JOHNSON VALLEY — This year’s Griffin King of the Hammers off-road vehicle event attracted more than 30,000 people from all over the world.
Shannon Welch of Ultra4 Racing, the event’s organizer, said by phone Friday that last weekend’s race had more people than in 2011 and far fewer incidents than previous years. Competitors and spectators come from all over the world to take part in the extreme terrain race event.
“We had competitors from Australia, Japan, Iceland, Belgium, all over,” Welch said.
The week-long event drew to a close Saturday, Feb. 11, the day after the big race. This year, 24-year-old Erik Miller of Cumberland, Md. took home the $250,000 first place prize in the King of the Hammers match. Miller and 134 other drivers competed in the off-road race.
“He’s our first east coast king, he’s also our youngest, I think,” Welch said. “He’s a pretty dedicated driver. He’s actually still in college too.”
Racers in the event use rock crawler vehicles to climb over steep, rocky slopes on a 165-mile long course in Johnson Valley’s OHV area.
The area, comprised of Means Dry Lake bed and surrounding rugged terrain, makes up 50 percent of the state’s designated OHV area.
“Johnson Valley is very special. This whole type of racing has evolved because of Johnson Valley. It’s one of the largest off-road vehicle areas in the country. The reality is, because it’s (Bureau of Land Management) land, you can have several desert races on it,” Welch said.
The King of the Hammers race led to at least one injury. A driver and passenger had to be airlifted for medical treatment after crashing on the course. Welch said both are recovering and “expected to make a full recovery.”
Sgt. James Porter of the Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station reported another rollover vehicle accident, in which a juvenile passenger was transported to an area hospital after being ejected from a Rhino.
The driver, 34-year-old Danny Medley of La Quinta, was arrested just after 9 p.m. for driving his all-terrain vehicle while intoxicated. Medley’s passenger was a female juvenile who was thrown from the Rhino when it rolled. She was taken to Hi-Desert Medical Center with moderate injuries, Porter said.
Medley was also transported with minor injuries, but not before putting up a fight. Medley fled the scene on foot after the accident, Porter said. Deputies tracked him down in a nearby area and arrested him.
King of the Hammers yielded fewer injuries than past desert races in Johnson Valley.
In August 2010, eight people were killed and several more injured during a desert race in Johnson Valley, put on by Mojave Desert Racing. The BLM eventually admitted fault for not providing adequate staffing at the event.
This year, BLM staffed the event with rangers from Barstow, Palm Springs, Redding and Boise, Idaho field offices. As a contract of their permit, Ultra4 provided private security, a helicopter and OHV ambulance.
Rangers responded to 12 medical incidents and issued six citations for drug offenses, according to Porter. The sheriff’s station assisted the BLM in responding to incidents during the event.
BLM rangers and sheriff’s deputies responded to several calls for missing persons and at least one search and rescue call, in which a driver was stuck.
Sheriff’s personnel at the event were paid for by Ultra4 as part of their contract with the BLM, Porter noted. Other funding to cover law enforcement costs associated with the event comes from grant funds, not tax dollars.
“Overall, it was a pretty orderly event without really significant problems,” Porter said by phone Thursday. “There was a pretty significant law enforcement presence. From our standpoint, the organizers did a really nice job.”