The winds of change are blowing through the Hammers Kingdom in the Southern California High Desert. The 2011 Griffin King of the Hammers off-road event has become one of the largest gathering’s of Rocksports Loyal court but will need to adapt to growing concerns for safety if it wishes to survive.
In the twilight hours of August 14th 2010 a series of unfortunate events lead to the tragic death of eight off-road enthusiasts at the Mohave Desert Racing (MDR) California 200. The shot heard round the motorsports world injured a number of additional race fans, and touched the lives of every person who associates with Off-road recreation. From the highest reaches of the corporate automotive industry engineers, and marketing executives, to the 4 wheel drive clubs, to the professional, and grass roots racers, magazine editors, and advertising sales, to retail parts outlets and the promoters and land managers charged with reassuring the public that this could never be allowed to happen again.
The MDR California 200 Will take its place among the worst Automobile racing tragedies in motorsports history sharing similarities with the notorious 1955 Lemans disaster where 83 spectators lost their lives when In the third hour a Mercedes driven by Pierre Levegh, traveling 150 mph, clipped a slowed car in front of the main grandstand and hurtled in flames into the crowd. This accident resulted in Mercedes withdraw from motorsports until 1999. Literally facing the end of auto racing, promoters gave new emphasis to spectator safety, and spectator deaths dropped drastically, but even with barricades and safety fencing racing accidents have continued in modern racing history. In 1999 the Indy Racing League race at Charlotte Motor speedway resulted in the deaths of three spectators when debris went over the barrier and fencing. One year earlier three spectators also were killed by debris at a Championship Auto Racing Teams race in Michigan International Speedway.
The difficult task of providing answers falls directly on the shoulders of race promoters and the staff of land use managers and Insurance providers. Sifting through literally volumes of opinions spawned from the informational era where anyone with an internet connection is an expert on how to provide a safe environment for off-road racing proves frustrating at times. Hammerking Productions is fortunate enough to call on a wide variety of industry leaders and forward thinkers, but proven methods of limiting the impact of spectators has been contrary to the belief of multiple use recreation of public lands and in most cases results in the closure of desert areas to spectators entirely during off road races. Historically King of the Hammers has been run on a week day to limit this impact of
recreational opportunity, but with the increase in popularity following the 2010 Griffin King of the Hammers which resulted in attendance numbers in the tens of thousands an strategy to manage the influx of spectators had to be developed.
King of the Hammers developed an emergency action plan in 2009 when spectators started showing up in droves to the quickly expanding Ultra4 race. Partnering with Symons Emergency services the plan of action was expanded in 2010 to include multiple 4 wheel drive equipped ambulances, a EMS manager on site 24 hours a day for the entire week, a full staff of security with a dedicated operations manager, and a helicopter in the air during daytime race activities. Following the 2010 King of the Hammers and armed with data collected from our nationwide events schedule the Emergency action plan started to receive additional changes in anticipation of another increase in spectator participation. The California 200 solidified the need for sweeping changes to the 2011 King of the Hammers. Desert racing is like no other sport in the world. Hemingway hit the nail on the head if he said “There are but three true sports–bullfighting, mountain climbing, and motor-racing. The rest are merely games” I can think of no other form of auto racing that allows the spectator to immerse himself in the environment that is the very challenge of the race. Not penned up in the grandstands, or trapped behind the false security of a chain link fence. The desert is an inhospitable place that conjures images of fear in some. It’s terrain diverse, and extreme. The very freedom that attracts fans of the sport now threatens its very existence. It is unrealistic to imagine miles of barrier installed around the open expanse of a desert racing course, or the scar that would destroy the scenic beauty of the every changing panorama. The challenge of just getting to this remote site is half of the attraction in itself.
Walls and fences will not save Desert racing. A diminished entertainment experience will force our fans away from the races, and if the fans leave so will the industry leaders and race teams. Education is the answer! Like lemmings the human race will follow the lead of the guy standing next to him. If he is standing 2 feet from a speeding race car it must be ok. Sadly this seems the case that happens at Zoo Road in Baja every race, and may have lead to the California 200 tragedy. Please be a proactive participant in the future of off-road racing and help us maintain a safe barrier between the race course and the spectator areas. Follow the rules and educate those that chose to operate outside the guidelines that they are putting your sport at risk.
The 2011 Griffin King of the Hammers(KOH) will require changes favorable to continued growth or risk simply becoming an iconic event that people reflect on as the good old days. “The HDRA Firecracker 250”, and ”The Barstow to Vegas Race”, both come to mind. In 2011 The biggest change will be a KOH course will be a combination of two 60 mile laps. Drivers will be required to traverse each of the chosen trails twice during the race. This will create a new obstacle for the leaders as they may catch the slower race teams and be required to navigate potential traffic jambs There will be approximately five high density spectator areas that will allow the best viewing experience of the rock trails. A number of trails will be closed to the general public, due to the risk of falling rocks or the absence of a safe distance from the track to allow spectators. Open desert section will require a minimum distance from the race course of 100 feet, and the slow paced canyons will require spectators to remain 50 feet from the race course at all times. Spectator assistance is strictly forbidden for race teams and will result in disqualification of any team utilizing help from spectators.
Race teams will truly need to be self sufficient in regards to completing the race course putting to rest the age old debate about what constitutes outside assistance. All future Ultra4 races will require teams to work together if positioned in a manner that prevents forward momentum. The inaugural Ultra4 Stampede gave birth to the largest display of sportsmanship we have ever seen when teams worked together absent the help from spectators. This is a testimony to the kinds of people who race Ultra4 cars. Thankfully they still care enough to help a person finish a race even if it means beating them.
In order to facilitate the education of spectators arriving at the 2011 Griffin King of the Hammers Hammerking Productions has partnered with the California Association of 4 Wheel drive clubs to create the largest education program any desert race fan has ever witnessed. Cal4wheel will man the entrance to King of the Hammers 24 hours a day for 5 days passing out spectator information, race course maps, and making sure that every attendee of the KOH race will know the approved spectator areas, and schedules. Your 2011 KOH race experience will now include a small fee to offset our increased logistics needs. Each person in attendance will be required to pay an entry fee of $10.00. Your entry fee is good for the entire week and includes camping. Entry fees will be a flat rate of $10.00 for one day, one hour, one minute or the entire week. There is no better motorsports value.
A portion of the money collected by Cal 4 Wheel will be deposited in the Jack Edwards Memorial Legal Fund and dedicated to efforts to save Johnson Valley. The Jack Edwards Memorial Legal Fund was established years ago by the Cal 4 Wheel Board of Directors to earmark funds for specific legal and legislative actions to maintain protect and enhance off road recreation activities and access. Cal 4 Wheel is a non-profit organization comprised of clubs, individuals and businesses united in a common goal — the betterment and growth of vehicle oriented outdoor recreation. They offer the best form of responsible off-road education in California, and have an extensive network of OHV leadership to tackle this mammoth educational project.
Our single remote pit location has been changed for 2011, and will be closed to the general public. Pit passes will be required to enter this area. It will be clearly marked and offers very little entertainment value to our spectators. We ask that spectators follow the road closer at this location to allow teams a safe environment to perform required maintenance on their Ultra4 race vehicles. Two lanes of traffic will be marked in this area for race vehicles and we have not facilitated the travel of additional spectator traffic into this area, so please do not attempt to enter the Remote pit area.
Hammertown Main Pit area has historically been a busy place. This area will also be limited to pit team access. You may visit pit areas on foot but the Pit lane areas are limited to race and support vehicles only. Hammertown parking will be limited to the east of the vendor area located adjacent to the road that crosses Means Dry Lake. Please make note of the Race course road crossing located at the entrance to the Hammertown main pits. Your tri-fold event map and schedule will clearly show the location of this road crossing and approved parking areas. Again this year we will have 24 hour onsite security in the Vendor show areas as well as EMS services for the entire week. If you require assistance please look for the location on your site map, and do not hesitate to ask for help. Look for increased law enforcement presence for the entire week oh KOH. Please make special note of BLM requirements for operation of off-highway vehicles. If you are travelling from outside the state you will need a temporary out of state OHV license. The cost for purchase is $30.00 and a dealer can be located at http://www.ohv.parks.ca.gov .
In addition we invite you to view the complete set of spectator guidelines located at www.kingofthehammers.com. The Griffin King of the Hammers event will be held from February 7th until February 11th 2011. Located in the Johnson valley OHV area near Yucca Valley Ca. Hammertown is located at the end of Boone road of Hwy 247. The graded dirt road provides access to plenty of primitive camping spots. Reservations are not required for camping. There are no services, located in the Johnson Valley OHV area. The nearest towns are Lucerne to the north and Yucca Valley to the south, both located on Hwy 247. Visit the Yucca valley Chamber of commerce web site for a complete listing of hotels and related services.