LARAMIE — When he was in his early 30s, Laramie chiropractor Jeremy Jones first tried his hand at rock-crawling, which entails driving highly-modified vehicles slowly up and across obstacles like boulders and mountain foothills.
For more than a decade, rock-crawling was just a weekend hobby — something Jones would do with friends on trips to Colorado and Utah.
Then, in 2018, Jones started competing in a type of off-road racing that combines rock-crawling with desert racing.
He had a Nevada company, Trent Fabrication, create an off-road car for him.
He competed in six races with his brand new car in 2018, focusing mostly on trying to “sort out the gremlins” on a new car that needed some breaking in.
But this year, he took his racing seriously, and by the end of the racing season, he had completed nine races and placed third for the year in a national off-road circuit called Ultra4, which Jones describes as “NASCAR for off-roaders.”
In just a year of racing, placing third for the season meant Jones bested dozens of other racers who compete in Ultra4’s 4800 Legends class, which requires racers to have a solid axle front and rear, only one shock per corner, and 37-inch tires. The class is Ultra4’s second fastest class, and Jones said it’s a lot more cost-effective to race in, compared to Ultra4’s unlimited class.
Jones isn’t exactly sure why he’s been so successful this quickly, but he said his rock-crawling experience has definitely helped.
“I also don’t really have a fear of speed,” he said. “I like the competition. It’s nice to get out front and lead the race. If you get out front and everyone’s chasing you, that’s the best feeling in the world.”
In Ultra4, being successful means staying in control, Jones said.
“If you’re not in control, you might have to slow down and correct,” he said. “There’s guys that go out so far and are so far ahead of everybody. And then 50 or 100 miles in, they’re either rolled or they’re broke. I’d like to think that I’m the guy who runs the strategic race. I’m fast but I actually get through.”
Jones attended the University of Wyoming, and as a chiropractor, Jones owns Laramie Spinal Care Center.
Ultra4 was founded just 12 years ago, and is now the sanctioning body of King of the Hammers, a long-distance race held each February in Johnson Valley, California.
“It’s like Burning Man for gear heads,” Jones told the Laramie Boomerang. “There’s like 100,000 people out there watching the race, partying and having fun. … It’s a newer sport but it’s gotten very popular, and with the side-by-side market coming along, it’s kind of revolutionized four-wheeling for the masses.”
For the racers, King of the Hammers is also a grueling test. In 2020, the race’s length will be 250 miles.
In 2019, when the race was fewer than 200 miles, it still took Jones about seven hours to complete the course.
Jones spends 10 days out in California for that race.
During King of the Hammers, Jones reaches speeds of 120 mph while driving across the desert, and then drops down to a slow crawl when traversing a boulder field.
“You’ll be really flying, and then there will be a really technical aspect where you have to figure out how to weave your way through stuff without destroying your car,” he said. “That’s the hardest thing: You have to get your equipment through the course. And if you don’t, you’re stranded out there until someone’s able to get you — and that might be a day.”
The beating a chassis takes can cost a driver like Jones a race. It can also cost a lot financially.
When Jones went to Nevada in October for Ultra4’s season finale, he destroyed three wheels by the time the qualifying races ended.
“My goal or the main event was just to finish on the same four tires I started on,” he said.
His fourth place finish at that race earned him enough points for the season to earn Ultra4’s third place trophy in the 4800 Legends class.
Jones does earn prize money, but even racers as successful as him might not break even with all the money they spend on their chassis and going to races.
“I don’t know that anyone gets rich doing this,” he said. “It’ s a neat culture and a neat lifestyle, but I don’t know of many people who can make a living at it.”
It’s also a major time commitment. Even the shorter races, ones that are only 2-5 miles, means Jones needs to be away from Laramie, and his business, for four days.
Even if he wasn’t successful, the culture of the sport is enough to keep Jones racing.
“The off-road community has some of the nicest people I’ve met,” he said.
During a race in September, Jones was in the lead with 30 miles to go when one of his tires exploded. He replaced it with his sole spare, but then a second tire was destroyed shortly after he retook the third place position.
Jones was resigned to drop out of the race but, instead, another driver who dropped out of the race gave Jones one of his tires. Ultimately, Jones finished in 6th place and helped add to his point total for the season
“Everyone wants to compete with everybody at their best and it’s neat how everyone helps each other out,” he said.
Jones isn’t sure how long he’ll keep racing, but he’s unlikely to stop anytime soon.
“I would be cool if I could do it forever, but my body’s not going to take it forever,” he said. “I predict I’ve probably got another 10 years.”