King of the Hammers

RACERS SPEED across the Nitto Race of Kings desert track. Nicolle Generaux

Nicolle Generaux | Newsroom Manager

February 21, 2023

The King of the Hammers (KOH) has become one of the most well-known off-roading races in the world. With a combination of motorcycles, side-by-sides, and completely decked-out 4-wheeled vehicles, this event includes desert racing and rock crawling through the dusty plains of Johnson Valley, California. Every year for two weeks, these races pull over a thousand competitors from Mexico, England, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, Spain, Russia, and of course, the United States. 

The KOH began in 2007 with a dozen or so friends competing in a single race through the sandy flatland and rocky hills in the Mojave desert — with the prize being a pack of beers. It has grown to hold 85,000 spectators in its valley – now labeled Hammertown, USA – with eight races with varying machines and skill levels. 

EACH RACE INCLUDES rock walls, some reaching as long as twenty feet. Nicolle Generaux

The largest and most famous of these races is the Nitto Race of Kings. In between rock crawling uphill over boulders – some as long as twenty feet long – for dozens of miles in areas like Chocolate Thunder, Turkey Claw, and SledgeHammer, the racers sped across uneven sandy plains, some vehicles reaching over 120 miles per hour. This year, the three laps of this race included over 212 miles of track, and the racers had 14 hours to complete it to earn the title of The King of the Hammers.

“This off-road racing is full of thrilling and challenging events that test the skill and endurance of the drivers and their vehicles,” commented junior Dexter Brice. “It offers an adrenaline-pumping experience for both competitors and spectators.”

Describing these four-wheelers as impressive would be an understatement – transferring from navigating through rock gardens to speeding down runways is no easy task. Most of the tires on these vehicles were 40×12 with shocks three times the standard size of a car, and that is just the easy thing to spot; the power of the engine, the flexibility of the axles, and the capability to adjust and move with its environment for hours on end – not even including the skills of the drivers – is fascinating to any spectator watching. 

“It’s obvious that it takes a lot of skill to control the vehicles,” stated junior Samantha Mitchell. “It’s amazing how fast they go on such difficult terrain.”

ONE OF MANY OFF-ROADING VEHICLES brought by spectators. Nicolle Generaux

And that is only one race. The King of Motos encompasses almost everything the Nitto Race of Kings does: but on dirt bikes. 175 bikers begin simultaneously across this course, the second-most prestigious race at the KOH. The Holley EFI Backdoor Shootout race allows racers to take on the same rocky areas as the Nitto Race of Kings racers if they are up to the challenge. According to people present, more roll-overs, broken vehicles, and rescues happened that night than any other event, making it a fan favorite. 

Although, some might argue that the most exciting time to watch is before and after any of the races – as that is when fans bring their off-roading vehicles to try out some of the tracks or just ride around in the rest of the desert. 

The location is in the middle of a usually bare desert with no electricity, pavement, or modern technology. The event creates a city of RVs, trailers, and off-roading vehicles, with practically no traffic rules or designated camping spots. It is, quite literally, just thousands of people living in their vehicles to watch races and ride around in any off-roading, non-street legal “toy” they decide to bring. That is with the exception of the Hammertown main area, which is set up with automobile manufacturing advertisements, off-roading vehicles, and parts, meet-and-greets with the racers, food, and live music. 

The King of the Hammers is anything but boring. Whether you are watching motor vehicles falling over, slipping off rocks and speeding up and down the track, or sliding around in the sand yourself, you will surely experience a lively environment in Hammertown, USA. 

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