2016 King of the Hammers Race Recap

Team Torq Locker #4610 Race Recap:

TORQ Locker

I find myself sitting in the shade beside the Salton Sea, my race brain has faded. Our daily pace has slowly returned to normal, and I have finally found a moment to reflect on what can only be described as the all-consuming tornado that is The King of The Hammers Race.

We started building a new car December 1st. Most of our parts had arrived by then and we had a solid plan.  A 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited for the Stock Class, Every Man Challenge. This was the perfect event to showcase the strength and quality of the new Torq-Locker by Torq-Masters Industries, the maker of the Aussie Locker by Torq-Masters Industries

The months of December and January were non stop fabrication made possible with our Miller Electric Welders and Plasma Cutters. Many parts had to be custom built in-house, like the 2” diameter Ultra4 spec roll cage, brackets, supports, gussets, etc. then welded onto the vehicle along with our Clayton Off Road suspension brackets sitting on custom Dana 60 Axles from East Coast Gear Supply.

Our team and friends worked feverishly to get the car done by our proposed departure date of January 24th. Our home base in Rochester NY is 2500 miles away from Johnson Valley, CA where the  King of the Hammers has been held for the last 9 years. As with any new build, we were a few days behind schedule. It's always the little things that add up. Driving out of the shop door for the first time on Sunday night January 25th meant two things, we had no time left for a shakedown run, and we needed to start packing the RV and trailer because we could now head west with a running and driving race car.

We left Rochester on Tuesday January 26th around 2pm. The drive west was uneventful.  Our spirits were high and tension was low despite our level of exhaustion following the 2 month marathon build.
After a quick stop in Lake Havasu City for non ethanol gasoline we arrived on the lake bed and started the long process of setting up camp 3 days after leaving NY.

Our friends and teammates Michael Maskalans and Mike Abbatte had already arrived, hauling 2 cars. Mike Abbatte with #572, a single seat car in Fridays unlimited class race for the second year in a row. #928 unlimited class car belonging to the Garafalo Brothers Race Team, their first time competing in the King of the Hammers.

Saturday the 31st was dedicated to last minute adjustments and some shakedown runs before our shock tuning session with Brian from ADS Racing Shocks. Brian and his crew were awesome, we can’t say enough about them. They gave us the personal attention we needed as this was our first time racing in the desert. Their crew made some rebound adjustments in the rear, raised the nitrogen pressures all around, and it was a whole new car. Now we were ready for some pre running.

JT Molder and his wife Stephanie representing Nemesis Industries and J.W. Speaker Corporation were on hand to help familiarize my wife and I with the trails. JT was originally from the area and would prove to play an instrumental role in getting our team ready for race day. We desperately needed seat time in the new car along with learning as much of the rock trails as possible.

We managed to get in just over 60 miles of desert and 2 runs up Chocolate Thunder before realizing we had an issue with our front ring and pinion, ending our pre running 36 hours before the green flag dropped on race day.

My wife Cora once again showed her resourcefulness, by not only finding fellow racer Chris from CalROCS to help with the new gear set up, but she managed to have Brook from Revolution Gear & Axle hand deliver new gears to the lake bed. It was now 15 hours before the start of the race. We had all hands on deck until midnight when we finally filled the differential with gear oil and went out for a test drive.

With 4 -1/2 hours of sleep, no breakfast, and nearly freezing temperatures, we backed the car out of our pit tent and made our way over to pre grid. Our confidence was high, and our spirits were soaring. My wife and I were about to take part in a life experience that we have both only dreamed about. Thumbs up and High fives as we rolled up the starting line... 3, 2 ,1 and Cora put the pedal to the metal to begin the rest of our journey.

Lap one would take us out on a 70 mile desert loop filled with deep sandy hill climbs, high speed dry lake bed sections and a few goat paths barely wide enough for a UTV. Cora set a good pace and we started clicking off miles.  We immediately noticed the lack of horsepower from the bone stock 4.0 liter Jeep engine. It had 179k miles on the clock. We shifted gears and switched between 2wd and 4wd in an effort to try and keep the engine in the power band. The desert loop was long and isolated as it crossed onto the nearby marine base. We were very pleased to see our engine and transmission temperatures sitting at normal, thanks to our custom built Flex-a-lite aluminum radiator, electric fan and heavy-duty remote transmission cooler. We rolled in and out of Pit 1 for the second time with no issues on our way back to Hammertown to start lap 2 just a few miles away.  At Main Pit our crew topped off our fuel as Cora and I swapped seats. Our crew did an amazing job putting this car together and it was beginning to show with only the slightest wrenches to turn to get us back to 100%.

The first 10 miles or so of desert trails before the rock sections gave me the perfect amount of time to settle in. We ran through the first few rock trails smoothly. Cora and I have both spent a lot of time competing and wheeling in the rocks on 35" tires, up and down the east coast. Cora first got out of the car to spot me at the water fall on Wrecking ball, and then again on our way down Jackhammer which had some of the largest obstacles we had seen on course so far. Throughout the rock trails we pounded our aluminum Billy Rockers by Nemesis Industries. Not only did they do a great job of protecting our body, they allowed us to pivot on rocks during the tight turns. Something we hadn't planned for was the need to be more aggressive on the rock trails. We lost a lot of time waiting in bottlenecks for broken cars in front of us. Now we know how fast those minutes add up. As the sun began to set we soon realized we were quickly approaching the 6pm cut off time. We passed race mile 85 and check point 8 at 5:49 pm, only to find out it had already been abandoned by its workers.

We pulled out of Pit 2 for the last time, flipping the power switch to every J.W. Speaker Corporation light we had, and then we knew we could actually finish. Our hearts raced with only one rock trail left to conquer before the 20 mile loop back to the finish line. However, we soon would be met by course marshals telling us to turn around 6:02 pm just as we approached the entrance to Aftershock.
First came the inevitable feeling of disbelief, followed by the disappointment that we had come so far and would have to turn around just a few short miles from the finish line.

That all changed when we rolled back into Pit 2. Our crew was still there. Huddled around a campfire, in the pitch black, eagerly awaiting our return in order to congratulate us for what we had achieved.
The drive back to Hammertown was filled with recollections of the days events. We had zero break downs, zero winching and zero marital stress. Our thoughts turned to how we could have driven faster and saved time by not doing this or that. But that’s racing. It’s a constant lesson on how to improve for next time. KOH 2016 was no exception. We drove a conservative race in an effort to try and finish. Little did we know that halfway through lap two we were only 1.5 miles behind the leader. Final race results would show that no teams had finished before the 6pm cutoff and that we would have placed 5th, had we all crossed the finish line.

Our list of improvements for next year is short. But our list of great memories from this year is endless.
A very special thank you goes out to our family, team and friends as well as our partners for their continued support in everything we do.

Erik Jokinen ,Co-driver Cora Jokinen  Owner/Driver #4610 Team Torq-Locker JeepTorq-masters Industries

With much gratitude, we give thanks to our Family, Friends, Crew and Partners:

Miller Electric Welders
J.W. Speaker Corporation
Nemesis Industries
Clayton Off Road
ADS Racing Shocks
Coyote Enterprises LLC (Staun)
East Coast Gear Supply
Mountain Off Road (M.O.R.E)
Solid Axle Ind.
Corbeau Seats USA
Raceline Wheels
Liquid Iron Industries
Currie Enterprises
ATS Diesel
Advance Adapters Inc.
Adams Driveshaft & Off Road
Rugged Radios
Ultra4 Racing