Trip Report – King of the Hammers 2013 – Johnson Valley
This year would make our third trip down to Johnson Valley for the King of the Hammers race. Have been down there twice before we had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but mother nature had a slightly different plan….
Our crew was a little bigger than in previous years. This year we had myself, CJ, John, Andy, Tom, Kara, CJ’s buddy Dan from LA, CJ’s other friend Darrell from San Jose and 60,000 of our closest offroad racing fan friends.
We all headed out of the bay area Wednesday morning, afternoon and connected up in camp Wednesday night and Thursday morning. As with past years Thursday was spent setting up camp, tooling around Hammertown and running out to the trails. This year the Every Man Challenge was on Thursday so we got to see a couple of the rigs out on Jack Hammer and Chocolate Thunder.
This year the organizers did some different stuff. As with last year, they had a bunch of activity around the jumbotron in downtown Hammertown. They also broadcast that feed on FM 102.5 and on a UHV channel. No matter where you were in the valley, you could follow the details of the race (at least as the announcers understood them. They did not always have the information). In addition to the jumbotron in Hammertown, they also added a jumbotron at chocolate thunder. This year the options to watch the race in person were extremely curtailed. The start finish was hard to see. The viewable areas around Backdoor were almost gone. The main area to watch the racers on the course was Chocolate Thunder… and it was packed. Thousands of people were out there watching the racers flip, pound and break their shit.
We watched the racers start and hung out there while the top cars came through the pits after the first lap then spent a few hours at Chocolate Thunder and then came back to the finish line to watch Randy Slawson (#4448) come in to take his first place finish.
At the drivers meeting on Thursday night there were questions about how the incoming storm would affect the race. Thursday nights forecast called for wind gusts up to 60 mph and snow down to 2200 ft elevation (Hammertown is at 2250 ft.) David Cole was suggesting that this year might have the first white KOH race. By morning the wind was strong, but no snow in the valley (there was snow on the peaks around the valley). Generally the wind was good for the drivers, it takes the dust out of the equation. The wind however is tough on the spectators. At one point with the dust storm coming across the valley the visibility at Chocolate thunder was down to a couple of dozen feet.
On Friday night the cars started coming in. top three finishers were Randy Slawson (#4448) and his brother David, Shannon Campbell (#5) and Chicky Barton (#144). It took 12 hours to get the first 11 cars into the finish. Of the 128 cars that started the race, only 28 finished within the time limit.
We hung around after the racers came in on Friday night and folks headed home Saturday morning.
Drone – At the start of the race (Friday morning at 8:00am) there were two media helicopters in the air capturing the action. Few people noticed another visitor in our airspace. As everyone knows, the 29 Palms military base is next to Johnson Valley. The 29 Palms base is home to the Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 (VMU-1) the “Watchdogs”. They had a white drone flying in circles over the starting action for the race. It was a big white drone that was quietly circling overhead watching the action. Would love to see their footage. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VMU-1
Wayland Campbell – We all know Shannon Campbell. (two time winner of KOH and this year’s second place finisher). While Shannon runs a fabrication shop he is also the proud father of 16 year old Wayland. Wayland qualified for the race this year and finished in 23rd place. Not bad for a young driver. We had the chance to watch Wayland on Chocolate Thunder. He drives a little bit like his dad. I call it an aggressive finesse. He hits the skinny peddle but with a certain elegance.
Cody (#4680) – You remember Cody from 2012 KOH, he was internet darling from last year. Last year he qualified for the main event by his performance in the Every Man Challenge. He did it in a stock leaf spring sprung Toyota pickup. He was such the darling of the event that David gave him a spot in the 2013 main event. This year they made some adjustments to the truck and started in the back of the pack. They had some hard breaks and dropped out at mile 105. They limped back into camp (under their own power) about 8:00pm. Bobby Gordon with his professional pit crew, semis of equipment and $250,000 rig did no better than Cody and his $8k Toy!
Crowds – I can’t count. I have computers that do that for me. I can tell you that there were some big crowds this year. Might I be so bold to say that there were 5 times the number of people out there this year than last? 60,000 people? I don’t know but there were a lot of people there.
Watching from home – The race coverage was shown on the jumbotrons as well as broadcast on the radio. As in past years it was also streamed online to more than half a million followers!!! That is more eyeballs then some major network events get!!!
Petition to keep KOH open to the public: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/save-johnson-valley-ohv-area-be-fiscally-responsible-stop-29-palms-marine-base-expansion-keep-public/5r0C7Xw4