We Visit the Nitto King of The Hammers Powered by Optima Batteries! Or, the Idiot's Guide on How Not To Go Off-roading

by Mike Kojima


So we were ecstatic when Nitto Tires and Hellwig Products, makers of cool suspension stuff and supplier for several of MotoIQ's truck project suspension goodies, invited us out to the desert to spectate the Nitto King of The Hammers Powered by Optima Batteries off-road race. Although we are newbs to the whole off-road truck thing, we know enough to have heard of the event and know that it is an extremely tough test of man and machine, combining the rigors of both off-road desert racing and bolder crawling together in one event.  

Boulder Crawling is tough enough, but to do it at speed in a wheel to wheel race is pretty insane.  The race is so tough that more trucks DNF than make it to the end, and it is perhaps the hardest off-road race around- at least in North America. The trucks, or whatever you might call these machines, are very sophisticated, as not only do they have to go through rock gardens, but they have to do it fast as well as go fast from rock garden to rock garden.

With cool tech and tough racing, this is something we just had to see for ourselves. One thing though, to a man, although the MotoIQ crew is pretty damn good around cars, we have mostly just seen trucks as tools to move our racecars around. We don't know anything about off-roading and now we were going to go out to the desert and do just that.

Being pretty busy, we didn't really research much or do any prep other than throwing our camping gear into the back of Project Tundra and Project Toyota 4-Runner. After all, this was not going to be hardcore off-roading and we have all driven down dirt roads and stuff, how hard could this be?


So after a few hours of freeway driving and then going down some dirt roads, we arrived at the Johnson Valley KOH area. This is some BLM land that had been put aside just for off-road driving.  It has some very challenging terrain. 


Arriving at the event and after picking up our media credentials, we first went to go check out Hammertown. Hammertown is like a huge temporary city in the middle of the desert. It is the home of 70,000 plus people over the course of the event, yes that many! One of the takeaways we got is the off-road truck market seems to be much bigger than the performance car market in our area!  No car event can get these many people in our part of the country, much less get them to drive out to the middle of nowhere and camp in primitive conditions! 

Hammertown has a bustling vendors row shown here and pits, worthy of a small trade show and thousands of camping spots as far as the eye can see. At this point, our jaws were dropping. Tons of humanity and trick trucks everywhere.


Here is a part of the Vendors row. The big white tent is the media center, and people are camped all the way to that hill in the background!

After checking in, we made our way to the Hellwig Products camp. Hellwig was kind enough to host us for the event and lodged us in comfortable toy-box trailers. The team at LGE CTS Motorsports kept us fed and the libations flowing all day, and night, long. These guys really know how to have a good time the right way in the desert!


Here are some more of the mobile accommodations at the Hellwig camp courtesy of Lance Campers. This really beat sleeping in tents in the cold and gave us a break from the ever present dust and sand. The Lance Campers and toy boxes were seriously the difference between us desert newbs being miserable and enjoying a pretty unforgettable event.


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Wednesday, February 21, 2018 8:25 AM
Sounds like you all needed a Project VehiCross to show you how to carve up some trails...

Also, SUPER jealous the 4Runner gets a V8 while my Tacoma gets stuck with a puny V6. Really excited for when the OEMs start dropping V8s into their midsize trucks. I know for a fact it's coming, just can't say when...
Wednesday, February 21, 2018 10:50 AM
FWIW, you should be able to download a GPS app on your cell phone, and most map apps (Google Maps, Orux Maps, etc.) have offline modes-- you can download maps before you go into the boonies.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, February 21, 2018 11:51 AM
brian, nice to know!
Thursday, February 22, 2018 7:00 AM
This year was my first time at KOH too! We should have met up and learned together! Plus I have a winch. I went solo and camped...not as much fun. I too feel that now knowing what to expect will lead to a much better time next year. Like making solid meetup plans with people now knowing that trying to dind friends amongst 70,000+ people spread out across miles of desert without cell reception is...tough...
Thursday, February 22, 2018 1:03 PM
Mike, I love my Viair compressor. Been using it for Project S2000 for track days and all my vehicles for airing up years. I leave it in my DD. They have a bunch of different sizes. Their headquarters is in Irvine too:

And for GPS, you can download google maps of whatever area you'll be in, so you don't need signal. That's what I did when I was in Italy, just downloaded the map.
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