JOHNSON VALLEY — A new king was crowned at the King of the Hammers race Friday: Josh Blyler conquered the 212-mile course and overcame a nail-biting rollover late in the race to win in his Miller Motorsports buggy.
The King of the Hammers is considered the toughest one-day off-road race in the world, pushing man and machine to their breaking point. The race includes punishing desert terrain and some of the most challenging rock-crawling trails in the world.
The leader of the race changed over a dozen times as competitors succumbed to mechanical issues, putting fans on the edge of their seats.
Last year’s winner, Jason Scherer, jumped out to an early lead before transmission failure ended his day, opening the way for two-time KOH winner Loren Healy. When driveline issues hampered Healy, second-generation racer Bailey Campbell took the lead on lap two. A water pump issue took Campbell out of contention, but her father, Shannon, brought her the parts she needed to finish the race in 22nd place.
At that point, Cameron Steele was leading the race in the Lasernut buggy, but a broken steering rack dashed his hopes of winning.
Blyler, who started out the race several miles behind leaders Scherer and Healy, started making up some of the time with his fast rock climbs in the first lap and continued with this strategy throughout the race.
In the third lap, he pulled ahead but as he crossed into Backdoor, one of the last landmarks in the race, he flipped his car.
“We knew we were leading, we knew we were doing good, and we drove it in there too hot, too hard, like a bunch of idiots, and just like that we were on the roof,” Blyler said.
“Jared (Byler’s co-driver) was scrambling. He couldn’t get out. We finally got out, and as he was hooking the winches up he said, ‘Don’t wait on me when we get you flipped!’ and I didn’t.”
Leaving his co-driver at Backdoor, Blyler pulled out of the rocks and raced to the finish line to secure his win.
Erik Miller of Miller Motorsports finished in second place for the third year in a row, securing more podium finishes at the Nitto King of the Hammers than any other driver.
“I’ve never been this happy to be second place, and I couldn’t have lost to a better guy,” Miller said.
Miller battled electrical issues in Jack North that cost him half an hour of time, eventually receiving help from fellow competitor Jeff McKinley. He was one of only 44 of the 97 competitors reaching the finish line within the 14-hour time limit.