February 8, 2016 (Johnson Valley, CA) – Erik Miller used an old fashion approach to win the 2016 Nitto King of the Hammers. He drove the same straight axle car he has raced the last four years. He came back with the same co-driver–Rob Ruggiero–he’s teamed up with since 2009, and he talked about “racing conservatively” in pre-race interviews.
Seven hours, 30 minutes, and fifty-five seconds after he left the start line on Friday, Miller proved that his formula was exactly what he needed to claim his second Nitto King of the Hammer’s title.
“It’s been three long years,” said an emotional Miller after the race. “I’ve been dreaming about doing this again since we won in 2012. We’ve been right there every single year, but then we’d have a problem.”
Then, to cap off his victory, Miller did the most old-fashion thing of all. In front of hundreds of fans and thousands of viewers watching online, he got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend of two years, Leah Light. She said yes.
2016 was the 10th version of Nitto King of the Hammers and 110 competitors from seven countries and 39 states took the line for the 176-mile race. 31 drivers finished. All former Kings returned to the roster in 2016 except for JR Reynolds who won the inaugural event in 2007. With Miller’s win, a total of four drivers have now won KOH twice: Shannon Campbell (2008 and 2011), Loren Healy (2010 and 2014), Randy Slawson (2013 and 2015) and Miller (2012 and 2016).
Off the Line
Jason Scherer and Loren Healy, who finished 1-2 respectively during qualifying and were both racing single-seaters, were the first two off the line. The two battled in the desert portion and were the first two to make it back to their pits after lap 1. Throughout the race, there were four lead changes.
–Scherer led to remote pit 1.
–Healy led from race mile 31 through the first lap.
—Tom Wayes led from Boulderdash, right after lap 1 until right before the lap 2.
–Miller picked up the lead at the start of the third lap and never lost it until the finish.
Miller was 27th off the line, and it wasn’t until the start of the third lap that he took the lead both physically and with adjusted time. “I had no idea where we were in the race,” said Miller, who said the team didn’t change a tire all day and only winched three-times. “I will be honest, I was surprised when I saw a couple of checkpoint guys hold up a “1” and I was like, ‘where did they go?’ I don’t remember passing anyone.”
It wasn’t a totally flawless run, though. “We took it easy on the car which was our strategy. The only real mechanical we had was at the top of Sledgehammer. We had a drive shaft issue, and we couldn’t go over 20 mph. Then right in the middle of fixing it, the car pops out of gear, and we start to roll off the ledge. I was scared for my life.”
Campbell Family Consistent and Solid
The only woman driver on the 110-man roster, 19-year-old Baily Campbell, had an incredible race moving from 33rd off the start line up to an impressive 5th—right behind her father Shannon. “That was one rough ride, no joke,” said an exhausted Baily, who was racing a straight axle two-seater. “I couldn’t have done it without my co-driver Terry.”
Baily takes classes at community college and is a successful portrait photographer. 2015 was her first KOH and while she completed the course, she finished after time. She contested the Ultra4 series in 2015 with a quick learning curve. She says what’s most helped improve her driving, is doing her own car work. When she’s not in school, she’s turning wrenches in her father’s garage.
Overall, it was a good day for the Campbells. At one point, it looked like all three (father, son, and daughter) might make the podium.
Despite breaking a rear axle shaft on Backdoor during the third lap, Shannon Campbell battled his way back to fourth and almost took down Ruiz Gomez, who earned his first podium in 2016, in third.
Brother Wayland Campbell, 20, was competing in a single-seater by himself for the first time (Shannon’s car from 2015), and he actually moved into second place on the third lap. Unfortunately, Wayland broke a drive shaft on Sledgehammer. While he was waiting for a replacement, he helped winch both his sister and father up the trail. Wayland is studying civil engineering at a local community college and also has a job building UTV cages for Ride Now. He went on to finish 15th.
Jason Scherer was blazing fast in his single-seater and if it weren’t for a small hiccup right after lap one, he likely would have won. The mechanical cost him right around 45 minutes. “Things started overheating. I’m not really sure what it was,” says Scherer. “It’s probably going to be the story of a two-dollar radiator cap that failed and let some water out of the system and the next thing you know we were overheating. I had a great group of guys at pit two and they diagnosed it, and we fixed it. Then we were back out there and in the hunt.”
Second place wasn’t the win Scherer was looking for, but a great start to the rest of the Ultra4 season. “We came down to Johnson Valley twice before KOH and spent 300 miles pre-running the rock trails and got it dialed in. You can’t be disappointed with second, and I’m really happy to start the season with it because we are going to go hard for the championship.”
Loren Healy Goes Out By Third Lap
Healy actually built a two-seater straight axle for 2016, but the engine blew during pre-running. When he pulled up to the line on Friday, he was back in his single-seater IFS car called the “Red Dragon”. The only race the Red Dragon didn’t win in 2015 was KOH. Healy was fast in qualifying and through the first lap. Unfortunately, soon after, he tossed a belt and had to walk an estimated three miles back to his pit to get a jumper box. He didn’t finish for the second year in a row.
Slawson Finishes 8th
A two-time King, Slawson was also a favorite for the win in 2016. Unfortunately Randy, who was competing in a straight axle with his brother Michael, didn’t put their car’s computer back in the right way at the start of the race. It took the first lap for the brothers to figure out what happened. While they made a good rally back, 8th place wasn’t likely the finish they were looking for.
MacCachren Captures 13th
Desert legend Rob MacCachren said he started hearing about this “rock crawling thing” out in the desert about ten years ago, and he took his first stab at KOH in 2010, but he didn’t finish. He also competed in 2015, but again didn’t make it to the end. Finally, 2016 was the charm. Driving Larry McRae’s Poison Spyder Jeep, MacCachren crossed the finish line in 13th— 11:27:02 after he started.
“I’ve been racing off road for 30 years,” said MacCachren. “I do short course, did the Mickey Thompson series, I just won the Baja 1000 for the second time, but this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done to finish. It’s a testament to how tough it is out here.”
1. Erik Miller–7:30:55
2. Jason Scherer–7:55:32
3. Raul Gomez–8:23:57
4. Shannon Campbell–8:26:18
5. Bailey Campbell–8:45:18
6. Jason Shipman–8:49:15
7. Brian Caprara–9:09:41
8. Randy Slawson–9:22:48
9. Macy Higgins–10:49:52
11. Clay Gilstrap–11:22:54
12. Eric Miramon–11:24:34
13. Rob MacCachren–11:27:02
14. Travis Cook–11:33:04
15. Wayland Campbell–11:33:26