As the sun began to rise over Hammertown, the sound of race vehicles filled the frigid morning air. As I climbed into my co-drivers seat of the #4670 Jeep Comanche, my nerves began to build; “was this really happening? Was I actually about to navigate and spot a vehicle through the largest, most grueling and technical off-road race in America?”
After sitting in the truck for a little over an hour in staging, the cars in front of us started to move, which meant one thing: go time! As we crept up to the start line, I felt an immense rush of excitement take over my entire body. Nearly losing control, I found myself shouting and fist pumping the air like a maniac. The green flag dropped and we were off. Unfortunately, after the very first corner we hit our first traffic jam. One of the buggies in a class ahead of us had rolled at the top of the hill called Shortbus, and the rest of the competitors were slowly snaking their way around him. Cody Folsom, my driver, being the competitive sort that he is, decided that simply lining up was not the proper way to approach the situation; after all, this is a RACE. We dropped down into the rock-strewn ditch next to the trail and passed a handful of cars before taking our spot “in line”. As we fought our way up the trail, we quickly defalted into competition mode. It didn’t take long for us to pass a few of the upper-class buggies including some broken down vehicles as well. Making our way through some of the speedy, “whoop” sections, we began hearing a noise in the rear end; thinking it was nothing detrimental, we pushed on. Despite the unknown noises, we made it to the first pits. There we found that our driver’s side shock had completely ripped off and there was no repairing it. Even though we knew this may cause a problem with the leaf spring, we continued with a slight bit of caution. Sadly, not too much further down the course, we began to hear severe tire rubbing in the back corner of the vehicle. We knew immediately that something had given out due to the extra stress created by the broken shock. Nonetheless, this problem was not bad enough to cause us to stop moving. A little crab walking never did anyone too much harm!
Returning from our desert loop back into Hammertown, we made a stop in the main pit. Turns out we had broken the main leaf. This would prove to make the rock trails ahead a bit more challenging. The crew worked together and had us quickly on our way. We hit quite a few bottlenecks that were impassable. Having to just sit and wait was the closest thing to cruel and unusual torture I’ve ever experienced.
Next were the rock trails. Luckily for me, I only had to get out, stack rocks and spot a handful of times. Considering I haven’t had any experience with it in the past and we weren’t able to do much of any pre-running, we worked together very well.
Some of the other mechanical problems were a bit challenging. Because of the broken spring, every so often, the axle would try and walk out from under us, so we would have to pull over to winch it back into place. Also, while in the rock trails, we ripped a hydraulic line and brake line. As we stopped to fix those things, we noticed that our passenger side leaf spring shackle had nearly ripped completely off. With no fix for that, we pushed on.
A few bottlenecks later, we found ourselves back in the pits with 40 minutes left in the race and 40 miles to go. The crew rushed around the vehicle, each doing a separate job in a mad dash to get us moving again. Just as they finished, Cody hit the start button and the starter made a noise that sounded like it was grinding boulders together. Turns out, we had lost a starter bolt. So our crew chief momentarily inserted a screwdriver in place of the bolt so we could start the engine and we were soon going again. Sadly, a few hundred yards later, while negotiating a rock section we hit so hard it stalled the motor and it would not restart. Not having the right tools to fix it we decided to improvise. Cody held the starter in place against the flex plate, as I pushed the start button. Thankfully, it started! Cody “strapped in” and we were off yet again. Moments later we encountered another large, technical section. So I hopped out to spot and assist. By now the sun had gone down. Visibility and communication became more difficult, yet working together we made it through with no new problems. However, following the day’s typical pattern of problems, we were again struck with tragedy by smashing our steering box into a rock resulting in the loss of all power assist in the steering. That meant the last 30 miles would have to be done with full manual steer – IF Cody so chose to go through that. Even though we had timed out, we refused to call it quits. Cody used his entire mite and both hands to steer, while I did the shifting. If that were not discouraging enough, most of the last 30 miles were in a direction AWAY from Hammertown. After a brief discussion between the two of us it soon became obvious that neither of us was ready to call it quits. Soon a UTV came up behind us. We were informed that we were the last moving vehicle on course and that they would follow us in the rest of the way if we desired. We quickly agreed to their offer and pushed on. Two and a half, grueling hours later –– the lights of Hammertown came into view. Our crew began voicing their excitement and words of encouragement over the radio. But, it wasn’t over yet. The last hill proved to be the greatest challenge. As we neared the top, Cody’s arms went numb with fatigue. After taking a brief rest he gained enough strength for the last decent to the finish line. Even though it had been a very long day, darkness had set in and everyone was exhausted; our crew members found a checkered flag and triumphantly waved us in as if to say, “we are incredibly proud of you”.
We have a great team in place and we all work amazingly well together. With the race experience we gained and knowing what parts need to be strength for next time, you can be assured we will do all we can to return to the most challenging off-road race in America ––King of the Hammers.
By Brittney Hiersche
Low Range Off-Road