King of the Hammers has a reputation as the most difficult one-day off-road race in the world, pushing team and machine to their breaking point, and beyond. Attrition in 2021 was as high as ever, with only 37 of 84 competitors reaching the finish line within the 14-hour time limit.
There were numerous lead changes, mechanical carnage, and drama as the race unfolded over 190 miles of unforgiving terrain in Johnson Valley, the largest Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) area in the United States. In the end, Randy Slawson and his cousin Dustin Emick edged out JP Gomez and Marcos Gomez to join Shannon Campbell and Jason Scherer as three-time winners of the event. For his efforts, Slawson took home a $65,000 paycheck and a brand-new Ford Bronco.
“My year begins and ends in February. It’s not in January, like everybody else’s,” Slawson explained. “This is the only thing that I live eat, breathe sleep, dream – King of the Hammers.”
While many of the top teams have adopted independent front suspension (IFS) for faster speeds in the desert, Slawson has stayed loyal to the Spidertrax solid axles under his Bomber Fabrication buggy. And unlike other forms of racing where the driver writes a check to buy a race car, Slawson crafted the buggy with his own hands, building not only his own winning car but Chayse Caprara’s Bomber that won the 4WP Every Man Challenge (EMC) the day prior.
“The last time I had one of my customers win the Every Man Challenge I won the 4400 race the next day. I was like, just taking it as an omen,” Slawson revealed at the finish line. “And right then Jason Scherer rolled by, and he waved me over to his car, and he gave me a fist bump. He said, ‘you’re gonna win it this year.’”
Fast qualifier JP Gomez and his brother Raul Gomez rounded out the podium in their single-seat UFO Fabrication cars.
“I don’t want to start on the pole again, it sucks!” JP joked after crossing the finish line. “It took me about a lap and a half to finally calm down. Just slowly catching up my pace. And then that’s how I went the whole rest of the day.”
Raul stopped to assist Tom Wayes after Wayes suffered a violent rollover in the desert, valuing the safety of his rivals over his own success on the track.
“When I pulled up, I turn my car off and I yelled for him to see if he was okay. And he didn’t say anything so then I radioed the pit and couldn’t get him out,” Raul Gomez recalled. “Then Cameron (Steele) and Wayne (Isrealsen) pulled up and Tom told us to keep racing.”
Bailey Cole finished in fourth place for the second year in a row, matching his finish on the prior day in the Every Man Challenge the day before.
“We really stayed in the zone all day,” Cole shared. “We wanted to just go out and get the hard rocks out the first lap when the car was healthy so we did Backdoor on Lap One. And then we just continued our pace with the desert and we picked off probably ten cars in that desert loop, the car was handling great.”
Drift racing superstar Vaughn Gittin Jr. finished in fifth place in his Ford Bronco buggy. Gittin’s Ford teammates Jason Scherer and Loren Healy finished ninth and thirteenth respectively, with all three Ford Broncos racing taking the checkered flag.
“This race is gonna have like a 70-percent attrition rate and three out of three Broncos finished,” Scherer exclaimed. “It’s like batting a thousand.”
Scherer and desert racer Cameron Steele shared the lead early on in the race, but both had issues that pushed them back in the standings. Fuel management was an issue for not only Scherer but contender Wayland Campbell as well. Scherer’s navigator Jason Berger, known for his physical fitness, ran into the main pit to retrieve fuel, and Andrew McLaughlin pulled Campbell in to the pit.
The 2021 race season is already off to a positive start with King of the Hammers successfully running in one of the strictest states. We hope that the rest of this year will be as promissing.
Check out some highlights from the 4400 race in the gallery below!