NHRA To KOH: Racing The On The Big Stage
The time came for Jon Schaffer to take on King of the Hammers in his custom built Can-Am.

In the last segment of NHRA to KOH, we looked at NHRA crew chief Jon Schaffer testing in Johnson Valley, California, ahead of racing King of the Hammers. The time came for us to head out to King of the Hammers to see Schaffer’s UTV in action.

It was a cold week in Johnson Valley, but seeing the custom-built Can-Am in person was better than any picture we had seen before. The level of detail was second to none, and it was evident that someone with experience built it.

Since it was Schaffer’s first year racing King of the Hammers, he was eligible to participate in the Rookie Program. It was something new for King of the Hammers this year but was something that was well-received by racers.

Jon Schaffer's vehicle was perfectly built to handle the rocks at KOH.

“The rookie program that King of the Hammers put on was really beneficial to us, and I believe all of the other rookies that competed,” Schaffer said. “If you have never raced King of the Hammers before or let alone never been to a race there to spectate, you need all of the information you can get.”

“The rookie program helped get us this information and guide us as much as they could. It also opened the doors for us rookies to network with other seasoned King of the Hammers racers to gain more knowledge of what to expect, what to do, and what not to do. At the end of the day, no one can prepare you for the King of the Hammers race, you have to go experience it for yourself to get the full experience.”

There is something special about King of the Hammers, and it draws people from all over the world. The event draws people back to the middle of the desert year after year, but for a racer, it is something more.

Passing tech is the first step to get the green light for race day.

“The whole experience overall was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for myself, my family, and friends to participate in,” Schaffer said. “The whole atmosphere, the dirt, the rocks, being outside, being able to be out there camping, racing, and enjoying the people around you. It's a lot of fun and an incredible adventure.”

Come race day, all the preparation and work pays off as soon as the green flag drops all the nerves are settled and the adrenaline kicks in. Schaffer took off the line in the UTV race in the middle of his class.

Like every good race story, everything was going good until it wasn’t. While this year’s King of the Hammers may not have gone as planned for Schaffer and his team, it was one for the memory books.

Jon Schaffer racing off the starting line.

“All in all, this year's race was a success for us, in our opinion,” Schaffer said. “We were your true definition of a true ‘rookie’ competitor. I have never raced any race before with a UTV, I have never really driven any UTVs in the past, I have never built a UTV before, and our entire pit crew has never raced before. This year's King of the Hammers was all about learning for us. You have to start somewhere.”

“Unfortunately, our race day was cut short after having mechanical issues with our front differential. The mechanical issue made it very difficult to complete the second lap of the race course in two-wheel-drive. We made the tough decision to not continue on after the first lap.”

Not being able to complete a race is extremely frustrating for a racer, and you tend to beat yourself up about the decisions, but for Schaffer, it was different. Schaffer enjoyed every aspect of the event, even the course. 

Jon Schaffer taking off the starting line at the 2023 King of the Hammers UTV race.

“My Favorite part of the course was the rock sections like Spooners, Outer Limits, or SledgeHammer,” Schaffer said. “They all have their own technical lines, but racing in the rocks is the ultimate racing experience, in my opinion.”

Like anyone who off-roads for the first time, once the dirt bug has bitten, it leaves you wanting more of the dirt. This was the case for Schaffer, who after competing in this year’s King of the Hammers, that urge is stronger than ever.

“After all of the money, headache, craziness, long days, sleepless nights, fun, and memories we had this year, we are going back,” Schaffer said. “We will go back every year until we physically can't anymore.”

Jon Schaffer making his way up a hill during the race.

Getting a race vehicle to the starting line takes a whole team. Schaffer had his whole family behind him, along with his closest friends.

“Everyone who has ever raced or competed in something knows the dedication and determination it takes to succeed,” Schaffer said. “Without my wife Jenna's support and my two sons' help, none of this would have been possible.” 

“The support of my parents, Jeff and Tina, but also all of my friends coming out to volunteer to be on the pit crew. Brandon Mckinney for being my Co-Driver and putting in all the hard work and hours he had to make this possible. Anthony Graunstadt for being the team leader crew chief, making sure everything was in place for all of the pit stops, and taking charge of the race program.”

The section of the King of the Hammers race course caused a lot of issues for multiple teams.

Schaffer could not have done any of this without the support of his sponsors.  He would like to thank Bill Irwin, who is with Henry Brown Buick GMC in Gilbert Arizona, put a deal together that allowed us to represent HB Customs, Silo Auto Sales, and Henry Brown Buick GMC. In addition, Schaffer would like to thank their associate sponsors Brown And Miller Racing Solutions, Zollinger Racing Products, RCV Products, and Rugged Radios.

We look forward to seeing Schaffer and his Can-Am back in the dirt soon. Until then, you can catch Schaffer at the drag strip.