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West Valley City Journal

Locals race at King of Hammers

Feb 24, 2017 10:16AM ● By Greg James

Rawlin McGhie from Taylorsville ran his buggy in the 4400 class at the King of Hammers off-road race. (Rawlin McGhie/McGhie off road racing)

By Greg James | [email protected]
The largest Ultra4 race in the country has several competitors from right here in Salt Lake City. The King of Hammers off-road race was held on public lands in Johnson Valley, California, Feb. 4–10. The event includes motocross, UTV, every man’s challenge and professional division races.
“I have been down to help other drivers and watch several times,” said Matt Murphy, better known as ‘Murf  Dog’ by his friends and competitors. “This will be my first time as a driver. I do not have any experience as a driver.”
Murf Dog is from West Jordan and races his brand-new, custom-built Jeep in the 4800 class of the Ultra4 racing series. The King of Hammers is the opening race of the season held each year in the California desert. It is considered the Super Bowl of off-road racing.
Murf Dog qualified eighth-fastest in his class. He finished in 9 hours and 41 minutes. His race was marred by a flat tire right at the beginning that he never recovered from.
Robby Flandro, or Captain Rob as he is known to his friends, finished just 16 minutes past his cut off time, but officials are reviewing his placement because he stopped to help a driver with an emergency fuel leak. Flandro is from West Valley and competes in the 4800 class.
“(King of Hammers) was awesome to see. We wandered around and watched the races all week. I can’t wait to go again next year,” Taylorsville residents Louie Herold and Ed Rappleye said almost simultaneously, talking about their trip to the race. “We just acted like we knew what was going on and had lots of fun.”
The race began in 2007 as a dream by its founders Jeff Knoll and Dave Cole. The competitors start side by side, two vehicles every 30 seconds. Each team must pass through several checkpoints and can never stray more than 100 feet of centerline on the race course. The driver with the fastest elapsed time is declared the winner.
The race attracts tens of thousands of fans, racers and sponsors to the two-week-long event. The dry lake bed becomes a thriving city. Mechanics, racers and fans roam from car hauler to temporary garage. Each one preparing his car for the 100-mile grueling off road desert race. The event is broadcast over a live internet feed to more than a half a million viewers each year.
The course is outlined for competitors through GPS coordinates. It combines stretches of dry lake bed. The cars can reach speeds of 100 mph. It also includes rock climbing through mountainous terrain.
“Each racer has a time limit to complete the course,” Murphy said. “I think the rocks are going to be the hardest part. I just hope I can finish. I figure I have about $120,000 into my car.”
The race has evolved from 12 cars racing for bragging rights to more than 300 teams registered for the event this year. Cars from around the world have been shipped in to participate. It has become the largest off-road race in North America.
“This is my first time driving King of Hammers,” said Taylorsville resident Rawlin McGhie. “I have worked two other times as a pit crew. I am just going to try to keep the car together and finish. I have so many sponsors and friends that take time off work to come and help me.”
McGhie was the 2016 Dirt Riot National Series point champion. He raced in the 4400 class. He did not finish the event after he lost power steering. He drove the car nearly 26 miles using his winch to steer the car but was unable to make the repairs to resume the race.
“It was not the race we had envisioned,” McGhie said. “We will be back next year better prepared for sure.”
Shannon Campbell from Gilbert, Arizona, was the overall winner. He finished the course in 6 hours 46 minutes.