Ultra4’s King of the Hammers race once again returned to Johnson Valley, CA for a week of racing in numerous classes including almost every off-road vehicle available; motos, UTVs, stock class, Ultra4 trucks, and trophy trucks. While this race is probably not known to most, and shunned by others, only true enthusiasts will find themselves braving the dust, noise, and sometimes flippancy present there among the rocks.
Beyond the professional racing scene, this temporary desert city, called Hammertown, contains countless unique trucks, buggies, and beastly machines custom-built front to rear. King 3.0s with secondary bypass shocks on all 4 corners of a ‘92 Yota 4-link setup is one of the least surprising things out here in the sand. In a land where everyone’s rig has been customized to the max you’re seeing 700hp hemi-swapped everything, turbo’d Mavericks, and 37 inch tires are considered small.
4 Rigs, 4 Days in the Rocks
Riding around in the Power Wagon was honestly pretty rough, and made us miss the Tacoma’s very capable ride (even if it is without long travel suspension). The ‘whoops’ never stop, they just transform into a passenger-jarring washboard, then back. Running around out here requires some degree of travel; this is where good suspension pays dividends. Unfortunately - we don't have that on the Power Wagon… yet! We won't get into the aftermarket industry’s 4 month backorder that is affecting every enthusiast out there…. COVID-19 has delivered quality suspension companies like King, Fox, Bilstein, Carli, Thuren, ARB mile long backorders to fill for months. But, on the plus side, it gives us time to experiment with and observe the Ram’s footprint and suspension needs.
Jeff’s Tacoma ran into some snags pre-trip which left it fragile and rolling in safe mode. At KOH it busted a brake line while chasing and shooting the race proving that random calamity can occur at any time. Props to Jeff for getting that fixed ultra-fast. His Tacoma was running on some relatively new Fox shocks, so we wanted to pit the IFS against the live axle setup of the Power Wagon out here chasing the race, despite the vast differences in shock capabilities.
On these outings we are always cognizant of how the equipment responds to different scenarios and demands. Studying the behavior of different suspensions and shocks is paramount to our experiences when off-road, so we’re trying to learn as much as possible when we have the chance to spend time in these environments.
The Wrangler is still outfitted with the Bilstein 8100 External Bypass shocks, which continue to perform flawlessly. We didn’t get to fit in a tuning session for the whoops specifically, but the settings we arrived with after our recent trip to Mammoth handled most of what was thrown at them, sans whoops. It would have required some fine tuning of both compression and rebound settings to make a run across the bigger whoops out here, and unfortunately in their current form would require 1-2 hours of wrenching to make those adjustments, which wasn’t in the cards for our stacked schedule and crew. We can't wait for the new 10-click knob improvement coming to the Bilstein 8100s! A hand-adjustable knob will be much faster to tweak than when having to make changes with tools.
The tradeoff of tuning for high speed whoops, which is an extremely niche requirement, would be a dramatic reduction in slow speed handling, lots more body roll, and poor weight handling on the slower stuff. Manufacturers like Fox, King, ADS, tune these race rigs with progressively valved shocks to eat up the hardest hits at 70mph+. Any high-speed tuning we would do to handle fast desert runs would need to be reverted back for daily driving.
A Can Am Maverick X3 is one of the secret weapons out here, get one, and don't let anyone drive it. For the price, it easily has the most travel and power-to-weight ratio available to drive, insanity on wheels. Travel is king out here at the Hammers, whether its to cruise over whoops or crawl the steep rocks and boulders to a higher destination. 4-door SXS usually do better over the whoops compared to a 2-door, but may lose ground on the flats where power/weight gives advantage to the smaller chassis. Either way, the fun only runs out when your brain has rattled enough and your body runs out of adrenaline.