King of the Hammers is known as the hardest off-road race in the United States. Hammertown USA is centralized in the vast wastelands of the Mojave Desert. A week-long event where tens of thousands of enthusiasts come to watch the off-road version of Burning Man. The Daytona 500 of off-road racing.
Proving Grounds Racing set their sights set on the 2021 KOH event as this year would be like no other for the PGR team. Joining the 4400 class in a brand new Miller Motorsports Pro Chassis, the team was tested on every level of the build. In a short five month period of time, the team battled during the long road of fabrication and building to make KOH in the 4400-class a reality. A race, to the race. This will be the 7th year the team has set out to battle machine, man, and Mother Nature in getting the car to the finish. Late nights and long hours designing, wrenching, grinding, welding, tuning, fabricating, and logistics. Burning the midnight oil is a prerequisite for this event.
Prerunning: The new Ultra4 Miller Motorsports Pro Chassis hit the dirt for the first time at Hammertown USA. While new to the car, speed, and feel, day one was spent with Fox Shocks for a tune session and getting the right set up for the car to work not only in the desert, but the rocks.
From desert sections to the rock canyons we pushed the car as if we would be racing. Bringing to surface all of the new car hiccups that come out once it’s been ran and shaken down. Joe, from Travel Your Own Road, helped prerun in the 4570 for the week in case we needed to be recovered or needed mechanical components.
Each evening the team had a new check list for the new 4415 in prepping it for the big dance. From mounting recovery gear, to syncing the Rugged Radios and GPS in the car for race day, there was continually plenty to do. We brought almost the entire shop with us to the lakebed so we had everything we needed including spare engine management parts from Summit Racing Equipment and an assortment of their tabs, brackets, hoses, fittings, and more in case we needed to make any adjustments to our plumbing.
This year we had the team in full force for support of the 4400-class build. Ramiro and his team from Jeepetos 4x4 came up from Columbia to provide support for the harshest race of the year with us. We also had multiple crew members from California, Arizona, New York, Florida, and Utah filling our pits and makeshift 20’ x 40’ workshop on the lakebed.
Prerunning the rock canyons we noted each line and trail where it was the quicker route to get in and out. We also had Triple J practicing with our Warn winch when we picked the line that was not quickest. Running our new 40" BFGoodrich KR3 red labels, wrapped around our Dirty Life Race Wheels, it was the perfect combo for the rocks, hooking and grabbing every line we wanted to take.
Qualifying: We set out to qualify the 4415 in the front, like we did in the 4570 the previous day, so we strapped in for a fast lap on the 1.14 mile qualifying course. Our Fox Shocks kept us smooth off the jumps and steady in the desert section as we barreled to the rock wall with constant momentum up the 300-foot crest. Down the sand hill around the bend we were setting a good pace coming through to the finish where we had a solid time and position for having virtually no racing seat time in the car: 49th out of over 100 cars.
Race Day: Waking up to the roar of horsepower and the smell of race fuel is the sure sign its race day. Staging for the race, reality sets in for John Grounds and Joseph “Triple J” Modena as all of the emotions of building this new Ultra4 car come to a head. From day one building the chassis on the fixture tables to sitting in the seats with a 700hp motor from Klein Engines humming in the background, the team had made it to the start.
The visors go down, and the green flag drops, it’s time to go racing.
The guys know that the desert loop separates many contenders and their mission is to stay consistent, smooth, and fast knowing there are two brutal laps of rocks to go. The 75 miles of lap one is the longest the boys have been in the car. In uncharted territory, the team takes the steady pace reaching Hammertown after completing the desert loop.
Using BFGoodrich support and crew, the team fuels and looks over the car for anything mechanical that may be a surfacing issue, and check on the driver and co-driver. With a clear signal from our Scouting Team we took off from main pit for lap two and headed to Backdoor, an obstacle everyone must take once. With two cars already stuck at the obstacle we weren’t about to wait for them to try and crest the 10’ wall so Triple J hopped out with the winch line and we aligned the car on the far right of the wall and let our Warn Winch and BFG tires do the work for us. Passing both cars in a smooth winch maneuver we were up and out headed to the next rock canyon.
Battling up Resolution, across the lakebed to Outer Limits, and then Spooners, the car was flawless in the rocks. The Miller Chassis danced down Chocolate Thunder towards Idle Issues and Not Her Problem until a squeal from the belt caused the team to pull over to inspect the issue further. Power steering fluid covered the front of the chassis and the guys routed the issue to a loose power steering filter that had harmonically loosened from the jarring of the desert. Once tightened and fluid was topped off, the car was back at it into more rocks!
Once up Jackhammer and Upper Sledge the team encountered a catastrophic mechanical failure with a front axle shaft grenading while crawling up an uphill wash. With only three wheels functioning, the car was in no shape to finish lap two, let alone three. While the team in the pits scrambled to find parts needed to repair and continue, John and Triple J continued bashing the car in 3WD to hopefully work their way to pit 2A. With no parts to fix the issue, and the boys fighting tooth and nail through the canyons with a limping car, a group decision was made to save the car from further damage.
While the race may have ended early for the 4415, the team’s spirits are high. The car performed flawlessly in the desert and in the rocks with no hesitation. A mechanical failure is an unforeseen issue and was unavoidable with a freshly built race car. The team worked day and night with every hurdle in their path through the short five months to build a ground up chassis. That in itself is an accomplishment!
This season of racing would not be able to happen without our many sponsors and supporters. The dedication of what Proving Grounds Racing is setting out to do for the 2021 Ultra4 race year will be a true testament of the team’s abilities for success on the track.
Also- Thank you for every amazing photographer who shared their photos with us. Amazing works of art captured on the track!