KOH ’10- A week spent on Means WET dry lake bed in the Middle of the Mojave!
What a trip! It was great to get away from the monotony of the day to day and get out to the Mojave Desert to cover the Griffin King of the Hammers(KOH) race for CRAWL mag. For those of you not involved with rock crawling or desert racing; this is the ultimate off road race, period. It combines 30+ of the toughest rock crawling trails in the country with 100 miles of high-speed desert sections. It’s what you get when you cross Jeep with Baja style Trophy Truck.
I was lucky enough to catch a ride with competitor Jason Pickett from Denver out to Means Dry Lake in Johnson Valley, CA. After a late departure on Sunday the 7th, we stepped foot onto the wet lakebed Monday evening. Means DRY lake is in the desert, the DRY DESERT. For the few weeks prior to the race it had rained, A LOT. So, what we thought would be a dry lake bed, turned out to be a very muddy lake. Even so, RVs and campers lined the road all the way to the pit and vendor area. It was a temporary city in the desert, AKA Hammertown. Last time I was there two years ago there wasn’t even 1/10th the amount of people as this year. Jeff Knoll and Dave Cole, the event organizers, hit the nail on the head with this race and it seems to gain in popularity exponentially every year.
The mud seemed to be a blessing in disguise. The powder fine dirt and sand in this area wreaked havoc on my equipment last time I was at the Hammers. Hopefully the 1DIII and 5DII would come away relatively unscathed. Did I mention mud was also used as a form of amusement for some of the late night atv crowd at 3 or 4 AM? That along with the ¼ sticks of dynamite going off 10 feet away from the RV made getting a good nights rest difficult.
With an early start Tuesday, I found myself shooting photos of Ian Johnson (Xtreme 4X4, http://www.powerblocktv.com ) and Jimmy Penner’s (of Essentially Offroad, http://www.eoronline.com ) KOH car. Propane injected and rocking some Ford Ranger doors and bedsides, this southern style beast was undoubtedly ready for the Hammers. Count on seeing more from this shoot in one of the upcoming issues of CRAWL.
Most of the teams spent some serious time testing and tuning in the week prior to the race. Some were there a month in advance, others came out every weekend for months in advance. Knowing how your car handles the varied terrain is a large part of preparing for racing in KOH. While out shooting Ian’s rig I came across Brad Lovell testing with Todd from Fox shocks.
As just an observer, the process of adjusting the valving on the shocks seems fairly simple, yet nothing could be further from the truth. The shock tech would watch someone make a few passes through some rough terrain, then make a few adjustments, watch a few more passes, and so on. All the while never setting foot in the car. Eventually the cars would just float across the top of the whoops(bumps). Suspension is a BIG deal when it comes to going fast! And trying to get a rock crawler to go fast can be interesting.
Jason Pickett, Aaron Dusenbery and Carnage Crew spent most of Tuesday tuning the suspension on the Axial car #4444 with King Shocks. It was the first time the car had touched dirt, or rocks. I was told that the first few passes on the whoops and rough desert sections were around 35mph. By the time I caught up with them in the afternoon they were doing 65mph easy and just cruising across the top of the whoops. When I asked Jason how it was, “fast!”. Apparently twice as fast as last year’s car.
On Wednesday, plans for photo shoots fell through. I spent most of the day sans camera, just taking in the scene known as Hammertown. With contingency occupying a major portion of Thursday, this was the last real chance the teams would have to make sure the cars was ready for the 8+ hours of brutality that the Hammers would certainly dish out. Jason and Aaron managed to get out on a 20+ mile prerun to the first pit just before dark. On the way back to camp it started to snow, something I thought we had left back in CO.
After shooting a few photos at contingency on Thursday I found a few features to shoot for CRAWL. All I can say is Nick Sessions does some amazing work. A couple super clean cars with a look undeniably Xtreme Engineering. You’re going to have to wait for the articles in CRAWL to see…
Friday, race day…
The mad scramble of race day went surprisingly smooth. The competitors started lining their cars up at 5AM. Many probably didn’t sleep much the night before, they either spent it working on the cars or we just too hyped up for the big race. Everyone had a 1% chance of winning, as there was 100 drivers in the race. And although there were favorites, it would prove to be anybody’s day.
The starting line looked like the videos I had seen of the Baja 1000 start. Fans everywhere, race cars lined up, motors reving, the heli hovering above; everyone was waiting for 8 o’clock to hit and the race to start. You could smell the anticipation in the air, or maybe that was just the race fuel. I spent the first few minutes of the race waiting for a brave someone to get out on the course and try to touch one of the cars going by at 60mph+ only to be disappointed, I guess I’ll need to head south of the border for that.
Most of race day involved Brandon (CRAWL photog extraordinaire), Mike (CRAWL NW friend) and I driving John’s Duramax all over the California desert. It still amazes me that Brandon only managed to get the truck stuck twice. Way to go B! Ha. The first place I got dropped off at was near race mile 40. It was on top of a ridge overlooking much of the area, including the surrounding snow covered mountains. The tranquility of being “out there” is probably one of the best parts of shooting offroad racing and rock crawling.
A few of my favorites from Race mile 40-
A rock trail called Chocolate Thunder was the next location I shot photos at. Interesting name, and the story behind it doesn’t disappoint.
Approximately race mile 100-
There were thousands of spectators there for the race. Chocolate thunder had around 1,000 people when I was there. The next location, Sledgehammer, had what seemed like 20,000. People were hiking up the actual race course when I got there. When a car would come they’d scramble up the steep, loose boulders of the side of the canyon to get out of the way, only to come right back down and follow the racers up the trail. I heard of a few people getting hit with boulders that were knocked down from spectators up above. A man with a broken arm and a young boy with a cut on his head were a few of the confirmed injuries. Needless to say I only shot a few images and moved on from that mess.
Eventual race winner, Loren Healy on his way up Sledge. To go through LCQ and end up winning the big race is amazing. Congrats Loren!
So what happened with Jason Pickett and Aaron Dusenbery in the Axial sponsored Carnage Crew car on race day? They started in the 17th position. When they took off the line they were seriously moving.
At mile 40 they were 5th car to come by me, which means they gained 12 positions up to that point. Again, they were moving. The car had more, but Jason knew from last years race that keeping things together and not pushing the car too hard would give them a better chance at finishing.
Every point at which I saw them they were with the lead group of cars. The next sighting was on their way to Chocolate Thunder, they ripping their way through a sandy wash. They’d lost a few positions at this point, 8th or 9th car through that section. Apparently hydrolic fittings on the steering ram came loose and cost them about 40 minutes while getting things fixed .
As I was just getting to the bottom of Sledgehammer they were at the check point between it and Jackhammer. They spotted me and threw what some might call the “Doyle”.
After countless hours of building the car, finishing it on the lakebed, and taking a largely untested car on the 135 mile 2010 Griffin King of the Hammers course, Jason Pickett and Aaron Dusenbery got the Axial sponsored car back to “Hammertown” in 8 hours, 3 minutes and 24 seconds. Good enough for a 10th place finish.
To show up with an untested car to a race like KOH is a gamble. To come away with a top ten finish with said car is almost unbelievable. The only problem they encountered was loose fittings on the steering ram, which cost them around 40 minutes getting fixed. Not too bad considering they had to drive back to a pit, fix it, and drive back to the race course in the exact location they wend off course. Don’t “what if?” yourself to much Jason. You’ve got a spot in next years race!
Thanks to CRAWL Magazine for allowing me the opportunity to capture some of the action of the 2010 Griffin Radiator King of the Hammers. Thanks to Jason, Laurie and crew for the amazing hospitality all week. Time to get to work on the Ranger for next year, tool-shed pre-runner here I come.
This is just a sampling of the 5,000+ images I shot during the week. The upcoming issue #21 of CRAWL Magazine will feature more of my work included in their massive KOH article. If there is enough interest I may put up a gallery at some point.