Huge crowds watch as King of the Hammers is crowned

BY KRIS REILLY
Editor

JOHNSON VALLEY • Thousands of fans braved cold temperatures in the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area on Friday to watch Randy Slawson become the latest King of the Hammers.

The 2013 Griffin King of the Hammers is the seventh incarnation of the off-road race, a grueling combination of open desert racing and rock crawling.

Slawson took 7 hours, 28 minutes and 10 seconds to complete the course, which is more than 100 miles long and features the infamous Hammers — trails named for the pounding they put on a vehicle.

Shannon Campbell finished 20 minutes behind Slawson for second place.

The race organizer said he’d be “shocked” if even a third of the scheduled 129 racers finished. As it turned out, only 27 made it to the finish line.

“The reality is, auto racing being auto racing, there’s cars that just have problems and they’re not ready to be inside a rock canyon,” King of the Hammers co-founder Dave Cole said. “You just don’t know until you get going.”

NASCAR star Robby Gordon competed in the event for the second consecutive year and started fourth, but by Friday afternoon it looked unlikely that he would complete the race after he rolled his vehicle at the top of an area known as Wrecking Ball.

“(Gordon) only made it 11 miles last year; this year he was in the hunt for quite a while,” Cole said. “If 35 percent (of the drivers) finish this race, I’ll be shocked. ... Everybody’s going to break something today. You’re going to get a flat tire, you’re going to break a shock. Something’s going to fail on your car. Your ability to overcome that and plan for that is what saves you.”

Thousands of spectators swarmed to the popular viewing areas such as Chocolate Thunder, a treacherous rock canyon near the Hammertown staging area at Means Dry Lake. Others stayed at Hammertown and watched the action live on jumbo video screen.

Volunteer Harry Baker, who oversaw the main entry gate, estimated that 30,000 people had come to the races throughout the week.

“The whole thing of rock racing has just taken off throughout the nation,” Baker said. “And this is the big one.”