An Every Man Story

From a rusty 4Runner to finishing the King of the Hammers EMC

Story and photos by Taran Halarewich, additional photos by Pathmaker Productions and Fawn Nornberg

off road racingWe all get delusions of grandeur once in a while, great ideas of epic adventure or heroic attempts at competition. Several months prior to the KOH (King of the Hammers) a good friend of mine, Karl, talked about doing the Smittybilt EMC (Every Man Challenge). Like most crazy ideas, this was at first conceived through long sessions of BS and Jack Daniels. Little did we realize that come the dark raining night of the 6th of February, we would find ourselves dirty, bruised and battered, but crossing the finish line of the KOH.

Back in October, we hit the Island with a few buddies and rigs for a Rock Krawl event put on by Corey and his crew at West Shore Spring. Karl featured very well, especially for his first event, placing first in trail class. I guess this is where it all started; the plans were laid to attack the KOH.

I had an ‘87 4Runner kicking around the shop. Karl had been planning to build up a crawler and this seemed like the best fit, so Karl, our buddy Jordan and I got to work. Karl has a family so he wanted to keep the five seats in it so everyone could still fit. The idea was to have a mint reliable trail rig to enjoy the outdoors – and compete at the KOH.

The truckThe truck had extensive body rust so we tubbed the back and at the same time bobbed the rear. We knew stability would be key and built it with a low center of gravity, an SAS swap and frenched in the front hanger for the suspension and rear springs as well. We got the rig at a real nice height and then added all the typical Toyota drivetrain goods like dual lockers, beadlocks, and upgraded gears and axles. We built up the Toyota diffs to be bullet proof. We did a disc brake swap on to the rear, which would make the rear shaft quick and easy to remove in the event of snapping a shaft.

By now, with KOH two weeks away, like many in the same situation, it didn’t seem like there was any way we were going to make it. There was still so much to do and so precious little time left in which to do it. But when Karl said, “Lets do this,” our motivation peaked and we made a plan of attack factoring the work ahead and travel time.

Stock seats are not permitted for the race and suspension seats must be tied into the cage and frame. So, I fabricated some tube, mounted five-point harnesses, a kill switch, door bars, window net, a GPS unit and fresh air pump. I'm a "big” guy and having to “Dukes of Hazard” it out as often as I will need, I fabricated up some half doors. We then added a spare tire mount in place of the rear seats, added mounts for spare drive shafts, fluid and toolbox.

The BF Goodrich KRT’s we run have a compound too sticky for a desert style tire, so we robbed my wife’s 4Runner of its Truxxus Super Swamper’s with TrailReady beadlocks. I didn’t have any spares so Rob from North Shore Off Road was nice enough to help us out and hooked us up with two new spares.

4x4 racingFor two weeks, we worked long into the night to get this build ready for competition, but it was all coming together. We finally had it all done the night Karl had to leave in order make it to registration on time. He was on the road by 9:30 and started the long trek down to Johnson Valley, California, but he’s a logging truck driver, that’s what he does.

I flew in Wednesday meaning I would miss the LCQ (Last Chance Qualifier) leading up to the main race. I must admit, I was pretty nervous. I watched Karl on a live feed from the Ultra4 website and it was nerve racking. Karl was doing great, although he stopped as he reached the Red Bull arch. I couldn’t tell what was wrong other then he wasn’t moving, I finally got word that it was a fuel issue. We had installed a new fuel pump prior, but somehow the pump lost power. Go`s to show things happen at them worst opportune time.

I grabbed two new pumps, packed my bags and arrived Wednesday afternoon. Once I hit lakebed I diagnosed the problems and got to work. We ended up bypassing the old power wire, installed a new pipe and replaced most of the lines. It seemed good to go that evening. We spend what seemed like an eternity in the tech inspection line up from 5:00 to nearly 10:00 at night. Once passed, we then raced back to pit and finished up the little details by midnight.

The race truckWhen morning came, we were staged up in the start line by 7:00 am. We had to laugh as three quarters of the competition were full out buggies, some were Ultra4 rigs that had a steering box and 37-in. tires to sneak in under the rulebook. It was comical the rigs we were up against, by the time were off it was 8:30; our goal from the start was to finish. Karl and I had never run any trails at the Hammers before other then Karl’s pre run of the LCQ course. We knew we were going to be slow and steady as there were 118 miles of desert to come, we didn`t know what to expect.

The first lap was a bit brutal on the 4Runner with little suspension travel. We got beat up pretty good in the washboard whoops, but we were having a blast! At the first pit (remote pit), we had a great pit crew of buddies that came to watch and were kind enough to help us out. When we came in, the 4Runner was holding up great so we topped up the fuel the looked over the underside components. The shocks were so hot they couldn’t even touch them.

Ahead of us now was the hardest section, the rock trails. We had no experience, only seen pictures of them. We started blazing though and to our surprise, the 4Runner was killing it in the rocks. The trails were hyped up so much that honestly, I think a few of our trails at home are little more challenging.

We ran into a number of roadblocks, also known as broken down rigs. We helped a few and in the process found new lines to help get our way through. We were feeling great, as we had made it so far with no breakages and no flats, especially seeing so many broken down rigs. Wrecking Ball was the only place that caused a bit of grief, an ignition wire popped off the starter and we lost power for a couple of minutes.

rock crawlingWe came into Remote Pit Two around 4:00 pm, we knew 6:00 pm was cut off and though we had all the rock trails finished. There was about 20 miles left and we thought we were in great shape to finish, but man did it take forever. One of the last trails had a few broken rigs in the way. We tried to help winch them out, costing us huge amounts of time.

Then the sun went down; it started to rain and even tried to snow. There was no point in checking the time, as we just wanted to cross the finish line. It was pitch black by this point and the 20-in. light bar was the only reason why we could see anything at all. I swear seemed like it took three hours to complete the last few miles. The ditches were so deep and there were so many ruts, whoops and washboard that we just wanted out of the damn truck!

We thought Hammertown was around every corner. In a cruel twist of fate, we finally crossed the finish line 20 minutes after cut off. Regardless, we were both so happy and proud to accomplish what we set out to do and the 4Runner held together without issue.

4x4 race finish lineAny adventure like this wouldn’t be possible without the help of many good friends and companies. We have to give a special thank you to our families, especially the wives Fawn and Jade. Thanks to my buddy Karl for letting me his co driver and trusting BCC to build his 4Runner. The few people that helped us out on the lake bed Rick, Mike, Brandon, Brandon, Rachel, Dustyn, Danielle, White tracker guy.

Additional thanks to Trail-Gear`s Matt Messer, Marlin Crawler`s CJ, Brendan and Marlin, EMF steering and rod ends, Rob and Glen at NSOR, Larry at TrailReady, Corbeau seats, and Scott at the shop.

There is already a lot of talk and plans regarding how to make this awesome rig go faster. All in all, it was a great experience, we had a blast and we will always have these great memories.

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