I’s a battle of attrition as only 12 of 118 side-by-sides finish in the dese
One reason the race is so tough is because it’s held for UTVs, those little two-seater rigs you may refer to as side-by-sides. Some people may even snidely refer to them as golf carts. But perhaps not anymore.
“I think UTVs have gained a lot of respect over the last few years,” said long-time competitor Mitch Guthrie Sr., who finished third in this year’s race. “They’ve evolved into such high-performance cars. They used to be called kind of glorified golf carts but now we’re going out on (trails like) Outer Limits and Splitters.”
Those are trails that would turn back even the most-fully-featured monster trucks. While most of the purpose-built off-road rigs that will race in Friday’s headliner King of the Hammers have 40-inch tires, the little ATVs must conquer the same terrain on tires no bigger than 29 inches. Ground clearance and wheelbase are similarly shortened. So it’s a tough race for them, made even tougher by the general consensus that this year’s course was the hardest ever.
But attrition wasn’t a factor in qualifying, and short course racers dominated there, with Johnny Greaves, C.J. Greaves, and Casey Currie starting at the front of the 118-vehicle field. In the race, C.J. Greaves jumped out to an early lead and held it for a remarkable 89 miles of the 134-mile race before rolling while coming down The Hammers’ notorious Sledgehammer Trail.
“It came down to being rookies,” Greaves confessed. “We made a couple of big mistakes like when we rolled on Sledge. We are just happy to be out here. And hopefully we can do it again. We didn’t pre-run all of it. It takes a lot of knowledge and the rocks are crazy. I don’t even want to see the bottom of this car!”
When Greaves rolled he handed the lead Mitch Guthrie Jr., whose father, Mitch Sr., has won this event a record six times. It was Jr.’s first time running it without his dad, after having co-piloted for him in previous races. Once Guthrie Jr. got ahead, he held onto the lead for the rest of the race.
“I don’t know what to say, it has been a long road getting here,” said Guthrie Jr. “I’ve been riding with my dad and we had a few wins but I really wanted to do it myself. I was so nervous though, I have never driven in rocks like this before.”
Dad, longtime rockcrawling competitor Mitch Guthrie Sr., was an early adopter of the UTV platform. His six wins in the UTV class make him the winningest driver in King of the Hammers history. But Guthrie Sr. suggested that his domination might be coming to an end after finishing third this year.
“It’s going to be a question about returning. I would like to, but I don’t know if I’m a top guy anymore with the young guns coming up. This was the worst one ever so far this year physically.”
Champion desert racer Branden Sims came in second place, the third time he has been a bridesmaid in the KOH UTV Race.
“We qualified 19th so not the best place to start, but we got out in the desert and were catching people. I typically run desert races, and this is the only ULTRA4 event I do each year. My father was a rockcrawler though, so I grew up with this.”
The 134-mile course was the longest and most difficult in the history of the race. On both laps the course went down a trail called Backdoor, a ten-foot-tall rock ledge that put most competitors onto their lids.
“In short course we go all-out for 20 minutes. In this thing, I had to talk myself out of being in race mode and relax,” Greaves said. “Every once in a while, I would see someone in my mirror and I’d want to take off and my co-driver would have to reign me in. It’s not a race against other competitors, it’s a race to bring the machine to the finish.”
And only 12 guys did that