The King of the Hammers is the ultimate UTV race—if you’re a UTV enthusiast, you won’t miss it. It’s 134 miles split into two laps of open desert, tricky rock shelves, and boulder-filled canyons in southern California’s Johnson Valley. It’s an eight-hour endurance race that tests not only the ability of the driver, but also the durability of their machine.
The UTV portion of King of the Hammers 2018 is over. Right now racers are loading up their broken RZRs, Mavericks, and YXZs and starting the trek home where they will repair, upgrade, and enhance their machines in anticipation of next year’s race.
But what a race it was! One hundred eighteen racers entered King of the Hammers 2018, but only twelve finished. Twelve! That’s a far cry from the 40+ finishers in 2017’s race, and the 30+ finishers in 2016. That means 106 racers either broke down or couldn’t complete the course in the eight hours given to them. It’s a real testament to just how brutal the race was. In a race as tough as this, crossing the finish line with all your fingers and toes is victory in itself, and we had three of our sponsored racers running Rhino 2.0 Axles.
Here’s the full official list of finishers:
Racers’ results and finishing positions are calculated based on their corrected time (the actual time spent on the course, not necessarily finishing position). KOH is a no-chase race, which means racers have no safety net if they break down away from a pit—they must make the repairs themselves with whatever supplies they brought with them. Make no mistake, the best racers rise to the top every time, but any small breakage or mishap can take any veteran driver out of podium position or leave them stranded in the desert with a DNF.
Mitch Guthrie Jr., Mitch Guthrie Sr., and Ross Pilgreen all ran Rhino 2.0 Axles and they all did very well as you can see. Pilgreen also ran our 4″ Portal Gear Lift. If you want a machine capable of conquering King of the Hammers, start with Rhino 2.0 Axles.
The race started at 8 AM PST Wednesday morning, February 7th, with the father-son combo of Johnny and CJ Greaves taking off from the starting line in the 1st and 2nd positions in their Yamaha YXZs. Thirty seconds later, Casey Currie and Sean Stroud left the starting line, followed by Mitch Guthrie Jr. and Darian Gomez another thirty seconds after that. It took thirty minutes for all 118 races to start, meaning the last starter had until 4:30 to finish.
The 134-mile course is split into two distinct laps: Lap 1 is primarily high-speed desert racing with some rock obstacles.
The leaders of the race found their positions immediately with CJ Greaves in front, Johnny Greaves right behind in 2nd, and Mitch Guthrie Jr. battling for 3rd. The Greaves’ YXZs were perfect for the open desert and it was all Guthrie could do to keep up. They made short work of The Notches, The Wall, Resolution, and Backdoor before finishing Lap 1 in 1:47 for CJ, 1:49 for Johnny, and 1:54 for Mitch Jr. An exciting first lap for sure, but the real nail-biting action was still to come.
For as easy as the race leaders made Backdoor look, we saw some other racers struggle with the 6-ft.+ rock shelf. We had a good view on the livestream of several guys landing on their hoods on the way down, including one Travis Zollinger, who managed to roll his vehicle onto its side at the top of the shelf. With no room to winch back onto four wheels easily, his only course of action was to hit the gas, scoot over the edge on two wheels, and say a little prayer. Needless to say he didn’t land on all four wheels and the trail crew had to jump in to get him upright. Still, the maneuver probably saved him a few minutes.
That wasn’t the only slick move we saw at Backdoor. You see, the trick to Backdoor is to throw your vehicle into four-wheel drive and hit the gas right before your front tires hit the ground. That way your front end pulls forward and keeps you from tipping forward onto your hood. If you’re in a Can-Am Maverick X3 with a Visco Lok differential, that can get a little funky, as we saw. This X3 came down in four-wheel drive and slammed on his gas. Unfortunately his front tire had to turn a few times before the diff would lock. What resulted was a quick pirouette on his nose before landing on all four wheels but facing backwards. He popped it into reverse and went on his way. It was rad.
Lap 2 is where all the most intense rock crawling took place and where most riders were forced to quit. It’s comprised of mostly difficult rock obstacles with only a few short sections of open-desert racing. It’s also where Mitch Guthrie Jr. took the lead—and boy did he take it. The Greaves both cruised through the first few rock gardens easily with Guthrie Jr. in tow. But CJ Greaves found the limits of his YXZ when he was hit by Sledgehammer—a high-walled gorge with huge boulders and no good route through.
CJ rolled it and couldn’t find an anchor for his winch. He was stuck. His father, Johnny Greaves, was right behind, but when you’re that far up in the pack you don’t stop for anybody. But maybe he should have. Johnny made less-than-stellar time through Sledgehammer. A little father-son cooperation could have been mutually beneficial for the pair. Instead, Mitch Guthrie Jr. crawled right through Sledgehammer, leaving them both in the dust. And he didn’t stop. He plowed through Chocolate Thunder, Jackhammer North, and Jackhammer before the course led into four miles of open desert. By the time Mitch reached the next rock crawling section, the next racer behind him just made it to Chocolate Thunder. By the time he made it to the next pit, he had a five-mile lead.
It was smooth sailing for Guthrie Jr. after that and he made short work of the four remaining rock-crawling sections, showing his skill as a driver—and let’s not forget the Rhino 2.0s turning his wheels the whole way through. When he finally made it back to Hammertown to cross the finish line, he had ten miles between him and the next racer. Nobody navigated the rocks better than Mitch Guthrie Jr. on Wednesday and he came away with a definitive win—his first and the seventh for the Guthrie clan.
You can watch the second half of lap 2 here.
Mitch Guthrie Jr. took the checkered flag in six hours with miles between him and the next finisher, CJ Greaves. Final corrected time results put Mitch Guthrie Jr. on top with a time of 5:54:43. Branden Sims came in 2nd with a time of 6:36:58. Mitch Guthrie Sr. came in 3rd with a time of 6:53:07. That’s forty-two minutes between 1st and 2nd place—Guthrie Jr. was first by a long shot. During a post-race interview, Mitch Guthrie Jr. said that nothing broke and he only had to winch once. Clearly a good machine and some great driving. No wonder he destroyed the competition.
Guthrie Sr. Started in 28th position, but his experience from six previous King of the Hammers wins was all he needed to push through all the traffic and land that 3rd position. He said they took the course carefully this year, and it was his slowest race finish so far. He was also visibly choked up during post race interview when talking about how well his son did. We’re expecting to see a lot from Jr. in the years to come.
The two Guthries, along with Ross Pilgreen, make two top-ten finishers all running Rhino 2.0 Axles. Pilgreen also ran our GDP Gen 2 4″ Portal Gear Lift, so to those of you worried about that 30% gear reduction slowing you down—don’t. Pilgreen screamed through the open desert without overheating his portals (thanks to precision ground gears) or blowing a box. When he made it to the rock gardens on Lap 2, his gear reduction and extra clearance gave him a massive leg up on the competition. He cruised through those boulders where other guys had to winch every thirty yards.
It’s really impressive that Pilgreen, who started 29th, and Guthrie Sr., who started 28th both came out with the finishes they did. Even though their positions were calculated on corrected time like Rallycross, starting position makes a bigger difference at King of the Hammers than most other races. That’s because racers often have to line up to get through obstacles like Backdoor—a single, narrow, six-foot-tall shelf that every driver is required to descend. When one driver bungles the landing and ends up on their hood, the rest of the racers waiting in line have to wait even longer. But if you’re out in front or near the front, there’s less waiting, and less chance of major blockage in those tough sections.
Pilgreen and Guthrie Sr. had to battle through droves of vehicles clogging up obstacles to land their finishing positions. You just can’t do that without some serious driving skills.
This might be the most exciting race of the year, and we can’t wait until it comes around again next year! We hope you’ll get there too. If you want to race but you’re not sure you can afford it, let me remind you one more time that our Rhino 2.0 Axles won the race and are priced for the average rider, not the career racer. At $224.95, you’ll find that getting your vehicle Hammer ready is easier than you thought.
Are you ready to get building? We’ve got desert and rock tires, cage supports, winches, axles, clutch kits, and more. You’ll find everything you need to get Hammer ready at SuperATV.com!