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For years now JKS has been getting more and more involved in Ultra 4 Racing. From supporting racers in 4600 (stock class) as they put our products to the test, to supporting a race team with Shaun Rajski's 4800-class race car for the 2022 race season we've continued to step up our involvement. King of the Hammers (KOH) is an annual race the kicks off the 2022. Within Ultra 4 Racing, there are a number of classes for stock to modified to unlimited for enthusiasts to get into racing. This year with hundreds of racers battled it out among the different classes through a mix of intense rock trails and high speed desert all while battling for position, navigating an ever changing terrain, clogged trails and more.
This year, JKS's Justin Mclean got the nod to join Shaun as navigator/co-pilot of the #866 car. From the thrash to build up the car, the last minute tuning, 4th place qualifying and race day, it was one heck of an experience for the entire team. Justin gave a recount of it all, check it out below:
"KOH 2022 was a bit different than the previous 4 years I have attended. This year I was offered the opportunity to co-drive the 4800 class car that is sponsored by JKS and driven by Shaun Rajski, owner of Michiana Auto Pros (JKS Distributor). This was a pretty serious opportunity that would allow me to not only provide behind the scenes coverage of the race itself, but also insight in what it takes to compete in the worlds toughest off-road race.
The journey for us started way back in the fall. Shaun was competing in the Crandon U4 race, and having a tough weekend. He had rolled the car twice, causing major damage to the chassis. He capped off that weekend with a 2nd place finish, but also finished off the chassis in the process. A new chassis had to be built if we were to compete in KOH, and 3 months is not much time to build a complete new car, regardless of how many parts are being carried over from the previous build."
For the next 3 months, Justin would travel to the shop to work with Shaun and his team to adapt and build the newest version of the racecar. They had a 2-day video shoot with the RockStarGarage crew and MT tires, and were making great progress. Finally, January 26th came around, it was time to head to KOH!
"When I arrived in the morning, I knew we were not leaving that day. The car had no wiring, no plumbing and no body work. There were many systems in place, and many that needed work. The five of us set to work around the clock from Wednesday until Friday evening to have the car ready. We slept a little, and pretty much lived in the barn finishing the car. At 8:30pm Friday night, we finally rolled out of the driveway. The car had no graphics, no shocks or springs, but it ran and drove into the trailer which was good enough for us."
For the next 40+ hours, the Motorhome never shut off, Justin and the team drove straight through in shifts a little more than 2100 miles to reach Johnson Valley CA, the home of Hammertown!
"Now that we were on the lakebed, the first thing we needed to do was get some shocks and springs on the car and see if it would actually drive. Shaun had ordered springs to arrive at a local shipping depot, so while he ran to get those, the rest of us unloaded the trailer, racecar and Jeep to prepare for the week. Within a few hours, we had the car up on the coilovers and Shaun and I loaded up for the first ride.
We took it easy just getting the car into the desert and feeling what it wanted to do. He gave it a couple of good rips through some rough areas and that was enough information to give us a game plan. The next day we secured 2 shock tuning sessions with Phil Liccardi, better known as “Shock Jesus”. Phil made a couple of adjustments to the shocks off the car, and a few with the shocks on it and we had some pretty solid improvements. We had reused the shocks from the previous car, and the bypass tubes had been re-drilled to suit that cars lack of travel. Now that we had full travel, it was pretty clear that the bypass section of the shock needed to change, but that was not something that could happen on the lakebed, as it involves new tubes and machine work. We would have to live with the rear of the car being a bit upset. This would come back to haunt us a few times later in the week."
The next couple of days were a blur for Justin and the team: prepping the car, finishing up building the car, installing the necessary safety equipment, and fully wrapping a car in the dust at King of the Hammers.
"We passed tech with zero issues and it was now time to qualify. Shaun had really only driven the car for about 40 min total at this point, and qualifying was the first time that the car was pushed to the limits. I strapped in tight and fought back the goosebumps of being out on the course that I had been spectating for years. It was time to go fast!
We blasted out of the gate, and really ripped it up to the rocks section. We had a couple of missed lines on the back side, and had to slow down on the approach to the final jump because we had never actually jumped the car before. We finished the lap and were chatting on our drive back to the pits. We were talking about at least a few seconds that we lost on the course but also happy the car performed. As we arrived at our trailer, the crew was going crazy. We had no idea that we had just qualified #2 so far, in a brand new car, that had never been jumped."
When the dust settled, Shaun Rajski and Justin Mclean ended up qualifying 4th, which set the JKS car up for a great starting position on race day!
"Raceday!! I don’t think I slept much the night before. At 8 am we were going to leave the line in the hardest offroad race in the world. We had packed the car the night before and it would be the first time that all of the trackers, GPS and mapping software would be in use on my side of the car.
We had made a small shock adjustment in the rear to try and help get rid of the pogo-stick situation, so we actually left the pits around 7am and made a quick pre-run before lining up for the race."
"We were as prepared as we could be, strapped in and ready to go. We left the line side by side with fellow MI racer Casey Gilbert. We decided to let him go, and follow along a bit. The dust was horrible and being able to see 10’ in front of us quickly faded away."
Just outside of Hammertown, the car bounced and a flat tire caused several cars to pass them. Shaun and Justin jumped into action, quickly changing the tire and hunting down their competitors. After gaining a few places back they hit the first rock section. Once out of the rocks, it was 11 miles to the first remote pit location, and they passed a bunch more cars along the way. As they charged onward, they began to hear a misfire.
"We noticed the motor picking up a miss, and by the time we reached the pits it was bad enough that we stopped to check it out. What we think was happening was dust and dirt getting past the air filter and messing with the mass airflow sensor, which was causing all kinds of poor readings for the fuel injection. Not much we could do about it there, so we proceeded on, killing the ignition to reset the computer about every 2-3 miles. The next issue was a T-case shifter getting broken off its mount by Mr. Muscle, Shaun. That had us stopped for 5-10 min while we worked out a solution.
Back on the trail and we started picking off the miles and passing cars left and right. We were carrying a pretty good pace, and I was learning the co-driver position on the fly, and really starting to get the hang of the new car and communication systems. We were still having motor troubles, but were moving up the field quickly."
"Race mile 80 and we were making our plans for our first scheduled pit stop. We needed fuel and we wanted to take some extra time to try and correct the issue in the motor. We knew lap 2 had lots of rocks where Shaun is really good in those technical sections, so we could make up any time lost.
We had a nice flat lakebed in front of us, and Shaun had the car running between 65-75mph, we were chatting on the radio about the day and our plans for lap 2 when all of the sudden we hit a serious g-out (think big bump!) The rear of the car pogo-sticked hard, and we were both looking at the ground out of the windshield."
The GPS said 62 mph when they did their first roll. (Photos: Off-Road Lifestyle)
"Onlookers told Shaun we were flipping 20-25’ in the air, and I believe it based on how quiet it got in the car between landings. It seemed like we would fly forever, then a hard thud, and then back up again. When we finally came to a stop, we were laying on our passenger side. Oil pouring out from under the hood and a cloud of dust. I asked Shaun if he was ok, and he asked me if I was. We were both good. Shaun hopped out, and I un-buckled and climbed out of his side of the car.
Once we were out of the car, we knew we were done. We had 2 flat tires, and had sheared a 5/8” Grade 10 bolt out of the rear control arm. We had also smashed all of the coolers (oil and power steering) in front of the car. There was no quick fix for that. Safety crew came and checked us out and we made preparations for recovery. Thankfully Dylan had 2 BDS trucks there in less than an hour and we got the car running and rolling to get back to the pits. It was a disappointing end to what was a very tough but inspiring week.
The ride home was uneventful, and we spent most of our time bench racing 'what might have been' had we not crashed. We made plans, talked trash, made more plans and benched raced 2100 miles back to Indiana."
In the end, that’s racing. Its highs, lows, wasted money, missed opportunities, wild successes, crazy failures and some of greatest memories you will ever make in an RV, 2100 miles from home with 5 gearheads. JKS is proud to have watched and witnessed this incredible race and glad to have friends and partners like Shaun Rajski and Justin Mclean.
"By the time you are reading this I promise we are already counting the days until the KY race and the kick off of the Ultra 4 east coast season. Its going to be a great year!!"
Till next year Hammertown! We learned a lot, laughed a lot, and made memories that will surely inspire greater drive and hopefully a shot at the podium in 2023? Only time will tell..