Spotlight on Kevin Sacalas

Pictures provided by Big Ugly racing

Throw logic to the wind, there is no way to define how a car that big, and that ugly can fly like a short course truck on the massive jumps at the Lucas Oil tracks. There is also no way to explain how a 4 wheel drive beast can tame the whoops of Barstow in the manner Kevin Sacalas does, unless of course you are Joel Ward of Bilstein shocks, the man behind the shock tuning and one of the first to begin testing theory of tuning on the heavy un-sprung weight of a high speed rock crawler when they began racing in the desert at the 3 day “Vegas to Reno the Long way” in 2009 a race in which Sacalas shocked everyone by winning it out right through his tenacity and the hard work of his crew which prevented Sacalas from even considering giving up. The race solidified the team name “Big Ugly” and put Kevin on the radar. The scream of his Turbo is another thing that keeps Kevin high flying and pushed him to the win at the American Rock Sports Challenge in Salt lake  Utah in 2011.


Sacalas and his team will be looking to keep the momentum moving forward as they prepare for the 2012 King of the Hammers event. A race that defines the entire series and starts off the year with a host of new cars and cutting edge designs, but Sacalas and his crew put the vast majority of effort not in leading the way through innovation but through preparation and the use of proven parts and equipment. There are very few secrets in the Big Ugly program, but few can emulate the results of a fun filled weekend of racing that see’s the team looking for wins. Fun has definitely not been lost on this team, and likely is the secret that many seem to miss in the hustle of racing King of the Hammers. Look for Kevin’s fun loving crew at this years KOH event, you can find them enjoying the event beneath the giant orange balloon with the familiar Big Ugly Logo flying high above their pit. kind of like their spirits, and Sacalas’s penchant for air time on the track.

How long have you been competing in Ultra 4 Racing?

Since the first “Ultra4” race:  Best in the Desert’s Vegas to Reno: The Long way – 3 days, 1000 miles across the Nevada Desert in August.

How long have you been racing?

Actually, my first race was at The Hammers in my Jeep back in 2006. It was prior to the start of  King of The Hammers. Then in 2009 I tried to qualify in my ’01 TJ in the LCQ. I missed by 2 spots and that prompted me to build my first Ultra4 car. In 2009 I raced LCQ and Vegas to Reno. In 2010, I raced KOH and the Ultra4 Grand Slam Series, and in 2011 I raced the Ultra4 Series and the Lucas Oil Regional Series. I’ve done 14+ races in the last 2 years.

Tell us about your past experiences in the King of the Hammers and where you have finished?

King of the Hammers is the tough one every year for me. In 2009 missing LCQ by just 2 spots really prompted me to build a buggy. I wasn’t missing out in 2010 that’s for sure. In 2010 I experienced a significant rollover at speed. The car and I both took some damage about half way through the race, but we still placed 26th.  Last year I had built a new car in 8 weeks and created this custom manual transmission, unfortunately, it couldn’t take the shock load of desert racing and exploded the night before the race. So I helped another team get into the big event.  I raced In the Pink’s car to the first pit before turning the car back over to them. It was pretty funny, the car is hot pink with 4 cylinders and my knees were up to my chest as the car wasn’t built for me. I would have loved to race Big Ugly 2.0, but getting to help another team live their dream was a lot of fun.

What’s the attraction of racing King of the Hammers for you?

King of the Hammers is just epic. I know that word gets overused, but getting to be a part of something like that and working side by side with your friends to accomplish a race like King of The Hammers makes the whole experience worthwhile.

What’s your favorite part of the King of the Hammers?

There’s nothing that compares to the feeling of successfully finishing the race.

How do you physically and mentally prepare for this type of racing?

Preparing a car for King of The Hammers is the most mentally and physically exhausting thing I do every year. Preparing for it is so exhausting, that I end up numb enough that the anxiety of the race doesn’t affect me because I become almost machine like in trying to get everything accomplished for the big race.

Teamwork is a big part of KOH, Tell us about your team for the King of the Hammers?

I wouldn’t be here without my friends. I’m honored that they come out every year and create this well oiled machine for KOH week. They are wild, crazy and a ton of fun, but when it comes to keeping me going on race day I couldn’t think of anyone else I would trust to be there with me. Vicki and Alan Hahn have been with me at every race, Sam Wiseman, Bud Ponds, his son Jason, Shelly Williams, Tim Carlson, Ballarat Jim these guys are the reason I race. I couldn’t do what I do without their support. This year will be a bit different for us as Shannon Welch is working for Ultra4 Racing now and she was responsible for a lot of the coordination. We’ve got a few new crew members coming to help us out:  Wende Owen with communication and Chris Porter with mechanical assistance. Also, Shannon’s Dad, Mike Welch be flying in from South Carolina to be part of our crew. I really am lucky to have such a dedicated group of friends.

How much does strategy play a part in KOH?

I think having good communication with your pit crew is important. But if I let you know my strategy that sort of defeats the purpose of having one, doesn’t it? J

What will it take to win the King of the Hammers in 2012?

Luck and one of the best days of your life.

How much does a car vs. a drivers ability play into winning the King of the Hammers?

I’d say 70% driver 30% car.

If you had the opportunity to participate in any race in the world, what would it be and why?

Dakar – So I can say I participated in the hardest race in the world. It is the ultimate epic adventure. After racing Vegas to Reno the Long way I figure I’ve done about a fifth of a Dakar Race, I’d love to see how far I can push myself and my car.

Who is your racing idol and why?

I don’t really have an “idol” in racing. It’s really about pushing myself to my limits, and the experience of racing with a dedicated group of friends.

If you had an unlimited budget what would you build to compete in the King of the Hammers?

It would be a DeLorean 4 wheel drive vehicle that could travel through time. . This question should be if you had an unlimited amount of time. Half the fun is building the car and trying different set ups, and while budget certainly is a big factor, I think there’s a lot that can be done without being too expensive if you had the time to make it happen.

Do you have any advice to give someone who is aspiring to race the King of the Hammers?

Don’t do it! Just kidding! You really have to want to do it for the love of the adventure of it. Know that you will be sacrificing a lot of time, energy, and creature comforts to make your dream happen. There are times when you’ll question your sanity, and others will question your sanity too, but if you want it bad enough, you can make it happen, and the feeling of crossing that finishing line is something you have with you for the rest of your life.

Can you tell us about the sponsors and people that have made it possible for you to do this?

There are so many people. The Big Ugly Crew I mentioned earlier. My parents, they have been unbelievably supportive. The Orleans Casino, Joel w/ Bilstein has been with us since the beginning and has given me a lot of support.  Thom with Spidertrax has been a great supporter of our team and really produces some quality products.  Rick w/ STS Turbo has helped me fine tune the turbo for Ultra4 use. Artec has become a new supporter and are great guys to work with. The guys at RCV have also been there for us. Jim Reel with JE Reel has been there for me since my Jeep and of course Tony Pellegrino of GenRight has been a huge help as well. Without these guys none of the racing would happen.

The Facts Kevin Sacalas

Driver name:     Kevin Sacalas                                                Co-Driver Name:  Tim Carlson

Team Name       Big Ugly Racing                                       Car #  4435

Age:   28                                                                   Hometown: Riverside, CA

Chassis Builder:    Kevin Sacalas                            Engine: 408 LQ4  w/ remote mounted STS TurboTransmission: Hughes TH350                                               T-case: Advanced Adapters 4spd Atlas

Axles F/R:  SpiderTrax Pro Series 10”                                  Lockers F/R: Front: ARB  Rear: Spooled

Seats:  Twisted Stitch                                 Shocks:  Bilstein

Tires:     BFGoodrich                                                  Wheels: Raceline




About the Author

Jeff Knoll is the former Event Director for the King of the Hammers event. He has raced various classes in SCORE, BITD, MORE, and MDR. Following the California 200, Knoll travelled to Washington, DC to meet with BLM officials regarding the Special Recreation Permit policies of the BLM. Knoll serves on the BLM’s Desert Advisory Sub-Committee regarding Special Recreation Permits. Knoll also drafted language for Nevada’s Senate Bill 156 in 2011 regarding action sports safety.

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