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Harnessing the power of a 500+ horsepower engine on asphalt is hard enough, but controlling that power in the desert is a totally different animal. Since 2007, drivers have tested their skills, mental strength, and mechanical prowess in order to be crowned the “King of the Hammers”. A race across the desert connecting treacherous rock crawling obstacles with high-speed blast through the ever-changing dry lake beds. This is, of course, accompanied by high winds, massive sandstorms and dust clouds that blind and choke you out, as well as temperatures that started below freezing. It’s the ultimate test for any man, woman, team, and their parts.
Holley driver Loren Healy was fielding a new completely independent suspension Fun-Haver Off-Road Bronco. His old solid axle rear truck now wears white, black, and red livery with Josh Barkey from MBRP Exhaust behind the wheel. Teammate Vaughn Gittin, Jr. was steering the familiar #25 that he drove to a 5th place finish in 2021. Loren is a two-time champion of the King of the Hammers, but the past two years his vehicles have lost due to driveline issues. The new car was developed exclusively with a KOH first place finish in mind. His #67 Bronco broke the internet during qualifying when he was the only driver to take the optional line. This literally drove him directly over a cliff into a massive 20+ foot drop. His bravery awarded him with a 3rd place qualifying position, but on the opening lap Loren succumbed to a front suspension failure and had to drop out of the race - did we mention how brutal this race was? He limped the Bronco back to the edge of the highway and was forced to watch the live stream of Vaughn and Josh who remained in the hunt.
Vaughn was fresh off a win the day before in the Every Man Challenge in a 4600 Stock Class production-based Ford Bronco. With that behind him, the only goal for Saturday was to fight his way to a victory in the 4400 class during The Race of Kings. Qualifying at 65 meant it was going to be a serious uphill battle. By the end of the first lap, which was 86 miles, he already fought his way into 15th. From there he chipped away and ultimately finished in 6th place - passing 59 other vehicles to make it happen. “It is so brutal every year. This is one of those races that you just hope to finish but finishing sixth is rad. I’m learning new things every time.” he said.
Out of the 101 vehicles on the starting grid, only 26 drivers managed to complete all 3 laps of the race. 19 of them couldn’t even finish the first lap and 56 others managed to check-in for 2 full laps. Erik Miler is not only a two-time KOH champion and Holley EFI driver, but he’s also finished every King of the Hammers he’s entered. The Miller Motorsports team was once again hard at work in Johnson Valley this year and Erik qualified in a respectable 15th position. Throughout the 227 miles he had a few setbacks but began to pick up pace on lap 2 and brought the green Jeep into Hammertown in 5th place. If you ask Erik, he would probably consider that a failure, as he is notorious for always wanting to win, but he and co-driver Robert Ruggiero still had smiles on their face to be finished until 2023 where they will no doubt come out stronger.
Gomez Brothers Racing has become synonymous with Ultra4 Racing in general. The family consisting of Raul in the #83, JP in the #82, Marcos in the #86, and Darian in the #90 UFO Chassis vehicles have been competing at some level at King of the Hammers for over 12 years. This was Raul’s first win. “My crew killed it. We put this car in the lake bed on Tuesday. We got about an hour with it, yet here we are.” he said in disbelief on the podium after showering everyone in champagne. His brother, Marcos, finished in 4th after working his way up from 35th while JP was in 3rd place at the end of lap 2 but was unable to complete the race.
All said and done, the desert swallowed up 75% of the vehicles that entered. Broken suspension, multiple destroyed tires, transfer cases, axles, you name it and it happened on Saturday. This is widely considered the most brutal single-day off road race in the country and it’s easy to see why. This year Raul Gomez came out on top to be named “King of the Hammers” and we look forward to seeing Holley EFI competitors back out for the remaining Ultra4 schedule this year. We’ll be back next year to cheer on our drivers as they look to return to the podium in 2023.
Loren Healy dropped jaws during qualifying when he took the optional line straight off the edge of a cliff in spectacular fashion. His Holley teammate, Vaughn Gittin, Jr., said they were practicing this during pre-running, but only Loren had the fortitude to actually do it.
Loren was running a new car this year with fully independent front and rear suspension. Josh Barkey from MBRP exhaust was handed the keys to his old solid axle car and finished 53rd overall, unable to complete the third lap.
Vaughn Gittin, Jr.’s #25 Bronco earning some battle scars through the rocks at Chocolate Thunder.
Flying through to the finish, Vaughn placed 6th overall by the time he pulled through Hammertown.
Teammate and Holley driver Loren Healy congratulates Gittin, Jr. after he pulled through to the finish.
Holley drivers Erik Miller and Vaughn Gittin, Jr. sit patiently for their chance to take the stage in Hammertown.
Erik Miller is all smiles after completing another King of the Hammers in his Miller Motorsports Jeep that is powered by Holley parts.
Raul Gomez takes home the title of King of the Hammers for 2022 and gives everyone a nice champagne shower.
“Give me one of them big ones, I don’t care.” Raul and his family celebrate on stage with a comically large check. KOH was so big this year that race promoter, Dave Cole, and his staff decided to bump up the pay for every driver’s purse.
Holley driver Jason Blanton throws some dust on his way into a downhill section.
The face you make when you can hug your family after 227 miles of the most intense desert race in America.
Of all the vehicles out on the dry lake bed this week, this is perhaps the most unique. Sam Collins was wheelin’ in a real 1949 Ford pickup body. This 6,000lb heavy beast managed to pull into Hammertown 17th overall and completed all three laps.Of all the vehicles out on the dry lake bed this week, this is perhaps the most unique. Sam Collins was wheelin’ in a real 1949 Ford pickup body. This 6,000lb heavy beast managed to pull into Hammertown 17th overall and completed all three laps.
Jordan Pellegrino in the #98 “Lam-bro-ghini” broke an axle and was sidelined for a while trying to fix it. He was unable to pull into the start/finish line in time to start his 3rd lap by the 6pm cutoff.
Cade Rodd had a rough race this year. No stranger to the podium, as a former National Champion, his Holley-powered car was missing an entire side of the body shell late into lap 2. He ran into difficulties and couldn’t complete a 3rd lap.
Tad Dowker and Chris Paiva didn’t have the week they were looking for. They ran into some top end problems in their LSX-block engine shortly after some dyno testing to bring their car to peak performance for the conditions in Johnson Valley. They were forced to find and install a new engine just before qualifying when the fuel regulator went bad and started a small engine fire - giving them a DNQ and a start at the back of the pack. The team persevered through these challenges and were able to make the starting grid at 94th position. Tad aggressively powered his way to 29th by the end of the first lap and got as high as 14th on the second lap. Unfortunately, some flat tires and a rear drivetrain problem forced them to limp back into their pit.