Travis Tollett and I have been friends since we first met in 2004. His Dad, Mike (“Doc”; he’s an ER doctor) has been competing at Pikes Peak for years now on an ATV; and Travis would start competing there in 2005, also on ATV’s. Travis has been racing since he was three and has quite a bit of talent. He was racing at another hill climb event in Victor, Colorado in 2007 when he hit a rock in the road and had a wreck that left him paralyzed from the chest down. He has limited use of his arms and hands (Travis now refers to his hands as “spatulas”). Through all of that, he’s never given up, and in 2008, just one year removed from his accident, he went back to Victor as a co-driver in a rally car on the same road where he had his accident. Travis is truly an inspiration. Just a great person, with a never give up attitude.
Travis was approved in April to run Pikes Peak with another driver in the Pikes Peak Open Class. Their car was under construction, like ours, and had a few sponsor and supplier problems, like us. Travis joked at one time that if his car wasn’t ready for me to save him a seat. I, of course, told him, “No problem! ” Just before I left for Pikes Peak I heard a few reports that their car would, in fact, be done in time for the race, so I didn’t install a passenger side window net, and I didn’t have a seat cover in the passenger seat. Well, as it turns out the reports on their car were false. They weren’t going to get done in time. I got a call Sunday night before Tech, asking if it would still be possible to get Travis into my car. Wow. I started making a list of all the stuff we would need, to do to get the right seat ready for Travis.
Obviously we would need a window net, seat pad, I would have to add a strap system for his feet and legs, and I would need to move the fire controls and make sure he could reach the kill switch in case of an accident. We are due to Tech the car on Tuesday and I have to get all this done before we roll through. Not only that, but the main concern is whether or not the race director is even going to approve all of this. I am, after all, a rookie again (past experience on the ATV doesn’t count when you switch to cars), and the Race Directors haven’t seen the car. Adding to my doubt, the Race Director Phil Layton, is a friend of mine on Facebook, so he knows ALL the stuff we have been going through with the car. This could be a tough sell. I really wanted this to happen, so we started to figure out where we could get some of the stuff we needed so we could make the car ready. Luckily, a local supplier had most of it, but not all of it.
Steve is still back in Dallas and is flying up Tuesday morning. There are no local suppliers that have the seat cover in stock, so I call a shop back in Dallas. They have it and Steve will go by and pick it up, and bring it on the plane with him Tuesday. We find a window net mounting kit and ribbon net and pick it up Monday. All the rest of the stuff, we can do with what we have. We get to work and are able to get most everything done. I have talked to Travis and I am supposed to tow the car down to his dad’s house and we’ll weld in the window net and set the leg and foot straps later that night. As usual, however, things don’t go as planned.
I get the car loaded and start to head down the highway, then, BANG…it’s not a tire…one of the trailer hub bearings has broken and it’s starting to eat itself. I call my friend and fellow Pikes Peak competitor, Lee Kent, and he comes to see if he can help. We decide I can’t continue tonight and limp back to his house, stopping occasionally to throw water on the hub to cool it down so it won’t catch fire. Pretty redneck. I’m starting to wonder again if whatever it is that controls the universe is going to let us race…
Tuesday: Tech Day. The morning begins with me at a Castle Rock shop, getting the hub fixed on the trailer. It didn’t start off well. Apparently, this is a not-so-common hub, and the replacement bearing isn’t readily available. The shop calls all of its resources without success, but finally finds the bearing we need and it’s on its way over. Hopefully, the broken bearing hasn’t trashed the axle. We get lucky and they are able to clean up the spindle. The new bearing arrives and is expertly installed, and I am finally on my way down to the Springs for Tech Inspection.
I reach the host hotel where Tech Inspection is set up. Hopefully I have done what’s needed in order to pass. Because really, how embarrassing would it be to show up after all this work, and all these troubles, with a car that won’t pass Tech Inspection? The window net still isn’t in place. I’m wishing I had brought my welder after all. When we get to Tech, they already know that we want Travis to be my co-driver. They tell me that they are waiting on Phil Leyton, the race director, to approve Travis and the car before they will issue a tech sticker. They check over the rest of the car as well as my safety gear and the car passes with little issue. Thank goodness. Another milestone passed. Another kick to the groin of the people who said we’d never make it. We are asked to pull the car aside and wait to be contacted by Phil so we can have a discussion about Travis.
I had no idea what to expect from the other competitors in my class. One of them happens to be multi-time drift champion, and all around great driver, Rhys Millen. He was right behind us in Tech, and he was very friendly and started up a conversation. He had heard about some of our problems and was commenting that he was glad we had made the race and even more glad, that we decided to stay in the Time Attack Class (some others had switched to Pikes Peak Open, saying the rules in Time Attack were too limiting).
After we rolled through Tech, Rhys came over and pulled me aside and I was blown away by what he said; “Do you guys need anything?” Really? Wow. Well, do you know anyone that might be able to help us find a spare set of tires. We ran out of time and money and weren’t able to bring a spare set. Then he says to me, “No, but you can borrow a set of my wheels and tires…you don’t mind running 18’s do you?” OK, this man doesn’t know me from Adam, but he’s offering up a several thousand dollar set of wheels and brand new tires. I couldn’t believe it! I told him, thanks, and if we had some trouble and needed the tires, we would come over to his hotel and talk to him.
Late in the afternoon Phil shows up. Just about this time, Travis also arrives and sees the car for the first time. Besides being my co-driver, Travis is the graphic artist who designed the pink and white wrap on the car. I came to him with the idea of a pink car several months earlier, and he came up with this incredible design. So, the fact that he might be getting to ride up in the car that he designed the graphics for, seemed kind of fitting.
We loaded Travis into the car and Phil came over to have a look. We discussed the different safety issues and our ideas for strapping in his feet and legs. We talked about the window net release, and other issues regarding escape, etc. Phil did have a few concerns. One being that I am a rookie driver. Would I be able to handle the added distraction of having a passenger? Would I be able to handle the added media distraction during the week? How will I react in an emergency if I needed to extract Travis from the vehicle? And for Travis, would he be able to manage the fire pull if I weren’t able to, and can he reach the kill switch, pump switches, etc?
We had a long discussion with Phil, and other members of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb Board of Directors. Everyone had concerns and we did our best to address them one by one. After the discussion and after a thorough evaluation by several members of the race safety crew, Travis and I were called into the meeting. They detailed a few items that they wanted done before practice (3am, the next morning), and also laid out the additional rules we would be held to. Then they gave us the thumbs up. We were approved! We were all pretty excited. I was glad to have Travis with me and his family was very happy to see Travis back at Pikes Peak. The media found out soon after and almost immediately we had interviews on the agenda.
Next Time: Practice.