After spending 8 months prepping in a little 2 car garage, Thelma was ready for the 2019 King of the Hammers EMC race. Continue reading for John Lay’s recap of the event.
For the first time Thelma was done with time to spare before the race due to a call for help from some friends. With the extra time on my hands, I managed to score a news interview with KOH Media and Dave Stall “the car guy” from KUSI, a major San Diego network. Dave was working with KOH Media on a King of the Hammers segment.
After the interview, I looked over Thelma one last time and loaded her up. When we arrived on the lake bed February 1st, Thelma was better prepped than ever before. Unlike last year, we were early and had time to shock tune, engine tune, and pre-run some of the course. The weather was colder than its ever been on the lake bed during KOH. While tuning we had some setbacks with a power steering pump failure and a fuel pump failure. We quickly swapped out the parts with spares and got back to tuning. After tuning shocks and the engine, Thelma was set to kill!
On qualifying day we were scheduled to run during Power Hour due to our podium finish in 2018. I wanted a top 10 qualifying run to put us up front on race day. However, qualifying didn’t go as planned. There was a new light system at the start line with one light that could change red, yellow, and green. Unfortunately my helmet shield is amber tinted and when the light turned yellow, it looked green and I left the line early. Any penalty I would have gotten didn’t matter since the steering pump pulley flew off along with the serpentine belt as we were coming out of the short course. It was impossible to continue as steering was very difficult and the water pump wasn’t working causing the engine to overheat. With a DNF (did not finish) in qualifying, we were given a 79th starting position. Not exactly what we were hoping for. After qualifying, we fixed Thelma and took the time to prerun the first lap of the race, a 94ish mile desert loop.
On race day, our new plan was to push hard in the first lap to get ahead of as many cars as possible to lessen the number of cars in front of us going into the rock sections. This plan worked out well. As soon as we left the short course at the start, we started passing cars. I pushed hard but not so hard as to wreck or break Thelma. Coming into the pits at the end of the first lap, we knew our plan had worked perfectly. We managed to keep Thelma in perfect condition as well as pass 60+ cars putting us into 6th place on corrected time, somewhere in the top 15 overall. 79th to 6th in 94 miles!!
We took some food and race gas and headed out for the rock trails. We passed several more cars before getting into the big rocks. Thelma was moving through the rocks like a true billy goat. We were actually catching and passing cars in the rocks until we hit the rear driveline on a rock and snapped it in half on Jack North. We were in a tight spot and had to winch to get Thelma in a position to allow us to swap out the driveline. We started changing the driveline but cars started passing us and had to drive over one of my tires to get around us. Thelma was a part of the course. This forced us to stop fixing Thelma and get out from under her every time a car showed up. These delays took a 10 minute job and turned it into a 30-45 minute job allowing many cars to get around us. Once the issue was fixed, we got moving and started passing cars again.
Everything seemed to be working well again but we changed our plan to, “just finish the race”. Coming down Jack Hammer I started smelling antifreeze. We weren’t sure if it was us or one of the cars in front of us so I pulled Thelma to the side to allow cars to get around us. My co-driver got out and confirmed we were not only leaking antifreeze, but it was pouring out of the water pump faster than we could pour it in the radiator. On top of the water pump issues, our last rear driveshaft had hit another rock and was severely bent. Without the parts and tools to replace the water pump and knowing the driveline was not in the condition to run the hardest rock trails, I decided it was best to call the race.
This was a decision that was very difficult for me due to the amount of work and money I had to put into this race along with knowing Thelma is capable of not only finishing KOH but of achieving podium finishes with all the help from my partners. Even though this wasn’t my vision for KOH, we still had a ton of fun and enjoyed working with all of our partners.
I’ve pretty much swapped all of Thelma’s performance plumbing to Phenix Industries and have had zero failures or leaks with any of my Phenix plumbing!