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Johnson Valley News 2/10/2017

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HAMMERS WEEK SO FAR, in case you missed it
• Hammertown, the annual phenomenon in Johnson Valley, opens on a Friday then vanishes the following Saturday. In that short time, some very determined people come out here to the middle of nowhere to accept the challenge of sand, rocks and the crafty course designers sending them in and out of the trails well-named the Hammers. And thousands of fans come to watch them.

Watching on Livestream.com when possible, we saw a series of three King of the Motos races, one at night!

A note on the sportsmanship so typical at KOH. Pro motorcycle racer Max Gerston, on the podium after the second heat, was asked why the long lapse of time before Gerston’s arrival followed by several other riders. He reported he had come upon Taylor Robert, then in second place, just regaining consciousness after crashing. Gerston stayed with him, as did the other riders who came on the scene. When Robert was in safe hands, the race resumed – and they carefully took off in the order in which they had arrived.

Asked where he trains to prepare for Johnson Valley, Max Gerston answered, “There’s no place that looks like this place but this place.” Right.

(Dave Cole reported that Taylor Robert was able to walk out of the helicopter and went by ambulance to be checked out. Watch the King of the Motos highlights on YouTube; incredible that anyone walks away. Or any motorcycle still runs.)

Colton Haaker claimed the title, the King of the Motos.

The Backdoor Shootout happens in the dark, too. Rock Bouncers from the East meet the Ultra4 cars from the West, ramming headfirst into the vertical waterfall at Backdoor Canyon. Rollovers and flips standard.

The qualifying races for King of the Hammers rate as a show in themselves. 150 teams qualified on Tuesday. The short course makes a quick run to a rocky hillclimb that changed with every pass, giving grief to many who thought they had it figured out. Then it snakes its way to the Finish.

Racers with high hopes and no guarantees came from as far away as Canada for the Last Chance Qualifying, hoping to make it into the big one tomorrow. Lots of hard work by a lot of people paid off for eight of them, including the driver of a UTV determined to compete against the Ultra4 cars, and Dave Cole’s 19-year-old son Bailey who grew up with this racing.

The group sponsoring Ultra4 #4540 driven by Mad Mike Bedwell includes JVIA members Helen and Harry Baker. Helen spoke at our meeting after the Potato Bar last Saturday, telling stories about the races, the drivers, and her prediction for King this year. Their driver Bedwell qualified 6th of 24 in the 4500 class.


In the KOH UTV Race, a well-known racing family captured the spotlight, and favorites did not finish.

Shannon Campbell, his son Wayland, and daughter Bailey, made their debuts in UTVs, lighter, less extreme vehicles than the Ultra4’s. Shannon won the crown, Wayland came in 2nd. Though off to a great start, a mechanical glitch only 10 miles from the Finish pushed Bailey back to 15th. Shannon said it was hard, except it felt like they were going to tip over in the turns. But didn’t.

All three Campbells race tomorrow to be the King of the Hammers.

This 11th running starts at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow, Friday, February 10, and finishes at 10:00 p.m. even if some still have not finished. No one can help racers on the 142-mile course except other racers; any breakdowns must be fixed by the driver and co-driver, if there is one, on the course or in one of the remote pits sited in the outback.

As Helen said, the race requires not only speed but stamina, both physical and mechanical.

Just a while ago I caught Brad Lovell, another familiar name, in the Smittybilt Everyman Challenge showing on Livestream, winning the crown in record time, even though he lost power steering at one point.

We hear there were more entries for the 11th King of the Hammers than any other race event, including Baja. We heard speculation everywhere that it would draw over 50,000 visitors to watch these men and women, sons and daughters compete. Family race teams abound; innovative entrepreneurs and large corporations showcase their latest developments in vehicles, parts and off-roading equipment, generated by the challenge of Johnson Valley.

Dozens of print, video, TV and movie media around the world have a million tales to tell.

NBC Sports will cover all this with 15 episodes (up from 5 last year) showing the action in both the countrywide Ultra4 Racing Series and tomorrow’s King of the Hammers. Check www.ultra4racing.com for dates.

Track vehicles online tomorrow via Yellow Brick Tracking and available on the Live page @www.ultra4racing.com/live.

As the racers and the Kings depart, and Hammertown disappears, the last event Saturday, February 11, is not a race, but a guided tour.

The “KOH Experience” Run allows ordinary mortals to drive their vehicles on one of the most brutal race courses ever created, led by Ultra4 Driver Tony Pellegrino from GenRight Off Road.

KOH, always about the fans.


Thanks again to Dave Cole for donating to the Johnson Valley Improvement Association the proceeds of wristbands set aside in appreciation for local fans who welcome this event every year.


Betty Munson

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