Dave Carapetyan. Texas Dave as he is sometimes called. Why “Texas” Dave? Because nobody can pronounce that last name. Even immediate family has trouble with it on occasion, I’m told. At just 23 years old, Dave is already a Pikes Peak veteran and 2011 will be his seventh run up the famed mountain. What makes this year much, much different from years past is the fact that instead of going for yet another win in the Pikes Peak Open Division (PPO, where he has three consecutive wins and three more podiums), he has thrown his hat, and his wallet, square into the middle of the battle for King of the Mountain. That’s right, Dave has decided that this year is the year to go for a win in the Unlimited Division. In a class that has recently been contested by maybe two or three drivers going for the record, this year he will face an international field of at least four other cars running for top honors. Nice timing. But, if you’re gonna do it you may as well do it when the best in the world will be there to witness.
I had a chance to sit down with Dave recently to get his thoughts on the upcoming challenge and find out more about his Life at Speed.
ML@S: Hows the car coming and are you on track?
Dave: You know, “on track” is such a relative term, I guess…We’re on track for our current goals, but being who we are and working with what we’ve got our target is ever moving and it changes so fast. When we started the project we set really high and lofty goals because I figure if we shoot for the stars the worse that could happen is we land on the moon. Even though we set really ambitious goals I knew we’d be able to accomplish at least a large portion of what we originally set out to do. So, I’m really happy with how the car is coming together. This may turn into a bit of a development year, meaning I don’t think we’re going to be quite where we want to be to fight for the overall record, but I also think that, no matter what, we’re going to be able to do a hell of a lot more than anyone expects with our equipment.
ML@S: Why this year, then? And beyond that, why make the jump from Pikes Peak Open (PPO) at all?
Dave: When I first started racing Pikes Peak I remember watching Leonard Vahscholtz and thinking that PPO was such an exciting class. Unlimited was completely unattainable when I first started and I remember thinking ‘that’s insane, I’ll never do that’, but PPO really spoke to me. That was the class I wanted to run. So we did it in 06′ and we were third so I came back and we did it again in 07′ before finally in 08′ we got a win. Then we came back in 09 and last year making it three wins in a row. The competition in PPO can be really great but I realized we could do all we wanted in Pikes Peak Open and we could go crazy and we could build a really neat car and we could take the record, but that record stopped being really important to me. I think allot of people think we have this personal goal to own the PPO class, but I don’t really feel that way. I just don’t feel that me and the class have some score to settle, like I have to have that record. I just felt like having been up there for six years we had done pretty well with not much at the time. People accuse me all the time of being over-ambitious but in my six years up there I’ve done allot with a little and I just wanted to see how much we could do with so little. So this year is kind of the test for that. It’s just a natural progression to go to Unlimited and it seemed like this is the year and this is the class because this is the last year, and some people will argue that it’s long since dead, but to me this is the last year of a true, classic, Pikes Peak. This is the last year that guys like us can show up with allot of specialized knowledge about the mountain and allot of experience in our back pocket and have an advantage over the big teams and the big budgets and the fast drivers.
ML@S: Considering that, do you feel you have an edge over some of the others?
Dave: Yeah…you know we can have half the car but we have a thousand times or a million times more experience. As you know, or anybody else who’s raced Pikes Peak knows that there is no substitute for experience on the mountain. And while I’m no Paul Dallenbach or Leonard Vahsholtz, I’ve put in some time up there and I’ve driven a few miles and I watch my in-car footage and other peoples in-car every day and I think about every one of those 156 corners and that experience and that respect that you have for the mountain, it goes so far up there and it means so much. You look at guys like Marcus (Gronholm) and the Ford guys who came up in ’09 and they basically showed up a few months before the race and they reccied it and looked at everything and said ‘oh, yeah…this looks easy…it’s smooth pavement, it’s smooth gravel, we’ll just grab some WRC tarmac tires or some gravel tires and bring an arsenal of good folks and fast cars and it’ll be easy’. And those guys just got their asses handed to em’ left and right. And I’m not saying they didn’t do a great job, they put a fantastic effort together, but lets look at the results. You can bring the best drivers and the best cars in the world, but there’s absolutely no substitute for experience and respect for the mountain.
ML@S: You mentioned the pavement – Do you think the Pavement is making the race easier?
Dave: No. Absolutely not. I think the only thing that pavement is going to make easier is when it’s finished it’s going to take some of the guess work out of choosing a tire and suspension. That’s allot of Pikes Peak right now…playing the tire game and we’ve played it and gotten it wrong a whole lot and finally got it right a couple times and we pay allot of attention to and have allot of respect for that. Every inch that they pave they’re putting in guardrails and ditches and you now have two narrow lanes where you used to have one big, wide open fast sweeping hard packed course. So, it’s a different race and I don’t think its very fair to say that the corners you’re driving this year on pavement can even come close to being compared to the corner it was last year on dirt. Because the surface is different the degree is different. They’re not the same thing at all. The only thing that’s the same is the background, the scenery and the history. You can’t try and tell me that a corner you used to take flat out in third gear at 70-80 miles per hour that now you’re coming into in second gear on the pavement, you can’t tell me that that course is going to be way faster than the dirt course. It’s just doesn’t work that way. Unfortunately. And again, that’s something that people who haven’t been there they just can’t understand.
ML@S: You touched on this before, but I want to get a little deeper into it – Do you feel that this is the last year that a relatively low budget operation can come up here and still be successful?
Dave: No. I don’t think it’s the last year I just think that this is a turning point for the Hill Climb. This is a hugely important time in the history of the race. It’s really a developmental year, honestly for all of motorsports in allot of ways. We’re at such a pivotal point with motorsports across the board with the economy where it is and with politics where they are and environmental concerns being what they are. This is by no means the last year that guys like us can come be successful. I’ve got plenty of years left in me and we’ll keep coming back for years to come. We’ll keep growing, professionally, and we’ll hopefully keep our eyes out for guys like us who will be coming up and give them a hand along the way. This is just a pivotal year, it’s not the last year by any means. It’s going to be a different race, and arguably a more exciting race in some aspects but there are always going to be guys like and the purists up there who will be just a little…I guess a little is putting it lightly…who are going to be pretty heartbroken to see that last stretch of gravel paved over. But I want to close this era with a bang and give everything we’ve got. And I want to show people what we can do and then we’ll try something new next year and see if we can put together an even wilder and more fun effort for this new hill climb that will emerge next year.
ML@S: Given the economy and everything that’s going on, has sponsorship been hard to come by?
Dave: Sponsorship is hard to come by for most people, I think. There’s a few people who have enough of a name and reputation and they’ve built enough of a brand where they can just reach into the phone book and pick a tire manufacturer and give them a call and have that company get all giddy and excited to work with them. But that’s a very small sector of motorsports. Sponsorship is always hard and it always will be. And right now if people don’t know who you are…and you know this just as well as I do…it is so difficult to get people to support your program when you’re an unknown. And winning PPO for three years in a row, that’s fine and dandy and it sure makes me feel pretty good and people that know us really well, they understand how hard we work for it and how meaningful it is for us, but that doesn’t mean anything to the guys that I’m cold-calling every day. These guys need to see metrics and measurable success and I have no argument for that. I want to deliver that for them. The problem is that it’s such a synergistic effect. All these things have to align and they want to see results. I can only get results if I have resources and they wont give us the resources until they see the results…but I can’t get results until I have the resources. So you have to overcome that and you have to overcome the mental block more than anything and say, OK, well these are the resources I have, these are the resources I can get and this is what I’m going to do with those resources. When you find the right company and the right person in that company, you know right away. There’s a guy I’ve been talking to recently and I knew right away that this was my kind of person and that this was a company I wanted to work with. His business ethics and the way he does things are just so in line with our vision and everything just clicks. You know that there are projects that you can do together. It’s funny, even these big companies that everyone’s heard of, they’re all in the same position we are right now. There’s so many political and economic things preventing them from giving stuff away that you’ve got to have such a tremendous value in this market to find sponsorship and while we’re building that brand for sure, we’re definitely going to be there, but until we have the ability to prove that, it is hard.
ML@S: Does who you compete against change the way you approach the drive itself? Does your focus change because of the guys you’re racing against?
Dave: It’s hard to say. Yeah, mentally and physically the way I have approached the race this year is different than i have approached in years past. I mean, I have allot more at stake this year. In the past I’m so busy working on the car and nobody knows who we are or what we’re doing when we show up so our wins don’t really mean anything. There’s no story. There’s no brand. There’s no athlete to root for. In the past it’s just been, I got my own race to run, I got my own program and nobody knows what it is so it can be whatever I want it to be. If people don’t have any expectations then I can do whatever I want. And I can make my own plan and change it on the fly. This year, everyone knows what our intentions are and they know what our goals are and they have expectations of me. So, this year, in comparison to past years, yeah, I guess I have a little bit more weight on my shoulders. I’m responsible for delivering a result, whether that’s breaking the ten minute barrier or coming damn close, or just putting in a respectable time, with a car that, frankly, should not be able to hang with Monster, Rhys or Paul or any of these guys. To put in a respectable time, that’s my job, and every time I get off the phone with a sponsor who’s committed to help us out with some stuff or has at least discussed the kind of support they’d like to give me, that weight gets a little bigger. People don’t know what we have, or don’t have, all they know is that I said I was going to come up and try to break ten minutes. Not to say that I didn’t fully intend to go 150% on race day when I sent out that press release, but I sure as hell have to now. And that definitely makes it harder.
ML@S: For a guy that has proven to be a competent driver, especially considering your age, why focus solely on Pikes Peak?
Dave: It’s the jack of all trades, master of none, thing. I’m good at allot of stuff…I don’t know how to make that sound humble, or not sound like an ass-hole. But I’ve always kind of been the guy who can be good at allot of things and get so busy doing allot of things. So from a driving perspective, from a marketing perspective and most importantly, from a budget it’s like, ok, so I can go do a couple rallies this year and I can half-ass them and do them on a super small budget and maybe I’ll do ok. We’ll do what we always do, which is get a fantastic result given the resources. But nobodies going to know what our resources are and nobodies going to know how many corners we cut. So we can do that and then do the same thing with Pikes Peak. We’ll dwindle down all the cash we have it’ll be really hard to put together a competitive program or I could say that I’m completely and 100% focused on Pikes Peak. It’s the only thing I’m thinking about and investing resources in. Save all that money that I would otherwise put into any other kind of racing and put it all into this car and just devote every single thing I have and I think this car is going to speak for itself. We’ve definitely come a long way since last year. But it’s like I said…I don’t really want to be a jack of all trades and master of none. I’d like to be known for something. There’s got to be something that people identify you as and for me, Pikes Peak is the top of my motorsports world.
ML@S: Will it take a record to win this year?
Dave: That’s a trick question! It’s Pikes Peak. Every year I’ve been there since 2005, there’s always been a threat. You know, Paul is always a threat and since 2006 when Monster came back people have been saying every year “this is it! This is the year”. I mean, look at that car, this is it. And then he comes so close and doesn’t do it, but still every year since everyone says this is the year. And there’s always some reason that this year is going to be so different and then something always comes up. Whether it’s driver, car, Mountain or mother nature or whatever. I will never be the guy who says this is the year because there’s too many variable to ever even suggest that Pikes Peak can be predicted or planned or calculated. You do the best you can and you maximize your efficiency and effectiveness on all the variables you can throw on your pate and then you leave the rest up to the mountain. So, I sure hope it takes a record to win this year and I sure hope it takes being faster than us but you know, I…how can I put this…I’m going to leave this in the hands of the mountain and we’ll just hope, like everyone else that this will be the appropriately thrilling end to a hell of a history for gravel on Pikes Peak.
ML@S: Leaving everything else aside – from your gut, from your heart, what would an overall victory or record mean to you? I dont want to hear about politics, sponsors or anything. In the end you get to own this. Others will take their piece, but whats left over is the feeling you’re going to have if all the stars align and everything comes together. And what I really want to know is what that’s going to feel like for you?
Dave: You know, I’m almost getting choked up just thinking about it…You know those viral videos that come up every once in awhile? It’ll be a video of someone in their most raw emotional state, whether it’s the lividity and absolute frustration of a guy like Winnebago Man, or on that one video of that singer lady that everyone laughed at when she came on stage? Susan Boyle!? You know those moments? There’s those moments that cut right to the soul. All I can say is that an overall victory on Pikes Peak, for me, whether it’s this year or next, or whenever it happens, will be…beyond words and without a doubt be the most meaningful thing that has or probably will ever happen in my life. And I will be a train wreck and it’ll be a sight to behold when it happens. Short of marrying the woman I love or seeing my kids be born, but you get the idea. But I don’t think there’s anything that will ever come close to that for me.
Dave Carapetyan: Definitely someone you should know.
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