The Nitto Race of Kings proved to be an action-packed race of broken parts, crushed dreams, last-minute leader changes and absolute triumph for a select few. From a field of 116 competitors at the tough one-day race that traversed the desert sections and notoriously difficult rock trails of Johnson Valley, Calif., JP Gomez fought his way from the back of the pack to take the win after a dramatic day of racing at the grand finale of the 2024 Progressive King of the Hammers Presented by Nitto Tire and Powered by OPTIMA Batteries.
Heading into the opening desert lap, competitors saw perfect dust-free conditions that allowed them to charge hard. As in the previous day’s Every Man Challenge race, a bottleneck quickly developed in Turkey Claw two miles into the race, letting the leaders separate themselves from the rest of the field. At the end of the fast first lap, Loren Healy was first to the main pits in Hammertown, with Jason Scherer only seconds behind. Casey Currie followed in third, with polesitter Cade Rodd fourth and Raul Gomez in the fifth spot.
Kings are made in the rocks, and ahead of the competitors were two laps of the infamously boulder-strewn Hammer Trails of Johnson Valley. Heading into the technical terrain, Healy had to stop to change a flat tire, handing the lead to Currie, who had already made his way past Scherer. Healy then had to stop in Pit Two to replace a power steering pump, further setting him back. Two-time King of the Hammers winner Gomez set an strong pace through the rocks, reeling in both Rodd and Scherer in his nimble single-seater. Just before the waterfall on Wrecking Ball, Raul Gomez passed Currie for the lead.
Behind the lead duo of Gomez and Currie, major drama unfolded when third-place Rodd got stuck in a narrow section of Outer Limits. Scherer tried to pass Rodd by driving over the front of his car, but both became hopelessly stuck together. No amount of winching seemed to alleviate the situation, allowing Gomez and Currie to pull further ahead and ending Scherer or Rodd’s hope for a win. Brett Harrell then came upon the pair, trying to winch Rodd out of his way.
Next to arrive was Can-Am UTV Hammers Championship winner Kyle Chaney, who was having a great race competing in a Can-Am X3 on 37-inch tires. Using the narrow width of the X3 to maximum advantage, he squeezed past all three to take over third place.
The third lap proved one of the most dramatic ever in the history of King of the Hammers. Heading into the final lap, Raul Gomez was in the lead, with Currie roughly five minutes behind. Marcos Gomez had fought his way to third in a heavily damaged car, with Chaney right behind him and Harrell in fifth. Marcos suffered a mechanical failure soon after leaving the main pit, bumping Chaney and Harrell up a position. Harrell then rolled onto his lid on a tricky section of Check Me Out, causing significant downtime.
Raul Gomez seemed to be headed to a three-peat King of the Hammers victory, but rolled onto his side at the top of Big Johnson. Righting the car by himself proved impossible, allowing Currie to retake the lead and Chaney to slide into third. Healy, who made a stellar recovery from stopping earlier to replace a power steering pump, was now in fourth. Yet another Gomez brother entered the mix, with JP Gomez making an amazing charge into fifth from the 99th starting position.
The race was now Currie’s to win, but heartache struck when his forward progress stopped in Pit Two with a broken driveshaft and damaged ring and pinion. Chaney then made the pass for the lead, with Healy pushing hard to hunt down the Can-Am X3. Healy finally caught and passed Chaney in Outer Limits. Only a short desert section and the rocks of Backdoor were now between Healy and victory.
However, the constant heartache of the multiple last-lap lead changes struck Healy, too, when his transmission let go only miles from the finish. Healy’s mechanical misfortune returned the physical lead to Chaney, but his front driver-side coilover had failed. Spectators were on edge watching Chaney limp to finish with his front suspension rapidly disintegrating. He crossed the finish first, but JP Gomez’s heroic charge from 99th to second made him the winner of the 2024 Nitto Race of Kings on corrected time.
“Hell yeah!” exulted Gomez at the finish. “My heart sank when Raul was flipped over on Big Johnson. Loren passed me like a bat out of hell, and I was like, ‘Man, I must be driving really slow.’ Oh man, that was a race! I got down to Outer Limits and there was Erik Miller, Jason Scherer, Cade Rodd and some other guys. Thanks to Jason for spotting me and letting me run over his car. Me and Harrell battled at the end, but it was pretty open. This is great!”
Ultimately, Chaney was penalized for missing part of the course, elevating Harrell to third.
“We could have had a better day, but I am happy with this,” said Harrell, who made a remarkable recovery after rolling. “We put the car on its lid on Check Me Out. We lost about 20 minutes or so there. I don’t know. It is a pretty good day so far, I guess. The only thing better would have been to have won it.”
To watch replays of the action at the 2024 Progressive King of the Hammers Presented by Nitto and Powered BY OPTIMA Batteries, click here.