We got it done and we came home with some incredible hardware this year! With another trip around the sun and a lot of those days and nights spent thinking about the “could have, would have & should have” from our previous entry we ended up having an absolutely EPIC trip back out to Johnson Valley for the 2023 Ultra4 King of the Hammers. Our RMAX Wins 2023 KOH.
RMAX Wins 2023 KOH
With our strategy in hand, we got to work back at Weller Racing HQ designing a new WR Edition HD billet steering rack to go along with our WR Edition HD tie rods. The start to finish on a project like this is no easy feat and, even with the time frame we had to get ready, it still came down to the wire of having our first prototypes finished and ready for testing. Next, we dove into designing some WR Edition HD front lower control arms to round out our mission at hand of getting the front end of our RMAX as bullet-proof as possible for the next time we would head back out and punish the car. After adding in
some final touches to our RMAX suspension, clutching and tuning upgrades we were ready to set out in early January (just a few weeks before the race) to put our products through some rigorous testing and pre running. After a few long days in the brutal rock trails, we were blown away with how well everything was performing and holding up, so it was time to green light our new parts and get back to the shop for final vehicle preparation.
We are extremely lucky to have an incredible group to work with over at Yamaha Motorsports and we were able to get our hands on all the stock parts we needed to get our RMAX freshened up and back up to speed, from stock axles, driveshafts and brakes to the bead-lock wheels, skid plates and rock sliders. After making a quick call to our friends over at GBC Tires we were also able to get our hands on some fresh Kanati Terra Master tires which had performed flawlessly for us up to this point, so there was no doubt in our minds that these would be our go to choice again. The rockstar crew over at Warn Industries came through for us as well getting our Axon 4500 Series winch refreshed and wound with new cable and all new Factor 55 rigging equipment which is impressive stuff.
RMAX Wins 2023 KOH
Finally, we made it to race day and the unfinished business we had come to take care of was at hand. All the hard work we had put in with long days, nights and weekends along with new parts and testing really came down to the next 10-hour window. We were confident, though, that we had our Yamaha RMAX as ready as it could be coming up to the race start. As my co-driver Chris and I climbed into the car, I mentioned to him that we should really try to not break anything……we both agreed but we both knew that is nearly impossible to do given the race and the circumstances. Right around 8:15 a.m. or so
they shot us off the line and we were officially underway, making our way out from the short-course infield and out into the desert. In the previous few days leading up to the race we had logged a lot of hours out on the desert lap trying to find lines that would keep us within the race boundaries but off the main course line, which by now was completely annihilated by the previous races held for Trophy Trucks, Buggies and UTV’s. Running our 64” wide RMAX on the 72”+ wide rutted out course was guaranteed to make for an exhausting lap and we knew it, but that is what we had signed up for.
Roughly around the 5-mile mark we had hit our first alternate line getting us around some monster whoops leading down into the lakebed and out into some very dusty conditions for the next several miles. We knew better than to drag race the field of entries which was massively dominated by turbocharged machines running almost double our power, but we also needed to make sure we raced where we could see and keep the car as picture-perfect as possible for when the real race started in the rocks on lap 2. As mile 10 started to come into view we made our way into our next alternate line which allowed us to run parallel to the main course for about 5 miles before having to dive back into the deep ruts and heavy
hitting whoops. We continued for the next 25 miles weaving in and out as we could, trying to stay where we wouldn’t have to fight the sharp-edged ruts which become increasingly exhausting as the day went on. Hitting mile 35 we made a quick stop at Remote Pit 1 to top off on fuel and take a minute to refocus before hitting the desert again. As always, our amazing pit crew had us in and out of there in no time and our RMAX was still in tip top shape. The next 15 miles seemed like endless cross-grain whoops and chop and really offered no time to let your guard down, as you could be shot off course and into some hairy situations without notice. As we hit mile 50, we were starting to get back into a much faster paced course, but for us we would still have to fight from left to right in the wide ruts and do our best to keep our machine in one piece and keep our tires from any of the continuing sharp-edged ruts.
RMAX Wins 2023 KOH
For the next 20 miles we found ourselves on the fastest sections of the course which also can lead to some of the most heart breaking disasters. Keeping our heads on a swivel and looking out for traffic and any danger areas on course, we made our way into Turkey Claw. Running this section in the opposite direction of last year would have us going down Turkey Claw, however there is a very ugly, silty, rocky hill climb to even get into this section. Making our approach to the hill climb we would have to drop our RMAX down into 4×4 Lock in Low Range, which we did and wound up making very quick work of it, but it
was still no easy task as this climb was gaining recognition for shredding axles. As we crested over the top and back down into Turkey Claw we spotted a few cars stuck and some unfortunates laying on their side, so we tip-toed our way through the traffic and were quickly out and heading towards the main pit to complete our 1st Lap.
Once we arrived at the main pit, we pulled in for a quick shakedown and topped off our fuel before making our way out to take on the punishment found in the rock trails which litter lap 2. Our team of all- stars in the pit made quick work once again to get our RMAX back out on the track, and with a clean bill of health we were feeling pretty good. We made our way back out into the desert for another 12 miles of bobbing and weaving in and out of the squared off whoops and sharp-edged ruts, finally landing us at the top of Spooners.
RMAX Wins 2023 KOH
As we dropped in for the trek down Spooners, we set our RMAX into 4×4 Crawl and began picking our way down the long, winding, boulder filled trail. This was the point in our race that we had looked forward to as it would shift the tables for us to start picking up the positions that we were not quite able to do in the desert. One by one Chris was calling out the broken down vehicles showing on our tracker, and as we neared the bottom of Spooners we had already regained a handful of positions. Once cleared of Spooners, we made our way over to Outer Limits and began to poke our way up just as we had
rehearsed in days prior. Again, we found ourselves picking off more vehicles as we cleared one obstacle after another, as our Terra Master tires were putting on a clinic in the rocks and dancing through these areas. In no time, we had another handful of positions in our rearview mirror. After making our exit from Outer Limits we were headed towards Remote Pit 2, and with everything still in near perfect condition on our RMAX we cruised right on by, tossing out a thumbs up to our pit crew.
The course leaving Remote Pit 2 would dump us back in near the top of Outer Limits and shoot us across a lot of winding trails with abrupt drop-offs and jarring hard-pack hills, ultimately leading us to the sand hill. Already knowing that we were no match for that giant sand hill, we focused on the rocky terrain just to the East. We dropped our RMAX back into Low Range Crawl and locked in our 4×4 before blazing a brand-new path to the top of the hill and ultimately linking back up with the main course. Clearing the top, we were back into high gear and making our way quickly over to Big Johnson.
RMAX Wins 2023 KOH
As we crawled our way down Big Johnson we managed to pick up another position before dropping into the exit line and making our way over to Thor’s Hammer. This was the trail that had been on my mind all day, as it could be completely piled up with traffic. Entering Thor’s Hammer, we immediately switched back into 4×4 Lock Low Range and began to claw our way through the brand-new trail. Clearing the first section of Thor’s Hammer, we managed to grab a few more spots before coming up on the disaster that was lying in wait for us near the main choke point. Cars were just littered in line leading up the hill. Broken axles, broken winch lines, the result of poor line choices – you name it, and it was happening there. At a point in a race like this, it is hard to not let the frustration take over and result in you making the same bad decisions everyone else was making, but we knew we only had one clean way of making it out of there. Unfortunately there was no way around the fact that it was going to take some time, so Chris was quickly out of the car and putting in some serious work to help get the cars ahead through and out of our path.
Although I cannot remember just how long it took, I know it was at least 90 minutes that we had been stuck in that mess when in all reality we should have easily cleared that section in less than 10 minutes. Keeping our composure once we finally got through, we were back in the car making our way through the 2nd half of Thor’s Hammer, which went smoothly with no further hiccups. As we made our exit from Thor’s Hammer we quickly turned out of there and into Choose Your Own Adventure, which would drop us down into Remote Pit 2 again. This was where we had our last scheduled stop to top off fuel and a
quick shake down, and our team had us on the radios and into the pits quickly. These guys are seriously the best and before we could catch our breath and drink some water, they already had us ready to head back out.
RMAX Wins 2023 KOH
Taking off from our quick pit stop we were back on course and making our way up and dancing across the ridge lines before heading into Dirty Love. I will go on record here to say that there is nothing that I “Love” about this trail and it did us “Dirty” more than once this year, and the beauty marks on our pre- run car will tell that story. Making our way down this trail we knew exactly where to be and where NOT to be, but even with this
knowledge there was some magical tractor beam that pulled us into the worst possible spot to be -staring straight down a canyon… and if we started down this path we were not going to stop tumbling for a very long time. After about a 35-point turn, we somehow managed to get out of that horrible spot and finally back on track down towards our exit. With Dirty Love taking its toll on a few more racers, we were able to reel in a couple more spots before heading over towards Chocolate Thunder.
The hill climb coming up the back of Chocolate Thunder was another tough, deep, silty and rocky mess, so we had decided here again that it was best for us to find a new path to the top and that is just what we did. Arriving at the top of Chocolate Thunder, we shot across the ridge line and quickly down to the bottom before facing off at Idle Issues. Up to this point we had only traveled down Idle Issues, so we were not completely sure how this climb was going to go but without skipping a beat we had our RMAX pointed uphill, and we were out of there and landing on top of Her Problems and heading down. We quickly picked our way down and through Her Problems and headed back out and around to the
entrance of Wrecking Ball. As we began our way up Wrecking Ball, we were navigating through a bit of traffic but at this point in the race, for the most part, everyone was pretty well versed and making good time through the rocks.
RMAX Wins 2023 KOH
Exiting Wrecking Ball we began our next climb up and over to drop us back down into Jack North where we would start our trek back out. Leaving Jack North we had stayed down low and in the washes to make sure we hit all of our check points and it was at this point in the race I was really starting to take note of the fatigue setting in on my hands and forearms from hanging onto the steering wheel while it was constantly getting yanked from one side to the other as you dropped down over the boulders.
Next up on our radar was the multi-line option of getting to the Mailbox located above Sledgehammer. With the choice of either tackling Jack Hammer followed by Stairway to Hell or a few other completely impossible lines for us or to go through Sledge, we quickly settled on Sledgehammer as our trail of choice. Never in any of the years that we have been out for King of the Hammers would you have caught us saying Sledge was our trail of choice, however this year it was the most direct way of getting to where we needed to be.
Entering Sledgehammer, we dropped our RMAX back into Low Range and crawled our way up in 4×4 Lock until we reached our first winch point. We gave it a few tries before hopping out and putting our Warn Winch to work. In no time we had cleared the hang up ledge rock and were headed up to the next choke point which had about 3-4 cars on deck. With the main passage currently plugged up by a vehicle with 2 or 3 broken axles, it had us contemplating a higher risk line but ultimately it would not be our route. Chris was out of the car again helping to clear the path and had gotten the broken car backed down and
out of the way so we could get traffic moving again. After about 30 minutes of this, we had finally cleared Sledgehammer and we were back on our way heading towards Fissure Mountain. As we made our way along the ridge lines of Fissure Mountain the fatigue of the race was starting to take its toll more and more and every one of those jagged rocks and cross cuts were felt through the steering wheel.
Our next task was another brand-new trail called Z-Turn, which was full of left and right hand turns and downhill the entire way. It really did take everything we had to keep the car upright on this trail as we were constantly dropping straight down to the left and then back to the right. Nearing the bottom of the trail and with the exit in sight we ended up in a very uncomfortable off camber position that would have us putting our Warn Winch to work again just to make sure we kept it on all 4 wheels.
Finally leaving Z-Turn we made our way out again passing Remote Pit 2 for the last time as we headed for Aftershock, which is a trail that has caught me off guard many times in years prior. With the combination of fatigue and our previous history in this trail we were determined to hit our marks and clear this cleanly this year and we did just that. Coming out of Aftershock we had a few miles to run out in the washes before heading over to the dry lakebed and back into our final stretch of desert.
As we began to reel in the finish line more and more, the one obstacle that was stuck in my head was the nasty hill climb we would need to successfully make again into Turkey Claw. As we bounced our way through the desert, I found it was taking a lot more focus to keep our RMAX safely navigated in those nasty ruts, but we had finally made it over to the start of Turkey Claw. For the last time we dropped our RMAX back down into Low Range, locked it into 4×4 and began our climb up. Somewhere around the mid-way portion of the climb we hit a point that seemed like we were not going to make it as we dug deep into the silt and slowed down tremendously, but just about as I was thinking about backing out,
our Terra Master Tires grabbed ahold of something and almost like a slingshot, we jumped up out of that hole and quickly got to the top of the climb.
RMAX Wins 2023 KOH
Coming over the top of that hill was the ultimate feeling of relief, and now we just needed to hold it together for the last few miles of the race. Quickly picking our way again through Turkey Claw we were out and back into the nasty last section of the race that brings you back into the short course infield. As we rounded our last few turns of the short course infield, we crossed over that finish line, and it was instant gratification. We had no idea where we had finished the day and, to be honest, it didn’t really matter because we had pulled off a nearly perfect day in our RMAX without a single breakdown, no flat tires and no flopping the car over on our side – it was just a clean day of racing. Rolling up to the finish-
line stage we finally got to let our guard down and relax for a few minutes before singing Happy Birthday to my co-driver Chris Atchley and then finding out that we had won our Class!
Our 2023 King of the Hammers adventure was truly a lifelong memory and a completely rewarding experience after all the hard work that goes into the efforts behind closed doors. There is no way we could have made this happen without the team we have at Weller Racing and the products which are second to none when it comes to fit and finish, function and all-out durability. Working with the amazing team at Yamaha has always been a highlight and this year once again did not disappoint as they were always quick to answer questions and had the support we were looking for when it mattered most. When talking to just about anyone about how outstanding the GBC Terra Master Tires have been, I find
myself sounding like a broken record. The importance of tires in a race like this is so critical it can be hard to put into words, and with that said we have now ran two years’ worth of racing, endless testing and pre running and have still never had a flat tire or been let down by the outstanding performance of them. Continuing our long friendship and relationship with Warn Industries I can confidently say there has never been an instance, in all the messes I have gotten us into, where the equipment has ever failed us and the addition of the Factor 55 lineup has only made our whole experience even better.
As we finally settle in back home, it feels good to take some normal showers and get some much better sleep. Although I am still not going to say we got our redemption, it does feel pretty incredible to finish what we had started and put our Yamaha RMAX where it belongs – on top of the box! We are looking forward to getting out now and just doing some killer exploring.