UTV technology is improving in leaps and bounds each year, just like Ultra4 cars. To rise to the challenge of increased horsepower, bigger shocks, and larger tires from the manufacturers, Hammerking promoter Dave Cole promised to make the 2019 Can-Am UTV King of the Hammers presented by HCR the toughest in history. Just four years ago, only five UTVs finished the race. In a testament to the sport and vehicle progression, despite a course that was longer and more difficult than ever, twenty-eight vehicles finished the 2019 Can-Am UTV King of the Hammers race within the nine-hour time limit.
2018 winner Mitch Guthrie Jr. set the fastest qualifying time on Saturday, ahead of Midwest short course racer Kyle Chaney by only 2/10ths of a second. On race day, when the green flag dropped, Phil Blurton passed both Guthrie and Chaney in his turbocharged Can-Am Maverick X3 to take the physical lead in the 91-mile desert loop. When the race moved to the infamous Hammers rockcrawling canyons though, everything changed. 22-year-old Mitch Guthrie Jr. has literally grown up in Johnson Valley, where his father has won the King of the Hammers UTV race six times. “We’ve been doing a lot of pre-running this week. The rocks are where it counts, and we had some great lines through them. We never even had to wrench,” Guthrie revealed at the finish line.
“I definitely felt pressure after winning (last year), but you learn to deal with it,” Guthrie shared after besting the next closest competitor by nearly half an hour. “I’ve been racing for a while, and you have to think about it as another race, but in the back of your head you know it’s King of the Hammers, and it’s the biggest race of the year.” The 160-mile course started with a 91-mile desert loop that mixed high speed lakebeds with tight, twisty ridgelines that challenged man and machine. From there the difficulty ratcheted up as the competitors had to traverse Outer Limits and Spooners as part of the rock loop; trails that challenge even Ultra4 cars with 40-inch tires and V-8 engines.
Ultra4 driver Wayland Campbell came in second after a penalty pushed Branden Sims back to third place. “It’s a huge advantage to run the UTV race before the 4400 on Friday. The course gets so chewed up and changes, you don’t know what to expect on Friday.” Campbell finished second in the UTV race in 2017 but didn’t finish the race in 2018, “so this was big for us. I saw both my dad (Shannon) and sister (Bailey) on the course. My sister tried to pass me on the lakebed, and I passed my dad around mile 40, but then he caught back up to us. I don’t know where he went after that.” Shannon Campbell was close behind, finishing 4th overall.
Champion desert racer Branden Sims finished on the podium for the fourth time, but has yet to win the Can-Am UTV King of the Hammers race. “My expectation was to get first,” Sims confessed. “That’s been my expectation for six years now. A podium is always good, but I really wanted that win. Mitchie was one fire, though, and he’s my teammate. We’ve raced together a lot I, and I know what he can do and what he’s capable of. First would have been nice but maybe next year.”
It isn’t uncommon to find families enjoying weekends in the desert with their UTVs, and King of the Hammers (KOH) is no exception. Just as the recreational market has exploded, so has UTV racing. Now the largest class at King of the Hammers, multiple generations of Guthrie, Greaves, Campbell, Gordon, and McKinley families showed up to do battle in the race. Additionally, a huge number of crossover drivers have tossed their hats into the ring, including past KOH winners Shannon Campbell and Loren Healy and T1 Desert Truck racers Bryce Menzies and Robby Gordon.
Menzies, who has limited exposure to rockcrawling, surprised everyone with a seventh-place finish in his first King of the Hammers race. “Friday was my first time driving in the rocks, and today was my second day in the rocks. I’m used to going 140 mph, not 3 mph. The rocks are technical, and it’s very challenging and you have to be smart.” Bryce Menzies will be on the lakebed all week long, racing in the Toyo Tires Desert Invitational presented by Monster Energy on Thursday, February 7th.
The action continues on Monday, February 4th with qualifying for the 4WP Every Man Challenge starting at 10 AM. After the sun goes down the action heats up from 6 PM to 9 PM with Holley EFI Shootout presented by KMC, King, and Action Sports Canopies.
Images by: Ultra4 Racing | Nicole Dreon | Kathy Durrett | Phil Henderson