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Drifter Vaughn Gittin Jr. Conquers 2016 King of the Hammers on First Try

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Vaugn Gittin Jr 2016 KOH King of the Hammers

Professional K&N Sponsored drifter Vaughn Gittin Jr. didn't get crowned king at the 2016 KOH, but he did finish 10th in class and became the first crossover athlete to finish on their first try (credit to @drivingline)

Each February since 2007 thousands upon thousands of off-road, Jeep, 4x4, and ATV enthusiasts make the pilgrimage to Means Dry Lake in the Johnson Valley OHV area near Landers, California for one of the largest off-road events in the United States. This special event combines the thrills of high-speed desert racing with extreme rock crawling and due to the many trails with hammer in the name; this event has earned the title King of the Hammers (KOH). The King of the Hammers has grown from the original 2007 race of 13 invitation only competitors to a weeklong festival of everything off-road. The King of the Hammers is widely regarded as the toughest single day race in the world.

Vaugn Gittin Jr 2016 King of the Hammers Legends class

K&N air filters sponsored Vaughn Gittin Jr. is a self-taught American professional drifter who didn't hesitate when given the opportunity to compete in the 2016 King of the Hammers Legends class (credit to @drivingline)

K&N air filters sponsored Vaughn Gittin Jr. is a self-taught American professional drifter who came from humble beginnings driving his personal Nissan S13 in Formula Drift. The sport of Drifting employs a technique where the driver intentionally loses traction in the rear wheels while maintaining control through counter-steering. Drifting is a delicate dance along a fine line separating control and chaos. Car control is one of the most important ingredients in racing, and Formula Drift drivers know how to control a car at speed; even if it doesn't appear that way.

The 2010 Formula D drifting champion Vaughn Gittin Jr. has also tried his hand behind the wheel of a NASCAR stock car, and even Trans Am racing. Vaughn Gittin Jr. considers himself much more than just a professional drifter. When his hoonigan antics are factored into the equation, Vaughn Gittin Jr. could more appropriately be called a "professional funhaver." So when Vaughn Gittin Jr. was presented with the opportunity to compete in the 2016 King of the Hammers in Southern California's High Desert, he didn't even stop to think twice. "It just seemed like a really good time! I mean, mobbing in the desert, huge climbs and driving on giant boulders. What could go wrong?" said Vaughn.

Vaugn Gittin Jr Ultra 4 Legends car

Vaughn Gittin Jr. had three major goals going into the 2016 King of the Hammers: keep the Ultra 4 Legends car rubber side down, have as much fun as possible, and to finish the race (credit to @drivingline)

When Vaughn was asked whether he felt his experience in drifting would translate to Ultra 4 racing, he responded, "I think all of my experiences up to this point translated, but no doubt the skills you need for drifting helps very much toward the challenges of Ultra4 racing. The skills required for drifting can really help with any form of driving, but desert and rock climbs require a very good feeling of the vehicle and the ability to make very smooth weight transfers and fine throttle control. You need to be comfortable with not overly controlling the vehicle and letting it do its thing a bit, which is very similar in drift. The mental game and patience is also very important with all the challenges KOH throws at you, and I would attribute my skills in that regard to the mentally-intense sport of drifting as well."

Vaughn and his team had three major goals going into the 2016 King of the Hammers: keep the Ultra 4 Legends car rubber side down, have as much fun as possible, and to finish the race. While these goals don't seem overly ambitious to those unfamiliar with the KOH course and terrain, they are in fact goals that few achieve each year in the Johnson Valley OHV area. Vaughn Gittin Jr. admits that he nearly flipped the car once but saved it. "It was pretty sketchy and required being both smooth and committed. I liked it because it rewarded you when you did it right, but would bite you if you did not. There was this one drop in that was like a 10-foot high dirt/sand climb to an off-camber turn to full drop in. If you were not committed, it would 100 per cent flip at the crest of the hill. It was so sketchy. I went for it and made it, but damn it was scary," said Vaughn.

Vaugn Gittin Jr finish the 2016 KOH in 6 hours, 44 minutes

Vaughn Gittin Jr. and his co-driver Loren Healy were fortunate to avoid any major mishaps and managed to finish the 2016 KOH in 6 hours, 44 minutes and 15 seconds for 10th place in class (credit to @drivingline)

Having fun isn't always possible when competing in the King of the Hammers either. Mechanical issues, physical and mental fatigue, as well as the course itself can start to wear down on both driver and navigator. Vaughn said "When you look at what we conquered, it was obnoxious terrain. I mean, I definitely thought, ‘Oh @#$%' on just about every single one of those climbs!" Vaughn is quick to point out that the help he had from KOH veterans Loren Healy and his crew were crucial to making it through KOH 2016. "Without the advice of Loren, Shannon, and my man Casey Currie, combined with the help of Loren and his awesome team who even co-drove with me, we would not have had the success we did," said Vaughn.

Vaughn Gittin Jr finished the King of the Hammers

In addition to finishing well, K&N Filters sponsored drifter Vaughn Gittin Jr. set a precedent as the first ever cross-over athlete to have ever finished the King of the Hammers on their first try (credit to @drivingline)

With most forms of racing, success is defined by winning or at least making it onto the podium. King of the Hammers is different, in that simply crossing the finish line gives a huge sense of accomplishment. KOH is a race of attrition with mechanical failures being the leading cause of ending a racer's day early. It isn't uncommon for a mere 10-15 percent of the field to actually cross the finish line within the allotted time. "Holy crap that was insane!! I can't even begin to explain what we endured today!" said Vaughn. He and his co-driver Loren Healy were fortunate to avoid any major mishaps and managed to finish the 2016 KOH in 6 hours, 44 minutes and 15 seconds. This was good enough to earn Vaughn Gittin Jr. a 14th place overall finish in the SmittyBilt Every Man Challenge and 10th place in the Legends 4800 class.

After the race Vaughn said, "I just want to thank everyone involved in making it an awesome experience. It was a true team effort and I am grateful for everyone that chose to help us out. Huge thanks to Loren Healy and his entire crew for all the support during my race out here at King of the Hammers. These guys were an instrumental reason in why were able to finish 10th in the very competitive Legends class and 14th overall out of over 100 entries." In addition to finishing well, K&N Filters sponsored drifter Vaughn Gittin Jr. set a precedent as the first ever cross-over athlete to have ever finished the King of the Hammers on their first try, let along be able to place within the top 15.

Vaughn Gittin Jr.'s first event of the 2016 Formula Drift season will take place on the Streets of Long Beach, California April 8-9, 2016. This will also be Vaughn's first Formula D event behind of the wheel of his 2016 Monster Energy Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR drift car which made its debut at the 2015 SEMA show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Under the hood of Vaughn's new 6th Gen Pony Car is a 436 cubic-inch Ford Performance/Roush Yates-built engine making over 900 horsepower via individual throttle body injection, and of course, breathing through dual K&N Oval Air Filters. Use the K&N Search By Vehicle tool to find K&N performance upgrades for your daily driver. For your racing, custom, or hot rod needs, browse a wide array of K&N Racing Air Filters, Custom Air Filter Assemblies, Off-Road Air Filters and K&N Automotive Performance Parts. Then use the K&N Dealer Search tool to find a local authorized K&N dealer.


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K&N Engineering in Riverside California is the world's leading manufacturer of washable performance air filters and air intake systems. K&N invented the reusable high flow cotton air filter in 1969 and has been perfecting the technology ever since. K&N is a world class filtration company selling air filters, oil filters, and intakes in over 50 countries. K&N sells over 5,000 products designed for cars, trucks, motorcycles, engines, and industrial applications. From their Million Mile Warranty to their Consumer Protection Pledge, K&N stands behind their products and their consumers 100%. The distinctive K&N logo represents performance from one of the original performance companies. For more information, visit knfilters.com.