What’s Next for the EV Class at King of the Hammers?
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What’s Next for the EV Class at King of the Hammers?

  • Plans to introduce an all-electric racing class at King of the Hammers have stalled.
  • EV-supplier Hypercraft and other partners developed a working prototype to handle the desert.
  • Big impacts and battery limitations are just some of the challenges of EV off-road racing.
  • Hypercraft’s experience with electric racing could prove valuable in getting across the finish line.

All-electric racing may be headed into rocky terrain. Recently we test-drove the EV racing truck being developed by King of the Hammers, the popular racing festival held annually in the California desert. With loads of power and torque, the truck is ready to rock.


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The company behind its technology is called Hypercraft. Largely unknown to the general public, this Utah-based supplier specializes in high-performance EV components like battery packs and motors. In the KOH truck, Hypercraft arranged the complete powertrain and managed its software.

“Our battery packs are ruggedized and can live in a pretty harsh environment,” Kirk Miller, vice president of sales and marketing at Hypercraft, told Electrify News.

“This vehicle is a testament to that.”


Opportunity in the Desert

Hypercraft was drawn to King of the Hammers because of the opportunity to push all-electric motorsports into a new dimension, Miller said.

Engineers have tinkered with nearly infinite calibrations to balance speed and safety in the desert. This requires balancing an array of parts from other qualified partners such as an electric motor and inverter from Spicer Electrified, and a display screen and software from AEM Performance Electronics, to extract the best performance possible.

Hypercraft has experience developing EV racing programs, like the Sierra Echo driven at Pikes Peak and the track-ready Scalar Performance Toyota GR86.

But EV rock-crawling is something entirely different. The battery management system needs to handle serious high-voltage in a safe manner, and the drivetrain needs to handle instant torque without breaking down. And then there’s simply the beating a truck takes on a typical rock-crawling course. Miller and his team have witnessed impacts exceeding an incredible 15 G of force.

“Honestly, it’s alarming,” he said.


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The Growing Off-Road Trend

The appetite for high-speed, off-road racing is growing. Legacy events like the Baja 500 in Mexico and the Mint 400 in Las Vegas continue to draw huge crowds. King of the Hammers 2024 attracted more than 100,000 fans back in January and February. 

Adding an electric rock crawler to the mix is a different challenge, however. EV motorsports have been promising but slow to grow. The open-wheel series Formula E recently began its 10th season, and the high-flying Extreme E series boasts off-road trucks in exotic locales.

King of the Hammers wants to be next. In early 2022, the organization announced plans to create an entire class of EV rock crawlers to compete against one another, with 11 teams on board. Racing was to begin in July 2022.

But this year, there was no EV class. Electric vehicles are welcome to compete in the popular Every Man Challenge, but only one team entered with an EV truck. (Keith Silva finished in a respectable 8 hours and 32 minutes.)

The 11 teams who signed on to compete in the inaugural EV series back in 2022 were nowhere to be found. A few months after the announcement, KOH and the Ultra4 racing series announced a split that created some uncertainty.

The truck that was supposed to be the shiny new darling of KOH found itself up in the air.


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How to Race an Electric Rock Crawler

Image care of Ryan Zummallen

I trekked out to Johnson Valley to see the truck for myself. It’s a brute of a vehicle, constructed of exposed metal frame and protective bars, with four 10-kWh battery packs and a single electric motor bolted to the chassis. There are massive shocks and 40-inch tires.

The truck is a blast to drive in the desert, making 335 total horsepower and 885 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels. But range has been an issue. At present, it can go only 45 miles on a full charge — far shorter than a single lap of the KOH course.


Kirk Miller at Electrify Expo. Image care of Hypercraft

Miller, the Hypercraft VP, said the truck will require a battery swap or fast-charge of some kind in order to tackle KOH. The team is speculating about possible solutions like a “solar field” near the midpoint of the course, or multi-day stages like in European rally racing.

If an EV rock crawler is to conquer the notoriously rocky Johnson Valley terrain, it needs to be robust — the current prototype weighs about 1,000 pounds more than an Extreme E truck. There are other problems, too. Once, on a test run, it drove over a rock and when the motor unleashed its full torque, the sheer twisting power grenaded the transfer case.

King of the Hammers is a small, homegrown operation compared to Formula E and Extreme E. But it has the motivation and the partners in Hypercraft and other brands like Optima Batteries, a major event sponsor.

Alone in the desert, among the many trails and sun-soaked rocky passages, it’s not hard to imagine the barren scene crawling with fully-electric trucks and buggies one day. KOH and Hypercraft may soon make that a reality.


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FEATURE IMAGE: RYAN ZUMMALLEN

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AUTHOR: 

RYAN ZUMMALLEN

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