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Code 3 Off-Road KOH Race Recap

Preparing for the King of the Hammers race has been a
monumental undertaking for Code 3 Offroad.

Here are some highlights of our Journey to the Hammers.

 

Prepping for the 2018 King of the Hammers Every Man Challenge was double stressful for Heather and I. Up until this point we had been going to races with everything on a flatbed trailer and sleeping in a tent or renting a trailer. While we don’t mind sleeping in a tent, spending three days and nights at each race without showering and not having access to sanitary restrooms is not fun. Renting trailers is expensive and a bit of a hastle. We eventually purchased a toy hauler but it was going to need a lot of work to make the race car fit inside of it. We had to remodel the interior to free up four feet of cargo area as well as fix any problems it already had.
 
We didn’t have a lot of time to prep our race car, know as Thelma, for a grueling race and also remodel our new-to-us toy hauler. Heather and I put in some insane hours trying to get everything ready. We managed to get enough ready to leave for the Johnson Valley lakebed, although a few days late.
 
We really wanted to be on the lakebed Friday to run Thelma a bit before qualifying and make adjustments as needed before qualifying on Monday. I was also hoping to get some seat time for my co-driver, Rich, and I since we were not familiar with Johnson Valley. We didn't make it to the lakebed until Sunday evening so we didn’t have time to run Thelma.
 
Practice for qualifying started early Monday. We made it onto the course but our first attempt at the rock hill proved to be too much for our front axle. We snapped the axle shaft on the passenger side. We managed to get three laps in and went back to our camp. I was losing hope we were going to make qualifying but our crew chief, Dan Wyrick, motivated me to qualify with the broken axle. We ripped out the broken axle and stuffed the tube with some rags to hold the oil in.

 

When it was our turn to qualify, I didn’t push as hard as I wanted knowing I already had a broken axle. We managed to qualify 11th overall which would put us in the 6th row off of the starting grid.

We had a couple days and thought we only needed one new inner axle on the short side. However, when we pulled the rest of the axle apart, we found the inner axle on the long side was bent and the Mega Hi9 ring and pinion was missing teeth! Terrible news as I knew Mega Hi9 is a specialty item and would be almost impossible to find in less than two days.

I put out a call for help over social media and started going team to team to try to find parts. We were striking out and hope was slipping away. Dan had a guy in the Sacramento area that could make some axles but there was no guarantee they would arrive in time for the race. Then I talked to some of the guys at the Currie camp and they were confident Currie in Corona could build some axles in day. All I needed to do was be at Currie as soon as they opened on Tuesday and give them some measurements.

With very little sleep, Heather and I made the 2 hour drive to Curiie and arrived when they opened. The salesman at Currie almost immediately told me the 300m double splined competition shafts couldn't be made before the race. I asked if it was possible to get basic one piece chromoly shafts made before the race. The salesman brought out a machinist who gave me some hope and said it could be done before the race. However, they wouldn't be done until Wednesday.

We went back to camp and started prepping the front end for the rebuild. I had one bolt that I could not get out of the broken two piece axle so we visited the Ruffstuff Specialties booth for some assistance. They said sign in and go to work, so I did! With some help, I used their welder to weld a nut onto the stripped bolt and get it out without damaging the competition yoke.

We still needed to fix the ring and pinion so we went looking for parts again. While we were desperately trying to find a replacement ring and pinion, someone sent me a message on Instagram and said they had me covered. I couldn't call this guy fast enough. Once I got ahold of him, he told me his name was Tyler and he had a complete Mega Hi9 he had just purchased from Eric Miller and it was still in Eric Miller's trailer. Tyler told me to use it for the race, fix it if it was broken, and give it back. I was ecstatic and couldn't believe a total stranger would help me out like that. It's a testament to the offroad community and their willingness to help each other!

 

We raced over to Eric Miller's camp and I was so excited I didn't realize I was interrupting a photo shoot! After the photo shoot, Dan went with Eric into the trailer. When Dan walked out of Eric's trailer with the Mega Hi9 I needed I almost had to sit on my hands to keep from clapping! I knew we were going to be able to fix Thelma and race on race day. We went back to camp and continued prepping Thelma for the race.

Again with very little sleep, we drove back to Corona to get the axles. The axles were not ready so we went to get some camel packs, which we had forgotten at home, and some new gear oil for the front end. After about two hours, we returned to Currie and picked up the new axles. We raced 90 miles back to camp where Dan and Rich had already installed the new Mega Hi9.

We didn't have the right tools to put the axles and CTM joints together but the guys over at Jack Racing we're kind enough to allow us to use their tools. Once the axles were together we raced back to camp to reassemble the front end. Thelma’s front axle housing has been slightly bent since I purchased it so it took some persuasion in the form of a wood block and a 5lb mallot to get everything back together. Never the less we got it all back together. By this time it was the night before the race and had already gotten dark. Since the new gears were literally new, we needed break them in. I took Thelma for a 20 minute drive to heat up the gears before going to bed. I needed to get at least a little sleep before our long race. Dan was kind enough to stay up run the car through a few more cycles in an effort to break in the gears. The rest of the pit crew also stayed up doing last minute prep and organizing gas cans for all the pits.

Race day came before we knew it. No pre-running, no tuning of any kind, zero experience with navigation, and a driver and co-driver that had basically seen none of the Johnson Valley trails but Thelma was complete and ready to race!

We made a plan to race our own race, keep the car on all 4 tires, and not lose any tires. I knew we weren’t going to be the fastest in the desert but I am pretty comfortable in the rocks. When the green flagged dropped, we raced Lumberjack off the line to put on a little show. That was the only time we raced anyone but ourselves during the race.

The first lap went well. We kept what I thought was an ultra conservative pace but we managed to pass a few cars. I was chomping at the bit to light the fire and go fast but Rich kept me racing smart. Rich and I went over the gauges, how the GPS was working out, and we talked about other random things to prevent too much silence help keep me from getting tunnel vision. We took gas at Main pit and took off for lap 2 and the rock trails.


We had no idea the insane trails that were ahead of us. I did my best to pick my lines and keep momentum to get through the rock piles as smooth as possible and without flattening any tires. We had zero issues with the first few trails and even stopped to pull another competitor off of some rocks.

We picked our way through several trails, including the popular Chocolate Thunder without any issues. Not long after going up Chocolate Thunder Thelma started sputtering and then stalled. I tried to restart the motor but then we lost all power. Rich and I got out to look for the problem. It took me a while but I realized the main breaker had popped. After resetting the breaker, I found the fuel pump was not working. A look at the fuse box and I immediately realized the relay block had melted. I was able to rig it and make it work again. We finally got the engine fired but by that time Jeren Gunter had caught up to us and made the pass. We battled overheating wiring and failing relays for the rest of the race. At one point the fuel pump relay completely melted and was no longer usable. I had to take relays from other less essential components and use them to keep the fuel pump working. Each time we had to stop for overheating wiring, we would wait 5-10 minutes before being able to start the engine again. We swapped positions with Jeren several times during the rest of the race. Each time we would see each other, either he was stuck on a rock or I was having wiring issues.

We had to winch on Outer Limits (I think) in lieu of beating on Thelma and also on Spooners when I took a bad line and we got high centered on a large rock. This is where Jeren passed us for the last time. Once we made it out of those insane rock trails and into the desert we had to stop two more times to let wiring cool down. In addition to losing time with wiring issues, we were only able to get to about 45 mph across the lakebed due to a damaged rear driveline. At that speed the car was vibrating violently.

Coming into Backdoor we could taste the finish and I was literally petting Thelma and trying to talk her into getting us across the finish line and then she died, again. The wiring issues were becoming more frequent and we were starting to smell race fuel. While we were waiting for the wiring to cool down one last time, Rich jumped out to try to find the fuel leak. I was just hoping the wiring wouldn't melt down completely and a fuel leak wouldn’t take us out before the finish. Rich couldn't locate a fuel leak and after a few minutes I fired her up and we continued to move forward.

Fatigue and dehydration was setting in for sure. We hadn’t really had any real food or sufficient amounts water during the race. You don’t really think about those things when you are in race mode. Going down Backdoor for the last time, I didn’t pick the best line and nearly flipped the car over. Coming over Short Bus and seeing Hammertown was amazing as I knew we were going to finish.

Coming into the short course Rich kept telling me not to roll the car! I was in no condition to try to show off anyways. Taking the checkers was surreal and we still didn't know how we or anyone else had done.

 

Ultra4 owner Dave Cole approached us before we pulled onto the finish ramp. Our conversation was a bit of a blur. I only remember Dave saying something about my driveline being pissed off at me and smelling fuel! We were so dehydrated and just physically and mentally tired, everything felt kind of like a dream.

After talking to Dave, we stopped for a moment to talk to our pit crew. We learned we had finished 5th overall and to my surprise we were 3rd in class!

On the finish ramp, I immediately had a camera in my face and I was doing an interview. Two things I have not gotten used to and I was not prepared for. I tried to name all of my sponsors off the top of my head but forgot to thank some. I'm very appreciative and thankful for all of my sponsors. Being a Grassroots racer I need all the help I can get to keep this racing dream alive!

After coming off the ramp, Thelma didn't even make it back to camp. The front axle locked up solid about 50 ft from camp. I don't think we could have gone another 2 miles in this race!

We stuck to our plan, kept the car on all four tires, didn't flatten a single tire, and raced our own race. Sticking to the plan earned us podium finish, a 3rd place trophy in the 4800 Legends class, and 5th Place overall in the 2018 King of the Hammers Everyman Challenge.

WHAT A WILD RIDE!!!!!

I really appreciate DV8 Offroad supporting my team and my racing dream! I've attached some pics from the race.

Respectfully,

John Lay
Code 3 Offroad
San Diego, CA