Home > King of the Hammers > Behind the Lens @ #KOH2015: Our Tale of Race Day Friday

Behind the Lens @ #KOH2015: Our Tale of Race Day Friday

February 12th2015
 By Thom Kingston on 2015-02-12T09:00:48-07:00 | King of the Hammers

Six days have passed since the big day, and unless you’ve been stranded on a deserted island, with no internet, chances are you know much that is the story of the 2015 King of the Hammers. Coverage of this prodigious race is remarkable; with live internet feed & 300+ media on jackets littering the field, what more could be told? We say the more stories the better, you never know what new bit could be learned in sharing, so here’s our small recap as it unfolded on race day Friday. It all starts with that glorious morning lineup.


The Lineup, shot @ 6:58am

Rise & Shine -- 2015 King of the Hammers

Spidertrax | Thom Kingston | CC BY 3.0

Everyone has their favorite parts of an Ultra4 race. At King of the Hammers, I’ve heard contingency being among the top, along with some of the famous rock sections like Backdoor, Chocolate Thunder, and Jackhammer. For me, nothing is sweeter than the lineup on race day morning. Kicking off at 6am, over 127 drivers lined up in their respective qualifying positions and, at this moment, it is anyones game. Your time doesn’t start until you cross the start line, so there’s always a chance whether you’re in the front or back, you could be the next King. Energies are high, drivers are focused, intensity fills the air. All in anticipation of the green flag dropping at 8am. Captured here is Jason Scherer (right) and Erik Miller (left) who qualified 1st and 2nd respectively, earning the bragging rights of pole position. Let’s get this started.


Race Mile 1.4ish, shot @ 8:04am

Take 2 -- 2015 King of the Hammers

Spidertrax | Thom Kingston | CC BY 3.0

Jason Scherer confessed to me during lineup that he would attack Backdoor & Resolution on his 1st lap. Drivers have to complete this obstacle once in their 3 lap, 215.2 mile total, race. Most drivers elect to finish Backdoor & Resolution on their last lap, some sneak it in on their 2nd lap if no traffic is in the way, but few attempt it on their 1st. Since Jason had the pole position, he decided to mix things up and go for it. Since most everyone else elected to go around this obstacle, I decided to hang somewhere between RM 1 & 2 and watch everyone else come by. Jason did clear Backdoor & Resolution with ease, in roughly 7 minutes. Captured here is Loren Healy, he along with the others in the top of the pack were pacing themselves perfectly. Things were going smooth, but we’re just minutes into a very long race.


Backdoor, shot @ 9:16am

Throttle Control -- 2015 King of the Hammers

Spidertrax | Thom Kingston | CC BY 3.0

I stayed between RM 1-2 until almost all of the 127 drivers had passed. With 30 seconds separating each group of 2 at the start, that would mean at this time soon we’d see those race leaders nearing the start of their 2nd lap. On the radio, I heard that Erik Miller was the current race leader nearing the start of lap 2, and had a feeling he’d tackle Backdoor given it’s zero race traffic. So, I headed off and shortly after settling in, Erik comes into the first waterfall of Backdoor. He looked great, focused, and had a clear game plan of keeping his vehicle together. He attacked the waterfall a few times, and without hesitation his spotter Robert Ruggiero got out and winched Erik up. They were there for less than 4 minutes, start to finish, cleared the waterfall and were on their way. I’m now in potential chase mode; hopping around so as to follow the leader is a tough game, that is without missing the other action on the field. I stayed at Backdoor for another 15 minutes, watched Bill Baird skip it on his 2nd lap, and decided it best to move on at that moment. Shortly after I left, I did get word Randy Slawson rolled into Backdoor on his 2nd lap as well, and cleared it with ease. We have ourselves a race, off to Jack.


Jackhammer (Pre-Mess), shot @ 10:45am

Eyes on the Lines -- 2015 King of the Hammers

Spidertrax | Thom Kingston | CC BY 3.0

The one obstacle that was on my mind this year as the “man, is that going to be a mess” was Jackhammer. For 2015, drivers were heading UP Jackhammer two times, starting with their 2nd lap just past RM 72. It’s no easy task, and the early prediction was you needed to get there quick so as to avoid the potential traffic jams. That couldn’t have been more true.

I got there before any racers did, just so I could watch it all unfold in person. Erik Miller would be the 1st to come through, followed just minutes behind by Greg Adler, Clay Gilstrap, and Levi Shirley. Immediately after Levi, you could see the hints of traffic starting. Randy Slawson and Jon Cagliero were battling the initial climb, with Jon passing Randy using the favored line to the left. Randy would follow Jon immediately after. Just 3 more cars later, and we had ourselves a full on Jackhammer traffic jam. I stuck around for a while, and watched that line of traffic get longer, and longer… and longer. It was a mess, sometime after that I heard the marshals call in race owner Dave Cole to help organize the chaos. While I waited, it became pretty clear we lost some good guys. Jason Scherer rolled into Jack pretty late with just 3 wheel drive (front CV over extended), and I still hadn’t seen Tom Wayes or Loren Healy. Time to head to the main pits of Hammertown, and find out what’s going on.


Hammertown Main Pits, shot @ 1:56 pm

Pit Stop -- 2015 King of the Hammers

Spidertrax | Thom Kingston | CC BY 3.0

Gathering my stories in Hammertown, some unfortunate developments were underway. Loren Healy had crashed trying to make a pass, somewhere along that journey he also had a front shaft failure… he called the race. As for Tom Wayes, no one I could find knew exactly what was going on, he was not moving at remote pit 2A was all I could confirm. I would find out after the race he tore up all sorts of bits, but did manage to get back on course and was moving again until the parking lot of Jack. Erik Miller had a wheel loosen on him, lost a few minutes, but was back on course. These stories were just the beginning.

I hung around the pits and grabbed this shot of Derek West who was running a great race up to this point. As I watched I couldn’t help but notice Clay Gilstrap’s dad (blue shirt, on the right) hanging with West’s crew. I had heard Clay already started his 3rd lap, making him the current race leader… why was his dad here? After Derek headed back out, I got the story straight from dad himself. Clay had caught fire (electrical), after having just finished Backdoor and Resolution. It looked like he just went from 1st to last, but dad packed a full wiring harness with Derek West, who was now off to Backdoor to deliver the goods. The crazy stories from Hammertown… always good checking into town during the race. As I was getting ready to head back to Jackhammer, word on the radio was those on their 3rd lap would now be bypassing the parking lot of Jackhammer, so I switched gears and decided to catch the leaders at Sledgehammer instead.


Sledgehammer, shot @ 3:07 pm

Joy Ride -- 2015 King of the Hammers

Spidertrax | Thom Kingston | CC BY 3.0

This was it, the waiting game for those race leaders to pass me as I stand in anticipation at Sledgehammer. First was Erik Miller, followed just 5 minutes later by Randy Slawson, followed just 5 minutes past that by Levi Shirley. This meant, while Erik Miller had the physical lead, with corrected time Randy Slawson was the actual race leader by roughly 6 minutes. Given that we’ve been racing for over 7 hours, I’d say this was down to the wire! All three were escorted past Jackhammer, to tackle the next rock section called Chocolate Thunder. I had no chance of catching them at Chocolate at this point, so I headed back to Hammertown to watch the leaders come in.


Finish Line, shot @ 5:06 pm

Winner Winner -- 2015 King of the Hammers

Spidertrax | Thom Kingston | CC BY 3.0

It was all coming down to the wire, with Erik, Randy, and Levi still all battling their way for 1st. In the end, it came down to two simple things: knowing the race course better than most & racing all day without a single issue. That honor would be given to Randy Slawson, who was first across the finish line with a total race time of 8 hours and 52 minutes. He would be the 3rd person in KOH history to have two King of the Hammer’s wins under his belt. Shortly after Randy crossed, we had Erik Miller and Levi Shirley come in, rounding out those 2nd and 3rd place spots. Congrats to all three top finishers, all on Spider 9 axles BTW :) (gotta get that plug in), always like to see that!

I made a number of early predictions this year, many of which were spot on, but one I was nowhere near close on was the number of finishers. I guessed we would have at least as many as last year, even though this years race was tougher, given the level of prep demonstrated by racers and teams. That would be wrong… just 17 out of the 127 drivers managed to cross the finish line in time (race cut off was 10pm). Yes, that’s just over 13%. Happy to see everyone (for the most part) in good spirits though, and almost all are already talking about 2016. I’ll confess, I can’t wait either!

With that, a few photos from our journey below, watermark free and licensed under creative commons, so please feel free to download and share. Next up in the Ultra4 tour is the MetalCloak Stampede in Sacramento, CA on May 8th & 9th.