KING OF THE HAMMERS UTVs

The King of the Hammers (KOH) has earned the reputation of being the toughest one-day off-road race in the world for 4x4s. Ultra-4 trucks have tackled the desert and rock-crawling race for 14 years, and UTVs have been racing for 12 years at the Johnson Valley OHV Area, which is northeast of Los Angeles. In both the Ultra-4 4400 class and UTV class, five drivers have dominated the King of the Hammers, but 2020 would bring new winners to Hammertown, a sprawling city that springs up every February on the  Means Dry Lake. Tens of thousands of enthusiasts come to watch the off-road spectacle, and Polaris has ruled the KOH UTVs for 11 years.

King of the Hammers

The 2020 KOH UTV course consisted of two loops: the first 77-mile loop was mostly open desert before dropping into Back Door, a notorious 10-foot drop-off. The second 66-mile loop took the racers onto the 29 Palms marine base before hitting the infamous Hammers and then going down Back Door a second time. The Hammers are a series of boulder-infested ravines, and the 2020 course subjected racers to Aftershock, Fissure Mountain, Upper Sledgehammer, Jackhammer, Not Her Problem, Chocolate Thunder, Jack North, Wrecking Ball, Outer Limits, Spooners, Guacamole and Resolution before hitting Back Door. Of 131 UTV starters, only 33 completed both laps. Also notable, the UTVs were the biggest class at KOH.

King of the Hammers
Kyle Chaney was blazing fast, but had a freak roll-over cost him the win. “We caught up to Hunter in the lake bed, and I thought the trail went right behind him. I was in the dust, and I went off of a cliff and it rolled,” said Chaney.

NEW SHERIFFS IN HAMMERTOWN

Qualifying is relatively new to UTVs at the Hammers, and Can-Am put a huge effort into dethroning Polaris. Rock-crawling newcomers Cody and Hunter Miller set the fastest two times, and fellow Can-Am pilots Kyle Chaney, Dustin Jones, and Phil Blurton also had prime starting positions for the 143-mile race. So did CJ Greaves and Mitch Guthrie Jr. Racers take off two at a time, and the Millers blazed off of the start. Cody suffered a puncture within a couple of miles and had to return to Hammertown for a new wheel, while Hunter took the lead. At the end of the first desert-heavy loop, Chaney had taken the lead from Hunter, who tucked in behind the short-course champ heading into Back Door. Blurton cleaned Back Door in third without his co-pilot getting out to use a safety strap, as Chaney and Miller had done. Six-time KOH champ Mitch Guthrie Sr. and Rodrigo Ampudia (C-A) rounded out the top five at the end of the first loop.

King of the Hammers
Hunter Miller had a giant lead going up Chocolate Thunder, but would end up winning in his first attempt at the King of the Hammers by 3 minutes, 20 seconds. “It’s the absolute hardest race I’ve ever done in my entire life,” said Miller. “I’ve been racing for 25 years now, and I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

At Chocolate Thunder, more than halfway through the Hammers’ second loop, Hunter Miller had amassed a 12-minute lead, as Chaney had rolled off of a cliff and had to tip his Maverick back on its wheels. Blurton was second and Guthrie was third, with Chaney hot on his rear bumper. Chaney would get by both Guthrie and Blurton for second overall behind Miller, and Blurton would make it a Can-Am sweep of the podium. In fact, Can-Am took eight of the top-10 spots, with Cody Miller recovering for ninth.

King of the Hammers
Phil Blurton shows how it’s done at Back Door: ease off of the face then in the throttle when the nose hits the bottom. A steady drive gave the desert champ third for an all-Can-Am podium.
Bottlenecks abound at the Hammers, as most canyon sections have only one line. Trey McKinley (222) made it through the first Back Door jam to take sixth.

Guthrie Senior was fourth and Junior, who had won the previous two Hammers, was 16th after breaking an axle. Shannon Campbell, who had won both the UTVs and 4400s in 2017, had the Hammers bite him. He was 108th, and kids Wayland and Bailey were 113th and 114th. Blake Van de Loo, who won in 2016, was 11th.

Mitch Guthrie Sr. was gunning for his seventh King of the Hammers title, but couldn’t match the pace of Team Can-Am. He was the top RZR Pro finisher.

Other notable entries included Jeremy McGrath, the “King of Supercross,” in a nearly stock Teryx KRX 1000. He finished 29th in his first KOH. Eliott Watson was 26th in the KOH debut of the Honda Talon. Kristen Matlock was 27th in a Polaris, and husband Wayne was 36th. Sara Price was 39th after rolling down Back Door. Defending SCORE Normally-Aspirated UTV Pro champion Kaden Wells was 44th.

King of the Hammers
Nathan Wolff takes the hard line at Back Door and pulls it off. Wolff was fifth at the Hammers, and he won two IXCR rounds in 2019. Check out the bed delete for lightness.

While there have been tougher Hammers in the past, this one was up there in gnarliness. Only 24 percent finished both laps.

Fresh off of his and America’s first SSV win at the Dakar Rally, Casey Currie was seventh at KOH. He was fourth in 2018. In 2013, only four UTVs finished, and only five finished in 2015.

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KING OF THE HAMMERS UTV RESULTS

1. Hunter Miller/C-A 04:29:44.201

2. Kyle Chaney/C-A 04:32:24.935

3. Phil Blurton/C-A 04:36:17.552

4. Mitch Guthrie, Sr./Pol 04:47:14.386

5. Nathan Wolff/C-A 04:55:05.224

6. Trey McKinlay/Pol 05:07:21.644

7. Casey Currie/C-A 05:08:49.996

8. Jason Weller/C-A 05:28:07.029

9. Cody Miller/C-A 05:30:34.249

10. Nicolas Turner/C-A 05:36:54.780

Past KOH UTV Winners

2019: Mitch Guthrie Jr./Pol

2018: Mitch Guthrie Jr./Pol

2017: Shannon Campbell/Pol

2016: Blake Van De Loo/Pol

2015: Mitch Guthrie/Pol

2014: Mitch Guthrie/Pol

2013: Mitch Guthrie/Pol

2012: Mitch Guthrie/Pol

2011: Brandon Schueler/Pol

2010: Mitch Guthrie/Pol

2009: Mitch Guthrie/Pol

Read about Yamaha’s big KOH payout here: https://utvactionmag.com/yamahas-big-king-of-hammers-payout/

See the UTV that won KOH here: https://can-am.brp.com/off-road/us/en/models.html

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