Rigid Industries Torture Team Member Brad Lovell and his racing team took on one of the toughest off-road courses in the world, King of the Hammers, twice in two days. Here is his first hand report:
Mile for mile, King of The Hammers has got to be the toughest endurance race in the world. I know firsthand because my brother Roger and I just did it twice in two days! My bruises are still fresh, and the truck is huddled in the trailer hoping for resurrection. The team worked to near exhaustion for redemption from a disastrous 2013. Here’s how things went down:
We pull out a win on Thursday but just miss the overall!
Our goal in the 114-mile EMC race on Thursday was to take the class win in Legends but not destroy the truck chasing the overall win. However, short course aggresion runs in my veins, and we passed 39 trucks in the first 46 miles. Only one remained as we entered the unending rock trails. We pushed hard treating it like a sprint race and took the lead (based on time) but still needed to physically pass John Currie. We reeled him in and were less than 100 yards from his bumper when I rolled.
I still can’t believe I rolled the truck, but I did. A flat tire + a broken sway bar + a missed shift = a roll. Our hopes were dashed and Roger jumped out to work on recovery. He discovered the flat and also noticed the front axle was cracked and bleeding gear oil. I was feeling fairly desperate as I engaged the Warn and raked the truck across the rocks hoping the sidewalls would bite. The BFG tires did their job, and the truck was on its wheels but wounded. Roger jumped in, and we hit ramming speed up Wrecking Ball, still chasing Currie.
Unfortunately, that only resulted in another flat, but we weren’t stopping until we had help at Pit 2. BFG makes the strongest tire on the market but class mandated DOT tires will cut at some point. Sitting in the truck watching a flurry of action in the pit, I began to contemplate the finer points of logistics, preparedness, and how they affect race results. Why, you may wonder? In all the planning and prep work, we somehow never checked the fitment of a spare wheel. That wheel now held our only good spare. I grimaced as the crew did the only thing they could and put a flat tire back on the truck.
Now, it was a race to simply finish, and our Legends class lead was in jeopardy. Just how long will a flat tire hold before it disintegrates? The answer depends on speed, weight and terrain. For our tire, that moment came at race mile 101. The bad news was that our only spare was the second flat from Wrecking Ball. The worse news was that we left the impact wrench and socket at the pit!
With the clock ticking, we began to improvise. We hammered our only wrench enough so that it would fit in the wheel, and I almost popped a vein in my forehead pulling on it to loosen the lug nuts. Luck was with us, and we were soon limping again on our “less” flat tire. We had to drive so slow that it was killing us, but we needed to save the tire for the rough terrain before the finish.
Well, we pulled off the class win by the skin of our teeth with a narrowly intact tire but missed the overall by 12 minutes. It was a great success, and further proof that endurance races are won before they start. The celebration soon turned to business as we began to prep for another 194 miles of torture the following day.
12th out of 150+ ain’t that bad!
The big day was here. Roger qualified our team for KOH, and it was now my turn to navigate. With gallons of adrenaline spent the day before, we calmly started the epic race and watched truck after truck wail by us in the desert. Endurance racing is an excruciating game of patience, as we took no chances in the dust and made sure to run at a pace that the truck could do all day. Before we hit a single rock trail, the rate of competitors passing us slowed, and attrition became apparent.
The rock washes, trails and climbs bunched up the field, and time after time, we were forced to wait in long lade ines at pinch points. Trucks were flogged, and rocks were punished. Yet, Roger remained patient and consistent progress through the course. Our only unscheduled stop came when the transmission temperature was running well over 300 degrees. It seems the horn had vacated the chassis and took the transmission cooler fan wiring with it. After a quick repair, we were on our way.
Around race mile 125, we pulled into the pit and were in the top 30. Our pace was paying off, and the truck was uninjured. With clearer air, we chased down several positions in the desert at that the same speed that seemed so slow earlier. The rock trails were littered with broken equipment and rollovers. We pushed through finding the line in the madness. As the sun got low, visibility was terrible, and we drove by brail. At times, I lost track of where the path was at all.
Nearly eight hours into the race, we had decided to switch seats to avoid fatigue. The course was getting extremely chewed up. Everything felt rougher, and every hole was bigger. Finally, we topped the last rock trail and set our sights on tail lights about a mile away in the desert. The dust was blinding ,and we were exhausted. It was hard to stay focused, but that is why its called endurance racing. We were able to pick up a couple more positions before seeing the lights of Hammertown. We finished the 2014 King of The Hammers in 12th place. Only 20% of those that started had finished. We’re always looking for the #1 spot, but just finishing KOH makes it a good day.
I’m really proud of our team for basically racing King of The Hammers twice in two days over 308 miles. Everyone on the team worked themselves to exhaustion to make it happen. The camaraderie of all rock racers can’t be beat, and we are grateful to competing teams, Ultra 4 volunteers, and all rock fanatics on the lake bed for their support. Thank you to our dedicated sponsors, like Rigid Industries LED Lights, for sticking with us through thick and thin. Lastly, thanks to our families for supporting us in the most rewarding and testing endeavor anyone can pursue.
By Brad Lovell; February 10, 2014