Richard "Goatman" Gauthier
Team NAXJA finishes 7th in the 2008 King of the Hammers race
We had one hell of a time, and exceeded all of our expectations. Finishing in 7th place was awesome. We really didn’t know what to expect ahead of time, I was hoping to make a clean run and finish in the top 20. When we got there and saw all of the well built and bad ass rigs we just hoped to finish the race clean and see where we ended up. To snag a top 10 finish is thrilling. Our whole team is really stoked.
Before I get into some race details, I want to thank our crew. First, thanks to Dave Taylor and Paul Sinclair, and Garry Hall, for getting us into the race. Thanks to Paul for being co-dog and helping with all the pre-race planning and work, and for being willing to be thrown around in the passenger seat for a few hours. Thanks to the guys who helped work on the rig ahead of time, Cal Tuttle, Andy Couch, Matt Strmiska, Eric Geye, Robert Gonzales, Joe, Daniel Fleming, Cliff, Jack, and Randy. Thanks to our crew at the race, Cal, Dave Taylor, Matt Strmiska, Andy Couch, Tony Rojo, Grant Barclay, Chris Johnson, “Jump this” Rick, and to Steve Hamilton and Mike for driving down to be there if we needed them (I hope I didn‘t miss anyone). And thanks to our sponsors, Rigworks fabrication, JE Reel Drivelines, NAXJA’s 25th Anniversary Celebration, Maxxis tires, CTM, the Blue 52 gang, Pro Auto Sales, and those of you who sent something to help us out with expenses. All of your help and efforts are very greatly appreciated. Thanks also to Scott Hilton for the use of the helmets and to Barry Hopfe for the firesuits.
The King of the Hammers race is the first ever of it's kind, combining rock crawling and desert racing in one marathon race. The course consisted of about 15 miles of rock trails and 30 some miles of various desert terrain. The Johnson Valley trails that we ran were Aftershock, Sunbonnet/Hell's Gate, Sledgehammer, Jackhammer, Wrecking Ball, Clawhammer, Big Johnson, and Outer Limits.
We had a few pre-race issues to deal with, got it off the trailer and the trans wouldn't shift. After messing with everything we could think of, including changing out the solenoids, it ended up being the TPS, probably wasted it steaming off the engine right before we left. Paul, Cal, and I had a nasty day working on it in the rain, wind and mud. We also had an axle seal that started leaking so bad we felt we needed to fix it, so we pulled the axles and carrier out, then could get a seal. We wraped duct tape around the axle, greased the seal up good, and it held. We ended up not getting to pre-run as much as we would have liked.
Race day morning we had to start lining up around 6:30, and it was breezy with a few sprinkles. After some light rain early on in the race the weather was pretty good. We drew 18th starting position, and the start was in 30 second intervals. We took off and the first few miles were really rough, then we went through a sandy section, then out onto a dry lake bed for a few miles of flat out running. I heard an air line break, so new we lost one of the lockers. After a long run down the old SCORE track, with lots of vaious sized whoops, we turned up into a wash and got to pit one at mile 16. The crew fixed the rear air line and gave us a little gas, but we got passed by quite a few rigs while working on the air line. We took off and in a couple miles hit the first trail. We got passed by two rigs, but then got in a groove and started passing other rigs on the trail. We turned to go up Devil's Slide but got caught behind an F toy, ran down Hell's Gate and passed a few more rigs, then headed out into the desert for some more rough stuff and the biggest whoop section of the race. We were staying with one of the better set up rigs for desert running (Drew Burroughs) through the big whoops, so that got us excited.
We headed up the out of Sledgehammer, not knowing what lockers we had, and caught and passed Drew right after we started down Sledge, then hauled and passed another rig after the mailbox right before starting down the lower section of Sledge. We figured out that we had lost both locker airlines, but figured we could get up Jackhammer and down Jack North without them, then get fixed at pit 2. Unfortunately, one rig rolled a big assed rock in a narrow spot on the trail, and we broke the rear driveline trying to get through. We backed up trying to get out of the way, then didn't feel so bad when the next few rigs through had as much trouble as we did and they had lockers that worked. This created quite a bottleneck, with rigs stacking up behind the rigs trying to get through. Paul got a strap around a big rock up the side of the canyon and we winched ourselves out of the way, after getting on the radio to Tony and letting the crew know that we needed the spare driveline. Meanwhile, Drew got hung up in the same section and broke his rear driveline, so he backed up and used our strap to winch himself out of the way, so we were both up the side of the canyon replacing a rear driveline. The guys got there and put in the spare, and fixed both front and rear airlines, which had melted from the excessive heat of running hard.
We got off the winch, got buckled back in, and headed up. A yellow D90 buggy was struggling getting through that same spot, and after he hesitated I gunned it drove over his front tire, getting a cheer from the crowd. Just up the trail we passed Becca Webster, then passed a couple more rigs going down Jack North. At pit 2 we were doing fine, but the crew stopped us to check the driveshaft u-bolts, then we were gone. We gained on Jack Adams and caught him at one of the first obstacles in Wrecking Ball, he took a bad line, we darted behind him, and we were off. We had a clean, quick run up the trail and then came to the crowd waiting at the waterfall at the top of Wrecking Ball, where we never hesitated and drove right up the waterfall and made a quick line through the last squeeze getting some good air under the left front tire but never slowing down. We later found that only a couple rigs even did the waterfall, most going around it.
We headed down Clawhammer, passing another couple of rigs, hit the check point and passed another rig on the way to Lower Big Johnson. We had clean run up the Johnson's, never seeing another rig, and made it to pit 3 where we got 5 gals of gas. The crew told us we were doing good, in the front of the pack, since not that many rigs had come by and a couple of the leaders were broke. We headed out for Outer Limits and headed down, the only section of the course that we had never done before (going down), and made a clean run, passing JR and another rig broke halfway down. We hit the next to last check point with nothing but open desert left, the guys there gave us the thumbs up that we were doing well, so we put the hammer down for the last 18 mile run back to the finish line. Our crew had come out from pit 3 to see us go by, which was nice as they cheered as we flew past them. We saw dust way off in the distance, and as we made the sharp left turn to head out onto the lake bed we saw we had caught Dean Bullock. We followed him for the run across the lakebed and into the rough last few miles, and got a chance to pass him about 2 miles from the finish line. We knew we where ahead of him, since he started ahead of us, but we could go faster so we did. Paul and I were both talking sweet to the rig hoping she would hold together and bring us home. We crossed the finish line and found out that we were the 7th rig in, virtually guaranteeing us a top 10 finish. We ended up placing 7th by time.
Everyone was pretty stoked, and we were flying high and very excited. One of the race organizers came over to congratulate us, saying we made a great run. We visited with Shannon Campbell a little, as he thanked Andy (Porch Puppy) for welding him up at pit 2. Later, we had a quite a party in Andy's toyhauler celebrating with our crew, some of the SoCal gang, and the Blue 52 guys.
What an experience!!
Richard "Goatman" Gauthier