It must have been Christmas,1999, when I opened my fresh copy of Gran Turismo 2. I immediately went searching for the highest horsepower vehicle. When your 11, you have no true sense of how important handling and the other fundamentals of racing really are, so power was the name of the game. I found two insane things that looked like my neighbors hatchback with wings on it, one was purple the other red, both being from Suzuki. Looking back I couldn’t imagine these being real cars driven by real people, let alone one person. I had no idea what kind of impact those would have on my life as a racing enthusiast.
After countless hours of button mashing and staring way too intently at a TV screen, I realized I could use the computer in the house to find out what these machines were. MY GOD, these things were real, and some psycho was driving up a mountain in Colorado with them.
Fast forward 10 years and I was stepping out of an airport and hopping in a Honda Element that a college friend bought upon moving to Colorado Springs. It was early and my good friend Andy asked me, “What do you want to do?”
I was quick to respond, “I want to go to the Summit.”
I stood on that mountain top 14,115 feet above sea level and I can’t explain it, but that day, that moment, that view changed my life. Breathless and breathtaking all in the same moment. That day was in 2009.
I knew I had to share this Peak with my father, I just didn’t know when we could make that father and son trek to Colorado to make it a reality.
While finalizing our itineraries for the Huntington’s Disease Society of America’s June convention in Louisville, I happened across the schedule for this years Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Coincidentally, the convention closed Saturday night leaving time for those who traveled from all around the country to get back home for their work week bright and early Monday morning. I saw no sense in the matter because I looked at my dad and asked him if he wanted to go to the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb which started the week right after the convention. With the quick nod of his head I flew into action instantly booking a hotel and two plane tickets from Louisville to Denver. Just as the convention would end, we would take the detour to Colorado Springs to enjoy the week long schedule for Pikes Peak.
Months strolled by and he and I were very busy with work and helping to raise funds and awareness for Huntington’s Disease. We never really talked about this awesome journey that lie ahead of us. That is until the week before we left on our adventure when I told him that for Father’s Day I had scored us two media passes giving us exclusive access to really interesting stuff during race week. We were all set!
He asked me one night. “Do we have set plans for what we are doing when we get there?”
“Hell no! We go catch a couple of practices and then there’s Fan Fest. Then race day.”
I couldn’t help but see the concerned look in his eye. I reassured him we would be okay, and to have some faith, after all I’m his son and I can read maps too. I kind of knew what I wanted him to experience. I just crossed my fingers and hoped that I was right.
When we landed in Denver we made our way south to Colorado Springs the whole entire time trying to catch a glimpse of something that looked like mountains. We checked into our hotel and made sure that the first thing we did was get our credentials in the morning. It was all hustle and bustle that morning with competitor and media registration happening just a room apart. My dad being a very meticulous person read the entire wavier before signing it, even though he has read the same one at our local autocross events many times before. We received our vests, lanyards, and our “media pack” being a driver/rider list and an itinerary. We stopped for breakfast and looked over the list of things to do and just hours away, tech inspection was about to begin for the cars and motorcycles. We highlighted that on our schedule and away we rolled to our first experience at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Enormous tires, even larger wings, small motors and ones that wouldn’t fit inside you own home, NASCAR seats in electric cars International racing stars to TV personalities….these are just some of the things you see at tech. I tried to lead my dad around to see as much as we possibly could. He went off on his own journey talking to people and racers alike, he mentioned that it was a really cool chance to talk to the engineering chiefs and the people who built the cars. We walked around for about 20 minutes just gawking at things we will probably never see again in our lifetimes, a beautiful Ford RS200, a Falcon built by Gas Monkey, and for the really nerdy a Seat diesel from Romania that was so cute you just wanted to give it a hug. My dad continued his journey around the parking lot just looking at everything, trying to comprehend what these cars were setup for.
That’s when Mike Ryan’s truck showed up.
We joined the swarm towards the massive Freightliner. The presence of something so large was just overwhelming. Everyone knew or felt that this was indeed something special. My dad couldn’t believe it’s presence. In the years we tried to catch some broadcast of the Hill Climb we would just sit and watch the fast cars go up and then wait for the “big rig” to go up the hill. The word “classic” came to mind when he and I were standing next to it. It’s like when you get to meet Franco Harris or Cal Ripken, legendary.
I knew why I had come, it was to watch my hero go up the hill and to finally set my eyes on the E-Runner, Nobuhiro Tajima’s newest creation to tackle the feat of racing to the clouds. The car showed up just as scheduled for the electric car tech inspection time slot. Along with the other Mitsubishi entries, being driven by Team Hot Wheels Green Driver Greg Tracy and Hiroshi Masuoka. We stood shoulder to shoulder between both vehicles just looking and comparing both cars intently with the greatest of respect and sheer amazement.
We decided to wrap up the night to get ready for our first day at practice.
“Yeah, it doesn’t matter that we are from the Eastern Time Zone, 2am is no fun” my dad said as we drug ourselves out of the room and into the rental and headed north on I-25. I drove so he could look out the window, but then again it was so early he could only see the lights of Colorado Springs. We made our way through the canyon up to the base entrance where we showed our passes and went through without question. We continued to weave our way up to the mountain where there was nothing but poor halogens lighting the pass. We passed two massive scaffolds that would later in the week become the legendary mid-corner start line. On the first day, we decided to watch from 16 mile, it’s above the tree line at about 12,780 feet. We got to watch the Electric Vehicles and the Pikes Peak Challenge cars that day.
This was my second trip but when I had been to Pikes Peak before, it was only Ikuo Hanawa and his 2WD Yokohama sponsored entry that filled the Electric vehicle class. It’s hard to explain the eerie tone that emanates from these cars. The electric vehicles are mandated to run with an audible alarm to alert spectators of their rapid arrival. But, beyond the alarm the noise is great, it is a high-pitched piercing racket until they slow down when it turns to a deep rumble that shakes the air around you and hits your chest with the same vigor as a fireworks show. The speed these cars exhibit out of the corners is ballistic; it seems very point and shoot just getting from exit point to the next turns’ entry at break neck speeds.
We spent all day walking around trying to find the perfect places to take photos from. I think my dad was still confused to the way that Pike Peak is run. There are three practice sections on the mountain for each practice day. Three groups of vehicles/motorcycles in each section. Each group running a different section each day. So, you could pick and choose what different type of race cars or motorcycles you wanted to watch depending on where they were running on the mountain. On qualifying day, each group was assigned a certain section of mountain, to get their best time.
The next day we spent time watching the Time Attack class, on the “lower section” at Ski Area and Gilly’s Corner, which is at the 11 mile marker and just around 11,000 feet. Gorgeous is an understatement, to your back stood this mammoth mountain. In front of you are tall trees beyond those trees you could see small lakes just before your whole horizon gets filled with the massive expanse that is the eastern side of the Rockies.
These cars look like something I could’ve bought and put my own work into the vehicle, bring to the mountain and fulfill a life’s dream. Everything you could imagine from your American Muscle, Japanese and European sports cars and the odd Spanish diesel hatchback. Amazing!
The holy grail in this class for me and my father was the white Ford RS200 driven by Mark Rennison from the UK. What a unicorn car! Something so rare and so hallowed as this Group B design-minded performance machine that was flying past us at over 100mph into Gilly’s corner. The antilag was barking with every downshift as he roared towards the apex of the switchback. The turbo howled as he started to roll back on to the accelerator. He disappeared into the trees in a flash but you could hear him beyond the field of view. Antilag still barking and popping like a pissed off Jack Russell, as he made his way up to Glen Cove where his practice would stop.
We would come off the mountain each day and find ourselves wrapped up in conversations with people from all over the world. We had Japanese, British, Irish, French in our hotel, each having the most interesting stories of why they wanted to come and race up the mountain.
I met a friend of a motorcycle racer who built the bike he was racing just the week prior to needing to leave for the race. Just in time to get the bike on the plane to the US, only to get it here and load it on to a moving truck to bring it south from Denver. I learned that the guys from Yokohama change the majority of the written text to Japanese for Hanawa-san’s crew to easily accommodate them. If you just stroll through Manitou Springs you will see race cars parked in just about every hotel. Mine was no different. Trailers filled with countless amounts of horsepower and motorcycles stuffed into the beds of rental trucks. The lengths some of these people go through to make this happen could be a lifetime of adventure alone.
Let’s put it this way. Take Nitro Circus fans, mix in some Red Bull Global RallyCross fans and sprinkle in some late model dirt circle track and finally a dash of a few “townies”. That’s the basic crowd at fan fest. A ton of people who eat, sleep and drink the automotive enthusiast lifestyle. This event is a massive pit party where you can meet up with most of the drivers in the middle of town. It seems the entirety of Colorado Springs, a mix of hippies, rodeo goers, and adventurers, come to join in the festivities. Bondaurant racing school was present trying to sell you G-forces to tear your face from your skull and the guys at Rockford Fosgate who were offering to melt it off with dubstep. The local fire departments came out to sell chili to raise money for local charities. Glad they were there – chili – hot.
Race Day. (From my Dad’s perspective)
12:30am, alarm goes off after just 2 hours of sleep. Gotta go! Is he awake? Nope!
My driver sleeps.
Dressed, keys, cameras? Check! Hit the road. Boy is it dark.
The highway is barren again. I hope we don’t go racing up the valley this morning, our rental van hasn’t been the best companion to the tight twisty roads. We turn left to head up the mountain and the road in front of us is lit with the headlights of traffic. Everyone told us to leave early….to me 12:45am is early to go to a race! But as we turned the corner to head up the Pikes Peak Highway, it seems like a solid line of taillights glowing like lava. I have never experienced anything like it!
We wind up the dark pass and I’m still clueless to where we are, just following…the long line of tail lights as you blink because the lights in the darkness almost hurts. Left then right… we follow along like lost lemmings knowing that one side is straight up, but the other side has a very, very long way down and I hope that we aren’t going to just follow the leader off the edge. We finally arrive at the gateway, driving past all those who parked overnight or at least until they were woken up by the now miles long conga line of cars. We pull out our passes into the beam of the LED flashlight of the volunteer. He waves us on.
Back to darkness.
A quarter mile from the start line we are greeted by traffic, trailers, officials, spectators and racers walking everywhere. I had no sense of what was moving or in which way. And it was still in complete darkness that surrounded the mayhem. We drove through very slowly as the traffic workers asked if we knew where we were going. We did, but even with several days on the mountain, it all looked different. But I knew that “up” was the correct direction to proceed.
We decided to go to Ski Area, hoping to find a place to park.
Now we wait. No shenanigans to behold, guess I could catch up on missed sleep from the past week of 2am wake ups.
Damn, someone’s parked right beside us.
As we start to wake up I realize that it is time to use the facilities, but there are sleeping bags right outside my door. I guess I just wait. And to make matters worse, Morgan left the van running all night and all I can think is that they should be awake by now. Man, I hope they’re still alive.
Let’s go see what’s going on. Well, we know we hadn’t killed anyone with the exhaust so that was good. We grab all of our photo gear and our media vests. Time to trudge up from the parking lot to the road. There were spectators everywhere, crammed into the fenced area like sardines. Folding chairs, blankets, sleeping bags, and coolers accompanied almost every spectator…and they were everywhere. Crazy!
We started towards Gilly’s corner to boos and cat calls. They changed the rules this year, allowing spectators to only a few very controlled spots on the hill. We were not very popular as we were waved through the fenced areas to head to our destination.
It’s not as windy and it’s not as cold as earlier in the week. The sun is just in the right spot for me to get some nice shots. I need to find a good angle to frame action from. I find my perfect position and with it being race day, I’m going to get one shot of each racer. Morgan vanished around the corner 10 minutes earlier, to scope out a spot that he’s been trying to shoot all week.
All I could hear was the whipping of helicopter blades then a quiet rumble approaching of what I thought was the first competitor. NOPE. That old Chevy from tech, the one with melted tire rubber stuck on the back window came roaring around the bend. That thing was cool! It had no floor in the bed so I can only assume they put the rubber there in the most patriotic way possible. I had been informed earlier in the week, it was going to be the pace vehicle and it was from the guys at Gas Monkey Garage. The same guys who built the white Falcon. It disappeared out of view and up the next straight. It wasn’t very loud so the chopper let me know where it was.
Off in the distant I could hear the mashing of high RPM motors. It has started. The first few bikes came by, all classics. Mostly Japanese bikes that howled between the trees. Trying to get a few good shots, these guys were riding like dirt track racers instead of road racers with their inside legs kicked out to counter the back of the motorcycles from stepping out. Right about where I’m standing is where they are transferring their weight. They shift in the seat just to vanish, then to silence.
Something must have happened, but what? No bikes. No noise. Are they done?
Then suddenly noise again, coming from behind me. Four bikes came back down the hill, these lucky few got to run the course again due to a red flag higher up the mountain.
The racers who got a rerun had been let loose to carve up the mountain. They sped past me again, this time they just seemed faster. Then nothing. I waited. It must have been bad. I couldn’t hear anything from the corner worker. I hoped it wasn’t any thing bad.
The bikes started again this time they were bigger, faster bikes and these racers were making their exit even before they could transition to the angle of the next corner. It was incredible to witness. They were coming at faster intervals, or maybe they were just getting faster and faster than the guy in front of them.
Then it was quiet again but in the quiet I heard something behind me. I turned around to find the secluded spot I had marked as “my spot” was now loaded with people who weren’t supposed to be there. All of them trying to be quiet, trying to be discrete and just back from the edge that they were out of sight of the safety guy across the track.
After just a short break, the first car was released and you could hear it wind its way up the mountain going faster and faster. You could hear the winding down for each apex and screaming on each straight away. Then, poof, like magic Romain Dumas was to my left and then gone. Damn camera didn’t shoot fast enough, tail lights, trees and dirt was all I got.
Luckily, Morgan had much better luck than I did at getting the shot.
Then whipping of blades, I could hear no dinosaurs being made into exhaust when the high pitch alarm started wailing. The vehicle was much closer than I had anticipated. Ah, red! Mitsubishi red! It was Greg Tracy, he had snuck up on most of us as he shot out of the barrel of the corner. Once again, I wished I had the book for this blasted camera so I could set it up for multi-shot. I had better luck for pictures at practice. Another Mitsubishi and I was ready this time. Well, at this point, I never really put the camera down again so I knew I was going to get the shot. I did the same when Monster showed up.
Eureka! I can hear them coming again!
We were then assaulted by a barrage of internal combustion engines. An odd looking car open wheel car with massive blue and yellow wings appeared first. Paul Dallenbach, the Colorado native and Pikes Peak hero flew past me with great speed. And just as I could get turned around, I was presented with a wide array of either black and red, or white and red cars.
Finally to break up the color, appeared an orange and white beast of a Camaro driven by Colorado Springs local, Steve Goeglein. It slung itself around the corner and I wasn’t sure if his intention was to make me more deaf or to make it to the top in exquisite style. He drove like there was still dirt on the road and I guess he would know, as I found out later that this is his 24th consecutive year at Pikes Peak. He powered over and let the rear end slip just enough to continue him on his current course. He quickly corrected, I braced myself for full throttle again but he was so fast he was gone before I could blink again. Incredible!
This must be a really tough corner, most of these guys are coming around slow to try and retain grip. Not really getting on the power until they are completely out of the corner facing pointed uphill again. With the exception of the green open wheel car who piloted into the corner with a healthy bit of opposite lock just to continue skyward.
All in all it was an exciting, beautiful day with fast cars making no noise and fast cars making tremendous amount of noise. Vehicles of every shape and description a true proving ground for manufactures. From Dumas’s car barely larger than a coffin to a ‘land yacht’ that was a Ford Falcon. The speeds made the 7% slope look like a flat road. Breathtaking!
Trudging back up the hill, it was hard to imagine that these machines had been roaring through here all day. The road looked so much smaller with these cars using every bit of it. Now it looks like a massive two lane highway with shoulders on each side. The spectators were making their way back to their cars, safety crews getting people across the road. Just as we reached the parking lot the racers came back down the hill. People waved lawn chairs and blankets to show their enthusiasm for the efforts and struggles that were put forward to do what they had done. The racers waved back as thanks to everyone for the support.
When we finally made it back to the van we heard on the radio the tragic news of Bobby Goodin. I still don’t know how that could’ve been prevented, we talked about it all the way back to the finish line.
We passed the trophy ceremonies. Vehicles are being loaded into trailers, drivers and crews all moving through the trees, parking areas, on the road, in the ditches and crawling under things, pushing, tying down, closing doors, packing up and getting ready to move ‘em out. The line in front of us now consists of everything we saw through the day being trailered or even driven down the road along with the thousands of spectators in or on anything you could think of. What a day – nothing like it that I have ever seen!
Thank you Morgan, for the best Father’s Day present. It will always be our adventure and hopefully we will be back!
Final Thought (from Morgan):
I’m extremely happy I got to experience this with my father. It wouldn’t have been at all possible without some help though. I want to take a few seconds and thank The My Life at Speed Family for welcoming us into their group. I would also like to thank Rick for walking me through some great places to shoot.
If I would have one favorite part, it would be the My Life at Speed BBQ where I got to spend with Greg Tracy, Mike Ryan, Andy, Charlie, Fabrice Lambert, Travis Tollett, and Denis Begue…to name a few. It was like a “who’s who” of famous racers and My Life at Speed-ers.
I got to hear amazing stories from people that I idolize, but in person. I got to share a fun “whoopsies” moment with Greg Tracy and talk driving with the first man to the summit Pikes Peak on both 2 & 4 wheels. What a monumental soul that man has.
I saw myself as an outsider peering in until that conversation, he made me feel very welcome and it was in no doubt a confidence boost. I listened to Mike Ryan tell tales of stunt driving, things that I couldn’t imagine really happening, happened to this man. I also got to hear first hand what happened when he went on his excursion through the trees in his Freightliner. Fabrice and Denis had jaw-dropping adventures to get to Colorado from their home on Reunion Island. They told stories of their love and hope to just get to Pikes Peak with compassion and literally tears in their eyes. THIS was the moment that they had worked their entire life to be a part of….Pike Peak. Their spirit is honestly something I have never seen in another human being. Their story was so touching and really played at my heartstrings.
To now know the conclusion of their Pikes Peak experience be so incredibly positive, to finally make it back home and for me to find out that Fabrice had a serious crash and now is healing broken bones back on Reunion Island. I can only say that I am sending “courage and strength.” Fabrice, get well friend!
Finally, Chris. [don’t you cut this out!!]
Thank you so much for posting my story and video 2 years ago and helping me get my word out about our families personal journey with Huntington’s Disease to so many who haven’t heard it. I don’t know where I and my fundraiser would be if I didn’t have that extra jolt from winding up on My Life at Speed’s site being shown to the world.
I had a feeling that I was going to run into you this year. Who would’ve guessed that it would have been on the first day? I cant tell you my elation of running into you, Rick and Andy at tech. Little did I know that, because of that I would get to share such excitement and fun with my father.
Dad, I hope we made good memories. Thanks for joining me. I love you.
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