By Mike Magda
Toyota pickup enthusiasts were euphoric after the Dakar Rally when a Hilux scored a podium finish. In fact, we counted 14 Hilux pickups, two Tacomas and one Tundra in the 156-vehicle car class, and seven of those Toyota pickups were among the 78 finishers.
But here's a story of another Toyota pickup that didn’t make the big headlines but is winning over almost as many fans on online.
Cody Addington, along with co-driver Justin Foxworthy, brought his 1980 Toyota pickup across the finish line of the 2012 Griffin King of the Hammers race, but you'll see a DNF next to his name on the official results. Addington failed to meet the 14-hour deadline, but that didn't stop well-wishers from cheering him on in every canyon or from meeting the truck in the middle of the Mojave Desert at nearly midnight when the truck finally reached the finish.
If you've never heard of the King of the Hammers race, you're missing out on perhaps the world's most brutal one-day off-road event. KOH combines the precision and ruggedness of rock crawling with the speed of desert racing, and this year only 49 of 136 starters from seven countries finished the race.
Addington's journey starts with his street-legal pickup that he would drive to rock-crawling activities, including the Rubicon. When KOH organizers announced a companion race, called the Every Man Challenge, for stock and mildly modified vehicles, Addington entered and spent the next four months making the necessary safety upgrades and installing a set of 35-inch BFGoodrich tires.
The Every Man Challenge was held the Sunday before the KOH race in early February, and Addington finished eighth in class and 17th overall. "We had a shot at the top five but had some stupid issues in the first mile," he said.
Racers must qualify for the KOH final, and once Addington reached the Johnson Valley Off Highway Vehicle Area, he decided to enter the last chance qualifier. "I'd already prepped the truck, so why not?" he said.
Addington cleared the first major obstacle in the qualifier, but his truck stalled when dirt clogged the carburetor. He pulled the air cleaner, got the engine running again and finished the 3-mile qualifier but with a time not fast enough to make the final.
Then, in a stunning move, organizers allowed LCQ entrants to run in the KOH if they paid the fees. The one-time-only format change was used to raise money for land-use-protection efforts.
"I do all these things for fun. It's one of those things that may not be around forever, and there may not be another chance to get in," Addington explained. "We had the pit support. Everyone said go for it."
He had to pool money from vendors and friends, and he found a set of 39.5-inch IROK tires. Racing without a Parker Pumper, he had to work his way through a dust cloud created by 120 racers who started in front of him. The truck also lost the power steering 40 miles into the race, making the rocks that much tougher.
"Sometimes my arms were cramping so bad," Addington said. "I wasn't out of that car 15 minutes the entire 15 hours were on course."
Aside from a late-race fire under the hood caused by leftover power-steering fluid, there was little drama throughout race. Addington and Foxworthy maintained a slow but steady pace. They had no tire failures and even helped out another competitor.
Perhaps the team's most amazing feat was navigating the 165-mile course using only a map torn from the race program. Most other cars had GPS units with the racecourse preprogrammed into them. Also, seven hours into the race, Addington and Foxworthy's two-way radio with the pit crew failed.
"Mainly, it was not giving up," Addington said of the team's progress. "We knew we were over on time. We almost rolled twice coming down one trail the first time. It was like getting back on the horse again. We were going to prove ourselves."
Race organizers met the team afterward and, to Cody’s surprise, they gave him a "Merit" exemption that automatically qualifies him for the 2013 KOH race. He's already been contacted to drive for another team, but he plans to build up his Toyota to run faster in the desert.
"I think I can prove it can be done again," he promises.