For 10 years Yukon Gear & Axle has been a part of the toughest one-day race on the planet, King of the Hammers. It began as a group of friends, all heavy off-road builders, that met in the dry desert outside of Joshua Tree, California, just 50 miles east of Los Angeles. In those days it was about climbing the toughest trails over boulders the size of a Volkswagen Bug, and the loser bought the beer.
From there the party grew. King of the Hammers is now a city of people from all walks of life. They come in motorhomes, campers, towing motorcycles, quads, side-by-sides, Jeeps, Toyotas, Samurais and even lifted limousines. Making the trek to Johnson Valley is awe-inspiring, it’s The Burning Man of off-road racing.
Last year, more than 60,000 people came from all over the world. Some to watch, some to race. On the lakebed, more than 400 teams participated. It was an attendance record for King of the Hammers. This year with COVID issues and California leading the nation in cases, the race went on with heavy mitigation rules. The event didn’t disappoint. The overall crowd was down but only to an estimated 40,000 spectators and again more than 400 race teams participated.
King of the Hammers is a full day race, encompassing more than 300 miles through the desert and on trails. Drivers are in their cars by 6 a.m., lining up and waiting for their turn for the green flag. Racing begins at 8 a.m. The fastest cars can finish in five to seven hours with many working all 12 hours before timing out just to finish. For most, there is no podium, just the personal satisfaction of finishing the race. Making the full distance is quite an accomplishment. In Friday’s event, 123 cars started but only 35 finished.
Team Yukon is comprised of 12 race teams all in different classes. These are the guys we put our money on to hit a top finish. Beyond that, you can’t turn your head around in the pits and not find a Yukon decal on a car. On the track, teams of race cars begin each race and qualifying run, goosing the throttle over the Yukon Launch, a jump mere yards off the starting line. Yukon is the official sponsor of the 4500 Modified Class and each year owns the real estate in the front row of all racing pits. Each pit flies U.S.A. and Yukon flags to drape the desert with respect.
In the Yukon pit, we show up with parts and a full garage to rebuild diffs so we can provide tech assistance to whoever needs it. It doesn’t matter what product they’re running; Jason and Brian were there to fix it. Yukon saved team after team that had broken parts, limited drivetrain experience, and/or no replacement. We get them back on the track saving them from what looked like a long drive home. Ask anyone out there, and they’ll tell you it’s about the racing. The more cars in the race the better. Teams and competitors are friends and willing to help, yet fiercely competitive behind the wheel.
When it’s the toughest race in the world, your parts have to be good. Better yet, your parts have to be great! Many manufacturers try King of the Hammers one year and are never seen again. The cars run the desert at speeds of 140 mph and hit boulders and dry waterfalls taller than the walls in your home. Yes, things break, but every year we’re back and the calls keep coming for our parts.