Ford, Fox and Fun-Havers
The 2022 King of the Hammers
By Jay Carpio, Fredy Ramirez and Carr Winn
In the 2022 4WP Everyman Challenge (EMC) Spidertrax 4600 Stock Class, the Ford Bronco swept the podium with Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Loren Healy on top, followed by Brad Lovell/Roger Lovell and Bailey Cole/Jason Scherer.
As the SEMA News Team’s SUV hit Boone Rd. from Highway 247, you could feel the energy and the excitement that comes to Johnson Valley just once a year. The King of the Hammers (KOH) is an off-road Mecca, and everyone who loves leaving the pavement comes to this event. For these passionate pilots nothing compares to opening up the throttle across the dessert, or navigating surgically through rock obstacles. The SEMA News Team spent four days looking to connect with drivers, manufacturers and enthusiasts. And for 2022 one word sums up KOH—biblical.
Tens of thousands of attendees (north of 80,000) brought out their off-road toys, their lawn chairs and their winter gear. A literal town formed on site, affectionately known as Hammertown. Food trucks tossed pizzas and dished up poke bowls, while young enthusiasts let their RC cars roam free. The streets of Hammertown are also filled with manufacturers showing off their newest products, as well as pit crews turning wrenches to prepare rigs for their next race.
Next to a stage for bands and DJs, there was a Ford activation area, and a red Bronco that was drawing a huge crowd. The red color was bold, and it was sitting on 37-inch tires. A closer look behind the 17-inch alloy wheels revealed the newest line of Fox shocks, featuring Live Valve technology. There was no mistake about it, this was our first look at the new 2022 Bronco Raptor in real life.
Shelby Hall, professional driver for Ford Performance and granddaughter to off-road racing legend Rod Hall, gave SEMA News a tour around the new model. In fact, she happens to be one of a chosen few with seat time in the new Raptor. She beamed as she talked about driving it for a recent commercial.
“We came out to Johnson Valley and we filmed for three days, and I cannot wait to get more seat time in Bronco Raptor,” said Hall. “It is next level. It’s huge. I parked my Bronco next to it and I was like, man...okay, I’ve got to have two now.”
Hall along with her teammate Penny Dale was actually the first to bring home a victory in the next generation Bronco during the 2020 Rebelle Rally. And up next, Hall is helping develop some training programs geared towards women.
“We want to teach women how to work on their vehicles. We want to teach them how to change a tire on the trail,” Hall explained. “We want to teach them these skills so that they can jump in their Bronco and have an awesome time out on the trail.”
After snapping some pictures and capturing video, the SEMA News team walked into the pit area of another professional driver, Bailey Cole. King of the Hammers was actually founded by Jeff Knoll and Bailey Cole’s father, Dave Cole back in 2007. Bailey says his first attempt at a rock obstacle was probably when he was about six years old. And yet the course changes every year, and this year there was a new twist within the first few miles. He was excited, but admitted it would be stressful from a driver’s perspective.
Shelby Hall, professional driver for Ford Performance, gave SEMA News a tour around the new Bronco Raptor, including a peek at its Fox shocks with Live Valve technology.
“It’s a really big unknown. The first rock trail is two miles into the race,” said Cole. “Turkey Claw right over the hill. And it’s exciting because we get to see how the cars will work in the rocks right from the jump.” Cole continued, “But, if there’s a traffic jam...now we’re in traffic from race mile two. Exciting and a little bit scary all at the same time.”
For this year’s 4WP Everyman Challenge (EMC) Spidertrax 4600 Stock Class, Cole teamed up with three-time King Jason Scherer. Cole was feeling good about the duo and looking forward to opening up their Ford Bronco on the racecourse.
“I’m sure if I make him get out and winch one too many times, he’ll be like, ‘okay,’ your turn to winch and then I’ll hop in the passenger seat,” said Cole. Smiling he added, “You know...it’s going to be a good time.”
Cole couldn’t have been more spot on about the actual race. As this year’s EMC was coming to the end horns began to blare. Sirens filled the air, as the announcer alerted the crowd that an unofficial first place contender was cresting over the hill and barreling towards Hammertown. It was also a Bronco, driven by a different duo that absolutely knows something about having fun. Two-time King, and five-time Ultra 4 champion Loren Healy and Vaughn Gittin Jr. took the checkered flag. Next across the line was Brad Lovell and Roger Lovell, both familiar with standing on the podium at the EMC. And then radios began to blare, Dave Cole’s arms shot into the air, as he watched his son Bailey and Jason Scherer cross the line in third place.
A complete sweep in the EMC by Ford Bronco. The SEMA News team was looking for trends, and this certainly checked that box. Gittin Jr. and Healy took their last obstacle for the day as they drove onto the stage. Monster Energy cans cracked open as Gittin Jr. explained that his job was to run the dessert lap and hand over a clean truck for Healy to get in the rocks.
Raul Gomez of Gomez Brothers Racing was crowned King of the 2022 Nitto Race of Kings 4400 class.
Smiling like only the creator of Fun-Haver can, Gittin pointed at Healy. “He’s amazing. He’s just amazing.” The announcer handed the mic to Loren who was also grinning ear-to-ear.
“All we did was pour VP race fuel into this truck,” said Healy. “I just want to thank each and every one of you guys. All our partners. Two years ago, when we started talking about this. It’s just. It’s just unreal.” The crowd began to cheer and the celebration was just beginning. Gittin Jr. and Healy eased down the stage ramp and were surrounded by media, fans and raised cell phones. All three Bronco teams posed for historic photos and Bailey was more than right, it wasn’t just a good time it was a dream come true on so many levels.
As the sun began to fade, the stage for entertainment came to life. Small bond fires started, beanies replaced baseball hats, and live music all combined to help keep spectators warm. Attendees moved with the beat and some even shared memories about the band closing out this year’s KOH, Pennywise. While the party continued late into the evening, there was still one more race, the 2022 Nitto Race of Kings 4400 class.
The sun started to rise, with the thermometer a little south of 40 degrees. Racing suits were zipped, velcroed and secured. Helmets and safety gear were locked in place. And it was time. The line of 4400 rigs waited their turn at the starting line. In groups of two, they roared out of Hammertown and headed straight for Turkey Claw.
Attendees bundled in blankets and sipped coffee, catching all the race action on the big Jumbotron. Cole was also right about traffic. Drivers fought for good lines to survive the first rock trail at mile two. And multiple vehicles definitely got scratched by the Turkey Claw.
Taking a break from the race action, the SEMA News team went to visit with representatives from Fox shocks. The new Live Valve system had been seen on countless vehicles including the Bronco Raptor. It absolutely checked the box as another trend. Fox Factory Product Marketing Manager Andy Volk demonstrated key features of the new product line.
Three-time King Jason Scherer was only about 15 minutes behind Raul Gomez, taking second at the 2022 KOH. The MC for the event had a microphone that doubled as a wrench, catching drivers fresh from the course.
“What these guys are running is semi-active shocks, the shocks have electronics in them that can actually react to the terrain that they’re running on,” explained Volk. “This is the Live Valve X2 platform. You’ve got two solenoid controllers here that actually control compression and rebound. So as this shock is moving up and down, you’re forcing oil into the reservoir and back again, and we’re able to control that through some solenoids opening and closing.”
As both drivers and manufacturers have continued to experience, the King of the Hammers is a grueling course but also the ideal proving ground for new innovations. To that end, Ford and Fox shocks had enjoyed lots of success this year.
After the product demo, the SEMA News team heard familiar horns, sirens, and even cowbells. A King was about to be crowned. There were many bets about whether a returning champion would take the hardware home again. In a thrilling victory, Raul Gomez took the checkered flag with Jason Scherer on his bumper. The Gomez family had been so close to the crown several times. Many wondered who from the family would take it all the way, Raul, his brothers Marcos and JP, or his son Darian. In the end, Raul was the first in the family to raise the Silver Hammer.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Gomez. “We got second and third last year and we came here to get first place. I put a lot of work in...my heart and soul to make sure we won today.” Gomez laughed, “If I would have got second, I would have just turned around and gone back to my tent.”
Spectators enjoyed watching these Suzuki Samuraies get caught in a rock crawling traffic jam.
The 2022 KOH was surprising in many ways, whether it’s the Bronco takeover of the podium, the newest products on display or the new King, Raul Gomez. Above it all, this was truly an event designed to thrill attendees. The King of the Hammers has certainly grown from its humble beginnings as a sketch on a napkin back in 2007. It’s absolutely the place all off-road enthusiasts gather to share their passion. Further, OEMs and manufacturers have accepted that if your products survive the course, you can expect customers to respond with their wallets.
After four days, it was time for the SEMA News team to head out on Boone Rd. and rejoin the world of pavement. The tires took hold of the asphalt and there was an audible sigh. One member of the team asked the question, “We’re coming back next year, yeah?” Dust trailed off the doors of the SUV and the team all nodded. It would be a sin not to be back in 2023.
The SEMA News team would like to thank Ultra 4 Racing and all the staff, volunteers, manufacturers and attendees for making this year’s KOH historic. Here’s a quick list of contact info if you’d like more information.
- Bailey Cole @bailey_cole_racing
- Vaughn Gittin Jr. @Vaughn Gittin Jr.
- Shelby Hall @shelbyhalloffroad
- Loren Healy @loren_healy
- Brad Lovell@bradlovell44
- Roger Lovell@rlovell32
- Jason Scherer @jasonscherer76
- Fox Shocks @#foxshocks