Dave Cole, owner of Ultra4 Racing, promised that this year’s Smittybilt Every Man Challenge would be harder than last. He delivered.
Pros and Joes
The EMC is where the Joes race with the Pros in the rock features of the Johnson Valley OHV Park. The course is a shortened version of the bigger King of the Hammers course with only two competition laps for all three classes. The G2 Gear and Axle 4800 Legends and Rubicon Express 4500 Modified Classes ran a 136-mile course while the Pro Comp 4600 Stock Class ran a 124-mile course. Even so, we would eventually find out just how tough this course was as only 12 of the 137 drives finished within the 5pm plus adjusted start time cutoff. Well, that’s if they didn’t break, anyhow.
Legends and Mods
A major change this year was Legends and Modified Classes qualified on Monday together. They also left together on Thursday morning right at 8am, two-by-two in 30-second intervals. The Pro Comp 4600 Stock Class left nearly 30-minutes later but in the same manner. As mentioned earlier, the cutoff time for finishing the race is adjusted for when the drivers left. So, a driver who left at 8:20am would have to finish by 5:20pm, for example.
Bailey Cole wasn’t able to make it to the starting line for his third starting position. His 4800 rig failed to come out of the gridding to make his start time. So the race started with his spot vacant. While the team tried to get it to run, it ultimately never began its lap. Bailey will start the King of the Hammers on Friday using the same 4400 Class rig that his father used in the 2017 Baja 1000.
For those that do get to the line on time, the mad rush during the start can get the best of many drivers, rookie or veteran. This year, Rick Lavezzo would end up rolling over when he took the second turn too tightly. The 4800 Class rig hit the rut on the inside of the turn and rolled on to its roof. His day wasn’t done immediately but he would end up not finishing the race as he wouldn’t continue on to his second lap.
2010 Formula Drift Champion and a face that’s starting to become normal at the King of the Hammers, Vaughn Gittin, Jr. would also take a hard tumble in the 4500 Class truck named Brocky. After qualifying in the fifth starting position, his race came to an end before he could complete lap one. Just past race mile 12, he hit a rock and the truck rolled over. While he was uninjured, his co-driver was taken to hospital with complaints of back pain but fully alert. The Brocky was also too damaged to be repaired in time for Friday’s King of the Hammers so he will not be racing in the big one.
Brad Lovell Doesn’t Repeat
The day would primarily belong to two drivers, Dan Fresh in the Savvy Off Road/Fox Racing Shocks 4500 Modified rig and Casey Gilbert in the Miller Motorsports 4800 Legends rig. Brad Lovell was making time and was charging to the front. However, a front link broke on his suspension and punctured the oil pan. What most people don’t realize is just how old this rig is – 10 years with 11 races total.
Its age is starting to show and while Brad doesn’t abuse his cars, the Hammers will beat anything into submission. They were able to get a new oil pan installed and limp it back for further repairs to the suspension, but the win was out of the question. He would finish fourth in Legends class and seventh overall.
Jessie Combs Does the Unthinkable
A Pro Comp Stock Class rig has podiumed in the EMC before. However, that last time was the inaugural event with John Currie driving. That’s what makes the overall finish of Jessi Combs in the Savvy Off Road 4600 so impressive. It wasn’t without drama as she nosedived on a feature just before the end of her second lap. It could have been the end of her day, but luck and some skill kept her from going end-over-end. Her overall time was 6:58:24, just over 37-minutes behind the second place overall finisher. While that may not seem all that impressive, she made that time with a class limited suspension, 35-inch tall BF Goodrich Tires, and out driving 116 other cars.
Fighting For First
The fight for first overall was tooth and nail at many parts of the race. There was even a pass on Chocolate Thunder where Casey Gilbert drove around Dan Fresh. Even with all of the shorter open desert sections, Casey just wasn’t able to keep Dan behind him. He would end up taking the class win for Legends but would have to settle for second overall. His overall time was 6:21:40, 6:30 behind winner Dan Fresh.
What makes Dan’s win all the more interesting is that he just came back with a Baja 1000 non-turbo UTV 1900 Class win. However, Dan feels the King of the Hammers is the more impressive race, “This (KOH) seems like a bigger deal to me (than the Baja 1000), I hate to say it because I’m an off-road racer at heart, but the media attention here at KOH and the amount of people out here and then the course is just brutal, you have to come out and try it.” Will he be back for 2019? “Coming from an off-roader, now that I’ve done this rock crawling thing, I can say these vehicles are amazing. They made an addict out of me big time.” His overall time was 6:15:47.
An Impressive Race, Right To the Finish
With a high-attrition rate, you’d think that the Smittybilt Every Man Challenge would be the last thing anyone would do. However, that allure of being able to finish something that not many can do is attractive to many. With 137 vehicles, that attraction appears to continue to grow. While there wasn’t a repeat, we did get an amazing finish with each class winner taking a podium spot overall. Finally, Jessi Combs brought back some pride for the Pro Comp Stock class racers by taking third overall, against all odds.
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