In the first segment of NHRA to KOH, we looked at NHRA crew chief Jon Schaffer following his passion for the dirt and building a UTV to race King of the Hammers. We saw the process that Schaffer has made on the build since March of 2022, but we also knew that testing was coming at the end of December.
We caught up with Schaffer as he had finished the car and taken it out for testing in Johnson Valley. Finishing a vehicle is a huge accomplishment, and there is always excitement about its first time in the dirt.
“It feels really good to have the car completed,” Schaffer said. “It’s a big relief that the car is done, and our first test session is behind us now. You always have that big unknown factor when you build something one-off from scratch. Wondering if it will work or if you have something majorly wrong after all that work is always thought in your head.”
Making the trip from Indianapolis to Johnson Valley is a feat in itself, but at the same time, it is well worth the drive when heading out to the dirt. There was no better location to test than in the environment that the vehicle would be racing in.
“Testing went really well,” Schaffer said. “The car was built at our house here in Indiana over the past nine months. The final pieces of the build came together hours before we had to load the trailer up to head out west to California.”
“We could not even drive the car before hitting the road. All we did was start it to drive it into the trailer. There was snow on the ground, and the temps were in the -15 degrees Fahrenheit range, which stopped us from getting any seat time before the trip. We broke the engine in as soon as we got to the lake bed and did the initial shakedown on the car with no major issues.”
For those who have never been to Johnson Valley, hearing stories and seeing pictures of it still does not do the area justice. Massive mountains, giant boulders, sandy hills, and everything in between is just the start of what lies in one of the most brutal off-road areas in the world.
“It was amazing out in Johnson Valley,” Schaffer said. “The terrain is awesome. There are so many options and variables. We’re excited and looking forward to getting there for King of the Hammers.”
“My favorite part of Johnson Valley would have to be all the different rock trails. You have so many different difficulty levels and lines to choose from. It’s a lot of fun, especially trying to go fast through it.”
Johnson Valley has a certain mystic to it, as it’s not all rainbows and balloons. There are some parts of the area that people do not like.
“My least favorite part of Johnson Valley was the wind,” Schaffer laughed. “It feels like your in a sandblast cabinet.”
Leaving Johnson Valley after a successful shakedown and testing is always a good feeling, especially when leaving a little less than a month away from your race. Overall, any time you can load the vehicle on the trailer after a day in the desert is a good day.
“We are just about ready for King of the Hammers,” Schaffer said. “ We have a few tweaks to do as well as prepping the car. The only other thing I would like to do before the race is to get as much seat time as possible. I don’t think you can ever have enough seat time, especially with how the terrain is always changing out there.”
King of the Hammers will be here before we know it, but that doesn’t mean Schaffer hasn’t thought about his expectations for the race. Everyone wants to win, but there is more to consider than winning.
“I am naturally a humble person,” Schaffer said. “The goal for our rookie year at King of the Hammers for us would be just to finish the race. It doesn’t matter what place as long as we cross that finish line before the clock stops.”
“This is a so-called test year for us with a prototype car, new team, and new driver. You have to start somewhere. All in all, our goal is just to enjoy ourselves, have fun, learn, and maybe with a little luck, finish the race.”
Off-roading is contagious; once you catch the bug, it leaves you wanting more. It is still the same for someone who competes at the high level of NHRA drag racing.
“Once we were out there, we were hooked,” Schaffer said. “All the shop's early mornings and late nights were paying off. That’s what it’s all about. We did not want to leave. We would still be out there prerunning and testing if we could. We are just looking to enjoy this King of the Hammers lifestyle for many years.”
Stay tuned until the next time we catch up with Jon Schaffer, as we will be on the lakebed and checking out the vehicle in person before watching it compete later in the week.