This is Zack Pollard, a racer from Fayetteville, NC, whose journey into off-road racing ignited after eight years of service as a Paratrooper in the United States Army. Fueled by a competitive spirit, Zack competes in the Ultra4 series and various other races, amassing regional victories and aspiring to climb the national ranks within Ultra4. With a small but experienced and motivated team supporting him, Zack conquers terrains from the muddy East Coast to the dry, sticky rocks and deserts of the West Coast. Emphasizing the importance of reliable wheels, he trusts Bullite Wheels to ensure he stays moving and winning.
This year, he is once again, racing at the 2024 King of the Hammers (KOH), Can-Am UTV Hammers Championship. We managed to snag a pre-race interview with him, and here is what he had to say.
Hi, I'm Zack Pollard, owner of ECC Racing and driver of the #645 Can-Am Bullite Car, here at King of the Hammers 2024.
Tell us about King of the Hammers, to someone who doesn't know anything about it.
KOH is becoming one of the most prolific races in the United States. People travel from Canada, some guys are traveling from Europe, Australia, etc. We've traveled from North Carolina, its such a big race. KOH really puts to the test a rig that somebody spent all year building. It's a place that really tests every aspect of the racer. You get desert, you get rock, you get the dirt style of racing with a lot of the high speed fast stuff, with more of the short-course racers also coming out. KOH is almost like a drug for racers. I think thats how I would describe it-- its the mecca.
What did it take for you guys to prepare for this year's race?
We spent the last 6 months building our two cars for this season. These cars were completely built in-house, our Gen One cars. So this year's KOH travel was a little bit different from years prior. We put a lot of emphasis on doing this ourselves, knowing the cars in and out, down to the weld. So as far as preparing, we have been working every single night for the past six months. Whether it would be a crew member with a 9 to 5 showing up after his 5pm to work until midnight, or Kyle [Stercay] who has been working all day, waking up at 6am to work at the shop. There is too much to list getting us up to this point.
How is Bullite involved in this process?
Bullite has been one of our biggest and best sponsors and friends-- I gotta say that. We don't like to call sponsors "sponsors"-- We call them partners and our relationship with Bullite especially over the last few years has definitely been a partnership. We've gotten to give a little bit input here and there. As far as KOH this year, we have been able to test out new [Bullite] wheels. They have the ribbing on the barrel, and we've had a lot of people come up and ask about them. Bullite has been a really big part of getting us here, and that's reflected on the cars-- our door panels, dashes, roofs. Bullite's been a really big help on getting us to KOH for sure.
What is one of the hardest part of King of the Hammers?
As far as the race itself, it's keeping the car together. I know that is a pretty common theme, that cars are constantly breaking. They are built for the course, but you never know what the course is going to be. I think the hardest part of the KOH, psychologically and emotionally, is when things go wrong. When they do go wrong, it's knowing that you let everyone that helped you get there down-- that part really hurts. You go out there, and you don't do as well as you wanted to, or you go out there and break the car lap one, or you let the head gasket blow-- just the small failures that you knew wasn't going to be a failure. I'd say that's the hardest part.
Share a little bit about the things you learned last year, that you've applied on this year's vehicles, and how you built these machines a little bit different.
[There are] some things I won't share out of preservation of trade secrets. We've learned a lot of lessons last year. We've learned stuff that worked and didn't work. [Last year,] we were able to get the car cross the line for the first time and that was awesome. We took those principles that got us there, and we changed things that didn't work. This year we done some pretty cool things, like building a throttle sensitivity adjuster to keep our throttle less sensitive in the rocks, and keep our drivetrains alive. That's something we learned and we haven't seen seen anyone else doing. The tires we were on are MRT Desert Storms. We found those work really well. We [also] didn't really have any tire failures last year. The [new] Bullite wheels, running this new wheel, forged-face, has the barrel with the ribbing in it. We have been beating them up in the pre-run and they're working good. It's a slight change, but it's within the same Bullite family, so we know it's a strong wheel. We'll just continue doing things like that that we know'll work.
How you think you're gonna do on the race tomorrow, being that it's going to be raining and possibly snowing?
Well if you could write lose on one side of the coin and win on the other side, it'll probably be about it. If thats the way to describe KOH, you don't know which side its going to land on. We could wreck 10 feet off the line, or make it all the way to the end and pull off first place. it looks like the forecast is calling for rain about an hour after we leave the line, a little bit of snow. Doesn't seem like it'll be cold enough to stick, but we're definitely going to be wet. we are expecting the race to absolutely what we would call a Suckfest. Everybody out there sucking, and who could last the longest. I think Kyle and I have that in the bag. We've endured quite a bit. There's no doubt in our mind that we could get cold and wet for 7-8 hours and get through the race. A lot of these drivers are not expected to be on wet rock, and when they get out there on that wet rock, there's going to cause be a lot of traffic jams. We call "on the rocks" when cars start pilling up, one guy breaks, one guy rolls and blocks the whole race up. I'm expecting a lot of those, which is going to take a lot of quick -hinking to get around, because when you get out there on the rocks, there aren't a lot of clear routes. its definitely going to be wild one with the weather forecast.
If you could give advice to someone racing KOH for the first time, what would that advice be?
I think my biggest piece of advice for someone running KOH the first time would be that cool heads prevail. If you see somebody fly past you, or get up on the tail of someone on the race: Don't speed up just 'cause you see somebody else. People get into their head once they get behind the wheel. Speed kills cars and could kill you out here to be honest. Keep it cool, calm, collected, maintain the integrity of the car, keep the car in once piece, and you'll be fine. As long as you can do that, plus a little bit of driving skill, you can make it to the end. I think that's why this race has such a high attrition rate, because people aren't good at keeping cool.
What inspired you to get into racing?
That's a big question. I've done exciting stuff my whole adult life. I've joined the army at 17, ...started jumping out of airplanes, couple deployments, stuff like that. I wanted to continue doing something exciting when I got home, the deployments dried up, army life slowed down, kind of had a void. I've always been into off-roading, been into off-roading my whole life, and with Power Sports starting to grow, as well as an introduction into the X3 turbo, Power Plant, stuff like that. Honestly man, it seemed like something really cool. I loved holding steering wheel, going fast, a lil bit of danger. Since then, it's been about bringing friends together and family, and at this point, supporting family. It had just continued to grow from there.
Share a little bit about the environment at Johnson Valley and Hammertown? How are the people, community, etc?
Like anywhere you get some bad apples. Things go missing if it ain't secured, stuff like that. But for the most part, 95% of the people you meet here are going to be super friendly. If you need a bolt, need a wrench, airline, tire-- if they got it, they'll give it to you. So that's the awesome part of being here-- you can almost show up without a car, and build one yourself. People are always so giving-- they just want to see you compete against them or somebody else they don't like. As far as the physical environment goes? Dusty, dry, windy, cold, and hot-- it's the desert. And very unpredictable. We got rain coming in tomorrow, and right now its dry as a bone. Its pretty interesting place especially for all the guys coming from the East Coast, up north, or overseas. Very particular environment.
How many hours have you driven here, and when did you get here?
36 hours to get here. This year we didn't stop for anything but fuel. This year, Kyle [Stercay] and I, got here last Thursday, so we've been here just about a week. Pre-running, prepping, learning the new course style. We're meeting new people, shaking hands with new companies that are interested in working with us. I think this is our shortest year actually, typically we are here for 2 or 2 1/2 weeks, but this year only a week and a half.
What have you seen that has kind of changed throughout the years?
The good part of KOH is that it stays consistent, so it is easy to predict what your day to day is going to be. And some of the problems you won't be able to predict, but as far as the layout, leadership, and things of that nature, it stays pretty consistent. I have seen KOH grow, with more and more teams showing up, people are-- I cannot even fathom how many millions of dollars are sitting on the dry lake bed right now, and tomorrow it will be sitting in the mud. But people will be doing it anyways. It's crazy man. You can't walk without bumping into a $500,000 toterhome or something like that. It just continues to grow year after year.
Race-wise, any game changers?
So we're dropping backdoor this year, which is one of the OG obstacles here. We haven't had a drop backdoor in the race [in a while]; I know years ago they did. So thats going to be pretty big, people dropping backdoor, especially with hurt cars. Once you break an axle, pop a tire or break a wheel, coming down backdoor is going to be a big pill to swallow. So that's going to be a big game changer. Also, Dave Cole (co-founder of KOH) is putting us through some gnarly rocks; the rocks are awesome. I don't think a lot of the field is ready for them, especially the guys that haven't pre-ran there. We know a guy who rolled 300 ft down the mountain, his car is all wadded up. And that's the trail we're running in the race. So there's some really crazy spots out there, and I know they made the rocks a lot longer this year. I think 30 something people finished last year, and thats too many for KOH. That's not good enough. So they are going to try to get that number down, take a lot of us down. And that's what makes it such a challenge.
Who would you like to thank?
The list is so long of people i could thank and hopefully tomorrow on the podium they could be asking the same question. My wife, Kyle my best friend and partner in all this, and other big sponsors: SuperATV, Treal Performance, Murray PowerSports who did all of our wraps this year, Hammerdown Enterprises who did all of our billet work and knuckles, etc. I've also got to thank a couple friends that were able to show up. One even came from Florida to NC to help get the cars ready. It's such a team effort. It sounds cliche, but it really is a team effort because without even a couple of these people, we wouldn't be here. We were scrabbling still the very end with [concerns about the] manpower to do it, so a lot of people put their hands on the car to get us here.
*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.