Another very early morning, Thursday June 23, 2011 and we are already up at 1:30 to be ready to meet Dave Philip (my good friend and photography mentor) at 2:15 so we can make the gate to Pikes Peak to pick a good spot to shoot qualifying and practice for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. We both wanted to get the opportunity to shoot in the dirt one last time as the entire road will be paved for the race in 2012. Super Stock, Pikes Peak Open, a highly modified Polaris RZR and the Vintage classes are running the bottom section today and through the last remaining dirt section. Lots of big horsepower to throw the dirt around! On the drive down from Denver, Dave and I talked about where we wanted to shoot. Dave wanted to try and get to Brown Bush, so we finally decided that where the old ski area used to be would give us plenty of options. It’s about 4 am when we pull in and we are just starting to see a faint glow in the east signaling the count down until the sun is high enough to start practice. We pull of the road into a parking area behind some big boulders and settle in for a short nap.
As the sun rises, we start hearing more radio chatter on the radio laying on the roof of the course workers car parked in front of us. I discover that the huge wall of boulders that we parked behind, would become the perfect spot for me to shoot. I see plenty of drifting coming my way today. What I didn’t realize, is what that would mean to me later on. As the sun rises a little further into the morning sky we hear the wail of the siren of a safety car sweeping the course one last time before going green. First car on the course is Clint Vahsholtz’s #18 Mustang. The sound this car makes is remarkable and unforgettable! After Clint, the rest of the vehicles come in quick succession the rest of today’s qualifying group. Once everyone has made their run, they all head down hill to get to their pits, make any repairs or changes in the set up, and get ready to go again.
As the sun climbs higher over the ridge line behind us, the lighting gets better for both us shooters and the drivers as well. The corner we are shooting at, is really starting to dry as the runs progress and the temperature climbs. There is a slight breeze coming up the valley in my face. I get some nice footage on my iPhone of Layne Schranz and a few others “tail wagging” it up the hill out of Ski Area. Dust becomes the BIG problem for me and my equipment. With the wind in my face, every time a fast car goes by, I get totally inundated with a dust cloud that rolls over me. Just enough wind for the dust to clear for the next competitor up the hill. I hear the distinctive sound of the heavily modified #111 Polaris RZR off in the trees below me as he makes his way through the switch backs leading up to Ski Area. This guy is pretty quick!
As the morning progresses, even the corner workers take every opportunity to get pictures of the final practice days for this section of the course being unpaved. Things seem to be running pretty smoothly, so we think there might be time for one more run as the Forest Service has given the Hill Climb Association an additional hour before the road opens to general traffic. We are just waiting for the last car to come up the hill, the white #30 Camaro SS. I hear the roar of the big block V8 below me in the trees as he approaches Gilly’s corner before blasting trough Ski Area. With tires spinning and dust flying, he heads up the hill to Sump. No sooner than he is out of view, I hear on my radio, Dave saying that there is a car off big and to relay that info to race control. It takes a few minutes for a race safety truck to reach his location and are hoping they can get him situated in time for everyone to make that one last run on the bottom section. No such luck, it will take more than a pick up truck and a tow strap to get him out of the ditch. (you can see the full sequence of photos here)