Racing the Terremoto at KOH 2020 – A Memoir from Tony Pellegrino
That's right, all off the shelf parts.
The suspension, axles, shocks, drivetrain, tires, wheels, lights - all of it.
We wanted to prove that the products we sell to the public will hold up to the most unimaginable abuse, and we did just that, by finishing King of the Hammers the worlds toughest single day race (in the 4400 Unlimited Class) ahead of 70+ purpose built Ultra4 race cars, and we did it in a street legal 4-door Jeep JK.
Here's the story...
This year Jordan and I would be in the same race, plus I would be racing in a Jeep (not a purpose race 4400 off-road race car like years past). It was going to be an adventure for sure!
The idea was to show the world that GenRight Off Road’s off the shelf suspension system and parts would hold up to the brutal King Of the Hammers racecourse, and not in the lower EMC classes (4600, 4500 or 4800), but the big Unlimited 4400 class which is 3 loops for a total of 212 miles that include more desert mileage and harder trails.
It started like this: We had just spent 10 days out at the Hammers for Thanksgiving wheeling with friends and GenRight customers. During that time a longtime friend of mine, Nick Repanich came down from Chico and camped with us. It just so happened that he rode in the Terremoto JKU with me a few days that week. During that time we tried crazy buggy lines on the trails and joked about how cool it would be to race my Jeep at KOH, as we had just driven all the Hammer trails forwards and backwards throughout the week.
After getting home I called Nick and asked him if he would be interested in co-driving for me if I signed up to race KOH? I asked him to think about it, and before I could hang up he said “yes”!
In mid-December Nick came down to help me carefully look over the Jeep and work on getting it “race legal” (see my prep video). This meant adding all the things the Ultra4 rules specify to make the vehicle meet the safety requirements (aka tech legal).
By this time of year, we are in full KOH prep mode on Jordan’s car. We had been out testing and working to get his car dialed in. We all felt good that he could win this year’s race! Therefore, I wanted to be very careful not to pull any resources away from getting Jordan’s car ready, or his race effort in any way.
While Jordan waited for parts to put his car back together, I grabbed Darren Ruzicka, our lead fabricator, and had him help me with adding the necessary extra bars and gussets to the existing roll cage. Darren also helped me mount the new PRP seats, realign the Jeep, plumb the new Fuel Safe bladder-type fuel cell and the new (bigger) Griffin transmission cooler.
Meantime, Nick and I swapped in some fresh critical wear parts (water pump, alternator, steering pump, fuel pumps) that I know take a lot of drivers out on race day. We also added a rear light bar, a spare tire, a second battery, window nets and new harnesses.
Once back together we ran the Jeep on the Highway for several days to accumulate 300 miles so we could verify we had no leaks and heat cycle the new ring and pinion gears. Then change all the fluids with Torco synthetics to endure the beating the drivetrain would take at the Hammers.
Fast forward to race week: We arrived to the Hammers on Thursday January 30th and set up our pit garage (see pictures). On Friday we received this year’s racecourse map (the racecourse is different every year) and go drive (pre-run) the course to see what we will be faced with on the course.
It was similar to years past, but most of the first loop was backwards from years past. This year the KOH course was also making racers drive Spooners and Outer Limits on both lap 2 and 3. Then the course added 3 additional tough trails on lap 3. This was significant to us as we would most likely be doing them in the dark on race day.
We pre-ran the entire course (200 miles) in the Terremoto JKU (most racers would not use the car they are racing) and we got a good feel for the monumental the challenge was ahead of us. What was really on my mind, was that UTV, EMC and T1 trucks would race all week on most of the same racecourse and each day’s race tore up the racecourse more and more. This meant it would be rougher and more sharp rocks exposed for our race Friday!
Next, I am pretty familiar with the trails at the Hammers, but I had never been down back door in a Jeep. So, we went over to see if we could do it without flipping over. I practiced going down 4 times, all on different lines. One time down was a little off camber on the drop and it was really close to us rolling, but a little throttle and we pulled it off!
It is so great to race with my youngest son Jordan. On Tuesday he qualified 4th which put him in the second row of the start Friday! I am one proud father! I didn’t do too terrible either during qualifying in the Terremoto, although the alternator decided it didn’t want to be at KOH and stopped working as I left the start line for Qualifying. As a result I ran the entire Qualifying lap on the battery and almost didn’t have enough power to get up the rock hill climb.
Race Day, Friday Feb 7th: We warm up both cars and stage them early in Hammertown. On the starting grid. Given his starting position, Jordan left right at 8am. We were on the same radio channel during the race, so we could hear him calling in race mile markers to the team - he was going fast!
Jordan’s car is cutting edge and 3x faster than the nicely equipped Jeep I was driving. I knew he was in the top three, but I was trying to stay focused on keeping my vehicle together thru the rocks, hills, ruts and bumps of the brutal Mojave desert.
When we crossed race mile 49, I heard that Jordan has stopped to fix an issue. Then our team came on the radio and told us we might need to help Jordan as we caught up to him. We were not getting much information and I was trying to go as fast as we could to reach him and help. We were still 70 miles away and still had to go through main pit to get fuel.
By the time we got to the main pit, we learned that what broke on Jordan’s car also broke his front shock clean off! Unfortunately, his day was over. Now it was really up to Nick and I to finish the hardest single day race in the world in a Jeep!
We battled the course and worked our way around slower or broken racers littered all over the course. It was cool, as we came through the racecourse the spectators were on their feet cheering us on! This was great and gave me a boost of energy. However, it was only about noon and we still needed to drive fast enough to make the 14-hour “cut off”. The cut off is where they stop the race wherever you are out on the course and even if you continue, your finish does not count. We had to push on.
We were doing good, but with each lap the course got more and more difficult. Rocks were moving and holes were getting a lot deeper! Lines I had taken before were gone and huge rocks were in the middle of the trails. At the top of Aftershock, we had to go for it and sliced a tire on a new sharp rock that was never there before. After a brief discussion, we decided to drive on the flat to the next pit stop just a few miles away. We called in on the radio and they were ready for us. When we got to the pit the crew swapped out our flat to a new tire and we were on our way with a lap and a half to go.
We forged our way ahead encountering more broken or stuck cars that were blocking the racecourse. The Jeep was running great and we both felt good. On our 3rd and final lap, we had another racer roll over right in front of us. This forced us to stop and help try to get him rolled back over so we could continue. We lost precious time and now it was dark.
We turned on our VisionX LED headlights and auxiliary lights on the bumper and kept going. Night wheeling with friends can be fun, but in a race with helmets and window nets it is not easy to see. Plus, the lines were changing with every car still in the race. The good news was, the Jeep was still running great!
We still had one more time through Outer Limits and Spooners before we made our way back toward Hammertown and the finish line. These are two hard trails, and doing them in the dark definitely made it more difficult! I was having to beat on the Jeep to get it through each obstacle.
Finally, we cleared the top of Spooners and made our way across another 15 miles of desert in the dark toward the Resolution and Backdoor trails. So far the Jeep had been quiet and running good, but I had really had to push it hard on the 3rd lap.
We dropped down Backdoor for the last time and we heard a clunk, a big clunk. We were 1 mile from the finish line… I said to myself, please don’t break now we are so close! We still had the challenging up and downhill of the qualifying course ahead of us. I carefully negotiated my up and down and onto the short course and into the finish line with my sob Jami waving the checkered flag! We finished in a Jeep JKU in 32nd place, 11 hours and 47 minutes after we started! We did it and the entire GenRight team was there to congratulate us!
It turns out the noise I heard was only one missing bolt on the rear sway bar bracket.
Thanks to all our family, friends and Team that helped to get Nick and I to the finish line this year! This will be a KOH to remember!
The next morning we put a new bolt in the rear sway bar bracket and led the KOH Experience run in the same Jeep, which was another 35 miles of race course with 120 enthusiast.
Above is Tony speaking to the KOH Experience participants at the drivers meeting. Above is the catered lunch served to KOH Experience participants.
Thanks for reading,
President & Founder
GenRight Off Road, Inc.
For a detailed list of parts on the GenRight built Terremoto Jeep JK, please click here.