Off-road return for Mopar at ‘King of The Hammers’

(February 8, 2015) JOHNSON VALLEY, Calif. — For a second consecutive year, Mopar, Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s (FCA) service, parts and customer-care brand, supplied six GEN III 5.7 liter HEMI crate engines to power the unique Spec class 4x4 vehicles to allow off-road enthusiasts to compete in the “Every Man Challenge” race category at the 2015 NItto “King of The Hammers” in the southern California desert.

Hosted by the ULTRA4 Racing Series, the week-long event, featuring four competitive classes, combines desert racing and rock crawling and is built around what many consider the toughest one-day off-road race in the world.

Held every February since 2007, the contest takes place on public lands in Johnson Valley, Calif., in an off-highway vehicle area known as “The Hammers.”

This year, competitors attempted to complete laps over the treacherous and variable terrain of a 215-mile race course. The circuit incorporates high desert track conditions with the infamous rocky canyons and trails from which the event takes its name. The event drew more than 55,000 spectators with an additional 700,000 tuned into the online HD broadcast that was steamed live on the ULTRA4 Racing website and also accessible via

The “4700 Spec Class” was created in 2014 for the “Every Man Challenge” race category with Mopar’s GEN III 5.7 liter HEMI crate engine powering all six unique 4x4 entries that have been built with a custom tube frame design based loosely on a Jeep Wrangler, and each equally outfitted with the same best industry-leading parts the off-road world has to offer.

Based on the GEN II 426 Race HEMI, the 5.7L HEMI crate engines provided for this spec class are the off-road race version of the newest generation in the lineage of Mopar engines. Taking on the “Every Man Challenge” helps put the crate engine to the test with the extreme demands of off-road racing’s toughest conditions, thus providing a proving ground for the brand’s quality products.

For the past two years, both professional and first-time enthusiasts have been given the opportunity to take the wheel of the Mopar-powered 4700 Spec Class to experience what ULTRA4 Racing is all about. The turnkey solution gives enthusiasts the chance to race off-road in a fully capable four-wheel drive vehicle without the expense and challenges of building one of their own.

"The Mopar-powered Spec car and class has been extremely well received and successful,” said David Cole, Executive Director of ULTRA4 Racing Series. “Not only is it bringing new people into the sport at an affordable price, but the vehicle is competitive and durable, providing an exceptional and turnkey experience. We're very happy to have the HEMI powering the 4700 Spec Class and working with Mopar to create this unique opportunity for enthusiasts."

The six unique Mopar-powered 4x4 vehicles took to the track for the “Every Man Challenge” with an 8 a.m. 30-second staggered start on a course that featured a route much rockier and arduous than previous ones, but still included aptly named segments such as the infamous “Backdoor” rock ledge, “the Wrecking Ball,” “Clawhammer,” Devil’s Slide, Jackhammer, and fan favorite, Chocolate Thunder.

The HEMI-powered vehicles saw some familiar names get behind the wheel for this year’s challenge. While neither Ricky Johnson, an AMA motocross legend and Pro 4 champ, or his son Luke, who competes in the TORC series, are strangers to winning, both were competing in their first Ultra4 event.

But that didn’t stop the younger Johnson from beating his father to the finish line by more than an hour and a half to take the class win and finish the "Every Man Challenge" fourth overall. The elder Johnson, who has one of the most extensive racing backgrounds of anyone competing at this year’s event, found his first Ultra4 experience extremely challenging.

“There were times when I thought I was lost,” Johnson joked. “Because I would get somewhere and it didn’t even look like a trail.”

The Spec class race did not lack in drama as the first HEMI-powered vehicle to actually cross the finish line and third overall, was driven by Lance Clifford with a time of six hours and 56:49 minutes but the driver had his time disqualified after receiving outside help during his run.

Known as the fastest woman on four wheels following a 2013 record breaking land speed run in Utah's Salt Lake Flats, TV personality and gear head, Jessi Combs, returned for her second time at the helm of a HEMI-powered Spec class 4x4 for Team Falken after winning the 2014 edition of the Challenge. However, this year things didn’t go as planned when her ride succumbed to the difficult course on her second lap.