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2020 King of the Hammers Race Recap

2020 King of the Hammers Race Recap

Story & Photos: Casey Cordeiro

Speed. Brutal. Towering. Boulders. Impossible. These are just some of the phrases that come to mind when King of the Hammers (KOH) comes up in conversation…

King of the Hammers is one of, if not THE, toughest one day off-road race on the planet. You have to be ready for everything – high speed desert, mountain passes, whooped out nastiness, massive rock climbs, broken cars blocking your path, and everything in between. Rod Hall’s famous saying of, “You much first finish to finish first” has never been more true. Oftentimes, it’s the team that drives at 80% the entire race that finishes at the head of the pack. These are all things that make King of the Hammers one of the most brutal and fun races for teams to tackle anywhere on the planet. The question is, who would end up first this year?!

2020 King of the Hammers Race Recap

2020 King of the Hammers Race Recap

Let’s start from the beginning… Months ahead of this race, followers on social media could see that many of the factory teams were training out in Johnson Valley, CA specifically for this race. While the official course wasn’t released, the Can-Am, Polaris, Yamaha, and Honda factory efforts knew they were going to have a battle on their hands when the green flag dropped. The effort was put in to make sure that each team would have a good chance of winning come race day.

The team with the most to gain this year was definitely Can-Am. They have been title sponsors of this UTV race for several years now, have purpose-built vehicles for this type of terrain (named “RC” editions), and have a full fledge factory team that has grown significantly in the past several years. Can-Am even brought in racers who are only scheduled to race this race with the factory team and no other races all year. To say they were motivated is an understatement.

2020 King of the Hammers Race Recap

Then, on the flip side of the Can-Am tent, you have the factory Polaris team, which is comprised of some of the most proven rock racers on the planet. Names like Mitch Guthrie SR, Mitch Guthrie JR, Branden Sims, Blake Van De Loo, Wayne Matlock, Kristen Matlock, and Bryce Menzies are all on the factory team, not to mention many more running RZR vehicles. Polaris’ history at the event is stellar with KOH victories year after year. Obviously they had a stellar team, but they also had the most to lose.

2020 King of the Hammers Race Recap

Then you have Yamaha and Honda, both of which are racing with smaller overall factory efforts. However, it is still awesome that they have factory efforts at all! Yamaha brought out some big guns with the Greaves family and Brock Heger, who has proven to be a young gun in the sport of off-road. On the flip side, Honda Factory Racing has launched a full fledged UTV racing program with two young guns themselves, including Christopher Polvoorde and Eliott Watson. Both Yamaha and Honda have a different thought process to their vehicles compared to Can-Am and Polaris, namely with the fact that they utilize transmissions that you have to shift, rather than belt-driven units.

Last but not least, you have Kawasaki fielding one of their venerable Teryx KRX 1000 side-by-sides with the legendary Jeremy McGrath behind the wheel. There was no doubt that “Showtime” himself can read terrain and get through some of the gnarliest rock crawls KOH has to offer, but could he take the coveted win?

2020 King of the Hammers Race Recap

The question is – who would ultimately come out on top?!

The race would start out with several different manufacturers listed at the top of the qualifying order. Can-Am would hold the top spots with Polaris right in the thick of things. Yamaha was in the top as well, and then you had Honda and Kawasaki drivers running right there. The Miller brothers, who are Can-Am factory drivers and would start on the front row in 2 separate Maverick X3’s, would jump out to the early lead.

It wouldn’t take long to realize that the Can-Am’s were gunning for the win. Kyle Chaney would make his way into the lead through the desert section on the first lap. Hunter Miller was literally right behind him, and Phil Blurton was right there, too. Then you had the Polaris team roll in with Mitch Guthrie SR putting on a strong show in his new RZR PRO XP. I was at Backdoor watching the action at the tail end of the first lap as these drivers went through, and these front runners had a massive lead on the other competitors. Once the gap went by, then we had a long string of drivers show up, including CJ Greaves, Sara Price, the Honda Factory racing teammates, McGrath, and so many others. At one point, there was a backup to get down the massive 6’ rock ledge that has made Backdoor so famous. Some made it down, some flipped over and had to be rolled back onto their wheels. With so much spectator space in this area, it was one of the hotspots to watch!

2020 King of the Hammers Race Recap

After watching the competitors run through Backdoor, I made my way out to the end of the desert portion on lap 2, which was the final lap of the event. In total, the first lap was 78 miles, and the second was just under 65, bringing the total to 142 miles. Going down backdoor on lap 1 was one thing to accomplish, but it was lap 2 that was on a whole other level. The competitors would have to tackle several rock climbs and go up Chocolate Thunder, up Wrecking Ball, and still make it down Backdoor an additional time…

I hiked into Wrecking Ball to catch the leaders as they passed by. I wasn’t even in the gnarliest rock section of Wrecking Ball yet when Hunter Miller passed me hiking on the side of the mountain. He was absolutely flying in his X3. There was no one even close to him on track, so it’s no wonder he would go on to take a huge win for Can-Am!

In fact, I did catch most of the other competitors coming up that rock section in Wrecking Ball, and it was no surprise to me that Can-Am would sweep the podium after seeing all of the Maverick X3’s at the front of the pack. Kyle Chaney and Phil Blurton would take 2nd and 3rd place, respectively. Mitch Guthrie SR, who has the most crowns at KOH in the UTV class, would take 4th place just off the podium. He was one of two Polaris RZRs in the top ten, the rest were all driving Can-Am vehicles.

To say it was impressive showing for Can-Am would be an understatement! They dominated this race, from prerunning to qualifying to race day.

So, who will step up next year? Or, will the Hunter defend his crown?! You can bet there are plenty of other competitors who want to claim the title of KOH champion. We encourage you all to get out there and see the race next year. You can bet that we’ll be there to take in all the action!

Photo of Hunter Miller’s Can-Am Maverick X3 X ds by Adam Campbell Photography.

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