up, I turn my car off and I yelled for him to see if he was okay. And he didn't say anything so then I radioed the pit and couldn’t get him out,” Raul Gomez recalled. “Then Cameron (Steele) and Wayne (Isrealsen) pulled up and Tom told us to keep racing.”
Bailey Cole finished in fourth place for the second year in a row, matching his finish on the prior day in the Every Man Challenge the day before. “We really stayed in the zone all day,” Cole shared. “We wanted to just go out and get the hard rocks out the first lap when the car was healthy so we did Backdoor on Lap One. And then we just continued our pace with the desert and we picked off probably ten cars in that desert loop, the car was handling great.” Drift racing superstar Vaughn Gittin Jr. finished in fifth place in his Ford Bronco buggy.
Gittin’s Ford teammates Jason Scherer and Loren Healy finished 9th and 13th respectively, with all three Ford Broncos racing taking the checkered flag. “This race is gonna have like a 70% attrition rate and three out of three Broncos finished,” Scherer exclaimed. “It's like batting a thousand.” Scherer and desert racer Cameron Steele shared the lead early on in the race, but both had issues that pushed them back in the standings. Fuel management was an issue for not only Scherer but contender Wayland Campbell as well. Scherer’s navigator Jason Berger, known for his physical fitness, ran into the main pit to retrieve fuel, and Andrew McLaughlin pulled Campbell in to the pit. King of the Hammers is a “no chase” race, meaning that racers can help each other but can’t receive other assistance outside of the designated pit locations. Perhaps most amazing is that UTV winner Kyle Chaney and last year’s UTV winner Hunter Miller finished 11th and 12th overall in their Can-Am Maverick X3s against a field of unlimited cars with V8 engines and 40-inch-tall tires.
The Optima Batteries King of the Hammers Presented by Lasernut is the grand finale of nine days of racing in Johnson Valley in front millions of online viewers watching unparalleled life coverage from the desert. The event started with the Toyo Desert Challenge Presented by Monster Energy with $285,000 up for grabs. The event then added rocks to the mix with the All Balls Racing King of the Motos, Can-Am UTV King of the Hammers Presented by Progressive, and the 4WP Every Man Challenge. King of the Hammers races combine punishing desert terrain and huge boulders in the notorious Hammer trails. The unlimited 4400 class runs the same two laps as the UTV and EMC races, but ups the ante with a third lap adding even harder trails with ominous names such as King’s Graveyard and Hell to Pay.
Optima Batteries King of the Hammers, Presented by Lasernut Finishers
1. Randy Slawson – 3 laps - 7:1:17.378
2. JP Gomez - 3 laps - 7:10:18.268
3. Raul Gomez - 3 laps - 7:35:34.018
4. Bailey Cole - 3 laps - 8:5:29.389
5. Vaughn Gittin JR - 3 laps - 8:16:53.935 15:36.5
6. Rusty Blyler - 3 laps - 8:19:42.700
7. Erik Miller - 3 laps - 8:29:44.888
8. Levi Shirley - 3 laps - 8:38:39.275
9. Jason Blanton - 3 laps - 8:40:01.986
10. Bailey Campbell - 3 laps - 8:41:46.588
11. Jason Scherer - 3 laps - 8:44:16.386
12. Kyle Chaney - 3 laps - 8:48:45.959
13. Hunter Miller - 3 laps - 8:49:27.320
14. Loren Healy - 3 laps - 8:51:14.677
15. Shannon Campbell - 3 laps - 9:1:16.178
16. Josh Blyler - 3 laps - 9:25:43.198
17. Jon Cagliero - 3 laps - 9:29:24.202
18. Greg Adler - 3 laps - 9:36:32.745
19. Ron Prindle - 3 laps - 9:51:38.029
20. Chip Maclaughlin - 3 laps - 9:58:35.001
21. Tad Dowker - 3 laps - 10:14:30.849
22. Cody Miller - 3 laps - 10:31:21.756
23. Jordan Pellegrino - 3 laps - 10:39:17.090
24. Kevin Williams - 3 laps - 11:4:57.166
25. Jeff Waggoner - 3 laps - 11:41:28.856
26. Eric Miramon - 3 laps - 12:7:49.182
27. John Webb - 3 laps - 12:11:17.247
28. James Mahoney - 3 laps - 12:16:27.056
29. Hunter Sparrow - 3 laps - 12:20:31.410
30. Tom Gilpin - 3 laps - 12:27:56.215
31. Kevin Yoder - 3 laps - 12:28:18.769
32. Eric Wicks - 3 laps - 12:48:56.203
33. Dustin Isenhour - 3 laps - 12:52:02.764
34. Kris Wicks - 3 laps - 12:57:47.767
35. Matt Burkett - 3 laps - 13:1:11.501
36. Zandy Wilems - 3 laps - 13:9:56.052
37. Jeremy Hammer - 3 laps - 14:47:04.371
Optima Batteries King of the Hammers Podium Finisher Quotes
Randy Slawson #4448- 1st Place
How did your day go?
“We bought this car brand new last year, and we passed everybody in it and then the rear end broke, and it was heartbreaking but I knew that this car was so fast. I wanted to bring it back and show everybody just what this thing is capable of. And we had an absolutely flawless day, we just drove around it was super smooth I believe I didn’t even see any rock trails out there. We finished on the same BFGs we started on and the PRP seats are insanely comfortable. Man, everything on this car just dialed. We've been backed up by the best in the business and it's really been a pleasure working with people over the years.”
“Yesterday we were sitting right here. And the last Bomber, turnkey race car Bomber car that I built last year, a 19-year-old kid won the EMC in. And I was like, man, the last time I had one of my customers win the Every Man Challenge I won the next day. I was like, just taking it as an omen. And right then Jason Scherer rolled by, and he waved me over to his car, and he gave me a fist bump. He said, you're gonna win it this year.”
How confident were you when you left the line this morning?
“Not very, we haven't finished in four years. It's been painful. But we finally broke the streak and brought it home.”
What was the difference this year?
“Finally, got a good rear diff in the car? I don't know. Lots of hard work and a good crew. You know, obviously, there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes, not just me.”
How much do you think about this event throughout the year especially having gone four years without a win?
“My year begins and ends in February. It's not in December, like everybody else's. This is like the only thing that I live eat, breathe sleep, dream, King of the Hammers, you know. And there's others like me, you know, Erik Miller and Jason Scherer, you know, we're all wired the same, we just want to go fast and show that we can do it. But I spend more of my time and more of my money getting ready for this than I think anybody does. I don't spend as much money as most because I don’t have the money to spend but I spend more time out wheeling and playing with the Bomber cars. And you know, testing and tuning and I get more dirt seat time rock seat time than anybody in the world I guarantee it.”
And where were you most in the zone today?
“Well, out in the desert… this was not the fastest car we've ever had. It was kind of beating me up and Dustin said, ‘Man, just wait, save it for the rocks. We're gonna go hunting in the rocks.’ And that's what we did. We just reel them all in and picked them off one at a time. And the thing the car just works amazing. And the rocks it goes where you point it and it's got a really well-rounded machine for rock crawling and racing.”
JP Gomez #82- 2nd Place
Have you ever had the poll (position)?
“No. And it sucks I never want to do it again! You're overthinking stuff that you normally would be fine with. And I blew a tire and I would change it and some cars were passing me and I wanted to try to catch them. Because I knew I had to make up time, and I blew another tire. So, it took me about a lap and a half to finally calm down. Just slowly catching up my pace. And then that's how I went the whole rest of the day. So, it's not the best I mean, for me personally, I'd rather be like fifth or tenth off the line.”
Why do you race solo?
“The car’s design, we told Joe, we wanted to have a King of the Hammers winning car, and he said you need a single seater. To keep the car narrow obviously has advantages and disadvantages, but I have to change the tire myself. And the navigation. I mean, you have to be up and down, up and down, up and down. But we're fine tuning it. We'll be ready for next year for sure.”
What’s the advantage?
“The advantage, you don't have to listen to anybody! And you just go straight and do what you do. So obviously, I mean it has a pros and cons but the car super centered. I mean, it could wheel up anything. Everybody had to winch Sledgehammer. So I mean, I had a winch but that's the only time I had to.”
And what is the advantage of having a big family come to this event every year?
“Oh, it's amazing. They push you every year to do better. My brothers, my wife, kids, team. It's a good feeling to come out here and do it for fun and try to win this thing. We're all so competitive. We're all at the same competitive level. There's not one person that's more competitive than the other brother. We all want to win. We woke up this morning like we got to win. It wasn't ‘Oh, I want to get second place now.’ We want to win so that drive is what we love about this sport. Everybody out there racing against us and we race against them helping us winch and everything.”
Raul Gomez #83- 3rd Place
Where were you off the line this morning?
“I started ninth this morning on the line. I picked off two people I think on the desert and then the rest on the rock trails.”
Was there a lot of motivation knowing your brother was ahead of you? How much did that help you?
“My whole strategy today was not trying to catch him. My whole strategy was just to run a nice smooth first and second lap. Not too fast, but just a good steady pace. Not to have anybody pass me and stayed within like 10-15 minutes of the leader. And then I saw JP changing the tire in the middle of Lap Two. And I said screw this, turn it on. And so I turned it on, and then I caught Cameron but I got a flat on Sledgehammer. And my winch broke. And that was the end of my party.”
You saw Tom Wayes crash?
“Yes, right there on the second lap, where I kind of wrecked my T1 truck last Sunday. He was completely upside down, non-responsive. When I pulled up, I turn my car off and I yell for him to see if he was okay. And he didn't say anything so then I radioed the pit and couldn’t get him out so I radioed him on the sat phone told then ‘Hey, get radio ops on the call. Tom’s over here probably hurt.’ And then I jumped out. And at that time, Cameron and his co-dog jumped out. And we went and checked him and Tom came to \I think he was knocked out; he was pretty hurt.”
Is it hard to move on from something like that once you see it?
“When he came to I asked him ‘Do you want me to flip you back over so you can continue racing?’ but he said no. So I just got back in the car. And I couldn't really get my belts strapped tight enough. So I just kind of just I limped myself around to Pit Two. And then they tightened it up.”
What's the advantage of having a big family here?
“It's just the camaraderie I think with my family. We work a lot. And so is the only time we really get to spend time outside of work to enjoy spending it with the kids and the wives, and everybody else.”
Why do you come back every year?
“We just love it. It's just our thing.”
And what do you guys do the rest of the year?
“We do more Ultra4 race and race in Baja as well. And then we do a NorCal Rock Racing Series. So we probably race about 10 to 12 races a year.”
What do you do when you are not racing?
“We do utility line clearing for our utility companies in California, Arizona, and Oregon. We clear power lines, power poles, the whole deal.”
Were you busy this summer in California?
“Yes. We've been busy with the fires and everything, its been crazy.”
Who is the most competitive person in the family?
“I think I am. No, I think between me and Marcos, we're really competitive with each other. JP is competitive as well. But he doesn't say much he's the quiet one. Marcos is the oldest, then me, and then JP and then I have a little brother named David. And my son is racing today too. I was kind of nervous him being out in the course today. And once a saw him kind of broke down and not moving anymore, II was a little relieved I didn’t have to worry about him the rest of the race.”
Bailey Cole #13- 4th Place
What was your key to success today?
“Definitely the crew that put in all the effort. They really made this easy. The car was amazing on the start line and stayed good all the way throughout the day. And yeah, we're able to battle up front and we stuck to our plan and made things happen.”
Where did you feel like you were most in the zone?
“We really stayed in the zone all day me and Tom came up with the idea of doing Backdoor the first lap and wanted to just go out and get the hard rocks out the first lap when the car was healthy. And then we just continued our pace with the desert and we picked off probably 10 cars in that desert loop, the car was handling great. So we were really in that zone the first lap.”
Is there ever any pressure being Dave Cole’s son when you get on the start line?
“No, my dad's really let me just do my own thing. So I know everything's good, no matter what happens.”
And what is it like growing up being part of King of the Hammers? How old were you when the first one started?
“I think I was like eight or nine when the first one happened. And it's been amazing. Everybody out here is my family and I spend actually more time with everybody out here than I do with most of my actual family. Everybody is super nice, super helpful. We all want to see each other win we all want to see each other do well.”
“How well do you know this terrain? How much time are you out here driving a car?
“I drove my first Hammers trail when I was six years old in my dad's buggy. And since then, I've been trying to get out in everything I could. So definitely my backyard. It seems like everybody's coming out a lot more like I know Erik Miller spends probably two or three weeks a year out here. So everybody gets a lot more seat time out here than it used to be. It used to be like the East Coast racers never really got a chance to even wheel out here, but they're making the trek a lot more often.”
What is special about this terrain?
“This is just a beautiful place, me and Tom a couple times today we're like, oh, what's this? What's this? This looks amazing as we're cruising through the desert going 100 mph. And even more than that the variety of terrain, there's massive rocks, there's little rocks there, soft sand. It's literally every type of off road in the world and it's all here.”
Optima Batteries King of the Hammers, Presented by Lasernut Nuggets
Distance: ~190 miles total
Up Outer Limits
Up Backdoor (4400 only)
Up Wrecking Ball
Up Sledge (4400 only)
Up Jackhammer all classes
Up Hell To Pay (3rd lap 4400 only)
Up Idle Issues
Up Bender Alley all classes
Up Hells Gate
Up route through Cougar Buttes
Down Spooner‘s all classes
Down Claw Hammer
Down Nightmare (3rd lap only)
Down Chocolate Thunder
Down Her Problems
Down Jack North
Down "Kings Graveyard" (3rd lap 4400 only)
A new trail going off Fisher Mountain going from all the way to the top and all the way to the bottom.
Longer than Outer Limits and steeper than Sledge Hammer.
“The hardest rock trail we’ve ever raced at Ultra4 Racing period. Harder than going up Sledge Hammer, harder than anything we’ve ever done by a long way.”
The second to last trail on the course.
No pit 2A anymore run all of lamp three.
Lap 3 runs all the rock trails with no pit .
47 to 50 miles before coming back to Main Pit after Pit 2.
-This year’s race will be won in the rocks.
- Too many people finished last year (37% finish rate), so Dave is making it extra hard.
- Added more trails, using the harder trails, taking out a pit.
- No Pit 2°.
- No pit on the last lap - need to go through all the hard rock trails without one.
- Means less pit crew people needed - more crucial people can go to the other pits.
- Will be very crucial to have your top pit guys in the last pit.
- Qualifying will separate the pack.
- If you’re in front and break, people will have a hard time getting around you.
- This looks like the year people won’t be helping other people as much.
- Not having a co-driver could really hurt you.
- “2021 is going to separate the men and women from the boys and girls”.
- No Canadian or European cars due to COVID.
The Campbells and Gomez families are at an advantage in the “no chase” format of King of the Hammers because they can help each other on the course and bring spare parts. That will be even more important in 2021 with no Pit 2A and a more challenging course. As a result, other alliances have formed as well. Look for Erik Miller and Josh Blyler to work together, and the newly formed Rock Royalty of Jason Scherer and Bailey Cole. Paul Horschel will also have Jeff McKinlay drive one of his cars in the 4400 race as a fast support vehicle.
Last Finisher: $1
2020: Josh Blyler and Jared Erdman
2019: Jason Scherer and Jason Berger
2018: Jason Scherer and Jason Berger
2017: Shannon Campbell
2016: Erik Miller and Robert Ruggiero
2015: Randy Slawson and Michael Slawson
2014: Loren Healy and Casey Trujillo
2013: Randy Slawson and Michael Slawson
2012: Erik Miller and Robert Ruggiero
2011: Shannon Campbell
2010: Loren Healy and Rodney Woody
2009: Jason Scherer and Jason Berger
2008: Shannon Campbell
2007: JR Reynolds and Randy Slawson
All kings are returning in 2021 except for JR Reynolds
By following the links below you can be updated on all the races of the 2021 KOH Week