Burning Man for Trucks: 2021 King of the Hammers

  • Despite Coronavirus concerns, the 15th annual King of the Hammers goes off with a bang with stricter safety guidelines.
  • Over 10,000 spectators still flooded Hammertown in Johnson Valley, CA, to watch the races and keep traditions alive.
  • Turn 14 Distribution displays its first booth with a unique Ride & Drive opportunity for spectators to experience.

I’ve heard countless stories, seen hundreds of photos, hell, I even watched a few hours of YouTube videos the night before, but nothing that I did could prepare me for what my eyes were about to witness at the 15th annual King of the Hammers (KOH) hosted by Ultra4 Racing.


King of the Hammers is one of the most competitive and dangerous races in the off-road realm, but it’s the event’s massive and unique environment that garners unprecedented recognition from all around the world. KOH takes place 120 miles east of Los Angeles in Johnson Valley – one of the largest OHV areas in the U.S. with 96,000 acres of sand dunes, boulder fields, and mountains ranging up to 4,600 feet. At the heart of the valley is Means Dry Lakebed, which is converted into a pop-up village known as “Hammertown”. Here is where over 400 race teams converge, and tens of thousands of spectators set up camp for nine days. Commonly nicknamed the Burning Man for trucks, KOH is the epitome of freedom as attendees are unrestricted to do whatever their heart’s desire and their vehicles can withstand (after paying the $30/$40 entry fee, of course). Just don’t interfere with the 10-plus different competitions going on or venture too far off into neighboring military testing zones.


Now that you’ve got an idea of what it looks like, here’s how 2021 went down (just so happened to be my first King of the Hammers endeavor). As you can imagine, organizers received a fair amount of criticism for moving forward with the event due to the Coronavirus pandemic. In San Bernardino County alone, COVID-19 cases escalated above 250,000. With this in mind and the Bureau of Land Management breathing down Ultra4 Racing’s necks, the organizers enforced strict regulations for all registered participants, spectators, and officials that entered the premises. Proof of a negative COVID-19 test was required (or complete a rapid test for $20), plus there were also mandatory temperature checks, face masks, and social distancing. There’s no official number yet, but rumors reveal attendance was down 70 to 80-percent. Don’t get me wrong, with an event that attracts up to 60,000 people annually, that’s still a gang load of people. However, I’m happy to report with my own eyes that most KOH-goers followed the rules. At least during event hours and on event property — night festivities were another animal.


Because I was popping my King of the Hammers cherry, I anticipated what most of you would probably catch on the event’s livestream, which is a lot of professional rock crawling and high-speed desert runs. While there was plenty of that going on, I quickly understood what the spirit of KOH was. It’s a week-long off-road festival that you can’t find anywhere else (reiterate the word “festival”). KOH fully submerged me into a lifestyle that included every flavor of badass whips on all-terrain tires, whether trophy trucks, off-road builds, side-by-sides, ATVs, dirt bikes, you name it. There were instances where I’d be sitting at the main intersection of Hammertown, watching Vaughn Gittin Jr. drive by in a new modified Ford Bronco, tailed by a caravan of side-by-sides about to go on an uncharted adventure. Then a posse of lifted Tacomas heading out to check out the super technical and famous rock crawling section of KOH known as “Chocolate Thunder” would follow. Not to mention those diamonds in the rough, too, like the Mercedes Unimog brought by Bilstein or the Mercedes diesel sedan built by Bryce Ronsonet. KOH was purely awesome to see, and it was to my surprise that it wasn’t just the racing that was astounding but the culture itself.


So how does one go about soaking all this in without showing up in a properly equipped vehicle (like myself)? 2021 marked Turn 14 Distribution’s first booth at King of the Hammers, and it was jampacked with eight supporting vendors on hand — Addictive Desert Designs, AnzoUSA, Belltech, CSF Radiators, Injen Technology, MBRP, Titan 7, and Toyo Tires — plus a hospitality suite, as well as a one-of-a-kind Ride & Drive Experience. The way it worked was simple: show up, sign up for a ride-along experience, pick the truck you want, and a skilled driver will chauffeur you to one of the many attractions of KOH while demonstrating the vehicle’s ruggedness and abilities to handle the outskirts of Hammertown. The arsenal of demo vehicles on hand included Evasive Motorsports’ Toyota 4Runner, Titan 7’s Jeep Gladiator, Injen’s monstrous F-250 XLT, Belltech’s invincible Jeep Wrangler, and there was even a four-seater Polaris RZR outfitted by MBRP you could strap in to go for the ultimate (and dustiest) ride through the desert.


If I took anything away from King of the Hammers, it’s wondering, “Why haven’t I been there yet?” Many of us “car guys” are addicted to going fast and never give 4x4ing the time of day. However, it has become increasingly hard to ignore the booming hundred-billion-dollar industry trucks are becoming, not to mention they’re a shit ton of fun when you’re bouncing off the dunes at speed or climbing extreme angles of hills you never thought was possible. This year, being at KOH was truly an eye-opener and something I’d recommend any performance car enthusiast to go, experience, and appreciate something new. You can bet I’ll be back next year, maybe even with a truck of my own!