The chaos of the King of the Hammers main event is indescribable to those unfamiliar- from the blinding dust to the screaming engines to the seemingly impossible rock trails, this is genuinely a race like no other. Coming off of several seasons racing UTVs with Ultra4, we made our debut into the 4400 unlimited class at KOH. It’s a wildly different vehicle that requires exceptional finesse and patience. While we struggled substantially in the desert, facing some serious unforeseen suspension issues, the car proved exceptionally durable in the rocks.-Team Draco Motorsports
Before We Begin.
At the end of 2021, we set out to race in the 4800 class with Ultra4. As it turned out, we stumbled across a 4400 Unlimited truck that fit everything we were looking for- with the shortages and supply constraints of COVID, however, procuring shocks to compete in the 4800 class was not going to happen in time for King of the Hammers. Regardless, we set out to race the car that we had and competed in the 4400 main event.
Thankfully, this year we managed to pre-run a ton and enjoy using the race cars to scope out the desert and try out lines in many of the rock trails. Both cars got tons of use and took their beating long before qualifying even began. During this testing, we knew the 4400 car was lacking significantly in suspension capabilities and out-classed for desert running. The limited time and resources that we had to prepare the car for KOH was just enough to have a race ready car, but sadly not one that was performing at its peak in all events. We worked out bugs during prerunning, kept tuning the Holley EFI HP system to get peak performance, and made sure the chassis was ready to deal with the constant abuse from the Johnson Valley terrain.
Lets Talk Qualifying.
The qualifying course started out so nice and flowy. We pre ran this numerous times and enjoyed the course even though it certainly had more treachery than in years past. By the time 4400 trucks were preparing to qualify, the course had been well abused and became much more damaging to race on. During the two nights prior to qualifying, we managed to lacerate two sidewalls of our Nitto 38” Trail Grapplers. Being very concerned about losing spare tires for race day, we elected to throttle back during qualifying. We took special care at the “Bronco Arch” where it seemed we had taken the damage to both tires previously. We kept a conservative pace during qualifying and thankfully spared additional tire damage.
Our main focus was survival, especially during those first ten miles of “ocean swell” whoops, initial rocks at Turkey Claw, and the inevitable “brown out” events during that first stretch to Pit 1. We kept a safe pace, then kept a strong flow through Turkey Claw, and then made a safe advance across the desert where we encountered many 0/0 visibility events. Shortly after we found ourselves climbing through Cougar Buttes with no issues…until, we stumbled across a hiccup at the very end at the steep off camber V-notch. Even though we pre ran this twice, the rocks change and this time it bit us with a hard side roll into a large boulder. We easily lost 30 minutes self recovering and making sure the truck was ready to continue racing.
With significant suspension shortfalls, we cautiously continued across the desert to finish lap one. Lap two continued through the desert but eventually we found ourselves dealing with the treacherous rocks of Spooners and Outer Limits. The trails have been well mangled and we understand why so many UTV’s ended their race here. We picked our way through the boulders, waterfalls, and obstacles then continued on to more rock trails such as Aftershock, Her Problem, Idle Issues, Chocolate Thunder, Jack North, Wrecking Ball, Daydreams, and Clawhammer. We cleared all of these trails with just one random sliced tire and very little carnage. As we swapped the tire in Pit 2, we knew making it back to Hammertown before the 6 pm start line closure would be tight. Sadly, we were just a few minutes too late to enter lap three. We were given a checkered flag and forced to stop after lap 2. It might have been a blessing as were both physically drained and exhausted (presumably from our spines, not shocks, absorbing the bumps) after spending that much time in this beast.
What Worked Well?
- Surprisingly… 38″ Nitto Trail Grappler Tires. Even though we were the SMALLEST 4400 truck out there, the lightweight tires helped to preserve our axles and differentials. These helped to keep the truck nimble in the rocks as well.
- Prerunning! Of the trails that we preran, we knew the flow and where to go.
- Lots of lights… When the sun goes down in the desert, the GPS is not as helpful as you may think when it comes to staying on course. It is INSANELY difficult to go fast, and keep on course, at night. This is especially true in the rocks where the slightest misdirection is the difference between a running car and a broken car. Miss the bypass? Yep- bring those lights.
- Lots of Recovery Ropes! Our WARN Spydura ropes are, by far, the most incredible piece of recovery equipment we’ve ever used. Super durable and plenty of length for those times when that one winch rock is 150′ away.
- Having a fuel gauge. You’d be surprised but this is actually a pretty overlooked instrument when it comes to the typical 4400 truck. Especially when in low-gear through the rock trails, understanding your level of fuel burn is crucial so that you don’t end up stranded.
- Bringing the Cherry Picker. Especially with a solid-axle vehicle, lifting this beast up takes some patience with a conventional floor jack. The engine puller made quick work out of this.
What Didn’t Work So Well?
- Our new intercom was having major issues: half the time the co-driver could hear the driver and the other half communication was one-way only. We believe that a failed/sticky push-to-talk button was the culprit in the beginning but, even after we ripped this out at the pits, communication malfunctions resumed about 20 minutes later.
- Suspension! We still can’t believe just how painfully bad the suspension was. Prior to purchasing the car, these shocks had been swapped on it and we’re not entirely sure what they came off of. We knew the suspension was less than optimal ahead of race day and this was certainly the case. One other factor is that we had the techs at FOX increase the shock pressure the day before the race since we noticed the car sagging to one side. We think that this amplified a lot of the negative characteristics as well.
- Not enough prerunning in the rocks. Even though we preran a ton, much more so than in years past, there were still several primary rock trails that we did not prerun (Spooners, Outerlimits, etc.). If your trying to be remotely competitive at this event, you need to understand the flow of the trails ahead of race day. Things that seem confusing before race day are twice as confusing during the actual event- figure these out ahead of time. Following other vehicles is always a great loophole to this advice BUT that plan doesn’t work so well when your either (a) the lead vehicle or (b) the only one on that trail at that time.
- Dear Ultra4, your drivers meetings SUCK. If Ultra4 provided some typed meeting minutes for distribution these would be FAR more valuable than the scatter of misleading questions and prolonged rambling that often occupy these ‘mandatory’ meetings at King of the Hammers. To clear things up for aspiring KOH racers, all obvious/known bypasses are fair game for EVERYBODY on lap 2. This is additionally confusing when recovery vehicles from courseworkers are parked literally feet off of ‘legal’ racecourse/bypass. Remember, 150′ in the desert and 50′ in the rocks or so. And finally, if your a 4400 racer and ON lap 3 bypasses are not allowed. period. Spooners bypass- no for lap 3. Aftershock bypass- no for lap 3. You get the idea.
Photo Credit – Harlen Foley, Dirt Nation Mag
Photo Credit- Philip Casper
Driver of the #428 Draco Motorsports Polaris RZR. Co-Driver for the #804 Can-Am X3 during King of the Hammers. Ultra4!!