2021 CAN-AM UTV KING OF THE HAMMERS
PRESENTED BY PROGRESSIVE: Kyle Chaney leads Can-Am podium sweep
By the staff of Dirt Wheels
The Can-Am UTV King of the Hammers Presented by Progressive is one of the biggest off-road events in the U.S. Last year nearly 60,000 people made their way to the lakebed—the only level and easily passable real estate in Johnson Valley. Leave the lakebed and the terrain turns to sand, rocks or boulders, which is the point to KOH. During a pandemic, many were worried that this year would be canceled like almost all 2020 off-road gatherings and races. The KOH team worked endlessly to get permits, COVID-19 testing and courses planned out. There is a single road in, and a checkpoint required every person entering this part of the desert to have a current COVID-19 test. If you showed proof, you earned a wristband that would allow entry into the vendor area. The Ultra4-sanctioned event is held on federal land, which means masks were required by mandate. KOH worked hard to keep everyone always masked up and in reach of hand sanitizer. Security personnel at every gate ensured all who entered the vendor area were wearing masks for safety reasons. Foot traffic in the vendor area was light enough that it was easy to maintain social distance.
Race coordinators tried to tone down the event and encouraged people to stay home and watch the live feed instead of attending in person. Although Hammertown looked quiet early in the week, numbers grew with each day.
Can-Am and Kawasaki were the only two booths available for demo rides this year, but there was no shortage of vendors present. Can-Am, Monster, 4 Wheel Parts, Method Race Wheels and Optima Batteries were part of the big presence this year.
The lakebed is always jumping with excitement since each day holds new races and the nightlife is always on. Not nightlife-like parties, but night life in vehicles wearing helmets. Challenging sections were visited by ordinary off-roaders attempting to handle the task in their own machines.
Sunday kicked off the week of racing with the Toyo Tires Desert Challenge. This race covers six different classes all racing at the same time, over a 135-mile course, for prize money that totaled $270,000. Kyle Chaney won $10,000 for taking the top UTV spot.
UTV KING OF THE HAMMERS
UTVs have grown into the largest class at King of the Hammers. In 2013 there were 35 entries and three finishers. For 2021 there were 115 UTVs headed out to Monday’s short course to qualify for Thursday’s race. East Coast Can-Am pilot Jay Shaw took first place in his debut qualifier, followed by Nathan Wolff and Ronnie Anderson. 10 in the actual race consisted of four Can-Am X3s and six Polaris RZRs. CJ Greeves was 11th in a Yamaha YXZ. This year’s UTV course bypassed fan-favorite Backdoor, but still included a trip down Chocolate Thunder, Jackhammer, Devil’s Slide and many more. If a section has earned a name, there is no doubt that it is not a smooth sand wash or groomed road.
This year saw a few machines break in the first few miles of the race, but actual crashes or rollovers were rare until later in the day. In 2015 only five out of 50 entries finished the Can-Am KOH UTV race. Despite the difficulty, in 2021, 46 of 109 UTVs finished the race within the 10-hour time limit.
Can-Am swept the podium with Kyle Chaney, Cody Miller and Phil Blurton. Chaney earned $25,000 by winning the UTV King of the Hammers. Last year Chaney dislocated toes and broke his foot when his UTV rolled on him. Despite that adversity, he still managed to finish second in 2020. “I wanted to make it through the desert loop,” Chaney confessed. “It had a bunch of nasty chop in it, and I knew making it through that part of the course was going to be key today. I knew I could get through the rocks, but the desert was going to be tough.” Chaney completed the 121-mile course in just 3 hours and 47 minutes. The course started with a desert lap, and from there the difficulty level ratcheted up as the competitors had to traverse brutal rock-crawling trails that challenged both team and machine.
Cody Miller, 2020’s fast qualifier and brother of last year’s UTV winner Hunter Miller, finished just under 12 minutes behind Chaney. “I was headed up Jackhammer and I saw Kyle coming down, and I knew at that point that he had a very serious lead,” Miller revealed at the finish line. “We pushed really hard but couldn’t catch him. King of the Hammers is just a great team event. A lot of the races that we run are just the driver versus the driver. Out here it’s the team versus the team. All the way from the pits to the passenger seat. It’s a major group effort, and it just brings everyone together, and it’s such a good family environment.”
Phil Blurton rounded out the podium, a follow-up on his third-place finish from last year and his second-place finish at the Toyo Desert Challenge B2 vs. B3 Grudge Match. “There’s nothing like it,” Blurton answered when asked about King of the Hammers. “About every two weeks we’re racing somewhere different, and this race is just so unique. You’re in the desert doing 100 miles an hour, and then you’re in the rocks doing 3 miles an hour, and next thing you know you’re stuck on the rocks and out of the car winching. It is a combination of everything.” Blurton finished 19 minutes back from Chaney, losing valuable time when he got a flat tire and discovered that his jack had flown off the car. “We had to pull up on a rock to get the tire off the ground and get it swapped out.”
Finishing just off the podium was second-generation racer Ronnie Anderson with his big brother RJ navigating. The brothers made it to the very last turn of the race when they caught a rut and barrel-rolled their UTV multiple times. Fortunately, the two were unharmed and still managed to cross the finish line under their own power. The top 10 also included fast qualifier Jay Shaw (driving Hunter Miller’s winning car from 2020), two-time winner Mitch Guthrie Jr., and 4400 driver Jason Scherer.
Casey Currie took his Polaris RZR Pro XP out for her maiden voyage and broke an axle along the second lap, getting help from fellow Polaris driver Sara Price. Currie earned himself an unofficial 20th place.
A few of the Ultra4 racers crossed over into the UTV class. They included the Campbell family, Jason Scherer and Jordan Pellegrino. This year the Kings of Can-Am took on the 4400 class, Cody and Hunter Miller and UTV winner Kyle Chaney. All three earned themselves a spot in the top 20 during qualifying.
The UTV King of the Hammers race has arguably the deepest talent pool in a week of events full of talented racers. In addition to dedicated UTV racers, 4400 stars Loren Healy and Shannon Campbell mixed it up with desert racer Cameron Steele, motocross legend Jeremy McGrath, and short-course racers CJ and Johnny Greeves. To challenge this talented roster, Ultra4 Race Director JT Taylor had the UTVs run the same first two laps as Saturday’s main event, the Optima Batteries King of the Hammers, which runs an additional lap through the most challenging rock canyons.
1. Kyle Chaney (Can-Am)
2. Cody Miller (Can-Am)
3. Phil Blurton (Can-Am)
4. Cody Anderson (Polaris)
5. Jay Shaw (Can-Am)
6. Jacob Versey (Polaris)
7. Mitch Guthrie Jr. (Polaris)
8. Trey McKinlay (Polaris)
9. Jason Scherer (Polaris)
10. Cole Clark (Polaris)