The BDS team arrived in Hammertown a full week before the EMC race at King of the Hammers. A week might seem like a long time, but to prepare for this race takes months, and that last week is when the course maps are finally made public, creating a scramble to pre-run as much of the course as possible, all while tuning the truck for top performance based on the different sections of track that are being used each year. Team 4502, led by driver Kevin Sterns, had yet to finish the worlds hardest off road race, so the strategy this year was just that. Finish the damn thing!
With that in mind, meticulous preparations were made to the 700+ horsepower beast throughout the week. An early morning photo shoot in the rocks showed signs of a problem in the power steering system. After 2 pump changes, 3 servo replacements and a full rebuild of all components offsite (3 hours away) the power steering on car 4502 was performing as designed. Once that was sorted out, it was on to shock tuning.
You might think it is odd to shock tune each year (or even multiple times throughout the year), but the fact is, for top performance you must adjust the truck to the conditions of the desert as they are that week, as well as compensate, or make changes based on improvements or upgrades to the truck. This year, the truck received a new set of lighter axles both front and rear, and that is always going to result in a different tune on the shocks. A few quick passes in the desert was all the team from FOX needed to see what changes needed to be made. Once back in the pit area, the rear bypass shocks were removed from the truck and taken to the onsite FOX support trailer to have the internal adjustments made. In less than 24 hours, the shocks were back on the truck, and we were back in the desert to have the team evaluate the changes. The truck looked fast, and Kevin was pleased with the way it was handling!
After a morning prep run on the qualifying course, it was time to go through contingency, and finally hit the track. Looking for a top-10 starting position is always important, as traffic in the rock sections always play a factor in the race, and can literally make you or break you come race day. Unfortunately, the power steering system was not done with us yet! As the truck accelerated on the course, the power steering pump locked up ejecting the serpentine belt on the 700+ horsepower Tilden Motorsports prepped Chevy. The end result was a DNF in qualifying, and a 74th starting position. Not ideal…
In the wake of the qualifying disaster, the team regrouped, and tore into the truck. The problem pump was taken to the steering masters at PSC, and in no time a solution was determined and the truck was back together! A few test runs proved that team 4502 was on the right track, and the truck had not been happier!
Rolling off the line in 74th was not ideal at all, and probably the hardest part for the crew was watching the 73 other trucks leave the line and knowing, out there in the desert and on the rocks, traffic jams were forming and Kevin would have the push the truck hard in the desert to try and make up ground. Finally, the time came and the truck left the line. Not too soft, not too hard, Kevin was driving it just right. Remember, finishing the race is key. When the serpentine belt decided it had enough at race mile 17, all of that went out the window! The spare belt was installed, and Kevin turned into a monster! The crew was waiting at main pit for the first scheduled pit-stop of the day, with the late start and the belt replacement we figured we had some time to kill. We were wrong. The top 3 trucks came through the pits, as about 40 min after they had left, we heard the call on the radio that team 4502 was about 2 miles out! WOW, how fast did they run that first 91 miles? How many trucks did they pass to get here? All of those were good questions, but they really did not matter, as it was game time for the crew to get fuel in the car, strap a spare belt on the roll cage, and swap co-drivers for the rock section of the race. The pit-stop was flawless, and the truck was back on the track, and the crew was moving on to the 2nd pit location of the day.
Pit 2: We arrived at pit 2 about an hour after the team had left pit one. We figured we were there about ½ hour early, with enough time to set up a pit location and make sure everyone had their assigned tasks for what was going to be the final stop of the day. We waited, and waited, and waited.. still no sign of 4502. The top three came in, and few others came in, and a few dropped out right there. Still, we waited. It seemed like hours went by (in reality it was only about 1-1/2 hour). Then, finally, over the ridge came 4502. As excited as we were just to see the car, we needed to focus on the task at hand. When the truck stopped in the pits, it was clear it had been through hell and back again, and was begging for more. Somewhere along the course the truck had a head on collision with a lost spectator in a very new Toyota 4-runner. The 4-runner lost for sure, but it slowed 4502 down just enough to get caught in a big traffic jam on one of the rock trails, hence the reason for the long delay. None the less, the truck was fueled, we strapped another belt on the roll cage (we really thought belts were going to be an issue, but the spare never failed) gave it a once over and off they went back onto the race course.
The first portion of the last leg of the race was going to be the determining factor. The Outer Limits trail was one of the hardest rock trails on the course this year, and in pre-running, neither the driver or the co-driver really enjoyed or felt they had the absolute best handle on it. With rock crawling master Stephen Watson from Off Road Designs co-driving, we had the best shot of getting through clean as ever. It was about 30-40 min after leaving pit 2 that we heard on the radio that 4502 driver Kevin Sterns and Stephen Watson had cleared the Outer Limits. This was it! We knew he was going to finish, I mean there was still some smaller rock trails, and 30+ miles of desert, but it was going to happen! As we headed to Hammertown, no one really wanted to say anything, as if mentioning our excitement would somehow cause the truck to fail and not complete the course. We made our way through the massive crowd and headed to the main stage. As we watched the live feed, there he was, truck 4502 clipping through the desert, still picking off positions and making his way home. As Kevin crossed the finish line, a massive weight had been lifted off of the truck, the driver and the crew. He finished King of the Hammers!! It just so happens that the BDS sponsored 4502 is pretty fast, as with all the setbacks, and rolling off 74th, he finished in 4th place! Not a single flat Nitto Tire, not one bent Dirty Life wheel, FOX shocks ready for another 100+ miles of abuse, and all the fluids cooled thanks to C&R, the truck was back in Hammer town to one very happy crew!!!
With the big one out of the way, the truck is being cleaned and prepped for the rest of the Ultra 4 season, and will be making a run at the season championship! Stay tuned, as we will be updating the progress and attending the races as often as possible.
Photos by Friese Images