King of the Hammers

So if you didn’t know, I spent February 5th-8th in the desert all the way in Johnson Valley, California. Now, I will tell you that story.

It all starts on February 4th around 12:30. Actually, it started in December 2013. Heather told me that Eric, her dad, wanted to take us to the desert to watch him race. She didn’t really have to tell me what it was for. Once I found out I would be missing 3 days of classes, I was all in. Fast forward to February 4th around 12:30.

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

I was rushing to finish a homework so that I could get to New York tonight and fly to California in next morning. Then Heather called me telling me the flight from Laguardia to Ontario, California was cancelled.

I was very split about this. Basically, I didn’t want to leave because I was fearful of all the school I was going to miss, and I didn’t know if I really wanted to go out to the desert for 3 days. However, part of me wanted to go out and get a break from school and find out what the huge race called the King of the Hammers was all about.

After an hour phone call with American Airlines, we found a flight out of DC at 7 am on the 5th. My parents got us a hotel room, and we realized that we were going to take most of the 5th to get out to the middle of the desert in Johnson Valley, California.

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

We got to the desert around 3:30 in the afternoon, and found the most unbelievable scene, Hammer Town. You get into the middle of no-where, but  instead of just desert, there is a makeshift town built, a town that was almost completely gone by the night of the 8th. In the town there was a giant jumbotron showing video of everything happening across the desert, and on race days, the 6th and 7th, it showed live footage from some of the toughest rock climbs on the course. It was one of the more incredible things to see.

Panarama 1 Panarama 2We climbed on top of one of the trailers of the pit crews to watch qualifying for the big King of the Hammers race on Friday. Eric had already qualified the day before, and he would be starting 3rd in his class of 6, only behind a two-time champion of the King of the Hammers and a professional driver from England. There were about 60-80 cars that raced on Thursday divided into 5 classes. After taking these panaramas, I crashed. I passed out for an hour and a half. Once we woke up, Heather and I got out of trailer and found Eric waiting in line for his inspection. He passed inspection and went onto the stage. To be perfectly honest, Heather and I expected a shoutout from this interview, but that would come in time. It was a good interview, no mistakes or slip-ups. The car was driven off the stage, we all got dinner, and went to bed.


Thursday, February 6th, 2014

It all started with Heather waking up Eric at 6. It wasn’t late or anything, but he was fast asleep and the alarm was not going to work. Eric woke up completely started. It was actually pretty funny. Luckily, there was no reason to be startled. He got ready, and we rested until 7:30. We got ready and got out to the start/finish line right before the race started at 8. Around 8:20 am, we saw Eric and his co-driver Rob take off.

Eric’s race was 2 laps, and they had a 10-hour time limit. It encompassed desert racing and rock climbs. The cars could be going 100 mph at one point, and 30 mins later, they could be stuck climbing rocks. Keep in mind, Eric isn’t a pro-racer. He is a banker from New York that was living an absolute dream.

Over the next two hours-ish, we got coffees from one of the vendors and made lunch in the RV. We got out to Eric’s pit stop just before he arrived around 9:45. We saw his co-driver pull in (his co-driver drove for the 2nd half of the 1st lap), and they had a sweet driver change. Then Eric took off on his second lap. This was the lap that was the toughest and longest because of the big rock climbs.

Heather and I had a decision to make now, do we walk or drive to Chocolate Thunder? It was the toughest rock climb that was visible to the spectators and was about a two mile distance from Hammer Town. Eventually, we decided to walk.

What an experience…

You can't really see the spec of white from this. If you see me around, ask to see it on my phone or zoom in a lot.

You can’t really see the spec of white from this. If you see me around, ask to see it on my phone or zoom in a lot.

Imagine looking to your left and right and seeing nothing but sand. We also had to wear our lab goggles so that we would keep our eyes open. It was a struggle, but we made it, and we got to look back to where we came from. See that small spec of white in the top right, that was the outskirts of Hammer Town. We also made it with perfect timing. We got to see the first car of the day come through Chocolate Thunder. However, we waited about an hour and a half until we got to see the best climb of the day. I apologize for my potty mouth.

As I say in the video, he flew up that climb. He was faster than anyone in his class. Before Eric came up, there were cars stuck, and huge traffic jams of cars taking it slow. Eric dominated that climb unlike anyone we saw.

Heather and I decided to leave when we saw a car parked behind spectators start to fall down the mountain slowly, and people were running away from it. We felt it was the best decision for our well-beings.

We managed to get a ride back in the back of a pickup truck. It was something that I got to cross of fmy bucket list that I never thought was on my bucket list.

Ride in the back of a pickup through the desert

We got back to Hammer Town and we suspected that we would be waiting awhile for Eric. He was hoping to finish in 8 hours, so we were just assuming that would be the time he would show up at. Turns out, we saw him crossing the side of the mountain a little over 6 hours after he started. This was within 25 minutes of the first finisher in his class. Here is the video of him crossing the finish line, courtesy of Heather because my phone died in the middle of filming this.

It took one moment for me to realize how passionate everyone at this race was about off road racing. Once Eric crossed the finish line, he was 4th. He hadn’t made the podium. Yet, there was this emotion that poured out of him. He had only finished, but he had lived his dream and done something incredibly dangerous and come back in perfect condition. I can’t imagine the happiness he felt then, but all I can say is it was one unbelievable spectacle and I am so happy that I got to watch it.

Oh yeah, Eric ended up finishing 3rd. The guy who finished first, skipped the rock climb that you saw in the video. He made the podium. That was a great bonus on top of a great week of living in the desert.

Thank you to Eric for flying us out to California to watch him race, and then driving us over halfway to my house to get my car. Also, thanks to my parents for paying for our hotel room in DC. Thanks to my dad for picking up my car, and my mom for meeting Eric on the New Jersey turnpike.

Finally, I just want to say that my words, pictures and videos do not do it justice. It is way too hard to describe. I can’t possibly describe how great of a time I had and how incredible the races were. I really want to go again, and I want to learn about cars. I barely know anything about cars but this trip made me want to know as much as I can and more. If you are a sports fan, or a car guy, you have to go out there at least once. It is unbelievable, and you will not regret it for one second.

PS: Here is a bad ass clip that I got to see live from the King of the Hammers on Friday and some of my pictures from Friday.

Backdoor is the toughest trail on the course. That climb is taller than me, and cars have to go up it.

Backdoor is the toughest trail on the course. That climb is taller than me, and cars have to go up it.

Two cars are flipped at Backdoor causing a SLIGHT traffic jam.

Two cars are flipped at Backdoor causing a SLIGHT traffic jam.

Tom Wayes basically decided that the normal laws of physics do not apply to him, so he did this. 

Greg Danchik

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