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The King of the Hammers off-road competition wants you to get a little dirty

2016 King of the Hammers
2016 King of the Hammers
We all have the urge to cut loose sometimes — to run wild or act like children. That’s why there are events like the King of the Hammers.

Staged in the Johnson Valley, California desert, the annual KOH festival may have some serious off-road racing, rigs, and sponsorships, but the spectator activities are just plain loony. For evidence of insanity, look no further than the Barbie Jeep race between full-grown men (and the occasional pre-teen) from two of the biggest online Jeep communities.

From the top of a steep hill to its sandy conclusion, very large adults urge their tiny toys as fast as their plastic wheels will go. Some stick to the rules, and others (we’re looking at you, dude in the kilt) try more, uh, “creative” methods of winning. The outfits are premo, but the wipe-outs are even better.

While the world’s least dangerous vehicle crashes are taking place on a dune, there’s some serious racing nearby. A mix of arduous rock crawling and fast-paced desert racing characterizes the KOH Ultra 4 Racing series. It’s a multi-hour event that flips between slow-speed bouldering and all-out pre-running from one moment to the next.

For a better idea of the skill involved in this top-class competition, watch the latest Top Gear episode. At this year’s KOH event, Chris Harris and Sabine Schmitz duke it out in a Legends-class race. This race isn’t as long or challenging as the title event, but regulated rig specs keep the competition very interesting.

Because of the wide range of competitive classes, there’s a big spectrum of vehicles. Everything from mildly modified rides to supertrucks with $100K suspension systems rally in the desert to create an off-road enthusiast’s dream week. While the Legends race is more restrictive, the full-course competitions let drivers experiment with engine layouts, suspension components, drivetrains, differentials, and more to separate the engineering geniuses from the mad scientists.

If any of this off-road chaos — be it Barbie Jeep racing or big-rig running — interests you, mark your calendars for February 9, 2018.

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