Forged in Johnson Valley: 2023 King of the Hammers Edition Bronco

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This year, FOX Factory Performance Vehicle Development teamed up with veteran off-road racer and FOX-sponsored athlete Jason Scherer to create the 2023 King of the Hammers Edition Bronco. Upfitted by FOX Factory PVD in Elkhart, Indiana, these limited-edition SUVs are built in partnership with Dave Cole, co-founder of King of the Hammers and Jason Scherer. They are tuned, tested and perfected on the toughest possible terrain in Johnson Valley, California.

Extremely limited numbers of these 2023 KOH Edition Broncos will be produced, and each is built to order. They all sport FOX 2.5 Performance Elite shocks tuned exclusively for these vehicles by Jason Scherer and FOX Motorsports suspension guru Mike Kim.

The Performance Elite package uses many components developed in racing; it’s very similar to the race-specific 2.5 shocks used on the Ultra4 4600 stock class Broncos. While the Performance Elites on this new Bronco share that racing DNA, they’re set up specifically to deliver incredible performance for both daily driving and aggressive trail use.

Creating a vehicle like the KOH Edition takes time and it takes knowledge. It requires an innate understanding of terrain and technology. When it comes to tackling that 96,000-acre plot of desert in San Bernardino County—home to the world-famous rock course best known as “The Hammers”—you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more qualified than Jason Scherer.

In the off-road world, Jason needs little introduction. Raised in Northern California, he’s spent the past two decades building and racing a long list of vehicles ranging from rock-crawling Jeeps to tube-chassis Broncos. He’s a three-time KOH champion, three-time Ultra4 champion, Crandon World Champion and plenty more.

It all seems to come naturally to Jason. When we caught up with him on a brisk afternoon earlier this winter, he was calm and collected. Donned in a blue zip-up hoodie and a FOX Factory baseball cap, he was excited to share the highs and lows of his in-progress Ultra4 car.

Everything’s a process, he says. The planning. The design. The fabrication. The testing. With late nights and long hours, it can’t be rushed. Like the writing on his garage door says, “KOH is won in the shop.” Jason and his team at Rage 4th Racing live by those words. He applies that philosophy—and intensity—to every project he takes on. The 2023 KOH Edition Bronco is no exception.

Building the Bronco

This special-edition Bronco combines Ford engineering with the latest from FOX Factory, BDS Suspension and JKS Manufacturing. Since these trucks were designed with Johnson Valley in mind, durability is the name of the game. The FOX 2.5 Performance Elite shocks feature aluminum bodies, 7/8-inch hardened chrome shafts and dual speed compression adjustment to excel on every terrain.

“A lift kit and shocks are married,” Jason says. “This is a spring and shock lift kit package that’s engineered and designed together. The performance is not just the shock. It’s the shock, the spring, the ride-height, the links and suspension components that are all tuned. All these parts are working in conjunction to get that ride quality.”

Up front, FOX 2.5 Performance Elite coil-overs pair with BDS upper control arms. The arms are engineered to take full advantage of additional travel while adding low-maintenance strength and durability. The factory steering wasn’t left to chance either; it was outfitted with the JKS steering sleeve upgrades that were designed for trail abuse.

In the rear, 2.5 Performance Elites pair with BDS adjustable lower control arms and an adjustable track bar. Both offer additional strength while keeping the rear axle in position. The control arms are built from heavy wall tubing and utilize rubber bushings for quiet, maintenance-free operation.

It wouldn’t be a capable off-road rig without protection. The rugged Rage 4th front and rear bumpers are trail-ready, complete with an integrated front winch mount and off-road lighting. The JKS max tire clearance kit creates space for the 37-inch BFG KM3 Mud Terrains. The JKS front and rear skid plates are designed for rock deflection, helping keep the control arms and shocks safe from whatever the trail has in store.

Form meets function

When Jason builds his vehicles, he strives to make them as agile as possible. Unsprung mass plays a major role, so he took extra care while selecting the Bronco’s wheels and tires.

“The Vision wheel and the BFG tire is the lightest tire and wheel combo with the durability and traction that we want, and it affects the ride control,” he says, “The lighter the unsprung mass, the better the reaction.”

Form meets function on the KOH Edition. From the four-inch lift, fender flairs and Warn winch to the custom Hammer graphics, embroidered upholstery and fender badges, the truck looks equally at home in Hammertown or on the street.

“We kept our eye on both off-road and on-road capabilities,” he says. “We didn’t want to lose on-road capabilities, but everything we did made them perform better in every environment we tested them in.”

Testing, testing

Right from the start, Jason knew the Bronco’s suspension was the most critical system. To bring it to the next level, he reached out to his longtime tuner Mike Kim for help.

Through the years, Mike has established himself as one of the world’s premier FOX shock tuners. With multiple wins at KOH and the Baja 1000, he’s driven to optimize suspension systems for every possible condition.

“We want these to be proven to go on some of the toughest terrain that we know of,” Jason says, “so we went straight to Johnson Valley. If you’re going to go testing, go testing where you’re going to race. If not, everything else is different in some way, shape or form, and it’s not as effective.”

In the off-roading realm, it doesn’t get much more brutal than Johnson Valley. According to the Bureau of Land Management, the landscape is “punctuated by steep, red rocky mountains, rolling hills, an open valley, dry lake beds and sandy washes.” It was there, among the desert scrub, brown grasses and Joshua Trees, that Jason and Mike rolled out the KOH Bronco for the first round of testing in July 2022.

What does it take to tune shocks in Johnson Valley? Expertise, effort—and sweat. As the sun beat down, the team started collecting data in real time. “It was an A to B comparison,” Jason says of the different configurations. “I wanted to drive the vehicle at a constant speed for all the obstacles that we were hitting. I tried to maintain that and get it to a speed where the car should be able to take it, knowing what I know of the race version.”

Some tunes worked. Some tunes didn’t. Back at the trailer, the team disassembled the shocks and shimmed them. They added different bump stops and changed ride heights. Their goal was to have the right amount of up-travel and down-travel and get consistent results.

“You miss it, you miss it, you miss it, and then it’s magical,” Jason says. “That’s how the shock-tuning process can be. I’m really fortunate that Mike and I feel the same thing right away. We can figure out if we made the right adjustment or not before we’ve left the parking lot.”

The road to success

Jason and Mike tuned the KOH Edition for the real world. “When we approached the KOH Bronco, it was like, ‘Hey, if this were my Bronco, what would I want out of it?’” Mike says. “Luckily, Jason and I think quite a bit alike. We wanted to be able to get some good performance off-road driving on trails, but we definitely didn’t want to give up any of the road manners.”

During their two days in the desert, the duo tested the truck everywhere from sand and rocks to fire roads. “We got a really good, big picture of what people who buy this Bronco would be out doing,” Mike says. As a result, they had to completely disassemble the shocks a total of six different times to get the right feeling.

“It’s always an unknown,” he adds. “You go out there with your initial tune, and you have to kind of test the limits of the vehicle. You have no idea how it’s going to react.” Regardless of the rig, finding the right combination can be a dangerous walk on the tightrope.

“Shock tuning is one of the scariest parts of racing,” Jason says. “We resolved issues with different ride-quality concerns until we got them to where we were very happy with them. When we got it perfected, we put the miles on it and tested it. We drove it until we were really ready to sign our name on the shock, saying this is our best version of what we worked on.”

From the Hammers to the highway

Once the dust settled and the tuning was complete, the team hopped on California 247 and drove south to Yucca Valley. The ride was quiet and comfortable, which solidified a job well done. It wasn’t easy, but Jason and Mike know what it takes to win in Johnson Valley. “We have an ability to communicate well,” Jason says, “but we also have trust.”

Look for three KOH Edition Broncos in Booth 294 in Hammertown during the 2023 King of the Hammers. To learn more, visit