The 2023 Toyo Tires Desert Challenge Presented by Monster Energy proved to be a demanding day that pushed competitors on every turn throughout the 196-mile course. Many competitors remarked that this year was the toughest desert racecourse they have seen.
The event is divided into two separate races, with the Desert Limited classes (B2, B3, B4, T3 and T4) running in the morning and the Desert Unlimited classes (T1, T2 and B1) running in the afternoon. The attrition rate can be high, but the lure of the challenge is so great that the entry list grows every year.
The Desert Limited race began with clear skies and no wind. This resulted in dust clouds from the race cars hanging over the course and reducing visibility in some areas. Drivers directly behind another competitor were often blinded by the thick clouds, making passing difficult, if not impossible.
Chase Warren (B2 Desert Limited Buggy C10 #1088) was the defending Limited overall class champion and had earned the pole position during the prior day’s Prologue. Warren took a commanding lead early in the race. Not far behind was the B2 Desert Limited C10 #1077 of Ezra Ebberts with his father Dave behind the wheel and sister Madison in the navigator’s seat.
During the first lap of the race Warren and Ebberts were running 1-2 overall. When Warren began having mechanical troubles, Dave moved into the lead position and then handed the car to Ezra during a fuel stop in the main pit in Hammertown. Ezra remained in the lead from that point to the finish.
Creeping up behind Ebberts during the second lap were Brandon Sims (B3 – Desert UTV Open #1069) and Doug Mittag (B3 – Desert UTV Open). That’s the order they remained in until the checkered flag for their overall finishing positions.
This was the third King of the Hammers for Dale Ebberts who told us, “Just before I got out of the car, I told my son Ezra that we got a bit of a lead. Just keep it smooth. Keep it moving forward.”
19-years old and pursuing a mechanical engineering degree, Ezra said “Our goal was to play it clean and smooth. No flats, just keep the car on the road. Keep it moving. And do it quickly. And it’s exactly what we did.”
Navigating for her father and brother during the race, was Madison Ebberts. When asked about driving the next race, she responded “I would absolutely want to race. I have two drivers in my family, so I have to fight for that driver’s seat, but I really wanted to navigate for my brother today.”
Brandon Sims (#1069) finished first place in B3 – Desert UTV Open and was second overall. Vito Ranuio (# T950) placed first in B3 – Desert UTV Pro Mod and finished fifth overall. Dustin Jones (# T978) was first in B3 – Desert UTV Stock and finished 14th overall. Bobby Croy (#544) landed first in B4 – Desert Vintage Buggy 5U and ended up 45th overall. Bailey Cole (#13) claimed first place driving his Ford Bronco in T4 – Desert Stock OEM and finished 46th overall.
Michael “Bud” Ward took first place in B4 – Desert Vintage Buggy 16 and finished 36th overall. At the finish line Ward told us why he races a vintage VW Beetle, “Because that’s where this (off-road racing) all started.” As to the course, he added, “It was fast, but it was also rough. You were able to go over it very fast if you were hard on the throttle pedal and had the nerve.”
The Unlimited race took the green flag in the early afternoon. The wind had picked up, which can be a good thing because the dust trails from earlier race cars were blown clear of the course and made visibility better for all the drivers. Passing became somewhat easier, if you had the power and right opportunity to clear the car ahead.
Kyle Jergensen (#19) was the 2022 T1 winner and first overall. He earned the overall pole position during Saturday’s Prologue and was the first of a field of 27 Desert Unlimited T1 trucks off the start line. Tim Herbst (#27) was right behind him. Christopher Polvoorde (#294), the 2022 T2 winner, was just a minute behind.
The race was incredibly fast and very rough. Top speeds for the T1 trucks were in the 130 mph or better range. The T2 trucks were not much slower. In a very short time, there were numerous broken trucks and cars on course. Polvoorde had mechanical problems and slowed to a crawl approximately half-way through the race, eventually finishing 21st in T2 and 38th overall.
Dustin Grabowski (#272) took first place in T2 and finished second overall. Ray Griffith (#253) scored the second spot in T2 and finished third overall. Thor Herbst (#219) ended up third in T2 with a sixth place finish overall.
Jergensen led for some time, but then fell back under the strain and never recovered. Tim Herbst kept up the pace and led for a while, but after some tire troubles, ended up second in T1 and fourth overall. JP Gomez (#18) worked hard for third place in T1 and a fifth overall.
Adam Householder (#24) came from behind and had a nearly flawless race, posting a first overall and first in T1. He told us, “I’ve raced here the last three years. After the first year I came out to this desert race, I just wanted to keep coming back. I love the atmosphere. I love the people. This is desert racing, and when you can see people out in the middle just cheering you on, that’s what it’s about. I just love this place.”
Tim Herbst remarked, “The terrain here is so open, then you’ve got the mountains and rocks and all that type of stuff. And once you get in the open areas, it’s fast running and good whoops and you can really get these trucks moving. It’s wonderful.”
Some B1 competitors (Unlimited Buggy/Class 1) finished mid-pack. Adam Lunn (#153) was first in B1 and 16th overall. The Unlimited race also included Terra Crew trucks entered into T1, JeepSpeed entries, and Desert Limited 7200 trucks. Rob Seubert won the JeepSpeed class, and Bob Briggs was the first Desert Limited 7200 to cross the finish line.
For full results and a schedule of what is still to come at the 2023 King of the Hammers, be sure to visit their website.