Inside the 2015 King of the Hammers
King of the Hammers 2015
Welcome to Hammertown! Now in its ninth year, King of the Hammers, located in Johnson Valley in southern California, is considered one of the toughest off-road races in the world. Since 2012, it has also included a King of the Motos competition. Crowds throughout the week are expected to reach 45,000 people. The festival atmosphere of the event is said to be similar to Burning Man, but for gearheads.
Colton Haaker is in the house. With 2014 KOM winner Cody Webb competing in Europe, Colton Haaker, age 25, from Hollister, California, was the favorite for the win. And Haaker -- an X Games medalist who frequently podiums on the AMA EnduroCross series -- delivered. But not without a battle and a few helping hands.
Navigation played a huge role in the 2015 comp. Not only did riders have to tackle some pretty treacherous terrain, but first they had to find it.
Morgan Tanke, age 18, preps her bike.
Ladies in the house
The ladies are in the house. While they weren't big in numbers, the three women who entered the 2015 comp were big in spirit. Before the 2015 race, no woman had ever finished a King of the Motos race. By day's end on Sunday, both Morgan Tanke and Rachel Gutish had crossed the finish line making history. From left to right: Rachel Gutish, Morgan Tanke and Nicole Bradford.
Land rush starts
The 2015 competition was divided into a morning lap of 27 miles and an afternoon three-hour session. During the afternoon session, riders were given three hours to lap a 12.6-mile course as many times as they could. If a rider was lapped by the leader, they were not allowed to make any more laps. As long as they completed one lap (even if lapped), they still earned a finish. And as always, land rush starts made for excitement right away at King of the Hammers.
In the thick of it
It's called "enduro" for a reason. Physical fitness is a huge component in the extreme enduro racing as competitors often have to push their bikes.
Cameron Steele recently finished third overall at the 2014 Baja 1000. Not only is Mr. Steele talented on four wheels, but he can hold his own on two, as well.
Crowd favorite and X Games competitor "Wild" Wally Palmer fuels up after the morning lap. Once the race has begun, competitors can't receive any help except from other competitors. Palmer went on to finish sixth.
Afternoon land start
The afternoon session was another land rush start. Only 56 competitors out of 79 made it to the second half.
It was a battle. How tough was it? Well, 79 competitors started the race, 56 made it to the afternoon session, 44 completed one lap, and 11 completed a second lap. And only five completed a final third lap.
Not a single competitor made it to the finish without some help. Even eventual winner Colton Haaker said at the award ceremony, "There is no way I could have won this race without help from my fellow competitors. You pretty much couldn't make a lap without some help."
It was called "The Waterfall," but this steep rocky ravine in the middle of the course was really a battlefield. And eventually, race traffic created a bottleneck there. It was the toughest section of the course.
Eventual winner Colton Haaker rounds the bend on one of the switchbacks. For most of the afternoon, Haaker battled back and forth with Cory Graffunder and Max Gerston, a former junior national EnduroCross champ. It wasn't until halfway through the second lap that Haaker started pulling away from the two.
History in the making
Before the 2015 race, no woman had ever finished a King of the Motos race. By day's end on Sunday, both Morgan Tanke and Rachel Gutish had crossed the finish line making history. There wasn't much time for Gutish to celebrate, though, as she had to return to DePauw University in Indiana, which she is attending on an academic scholarship. The multitalented woman has a track meet this Saturday.
And it's a wrap. Not only did Colton Haaker finish his first extreme enduro race, but he claimed the King of the Motos crown, as well. For Cory Graffunder, who finished second, it was the first time in four attempts he finished a King of the Motos race. Max Gerston rounded out the podium in third.