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King of the Hammers brings out plenty of off-road racing action to the Johnson Valley ORV park in California. The many classes of the Desert Challenge, UTV racing, 4400 racing, the Can-Am UTV Championship and more provide plenty of action to observe throughout the week. But for many. the pinnacle of KotH action takes place at night. The Holley EFI Shootout, presented by King Shocks and Action Sports Canopies, is something between a drag race and a rockbouncer competition at the "Front Door" trail. From the starting line, this is a boulder-lined goat path in the best of circumstances, but for 2022 the Shootout was broken into two parts: Stage 1, a timed rock scramble race and Stage 2, a multi-level rock wall that was the obstacle to beat this year. Stage 1 paid out $7,500 to the winner and if anybody was able to make it up Stage 2, the fastest time would earn the driver $2,500...if anybody could make it to the top of the wall. There was no clean line to find...the cut of the rocks would cause the drivers all sorts of problems. Any driver who thought it would be a cakewalk got their rude reality check when Billy Karras, the first driver onto the course, came off of Stage 2 in a two-and-a-half reverse somersault move that was worthy of Olympic judging.
Billy Karras made the first attempt at Front Door and was doing well...right up until his machine backflipped down the hill.
Nick Devlin’s "Bastard Buggy" is happiest being driven at full tilt. While this may work 50% of the time every time, it didn’t work for him here. He was the only competitor to DNF on section one and his vehicle became part of the course after it went end over end - Nick and co-pilot safely emerged.
Paul Wolff absolutely annihilated the first stage with a time of 11.042 in his Can-Am Bouncer. The next fastest driver through the first section was nine seconds slower. However, the moment Paul saw Stage 2, he decided he was content with just winning the first stage and keeping his Can-Am in one piece.
Josh Thompson powered through the first stage with a strong time of 25.785. That wasn’t what impressed the crowd, however...it was the massive four-wheel burnout at a 70-degree angle which was followed by a nice tumble down the mountain back onto all four tires. Josh took the "L" and drove off with the audience letting him know he put on the best show.
Seeing built buggies and race rigs attacking the rocks isn't out of the ordinary, but the Shootout is open to anyone brave enough to test their luck. A built-up Toyota truck with enough gear for just about any situation and the same safety gear the buggies and bouncers have could potentially have the same shot at the Stage 2 prize, but the rock wall, combined with a growing list of drivers who either rolled over, broke or backed down didn't inspire the confidence to get rowdy. Several drivers opted to try to crawl up the hill instead of the full-throttle and pray bouncer method of clearing the waterfall face. Regardless of how aggressive the driver decided to be, so long as they landed on their wheels and they didn't hurt something, they were free to continue to attack the hill until they ran out of time. It almost appeared that Stage 2 was going to be impossible, but Jeff McKinlay's crab-walking buggy proved that it could be done. Nick Nelson followed McKinlay's path in a rockbouncer buggy and gave it a shot but after rolling off of the hill he called it a night. Blake Clark was next with his "Death Truck", a build that started life as a Jeep CJ-7 build. After his friend paid his way into the Shootout, Clark gave the hill a college try with his transfer case in the lowest gears, but timed out. The final competitor, with a time of 2:52.57 over both stages, was Dave Wong in a Jesse Haines Fabrication chassis. That time was faster than McKinlay's and earned Wong the crown.
Jeff McKinlay (top) and Dave Wong (bottom) were the only two drivers to make it up Stage 2's multi-level rock wall obstacle. McKinlay was the first to make it, but Wong's faster overall time earned him the $2,500 payout.