King of the Hammers 2024 Interview: Bullite's Ben and Tiffany Protas

King of the Hammers 2024 Interview: Bullite's Ben and Tiffany Protas

Ben and Tiffany Protas, from San Diego, California, are the dynamic duo husband-wife team behind the Calculated Risk Racing Team. From 2018, they've competed in various series, including BITD, DP4, and District 38. Beyond their passion for racing, the Protas duo has become an integral part of the off-road racing community, emphasizing the importance of camaraderie and support among teams. This year, their focus shifted to aiding other teams at King of the Hammers. Tiffany, with her background in desert racing, and Ben, previously involved in asphalt quarter-mile cars, bring a wealth of experience to 2024 King of the Hammers.

We were lucky enough to manage a sit down with them, and ask them a few questions.

Introduce yourself.

Ben: We're Ben and Tiffany Protas, from San Diego, California, and we are from Calculated Risk Racing Team. We've been racing since 2018, competed in many different series, including BITD, DP4, District 38, etc. We're just here having a total blast as a husband and wife team. We spend 50% driving, 50% navigating-- taking turns throughout the entire race. 

Tiffany: I’m Tiffany Protas, driver and navigator. I start racing the first half of the race. We switch, and he races the second half. We do double duty, and it seems like it's been working out so far.

Share a little bit about your role in this year's race.

Ben: This year in 2024 for King of the Hammers, it was all about helping other teams, and being a part of the race community. This is something that we really care about and is big to us. Helping other teams, answering a call when needed. Patrick Murray is responsible for getting us all together. Getting us a spot in the pit, getting the tents, getting everything all set up-- we’re here to support in anyway we can. It’s all a part of the experience, it's all part of the fun. It’s not just racing-- it’s getting out there, being a part of other people's teams and their success and being involved. It’s a huge thing to a lot of these teams who have no support out here. Some of these guys are coming out here, just a mom and pop [duo], and they don’t have sponsors, friends and family that can help them. We keep an eye out for people like that, to look out for them and step in when they need it. Give them the support they need in order to compete, not only in the race, but to finish the race. A lot of people just don’t have the support, the pit crews or parts that are needed sometimes. I think that’s something that everybody here in the entire community will do: step in and help other teams. That’s something that weighs heavy on us and I think just about everybody here.

You talked about community and helping out. This is [Bullite's] second year, and we've always noticed people are always trying to help each other. Can you dive into that a little bit more?

Tiffany: It is a community and whether you know the people or not, everybody steps in. If you need something, you can just stand there for a minute and somebody will eventually show up and help you out. You can seek out and ask anybody for anything. If they have it, they will immediately give it to you and try to help you fix it, or guide you through whatever the situation is. It’s wonderful. We’ve noticed recently becoming part of the side-by-side racing community that they seem to be even more [helpful]. That's the goal. It's just to try to get as many people out here, trying it out, loving it as much as we all do. It’s a great community.

What were you guys running before the side-by-side?

Tiffany: Before we were side-by-side racing, Ben was racing mainly on the asphalt with quarter-mile cars. I grew up in the desert, started out with three wheelers and dirt bikes-- that kind of thing. As the kids got older, we decided to get into racing. [The kids] were not very interested in that, but they’re kind of showing a little interest now. [As for us], one thing led to another, and we got a phone call from [Ben's] cousin inviting us to a race one time. We ended up being very good friends with the people and we helped Jonmark, part of Dead Legs Racing. After that, we've been part of it ever since-- we've been hooked. There’s something in every racer that’s out here that you can’t get away from. As soon as you get home, you wanna go back out. You basically want to get a nice hot shower, and then go back.

Have you guys always been doing this together? 

Tiffany: It's been my dream since I was about 10 years old. My dad took me to a stadium race with buggies and trucks, we called them Tuggies. It was a combination of a Toyota and a Buggy. They tricked them out and they were racing in the stadium. This was before I knew anything about Baja, because they’ve been doing that forever. My brother and I just sat there and went: "Oh, we have to do this." It took us about 40 years when my brother and I finally did a race together. Ben just came and asked me one day, after that race that we went to with his cousin, and said "You want to do this?" I said "Of course! Yes!" That's it. We just dove right in and have been loving it ever since.

How many years have you guys been coming to King of the Hammers? And what kind of changes have you been noticing?

Ben: We've been coming here since 2019. I think the only year we missed was during COVID19. They just had too many restrictions that we weren't willing to follow, so we gave up on that year. But other than that year, we've been coming every year after that.

I don't necessarily think the courses get more difficult. Because they’re running the same course for the most part, so we know where everything is, and we know where to go and how to get there. We know how the course is laid out. There might be a variation from here to there, but it’s pretty much the same. I've seen the volume of racers increase, especially in the side-by-side arena. It’s more affordable for a lot of teams to come in and actually compete in this. They don’t really know what they’re getting into when they come out here to do this. Kyle and Zack are used to all this rock stuff. But when they came out here, they saw something that they haven’t seen before when it comes to rock climbing. But, they did an outstanding job out there. Those guys both finished the race and did incredible. We didn’t know how they were gonna do, but they did a great job. It’s great to see these teams come out here that haven’t been here before, [finished the race], see the look on their face and then say, "I’m coming back again next year!" It’s a great thing.

Tiffany: What I've noticed about the changes I see every year is the drivers. The drivers are getting better, the equipment is getting better, the machines are getting better-- everything is just getting better. The competition is very tough. Everyone is just good. Really good.

To everyone at home watching this and wanting to give this a try, what kind of advice would you give them?

Ben: Just do it. See if you can get some of your friends or family together, talk to some of us doing it. We'll help you in any capacity that we can. It's something that will change your life. At least try it-- its a great experience. Just visit first before you dive in. Come out and spend some time with the racers, and spend the weekend or even a day to just experience it.

Tiffany: Join some good Facebook groups and ask questions. Everybody was a beginner at some point, and everyone is willing to help you get started.

I know you guys did a race recently, and got into an accident. Share that story.

Tiffany: A little over a year ago, while we were racing, there was an accident at the side of the road. Ben chose to switch "lines" really quickly, while I was watching the traffic on the side. It was a very sketchy situation. As I was looking over here, we hit a "G" out really hard. Our driver's side tire was completely upended, and my shoulder blades ended up touching. I was basically crushed. I had some vertebrae fractures and some rib fractures. It's taken a little time to heal from that, and I'm doing a lot of exercising and dieting to get back in the buggy. I want to drive again (not sure if I want to co-drive again), and work my way back up to make sure my body can handle it. This is my dream-- to run King of the Hammers. 

Other than side-by-side, you also do other types of races?

Tiffany: Yes, the autocross. We have a Subaru BRZ with turbo, and some other little modifications. I just did that for the first time last month, and it seemed to go pretty well. The first day was a bit scary, because it was pouring rain. And getting back into racing for the first time and putting that helmet on-- there's some mental gymnastics that need to be done at first. I had a great instructor that got me through it. And by the next day, we cut over 20 seconds off my time. And I'm going back.

Share a little bit on the vehicles that you work on, and what were the first things you got done. And what vehicles did you have before this one.

Ben: Well, we've been going to the desert for many years. We started with a small RZR 800. It was like a golf cart. We thought we were pretty cool in that thing, drivin' around. One of our friends showed up with a Yamaha YXZ, and took me on a ride. To me, it felt like a trophy truck. It was incredible. Manual transmission-- it was a great vehicle. I told Tiffany about it and she got in, and went for a ride. Tiffany didn't like it-- she said it was too cramped and too hot, that there's just to much going on. Then we heard Can-Am had a ride day out there in Glamis.

Tiffany: I saw the videos and it looked like a mini trophy truck. And I said that's what we're getting. I didn't have to ride it, I didn't have to see it-- i just saw the commercial and I was sold. 

Ben: I was insistent though-- I said we had to go drive it first. We went to Glamis and we drove it. I got out of it and said "I guess we're getting one of these." We wound up getting it and did some recreational driving with it. We then got hooked up with my cousin on a race, and from there we turned it into a race car. Competed for our first race for our first season, we took the Triple Crown. It was exciting for us, as newcomers to place and podium and walk away with trophies. We were hooked. The people were just incredible.

So, little by little we kept building that car and because of our success, we had sponsors get involved. They took our car and decided to do a ground-up rebuild and build the entire thing. We ended up having to finish the build ourselves, and that's what our previous car was. We had pretty good success in that car. Tiffany put all the electronics together; she fabricated the overhead console and did an outstanding job. Rob Dicarlo and Those Sxs Guys did an incredible job helping us out. We raced everything that we could and had a blast. We put about 4,000 race miles on it and it got to the end of it's life span. 

We took the heart out of that car and put it into our new build. That new car is designed and engineered by Rob Decarlo and side-by-side guys. It's got a wheelbase of a trophy truck, and all the little things without it being overdone. It's everything you need be successful and compete. It's only been 6 weeks since we got the car done, and we've been testing it. We've got some Bullites on that thing, and we've been having a blast. Those wheels are just performing amazingly. We've had them on our previous build as well. We're going to be using that build for this upcoming season, as well as 2025. We'll be out here as a team, if her back heals well enough to be in the car.

Tell us about how is like competing with the Bullites.

Ben: Those wheels are pretty incredible. From the moment I met Peter from Bullite, it's been an incredible experience. It was the way that he explained everything and the way he showed us what [kind of] engineering went into this. From the metal inserts that went into the bead locks, to the rolled lip on the wheel-- these things are incredible. We put these things in our car and beat the hell out of them. We have lower tire pressure than most people do. We've been running 14 PSI when we're driving our cars, and we haven't had any problems with these wheels. Even if we get any flats, we can use the wheels the next day, next race or several races. I highly recommend these things. They also come in many different styles-- I know you can find one you'll like. 

*This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity, aiming to present a cohesive narrative while preserving the authenticity of Ben & Tiff's experiences and perspective.

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