King of the Hammers 2024 Post-Race Interview: Bullite's Zack Pollard

King of the Hammers 2024 Post-Race Interview: Bullite's Zack Pollard

We caught up with Zach after the 2024 King of the Hammers (KOH), Can-Am UTV Hammers Championship. He finished 16 of 41 that managed to completed the race, with a total of 125 racers. We managed to snag a post-race interview with him, and here is what he had to say.

Give us a play by play. Starting with the morning of the race, what time you got up, all the way to the start of the race.

We woke up at around 5am. When we woke up in the morning, it was super windy and there was a lot of dust in the air. It was just a brutal environment in the dark, and still we were expecting some heavy rain. We got up early and sat in the line from 6am to 9am. Just about 3 hours-- just waiting for the race to start. I left the line around 9:10 this morning, and the race really began-- that's where the excitement really starts.

I hit the desert. The first part of race was a rock garden for probably an eighth to a quarter of a mile, which kind of weeds out the weak cars in the beginning. Got through there like it was nothing-- picked right through it. Got into the desert and lost [the] breaks and tires at Mile 7, which was probably clipped by a rock [when I was] making a pass. Pit 1 was about Mile 37, so I roughly did the rest of the next 30 miles with no breaks and a flat tire in the rear. When we got to the pit, we were unable to diagnose the break issue, but were able to get a new tire and wheel on the car. Ran all the way to the Pit 2, which was just over 100 miles without any breaks. Got to Pit 2, and the car was feeling good. I just got topped off with fuel and went into the rocks, which is really the bread and butter of this kind of racing.

Right after I left Pit 2, I popped a tire two miles back into the course, and had to run the whole rock course on a flat tire. It's just what happens. We usually have really good luck with the tires that we run, but everything's bound to fail at some point. We just happen to clip a rock the right way, with the right amount of throttle, with the rock happening to be sharp enough to take the tire out. So yeah, we ran basically the whole rock loop, minus a couple trails, [with a flat tire]. We were even stopped a couple times and told that we weren't gonna make it on that flat.

But I knew we would make it as long as the wheel held up. We pushed through and made it all the way back to Pit 2. That’s when the crew went ahead and pulled off that wheel that had been beaten all the way through the rocks. We threw on a fresh Bullite wheel with a fresh MRT tire, and went ahead to finish out the race from there. Still no breaks, but I didn't need brakes if I was trying to go fast, so it didn’t really slow us down much. Made it all the way to finish line, came across the podium and let everybody see what car was capable of. Other than a few hiccups, it was a good day for the #645 car.

You mentioned you hit a rock two miles out and had to run the rest of course-- how long was that rock course?

I know people watching this and KOH is gonna fact check me on this. I don’t know it-- I think it’s 30 or 40 miles. It’s a long loop of the most brutal rocks Johnson Valley has to offer, and Dave Cole really put on a hard course this year for us. I think a lot of people finished last year, and he said "Alright, we’re gonna make the course harder for you guys". So the rocks were a brutal 30-something miles.

I didn’t slow down at all with the popped tire. It made the car a little bit harder to steer, but it continued to roll and I was getting across some stuff that some people on all four good tires weren’t able to pull. I think they’ll probably have some really good footage coming out of Chocolate Thunder. I don’t run a spare wheel or tire in the car, or any tools because we trust the car that much. I knew if we popped the tire, the wheel would still get us to the pit. I said it before the race, I'll say it now. Because it did work-- I could run the whole race on just the wheel. I did it for that 30 miles, I can do it for 50, I do it for 80, I can do it 200. The wheel proves it. It’s still in one piece. It's definitely banged up, and that’s gonna happen. It could be billet, and it could still be banged up. If it would’ve broke, we would’ve been stranded. Like the racers I saw-- I saw a lot of wheels split in half. Some were breaking right in the center of the barrel. So that was definitely a big advantage for us to be able to continue moving. Even if we did carry a spare and wheel tire, I don’t think I would’ve stopped because I know the wheel would’ve made it.

What was some of the biggest challenges you experienced this year compared to last year?

This year the biggest challenge was the wet rock. We’ve never had wet rock in Johnson Valley while we’re here-- it’s always been dry. I had to kind of adapt to wet rock, so I went with a different approach on the throttle, different approach to the rocks. You know, it's knowing when to let out so you can push a little bit harder on wet rock. You don’t have as much grip, so things will slip a little bit more than bind and break. Yeah, the rock was a little more challenging. Last year, I didn’t have to wench at all, [but] this year I did have to wench twice, just because of the wet rock. And it wasn’t even because we lost grip.

So these were some challenges that I faced. But honestly, other than that, we had a really smooth race. Near the end, once I realize kind of where I fell on the rankings,  we were still deep into the top 20. We pulled a good finishing position, but I was really going for the top three and making it on the podium this year. And once we had a couple problems and that [ranking] was out of reach, I really just spent the last half of the race helping people, flip them over, pulling them out of binds and stuff like that. It was a smooth run other than a couple hiccups here and there, I wouldn’t say that there were any really major "new" challenges that we haven't experience already. We’ve got a formula that seems to be working. We just needed to drive a little bit faster and keep doing what we're doing.

There was an incident on the road, could you talk more about that?

Oh yeah. So my teammate Kyle Stercay had a belt issue. I think some rollers left the chat in the secondary clutch, so he blew a belt off the primary, slippin' real bad. I was flying up behind him and I saw him on the side of the course. So I slammed on the brakes tried to pull over, and I got rear ended pretty hard. Not that big of a deal-- the cars are meant to take the abuse. But if you’ve never been rear-ended at 70 miles an hour, it hurts. I pulled off, told Kyle to back in your car and I’ll get his belt swapped and we can go. I think he ended up having belt troubles the rest of the day. It was a fluke; some clutching problems. It's something you just can't predict and that’s the Hammers. It could be a bolt takes you out, a clip takes you out, or your motor blow up-- there’s no telling. So he just fought that and I tried to help out where I could.

What place did you finish?

I think we’re unofficially 15th. To those they don’t know much about King of the Hammers, they might think it's just a 15th place finish. But realistically speaking, we’ve got over 130 racers start this race, and these aren’t [your normal] racers. These aren't guys who spend 50, 60 grand just to sit there and leave the start line. These are fast guys, and they’re well prepared. They’re just as prepared as we are. So, you know, 15th out of 130-something cars is a pretty big deal. Just coming across the line itself as a feat. Not trying to give myself a pat on the back here, just trying to put in perspective for those that only think of a [first, second, or third place] is doing really good out here. If you pull the top 20, you're somebody. You know how to hold a steering wheel, you know how to run a car, you know how to work on the car, and you know how to keep the car in one piece. So yeah, we’re pretty proud of where we ended up. Kyle and I, we both finished out the race strong. Just like last year, we learned a couple more lessons and I will come back and implement those-- just continue to get faster. We were looking for two top 10's this year, and it was just out of reach because of the stuff we can't predict.

How many hours was the race?

I think we ended up at about 5 hours, total. Some guys coming in at around 7 or 8 hours. Like I said, statistically, we've gotten lucky, coming in unscathed. The car's all banged up, parts of it are dented. But the fact that the car still came rolling across--we're lucky for that. I think we did pretty good for the time that we actually came in at. 

What's the craziest things you've seen, stuff you've seen happen to other drivers?

A whole lot of King of the Hammers war stories. I was talking about those rocks at the beginning of the desert loop. There was one car out there, the whole back half of the car was just missing. Me and a couple other racers were talking about it-- we’re not sure how that happened. The whole car was just destroyed in the rear. Just parts of it laying over here, parts laying over there. Lot of cars tumbling in the desert, end-over-end rolls. You know, you get out there flying about 90 miles an hour, and you’re doing that for 92 miles straight. You just lose track. Your focus starts to drift, and as soon as that happens, it gets you. Out there in the desert, there'd be a big drop [and the] next thing you know, you’re flipping over at 90 miles an hour. There’s a lot of gnarly wrecks out there, a lot people get hurt sometimes. This year, I saw a lot of broke cars, cars that we thought were gonna do really well. Good drivers-- they just had bad luck. Could have happened to any of us. Lot of cars upside down in the rock, some cars on top of each other. Lots of crazy stuff out there.

Now that King of the Hammers is done, whats next?

ECC racing is moving forward. We've got a couple cars to build for other races that are coming up. [They] saw what our cars are capable of, have talked to us about it. And they've already started ordering cars. We're going to building more ECC Racing Chassis. You'll see a few in the Ultra4 series this year. Hopefully, you'll see more than a few cars at King of the Hammers next year because we've got some really big stuff planned, [stuff] we'll be announcing in March. 

We'll be racing. The Ultra4 schedule is up in the air right now. We're not sure exactly if the dates are locked in, but we'll definitely be racing some of the Ultra4 series this year. Putting to use some points we got at KOH this year, back into contention for the National Championship. That's where we're headed as a race team. We're also looking into going to some short-course stuff, we haven't really decided. That'll really help us develop as drivers. Get into the fast, technical short-course style of racing, and we can bring those lessons learned back over here [to King of the Hammers] so we can get faster on these rocks. 

What about as a business?

As a business? We're gonna be building new cars. We got some new parts on the way that I can’t quite talk about yet, but we got some pretty cool stuff on the way. We’re hoping to get our hands onto the new platform and start building parts for it as well from BRP-- the new Can-Am Maverick R car. Really cool conversations going on, in that regard. We’re gonna continue improving on the platform that we know in love, which is the X3 platform. We know it like the back of our hand and we know they are still improvements to be made that some of the big companies still haven’t made yet. We’re gonna continue to put to the test the parts that we make in our own car and parts that we build our own hands. I think we’re one of the few that can say that we do that.

What parts do you build in-house, and what lead you to develop these parts?

Pretty much anything fabricated for metal on the car is from us, besides some of the performance stuff, like exhausts and intercoolers, where we work with Treal Performance. Our suspension is HCR, but when it comes to the Chassis – bash plates, double shears, and body panel work – it's all done in-house. From CAD work to CNC cutting, bending, big welding-- you name it.

Initially, we outsourced these tasks to big companies. But we then woke up one day and we realized it was getting ridiculous-- the prices were too high. They call it the "side-by-side tax". All these companies seemed to work together and keep prices around X number, or within 15% of each other and they'll all continue to make money. No one out there has got the guts to go out there and challenge them. Kyle and I, we weren't willing to play that game. And at the time, we were the smaller guys. So we decided to do it ourselves.

We went out and dropped the coin on all the CNC equipments and welders, learned the skills, took the classes, and started developing parts for the platform that we already knew. We developed it in our own, unique way. Different than anyone else on the market. Strengthened up the weak areas. Some companies didn't take [kindly to our move.] I've gotten threatening calls, threatening texts, telling us to we raise our prices or they're gonna handle us.

But that doesn't scare us. We're going to continue to offer quality, fabricated parts and raw builder components directly to racers at a low cost without blowing their budget. You don't need to blow large amounts of money on a Chassis when you can get steel for $800. If we can cut that, bend it, and send it to you along with instructions, you can build yourself a Chassis for $5k instead of $35k. We're racers too, and we believe in helping others race without breaking the bank. These other companies aren’t racers-- they're businessman, which I completely get. This is capitalism. But we’re here because we love racing, and not because we’re trying to get rich. So we’re gonna continue offering those parts to other racers.

How was the team supporting you, and who would you like to give thanks to?

We’ve had a lot of people fly and drive in from all different states. Pat came up from Florida. Rob deCarlo drove up from near Ontario. We’ve had a lot of people traveling to help keep the car together. Patrick Murry also came from North Carolina. I know he raced the desert, but he was also here to help. Simon Perry, Jeremy, his whole crew. My wife flew in, and Kyle‘s wife, Holly. Kyle obviously being here with me. We drive together every year. Whether it was cooking food, making sure the camper stayed clean, making sure the work area stayed clean, making sure we had fuel jugs lined up, making sure the hot water was on when it need to be, the generator full of gas. All that stuff, Kyle and I couldn't do that ourselves. We get here and have to focus on the cars. It’s a really big help when you’ve got at least 5 to 10 people that can help do the day-to-day management of things. A really big thank you to all them that do the things that don’t make it on camera. They don’t get a lot of thanks, but we know we wouldn’t survive three days without them getting done.

*There is more to the video talking about our Bullite Wheels, so click on the link below to check out how Zack prefers the wheels, and what makes them special.

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

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