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KOH EMC 2018


NAXJA Forum User
NAXJA Member
Some of you may have been following along with the 4500 MJ Build. It's been a project four years in the making, but we finally wrapped the build up, and were ready to test it at King of the Hammers 2018.

Most of the 4506 team were already on the lake bed two weeks in advance. I had to wrap up some jobs at work, and finally arrived on the 1rst, a week before race day.

It's always fun driving down, as you can usually identify the rigs making the pilgrimage to HammerTown.

After 1065 miles I reached the home of King of the Hammers.

We had a pretty decent compound established outside HammerTown that would serve as our pit garage for the week.

Joey had already had the car out a few days for pre-running, and it was doing great. We switched to the Iroks for pre-running to save the race tires for race day.

Friday morning we had an appointment for Tech Inspection. We spent quite a bit of time studying the Ultra4 rule book during the build, so we didn't anticipate any issues.

It went well, and we only had two minor issues to fix before their band of approval. We needed to secure our engine oil dipstick with a spring, and wire the alternator to our switched disconnect (even with the battery switched off, the engine continued to run off alt power). We got those issues fixed and returned for the sign off. We were official!

Got a look at the EMC course. Joey would drive the first 80 miles of mostly desert. We'd switch seats at Pit2A, where I'd start on the rock trails. This was the lineup we'd be facing on race day.

Out pre-running some of the rock trails, de-skinned.

Heading up Wrecking Ball.

At the Waterfall on Wrecking Ball. The plan was to winch the waterfall, but after getting the front end up, I stayed in it, and was able to drive it with ease. So much for testing the winch. :dunno:

Needless to say we were pretty happy with how capable it proved to be in the rocks. It's a different driving style with these types of rigs. With 20psi, and 450HP momentum is often times your friend.

Top of Sledge we found the iconic mail box.

Sunday afternoon Joey and I set off to pre-run the first 60 miles of the desert. Shortly before race mile two, we headed up a short rock section in first gear. We managed to clip a rock with the driver side front tire. That created a large pressure spike in the steering system and cracked the cast steel end cap on the steering box. There was an Old Faithful geyser of power steering fluid erupting over the car. I radioed back to pit, and were towed back.

We had a spare power steering box with us, however we were missing the box to AN adapters. Joey and I searched the vendors in HammerTown, but came up empty handed. Wade and Winton made the drive to Lee Power Steering (builder of our spare) in Santa Clarita for the fittings. Meanwhile, Joey, Ryan, and myself started on race prep for the car.

-Changed diff oil
-Torqued all suspension and steering bolts
-Checked all fluids
-Swapped on the General Grabber tires
-Pulled the coil overs for ADS

After Wade and Winton returned, we installed the new steering box. The car was finally back together.

Tuesday we had an appointment with a certain magazine for a photo shoot. We spent some time in the morning putting on stickers, and doing a final detail job.

The car looked better than ever.



In good spirits after the shoot, Joey and I geared up for some more pre-running. We ran the first 20 miles of the first lap.

The car handled the desert sections okay, but it was obvious the suspension needed tuned. Luckily Paul and Kevin from Fullstack Motorsports were chasing for us. We found a section that the car absolutely hated (diving and bucking), and began tuning. Our first pass through was probably ~40mph. After about an hour of adjusting the bypasses, we were able to maintain 55mph through the same section. Winning!

Tuesday, we made our way through HammerTown for contingency. Spoke with vendors, put on more stickers, spoke with spectators and received a lot of compliments which was very rewarding. Goatman tracked us down, and offered some words of wisdom for us rookie racers, thanks Richard.

It become more real.

Wednesday night we were buttoning up some last minute projects, and then attended the EMC driver's meeting. Back at camp we tried to relax, and not let the pre-race nerves get the best of us.

Thursday, 8 Feb, race day. I surprisingly got a good nights sleep. Woke up at 0500, and laid there thinking about what was to come. Put on my fire suit, topped off the Camelback, and made our way into HammerTown. We found the car already lined up, thanks Ryan. We chose not to qualify, which meant our starting order was drawn randomly. We'd be staring 99th in a field of ~140. Not ideal, but all we could do was run our own race.

In the car, on the final stretch before the start. Words cannot describe what this feels like, it's addicting.

Every 30 seconds, two cars would leave the starting line. We were next to a 4800 legends car. Joey made the comment he was going to let the 4800 car take the lead off the start. We pulled up the the start gate, the Griffin guy held up his hand, 5... 4... 3... 2... 1..., the MJ erupted from the start and we were off. I could see the 4800 car next to us into the first corner, but after the second Joey stayed in it, and we made the pass on him. We hit the short course jump and were leading out the start. It was on!

As a codriver, I had to watch the GPS and keep us on course, watch the course and make sure we weren't heading for a bad line, watch the gauges to keep an eye on vitals, and lastly keep the driver's adrenaline in check, which might be the most important of all. After all, you can't win the race if you don't save the car. I was stunned by the shear number of cars littering the sides of the race course just over the first five miles. The attrition rate was incredible.

We had a good pace going. Race miles continued to pass by, and I radioed them to pit, "4506 Race Mile 7," "4506 Race Mile 22," "4506 Race Mile 52." Joey was in the rhythm in the desert. We were slowly picking off cars one by one. I'd lay on the siren, and we'd go for the pass. We hit remote pit 1 at race mile 13, the car felt great so we gave the thumbs up and passed by. We swung by on our second pass through just for a quick once over. The crew said we looked good, and we peeled out.

We cruised through the Marine Base section, and made our way onto Melville Dry Lakebed. We were in a dust cloud entering, and Joey veered to the right for clean air. When we saw the open flat ahead I felt the car hammer down. We managed an 87mph pass on the 4800 car to our left leaving them in our dust cloud.

After Melville, we dropped down Resolution, and entered the canyon above Backdoor. I know the canyon was packed with spectators, but at the time I didn't even notice them. We dropped the first upper ledge, and lined up over the left side above the main drop. Joey squared up, and dropped the front end over. We slid off, felt the front tires hit, and drove the front end out. It was a clean run down it, and we were off down the canyon. I could hear the crowd cheering as we left.

We dropped over short bus, and HammerTown was in sight. We had one more rock face to conquer before though. At the bottom we found another car on the hill, and one parked just at the top. Joey hit it in second, and made it half way. We didn't really have a clean clear line up, so we made a line around the broke car at the top. A little tire on tire rub as we crested the top, and we were up. Through the Jeep arch, and down into Main Pit.

At Main Pit the guys began to look the car over. Joey and I got a few sips of water, and a quick snack or two. No repairs needed, we were off for Lap 2. Going through the first few miles for the second time, we found even more cars littering the course. At this point we started 99th, and were now running 29th overall. We gained 70 positions in 63 miles.

At race mile 80 we made it to remote pit 2A. We shut the car off, and both got out. The pit crew found we had stripped the drain plug bolt on the rear third. They worked on re-tapping it to get it to seal. Joey and I relaxed in the shade after 80 miles of abuse in the desert sections. "Okay guys back in the car!"

I strapped into the driver's seat, and fired up the car. We were out of pit 2A, and heading for Boulderdash. I pre-ran this trail prior in the week, which helped me settle into the groove. We cruised up Boulderdash, and over Big Johnson. We then headed into Wrecking Ball. Inside the canyon we found probably six cars plugging up the trail. Two broke, one stuck, and three more waiting. Joey hopped out, to try and find a way through. Eventually the stuck car got itself out of the way, and followed two cars around. We started making our way up the canyon passing two more cars that were off to the side. At the Waterfall a car was parked on just below the main line, likely broken. I wanted to run the main line as I knew the car could drive it, but it wasn't an option. I looked to the right, and the "Racer Line" was open. Second gear, and hammered down up the hill side. The MJ powered up it no issues. Joey spotted me down the exit, and we were through.

We made our way over Fissure mountain, and eventually began to drop into Sledge Hammer. I managed to turtle the car just before Plaque Rock. We recovered, and dropped down plaque rock, and made our way out of the canyon. Continuing on course, we headed for Chocolate Thunder. However, leading up to CT we found a pretty good boulder climb I believe named Her Problem. I got the car up it without issue. This is one of may trails I'd love to return to rec wheel with my own Jeep as it was actually fun. Once at CT we ran the left line up, without issue. It was actually a pretty boring trail.

Race Mile 91, we got to Jack North. We didn't pre-run this, and found a few cars stuck on the obstacle. We shut the car off to cool, made a quick pitstop for ourselves, and scoped out the obstacle. We met some cool Canadians who had been broke there all day. Once clear I strapped in, and set off up the trail. I tried driving the right line, but couldn't clear the main rock at the bottom. Joey went to winch, but we found our winch line all bound up on the spool. Spent some time untangling our yarn, and tried again. This time I went for the left line, and just found loose rock. However, this put the car in a good position to try the right line again. I nosed the car over, and committed to the right line. The car drove right up.

Back on course we prepared to drop down into Jack Hammer canyon. We eased down the canyon, and dropped down the main ledge. It looked like we were home free, when shortly after dropping over some small rocks we heard a banging coming from under the car. We both instantly knew it was a drive line.

Joey hopped out and confirmed we busted the rear drive line at the slip shaft. It was not repairable, and we did not carry a spare. Our spare was at Pit2A at least a four mile hike away. It was 1600 and the finish closed at 1800, our race was over. While the recovery guy really wanted to help us recover, we both wanted to finish the trail under our own power. With the drive line strapped up, and Atlas in front only we set off down the canyon. A few spots needed a little bump, but for the most part the car drove down the canyon with no issue. At the bottom we had a sand wash to exit, 2nd gear with the LS roaring, we were clear. As painful as it was to do, we exited the course and headed back to camp.

So close.

All in all, it was a great race. While we expected the crew to be bummed, we were greeted with hugs and congratulations. For our first year running KOH in our brand new garage built car, we kicked ass. The MJ proved to be very competitive, and exceeded all our expectations. Best of all, we saved the car, minus a drive line.

Officially we placed 29th overall, 7th in our class starting the second lap. While it's not official I know we gained a few more positions in the rocks, making me believe we stood a very good chance at a finish, and possibly a podium spot in our class (only three finished in the 4500 class).

Thursday night the crew worked on packing up the pit garage and tool trailer. We enjoyed sharing our stories from the race, and enjoyed a good dinner with our team.

Friday morning was race day for the 4400 Unlimited class. Daryl, Dan, and myself made our way into HammerTown to watch the start.

Cool International we saw, come to find out it was driven by the Gas Monkey dude. It didn't make it very far if I remember right.

The atmosphere of race day is one of a kind. Horsepower, race gas, and adrenaline.

Dan has a talent of getting himself into places where he shouldn't be. The race began, and cars began making their way down to the start. While all spectators cleared the area, Dan remained in the middle of the cars. 😂

I began to pack up after the start, and caught a little update on Jumbotron before hitting the road for home. I was stoked to see Shererererer pull off the win. I also have a new respect for the 4400 drivers. They do an extra lap, and were still able to finish their 200 miles quicker than we completed our 93 miles. It's really an amazing feat, and they push those cars to their limit to do so. We've all heard it before, "King of the Hammers is the toughest offroad race." After experiencing it first hand, I now believe it.

If I'm given the opportunity to race again, I'd do it without hesitation. It was an experience of a lifetime. However, the competitiveness in me already is plotting for next year on how to be better and faster. I would love nothing more than to see the 4500 MJ cross the finish line at KOH.

Huge thank you goes out to Winton and Maureen for allowing me to be a part of the build, and race the car we worked so hard to build. It was an amazing experience. Thanks to Don, Daryl, Kim and Al, Paul, Kevin, Dan H, other Dan, Wade, Pat, and our awesome crew chief Ryan who probably worked harderthan anyone else on the lake bed and weeks leading up to KOH. The support we received down there was phenomenal!

I'll toss up some more pictures and videos if I come across them. Feel free to do the same, #4506.

52 weeks until KOH19. 😉
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Fabulous write up. Your experience felt real in my living room.

Looks like it was a ton of a good time.

You all did great as a team.

I hope a video or two makes it up here.

If you carry a spare drive shaft next year you won't need it. lol

Wishing you all the best for 2019.
I don't think their is anyone in all of NAXJA that writes up a better trip repot that you do Dustin. Absolutely well done.
What an amazing write up

Just getting out on that course is a dream. Hope to see you continue this next year