One thing is for certain: although we are barely two months into 2011, Turner Racing has experienced an interesting racing season so far. With a return to desert racing at the Parker 250, almost setting a world record at a long-jump competition, and a finish at the Soboba Grand Prix, Turner Racing turned their sights towards the grueling King of the Hammers UTV race and the season opener of the Lucas Oil Regional Short Course Series in Arizona. The events were a mere two days apart, but the team was determined to compete in both events and finish well.
King of the Hammers, now in its fifth year, has already earned a reputation for being one of the most grueling off-road racing events ever conceived. Imagine a traditional desert race, then throw several hardcore rockcrawling trails in the middle of it, and you have some idea of what KOH is all about. Held in the Johnson Valley OHV area in California, this year's event drew thousands of spectators and hundreds of racers. In addition to the truck race, for the past three years event organizers have also held a UTV race the day before the main event on an abbreviated course. This year's UTV course was a brutal 42 miles that consisted of tight, twisty sections, wide open flats, and three rockcrawling trails: Elvis, Martel, and Aftershock. With 14 competitors stepping up to the line on race morning, driver Mark Turner and co-driver Trent McGee knew they had some stiff competition. Fortunately, they drew the second starting position off the line, so the plan was to get out front in the clear air and stay there, hopefully beating the rest of the pack to the first rockcrawling section. Though Turner had plenty of power on tap thanks to a heavily modified 700cc engine, the black Turner Racing Rhino is really set up for short course, and as a result is a lot wider and lower than most other competitors. This put Turner at a disadvantage in the technical sections but made the car much quicker and more predictable in the whoops and the faster sections of the course. Unfortunately, the ground clearance was needed almost right off the bat, with the Rhino getting high-centered only three miles into the course. Another competitor winched the Rhino off of the obstacle, but by then most of the pack had slipped by. Shaking off the setback, Turner quickly settled into the groove and managed to reel in five competitors before reaching Elvis, a boulder-strewn hardcore rockcrawling section that was going to demand concentration and patience to get the Rhino through in one piece. After getting around two competitors that were blocking the course, the Rhino began experiencing battery problems. The engine's stator just wasn't keeping up with the high amperage demands of the winch, which was needed in several sections. To make matters worse, the Rhino was having trouble shifting from Drive to Reverse, and the engine would often stall. With the help of a jumper box borrowed from another competitor that was out of the race due to broken axles, however, Turner managed to make it to the bottom of the rock section and blazed into another fast section between Elvis and the next rockcrawling trail, Martel. Thankful for the break and the opportunity to charge the battery, Turner hit speeds as high as 64 mph on the dry lake, no mean feat for a single-cylinder Rhino!
The second rockcrawling section was not nearly as difficult as the first, and Turner got through it without much drama thanks in part to a quick push from Casey Currie. With only 10 miles to the finish, the only thing standing between Turner and the checkered flag was the infamous Aftershock. Another hardcore rockcrawling section, Aftershock is nearly three times as long as Elvis and just as difficult. The low ground clearance on the Rhino was once again a challenge, which made winching necessary. This in turn brought back the charging problems, which was only aggravated by the frequent stalling. Despite the issues, the team pressed on until both the battery and the borrowed jumper box were completely dead. With no other options and no outside assistance allowed, Turner had no choice but to call the race less than 10 miles from the finish. Though disappointed about not making it to the finish, no one could say it was because the team threw in the towel too early.
Hoping that the gremlins were behind them, the team rushed back to Phoenix to prepare for the season opener of the ASCC, the Arizona regional Lucas Oil Short Course racing series. Unfortunately, things were about to get much, much worse.
Though it is unknown whether the accident started as the result of a mechanical failure or something else, what is known is that Turner's UTV started sliding sideways on the front straight of the Speedworld track about four laps into his practice session. The conditions were very muddy, making it difficult to correct the slide.Just when he needed a break, however, the car caught a rut, causing the car to begin rolling over sideways. At some point during the roll, Turner's window net failed, which allowed his left arm to get outside the car. Based on his subsequent injuries, it is assumed that his arm was briefly pinned between the rollcage and the ground during one of the three rotations. His helmet also became dislodged during the event, but thankfully no serious head or neck injury took place.
Aside from some fairly significant bruising and a few cuts, Turner suffered a fractured left arm and a broken shoulder blade. Though still hospitalized, Turner is expected to make a full recovery following surgery to repair some damage sustained to his arm. The Turner Racing Team expects Mark to be back behind the wheel in no time, and probably well before his doctors give him the full green light to do so. Mark is in good spirits and thanks everyone for their thoughts, prayers, and support.
Some well-wishers have asked about where to make donations. Fortunately Turner is well covered by insurance and no donations are necessary. Turner requests that any donations be directed to Fast-Aid, a charitable organization that is dedicated to providing financial, educational, and personal support to injured racers, support teams, and their families. To learn more about Fast Aid, visit fast-aid.org.
Though Mark is temporarily out of commission, the team intends to spend the down time finishing the all-new SR-1 powered Rhino and making modifications to the Unlimited Rhino to improve its desert-racing performance. As always, stay tuned!
Click here to see all the photos for the King of the Hammers.