Last year was our first time racing King of the Hammers. We were sitting around the campfire and decided about three days before the race that we wanted to enter. My dad would drive and I would co-dog.
We worked really hard for those three days to get our Can Am X3 ready, got the car to pass tech before the start, but had some technical issues during the race and didn’t finish. When we got home we said 2018 is going to be our year. We are going to finish KOH no matter what.
I am currently only 16 years old, but started desert racing RZRs when I was 14. And as a driver I have never not finished a desert race. So our motto for 2018 KOH was “Let’s Just Finish.” But in the weeks leading up the race it quickly turned into, “Lets Just Start!”
We started out by purchasing Mitch Guthrie’s 2017 XP Turbo RZR that he raced in 2017. This was a good start for us because the car already had a ton of work done to it. We just had to add a spare tire mount and window nets to pass the new rules for 2018. With our RZR ready to race and our entry fees all paid we listened to the Ultra 4 Live show and heard Dave Cole drop some hints about what trails will be included in this year’s UTV race.
On Jan. 19 we headed out to the lake bed to get some practice. My dad made a few phone calls and found out some of the best guys in the industry were going to be out there that week as well: Jon Crowley, Reid Nordin, John Duckworth, Dean Bulloch, Karl Mumford, and both Mitch Guthries.
This turned out to be a great chance for me to learn how to navigate through the rocks. It also gave my dad some practice on the Hammer trails. This weekend reminded me of playing soccer: just like any sport, you have to practice and put in the work if you are going to succeed. On the second day we ended up on Clawhammer and Jack North with Bulloch and Mumford teaching us how to drive up the far right side of both waterfalls. We found out later that this would really help us during the race.
When we got home from the pre-run trip we gave the car a look over and noticed the diff housing was cracked. We called Mitch that night and he let us know he had a diff we could borrow. Matt Lasher, Frank La Paglia, Adam Moniz and dad spent that week fixing the diff and replacing all of the suspension pivot points on the car. I had to get caught up on school work so I could only help them a few nights that week.
The next weekend my dad and his buddies went to Hammertown to drop off our camp trailers. His buddies got home before he did and they warned me and my mom that the motor blew up in the race car and your dad is really frustrated.
When he got home at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 28 we only had three days to find a motor and swap it out before we had to be back on the lake bed Thursday, Feb. 1 to start pre-running. My dad called Mitch Guthrie and asked if he knew anyone who could rebuild a motor in three days. Mitch said he had an extra engine they just pulled out of Jr’s desert car and that we could use it for the race. We were extremely thankful and excited that night thinking we might be able to get everything back together in time.
While my dad and Matt Lasher were putting the engine in they noticed the intercooler had a leak in it and that was probably what caused the motor to overheat and blow white smoke. So we called Nick at Temecula Motorsports and he looked at every Polaris dealer in the southwest and could not find one.
So who did we call again?
Hey buddy, ol’ pal Mitch, “Would you happen to have an intercooler?” No problem, come grab it. So Matt went back to the Guthrie’s the next morning.
Matt, Frank, my Dad and I worked late Monday and Tuesday night and by Wednesday afternoon Matt had the car running and loaded on the trailer. But as soon as we unloaded it in Hammertown on Thursday morning a check engine light was on. In between trying to pre-run the whole course, we spent Thursday and Friday wiggling wires, replacing sensors and ECUs until we finally found the bad connection which was just in time for qualifying on Saturday.
My Dad did qualifying by himself … and he kinda sucked, No. 59 out of about 90 qualifiers. He should have let me drive.
After qualifying we finished pre-running the last of the rock trails. It took us three whole days to pre-run this race, so we knew it was going to be the hardest UTV KOH ever.
Sunday morning we were looking over the race car one final time and we needed to pull the front diff and inspect it. While Matt was doing that he noticed that the front steering rack was cracked. At this point my dad had cracked a front diff, blown a motor, cracked an intercooler, chased a check engine light and now cracked the steering rack. We were thinking there is no way we are even going to get a chance to start this race. But we worked on the car while everyone else was watching the Super Bowl and got it running again.
Thanks to Rob at Warfighter Made for teasing my Dad about how he breaks every car he races in the desert, because Sunday night my Dad agreed to let me race the desert section. Woohoo! My dad was driver of record, but I normally race desert and knew I would be good at it. I was just not sure about Cougar Buttes and Back Door. So we drove out to Cougar Buttes and picked a fast easy line through there, then we drove over to Back Door and tried it just to see if I could make it. It was crazy. You can’t even see the bottom. I asked Matt to spot me and my dad tied a rope on the back just in case. I slowly dropped off, then as soon as I lost control, I rolled onto the throttle and bam, I was down. That gave me even more confidence. Dad, I AM going to race the first lap, and you can take the second.
Lap 1 – Maddie Driving
We started out No. 59 off the line and I was so nervous. I am a 16 year old racing KOH against all the big guys I follow on Instagram. But just like all the other desert races, as soon as the green flag drops all the butterflies go away. It’s just another day in the desert with my dad.
I took the hole shot and off we went. I passed a few cars, and then a few cars passed me. Some of the guys that passed me then broke down and we passed them again. When we got to Cougar Buttes there were cars everywhere that didn’t pre-run. So we shot through there in about three minutes, passing 6 to 8 UTVs. The rest of the desert loop was really rough and as we got closer to Back Door I started praying, “Please don’t flip, please don’t flip.” Then we arrived and there was like a million people there all yelling at me hoping I would flip, but I did it just like we practiced: I let the front end drop and rolled on the gas. The crowd was screaming and it felt so cool.
We came up to the qualifying hill and I told my dad I am not driving up that, so we did the driver swap right there. There were four guys stuck or winching so I jumped out and spotted him and he drove right up it. We went into Dust Junky’s Main Pit and got fuel and an Uncrustable. I would like to get sponsored by Uncrustables someday. They’re amazing.
Lap 2 – Aaron Driving
We started up the rock trails just like we practiced, trying to remember every turn. When we got to Clawhammer there was a pile-up at the waterfall. Bailey Campbell only had 2-wheel drive and Dean Bulloch had the other line blocked with some broken motor mounts. We waited for everyone to struggle up the waterfall and in true Dean Bulloch fashion while smoking a cigarette on the top of his broken car he yells at my dad, “I TAUGHT YOU HOW TO DRIVE UP THIS THING YOU BETTER ONE SHOT IT!”
Dad did just like Dean and Karl taught him and he drove up the right side, no problem.
We started knocking off the other rock trails like a boss. Our Tensor Tires stuck to the rocks and our Rhino 2.0 Axles took a beating and just kept working. Down Sledgehammer, up Chocolate Thunder, up Jack North like it was nothing.
Then we screwed up on Jack Hammer and went left instead of right. My dad got us stuck right around a bunch of media guys. We put down the Maxx Traxx and stacked rocks forever. We had to winch to get across some of these huge boulders. On the last winch spot I told my dad winch out, then winch in, but I still had a small part of my finger in between the rock and the rope. The rope pinched the tip of my finder off and crushed my nail. I yelled at him and held my finger, it hurt so bad. But I was not going to quit. I told my dad to put the winch rope away and let’s go.
We took off into the desert, around the mountain to Hwy. 19 and Hwy. 20. We pre-ran those on Saturday after qualifying so no problem, we went right up. We pulled into the pits and they taped up my finger. Then we headed out to Aftershock.
When we pre-ran Aftershock with Dean and Karl, they showed us where to put our tires on the rocks so we could go right up. Then it was off to Outer Limits. We knew this was going to be the hardest course and it was. I had to run up the trail because my dad needed a guide to get over most of it. Then came the last obstacle (when you see media guys you know it’s going to be bad).
So I just told my Dad try it once and let’s winch the rest. We tried and winched for 30 minutes before we broke a radius rod. I knew we had one at Pit 2A so I started running. About 200 yards up was a guy in a RZR broken I asked if he had one and he let me borrow it. So I ran back. By then Wayland Campbell was there helping my dad change the radius rod. That family is awesome.
We got to pit 2A to put the correct radius rod on, and they told us that the race is over. The course workers had shut it down 15 minutes before and had already left. We worked so hard to get here, no one was going to stop us. We we’re going to finish this no matter what.
We got the car fixed and kept going on the course. As the sun set, we bounced down Spooners, across the desert and down Back Door one last time.
We crossed the finish line at 6 p.m. with all the flood lights turned off. Waiting there in the dark was the people that matter to Dad and me the most. Our family and friends were there to wave the checkered flag and cheer us on.
We finished KOH 2018. Because we had a great crew of guys helping us and we had some support from industries leaders like Tensor Tires, SuperATV, Baja Designs, Walker Evans, SDI Suspension, SpeedStrap and Warfighter Made.
Dad said we’re not doing it again next year …
I say I think I’ll give him a few weeks, then try to get him to change his mind.