2020 King of the Hammers UTV Race Report
King of the Hammers (KOH) – it’s a race of attrition. Survive and you may be amongst the lucky few who actually cross the finish line in the allotted time. Break, and your heart will long for another shot at one of the most demanding, grueling, mettle-testing races on the planet. As 131 other UTV racers said after this year’s race, “there’s always next year…”
If you can get your UTV to stay mostly on 4 wheels, not let the incredible rock climbs get you, and speed through the fast desert sections with ease, then you’ll be on your way to a coveted KOH victory. Racers come from all over the planet looking for glory at this race, and the reason they do is because of the variety of challenges that KOH presents to every entrant.
Getting all strapped in and ready for the race
Every year, the race starts out in the open desert terrain of Johnson Valley, CA. By “open”, I mean that it can be fast, but it is also deceiving. One wrong turn of the wheel in the small rock garden, one miscalculation of the next G-out, one weirdly placed rock that was overturned by the racer in front of you, or one corner entry too fast can cause any racer to lose their shot at winning this race in the first 78 miles (lap 1). If the desert portion isn’t enough – I’m counting on the fact that you have survived so far – then you have the next section, also known as Hammers. It’s all about the rock climbs and descents in the second, final lap, which takes us to 142 miles total. You want challenging?! Spell that word in capital letters and you’re starting to get the gist of just how CHALLENGING the final lap can be. If you don’t find it difficult, at least 130 of the other 131 challengers with you on the race course will find the rock obstacles difficult beyond measure. Most break in this area and never see the finish line. Some hearty drivers who have the experience and know-how to navigate the rocks will breeze past it all. They say “practice makes perfect”. However, and unfortunately for most, no matter how much practice you have at Hammers, the course is constantly changing. Get ready, the next corner will always prove to be surprising…
Does that sound like fun?! Of course it does! All of the UTV entries thought that they wanted to have the time of their lives at this year’s 2020 Can-Am King of the Hammers UTV race course (presented by HCR Racing). How did this year’s race all go down?!
A far-off view of the racing action and Hammertown in the distance
If you have followed this race in year’s past, you’ll know that the Guthrie family and Polaris have dominated KOH for many years. It is to no one’s surprise that every other racer out there was gunning for these guys, who, like last year, are racing two vehicles, one driven by Guthrie Sr and one driven by Guthrie Jr. As usual, they were in Polaris vehicles via their factory sponsorship, but they switched to the all-new RZR PRO XP platform. Would this be a downfall or prove to be the right decision?!
KOH legend Mitch Guthire Senior does battle with the rock garden.
On the other side of the spectrum, you have Can-Am, a company who has been poised and ready to dominate King of the Hammers for many years. After-all, Can-Am is the title sponsor of the race. It has the right vehicles for the job with its “RC” versions of the Maverick X3. And, this year especially, Can-Am has assembled an incredible team of drivers to compete for the win. Can-Am had its regulars like Phil Blurton, who is a rock guy at heart but has taken his driving talents to the desert where he has successfully won championships. Then you have sport course and woods racing guys like Kyle Chaney, along with the Miller brothers (Hunter and Cody). Seasoned veterans like Jason Weller also joined the Can-Am squad this year. Shoot, even this year’s Dakar winner, Casey Currie, was racing KOH in his Maverick X3! And, last but certainly not least, they had a ton of regular Joes come out in X3 rc vehicles this year that had little modifications done – just a prep and they were ready to rock. That’s one of the other things that is so appealing about King of the Hammers – it doesn’t take too many modifications to be able to pass tech and compete this grueling race. Sure, a fully outfitted, purpose built vehicle would be great, but you don’t have to have one to race KOH. I can hear your mind start to turn… Yes, you should race this race next year!
Can-Am came ready to battle with a team of capable drivers.
One of the best parts about the UTV industry right now is the growing list of manufacturers getting involved with racing and new UTV vehicles being unleashed at a feverish rate. Yamaha has been serving up factory support for KOH for many years, and its list of factory drivers for this year’s KOH was impressive. The Greaves family (Johnny and son, CJ) were out there racing their purpose-built YXZ1000Rs, along with desert and short course driving champion Brock Heger, who is a young gun in the sport. While Yamaha didn’t have the day it wanted on the race course, Team Blue will be back next year ready for more action. CJ Greaves would run into issues very late in the race and, as a result, finished 42nd on the day.
Sara Price was one of the only female entries in this event
Another team that is primed and ready for off-road UTV racing is the factory Honda team, which is organized by the Proctor Racing group. The Honda team has put together a stellar list of young talent for this year’s off-road racing calendar, including short course young guns Eliott Watson and Christopher Polvoorde. KOH served as the kickoff to its off-road racing campaigns for 2020, and both young factory drivers would survive the rocks and get to the finish line in one piece. It was not only a massive accomplishment for the young drivers, but also for the Honda team and its Talon UTV lineup. Both Honda Talons that entered the race were essentially stock vehicles with the new Jackson Racing turbo kit installed, along with minor modifications to make sure that it could handle the rock beating. It was an impressive feat just to finish, and they did very well with Christopher finishing 17th and Eliott finishing 26th.
Factory teams are all over these days
It wasn’t really a surprise, but we were all expecting someone to race one of the much praised Kawasaki Teryx KRX 1000’s at this year’s KOH UTV race. This KRX is tough as nails, and it makes for an ideal vehicle for a challenge like this. The person who took on the challenge to race the KRX was none other than the legend, “Showtime” Jeremy McGrath. He may come from two wheels, but he knows a thing or two (of five hundred…) about finding the right lines and being creative on a race course. Jeremy would end up putting in a great effort to finish the race in a very respectable 29th position. In total, only 33 finishers would complete the 2 laps, so Jeremy did a stellar job making it to the finish in his first KOH race.
Jeremy McGrath navigates the big drop at Backdoor.
If Yamaha, Honda, and Kawasaki didn’t take the trophy, then it had to be either Polaris or Can-Am…
Polaris had high hopes for many of its entries, including the Guthrie family, Bryce Menzies, Ronnie Anderson, and several other factory drivers. However, the Can-Am guys brought too much heat this year, and Maverick X3 platform proved to be a stellar choice for this KOH course. The RZR guys gave it a whirl, but the Can-Am boys ended up sweeping the podium with an incredible showing from Hunter Miller, Kyle Chaney, and Phil Blurton. Hunter ended up taking a decisive win by about 2.5 minutes over Kyle in second place. Phil was about 6.5 minutes back from the win. The three Can-Am guys at the front really separated themselves over the rest of the pack. Fourth place, Mitch Guthrie SR, was over 17 minutes back from the winning time. To put their lead into perspective, I was hiking into a photo spot in one of the last rock sections and Hunter went speeding by me like a runaway train, before I even got into the spot. And, I was early! He was just on another level this year compared to all of the rest of the competition. There was no one even close to match him. “Impressive” is the word that comes to mind. All in all, great job, Can-Am team!
Hunter Miller, the eventual winner, goes down one of the toughest obstacles at KOH, aka Backdoor. It’s about a 6 foot sheer drop, and you can see his co-driver holding the back end tight to make sure it doesn’t flip over forwards.
One of the greatest things about King of the Hammers is the week-long festivities that include multiple forms of racing, an incredible vendor area filled with hundreds of the sports’ leading aftermarket manufacturers, easy access to the pit area so that anyone can go see their favorite racers and get in on the action as they prep their vehicles for success, and open camping that allows you to bring the entire family out to enjoy! Stay for a day, or come for the week. Johnson Valley is a family-friendly riding area that still allows you to enjoy the open desert even when the racing action is going on (those race sections are closed during race times).
One of the best parts about racing Hammers is the camaraderie. Teams help other teams make it to the finish line!
The 2021 KOH race will be here before you know it! Keep an eye on ultra4racing.com to see when they release next year’s racing schedule. We’ll be coming back for more UTV racing action, and we’ll see you there!
Trophy truck racer, Bryce Menzies, raced the UTV race.
Sometimes racers don’t make it down Backdoor with the wheels on the ground…
Carnage is the name of the game at KOH. There were many racers on the sidelines, some got back going!
More by Casey Cordeiro