February 7, 2015 (Johnson Valley, CA) – 215 miles and almost nine hours after he left the start line in Hammertown, USA, Randy Slawson, owner of Bomber Fabrications, crossed the finish line for his second Nitto King of the Hammers title in three years. Considered the toughest one-day off-road car race in the world, KOH has one of the highest attrition rates of any off-road race. 2015 was no different. On Friday evening at 10 p.m., only 17 drivers out of 129 had made it to the finish within the 14-hour cut off.
“Last year I had a lot of pressure because I had won the year before and I really pushed the car,” said Slawson, who broke down in 2014 and ended up finishing 9th. “I wanted to bring this thing back and prove itself. And man can it take a beating.”
From the start, Slawson was at a disadvantage. After posting a mediocre qualifying time, he started off the line in 45th—23 rows back from eventual second place finisher Erik Miller, who went off the line first. He then had to chase down competitors through rocky trails like the infamous Backdoor (a treacherous rock ledge), Wrecking Ball, Clawhammer, Devil’s Slide, Jackhammer, and Chocolate Thunder, just to name a few.
Slowly, he picked off drivers. In front of him, the lead kept changing as drivers suffered mechanicals. First it was Miller that led, then Clay Gilstrap and then Greg Adler. Slawson had his own share of problems, too. On lap two, he ran out of gas. His brother Mike – his co-driver – had to run a mile all the way back to the pits to get fuel for their car. Still Slawson put his head down and carried on.
It wasn’t until he started heading up Spooners – the rocky terrain where he excels – that he moved briefly into the lead and then settled into second behind Miller. In a race where first and second place can be separated by large margins, Miller and Slawson were essentially neck-and-neck. Miller had about a ten-minute physical lead, but since Slawson had an 11-minute disadvantage because of the start, his time would eventually be adjusted.
But it didn’t need to be. At mile 198, after running an incredible race out in front, Miller lost his steering pump. While his pit crew was able to repair the car in a remarkable 15 minutes, the misfortune put Slawson into the lead which he held until he crossed the finish line just at 6 p.m.
Slawson is now the third driver to win King of the Hammers twice. What is most remarkable is that KOH is his only event of the year. Where Slawson really pushes the sport is behind the scenes, turning wrenches and building Ultra4 cars in his garage. In 2015, Bomber Fabrications had 10 cars in the race. While many of his competitors showed up in 2015 with brand new single-seater, IFS cars, Slawson stuck with what he knew best—a straight axle and a co-driver.
If King of the Hammers is all about the guy who builds and labors over a car in his garage before coming out to test it against his competitors, Mother Nature, and most importantly himself, then perhaps no driver epitomizes that more than Randy Slawson.
Now in it’s ninth year, Nitto King of the Hammers has grown from a grass-roots one-off race into a week-long experience where spectators spread across the landscape to watch the best of racing and car innovation. In 2015, 428 teams (including the King of the Motos competitors) from eight countries and over 30 states competed for various bragging rights. While Slawson was ultimately crowned King, it was the blood, sweat and tears of hundreds of competitors and the enthusiasm of the fans that made Hammertown a success.
Top 5 Finishers
2015 Nitto King of the Hammers Presented by 4Wheel Parts
1. Randy Slawson
2. Erik Miller
3. Levi Shirley
4. Wayland Campbell
5. Derek West
Five former Kings returned to KOH in 2015, but only two finished: Slawson (2015 and 2013) and Miller (2012). Interestingly, they were the only two with straight axles and co-drivers. The other three Kings opted for single-seater IFS cars. Both topics continue to be debated for those planning race strategy.
Loren Healy: After winning KOH in 2014 and then dominating the 2014 Ultra4 series with his new car the, “Red Dragon”, Loren Healy was the favorite for the win in 2015. Instead, he flipped his car trying to make a pass around Clay Glistrap at high speeds on the first lap. 20 miles later, his 4-wheel drive went out, and he went back to the pits.
Jason Scherer: Also debuting a new car in 2015—a single-seater IFS built by Fishmouth Fabrication—Scherer, who won KOH in 2009, posted the fastest time in qualifying, but broke his transfer case 90-minutes into the race.
Shannon Campbell: Papa Campbell (King in 2008 and 2011) is always a favorite at every race, but on the second lap going up Back Door, he had problems with his compressor relay. While he fixed it and went on to make it through Spooners, his tranny then started to overheat. Because two of his children were in the race (son Wayland, 19, and daughter Bailey, 18), Campbell took his car back to the pits and called it quits. He said after that he knew if his crew was helping him, then they wouldn’t be able to help Wayland or Bailey.
Campbell Family: Shannon’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain as both Wayland and Bailey went on to have stand-out races. Wayland, who was actually battling for the first half of the race with his father, went on to finish 4th—his best finish in three attempts.
Bailey, who was the only woman driver in the event, didn’t make the 14-hour cut off, but she did drive the entire 215 miles of the course and pulled across the finish line at 12:45 a.m. Just finishing was a testament to her perseverance and determination. While no woman driver has ever earned a finish at KOH, don’t be surprised to see the young Campbell do it in years to come.
Second Place, Erik Miller: Representing the East Coast, Erik Miller (2012 King) dominated much of the 2015 race from the get go. He only lost the lead twice. After lap 1, he suffered a flat tire and briefly gave up the lead to Clay Gilstrap and then Greg Adler. He then moved back into the lead again right after Spooners and held it until mile 198—when he lost his steering pump. While his pit crew was able to repair it quickly, Randy Slawson overtook him. When the race was over, an exhausted Miller proclaimed, “We didn’t leave anything out there.” Meaning, he put everything he had into the race—heart and soul.
Third Place, Levi Shirley
22-year-old Levi Shirley from Dodge City, Kansas was the only driver on the podium who drove a single-seater IFS. Shirley dominated on the European Ultra4 scene in 2014, but only had a best place finish of 19th at KOH before 2015. Things clicked for Shirley on race day, though. While he wasn’t without his share of problems, Shirley’s positive attitude kept pushing him along. “I kept telling myself, ‘don’t stop, just keep moving forward’. I wouldn’t let myself give up.”