Pikes Peak has been a bit of a dream of mine since I was pretty young. My parents don’t remember me being that into motorsports as a kid and I can say that is definitely the case. However I remember sitting in front of the TV in the back room of our house and seeing a car driving flat out around a corner, with a wheel nearly over the edge. What could make someone think that was a good idea? Some day I’ll have to check it out. Years later, I moved to Colorado and only a couple years after that, the opportunity to go to Pikes Peak came up and I was able to see what it was all about first hand.
All races have their own personality. Pikes Peak just happens to have a very distinct and ever changing personality. Road conditions, weather conditions, pavement and dirt all add too it; but the nature of the mountain, its elevation, its power sucking 14,110 ft summit and its 156 corners define it. It is one of the few places where you can experience sweltering heat, freezing cold, snow, rain and hail all in one 12 mile run. To watch the race you have to be pretty dedicated as well. Arriving at the mountain in the dark of the night and waiting for the sun to rise. You are driving up the same road they will race in only a few hours and you have to wait there till the race is over.
One of my favorite things about pikes peak is that a non-factory driver, can line up next to a full-factory driver at the same start line. That driver can show up with whatever they feel they can make it to the summit with, as long as it passes Tech. Teams have such a range of budgets, from hundreds of thousands of dollars,to hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars, and they can challenge the same time in the same category. There is so much racing in the world that requires millions to compete and this is one place where you can be successful without a huge budget. This year, just like last year. I spent some time with some of these teams. Spencer Steele, Jimmy Olson, Dave and Allison Kern and even Savannah Rickli.
It’s the week before Pikes Peak and Spencer is building his race motor. Jimmy is getting situated in a car that isn’t his because of motor issues; and Dave and Allison are putting a new power package in their car as well. New parts are being fabricated up until only a few days before the race, and the Kerns are really hoping to have a clean run this year. With motor issues, clutch issues and all types of things holding their car back from being at peak performance through a full run, they are really ready to get out there with a car that will make it to the top, with all the same parts it started at the bottom with. Many of their competitors are running events, practicing at track days and getting more and more seat time, while these guys are under their car turning wrenches. When Dave finally has everything together and is able to get to the track…it rains leaving him no test and tune time before the event. In the months before overtime hours are being worked, cars are being built and still no time for track days.
When Pikes Peak arrives, all the vehicles are ready but you can see that Spencer has put in some late nights. “I’m pretty sure I’ve had 10 hours of sleep this week” is his response to me, after telling me “I have no idea how much power this motor makes. I’ve never been on a dyno, but I can tell you it makes ‘MORE!'” The Kerns had a few more nuts and bolts to tighten and a few more tweaks to make, before they could run Wednesday’s practice, so the car came off the trailer one more time…
Practice begins and these guys are tearing up the mountain. Spencer has used tires salvaged from other teams that he is trying out. “Hard as a rock” is his description of one set that has been sitting around for a while. Jimmy described Spencer’s first run like this “Have you ever watched NHRA and you see the slow-mo of the burnout? That is what Spencer looked like at the start. Big cloud of smoke, rubber chunks and it looked like slow-mo!” Jimmy’s having his own testing and tuning as well. New front tires for him. Spencer’s been running these fronts and Jimmy decided to give them a try. He’s definitely loving the new fronts, but is also having a bit of difficulty keeping the car facing uphill!
“I’m just trying to keep it from spinning.” is his response as they try to figure out some strange alignment issues. The Kerns are having their own issues, understeer. Serious understeer. The lack of track days is definitely posing a problem and “The front just isn’t holding any grip!” is Dave’s problem. After practices, the Kerns head out to PPIR to put some time on these new tires and the new suspension; and spend nearly 8 hours on the first day out there, and only make minor progress. The second day of practice they make a breakthrough and start getting things more to Dave’s liking.
These guys spend all their waking hours on their cars and to be honest it doesn’t leave much down time. I took a couple naps in there and they managed to work right on through. My guess is that they averaged a few hours of sleep a night after working, till 10 or later then having to be on the mountain by 3:30-4. On the night before the race, the Kerns were bleeding brakes, adjusting, aligning their aero elements and pressurizing tires to the proper inflation with nitrogen. Spencer and Jimmy were aligning their cars the low tech way using 4 beer cans, a stick of aluminum, a dog leash and a tape measure… Yeah, you figure it out.
When the race arrived, the day was warm and the wind was high. Each driver had their adventures on the mountain including a crash, a near crash, a hay bale in the road and well…wind. Ride along with these guys with this video grouping them all together. I will have individual race runs up soon.
In the end, Spencer won his class. Running on lightly used tires, in a car that he uses color matched duct…er…um…speed tape to manage issues with, he put down a time that was good for the 4th fastest person on the mountain. Jimmy came in with the 5th fastest time on the mountain and 2nd in his class. Dave and Allison Kern managed 4th in their class, while running on a flat or a rim for the last 5-6 miles of the race; and Savannah had a nice clean run, good enough for 7th in her class while running against drivers like Rod Millen and Jeff Zwart in vehicles with 3+ times more power than she had.
It’s a lot of work trying to collect all this video and get this all together, but somehow I feel like it’s important that everyone has a chance to hear a few of these stories. There are lots of amazing stories from teams out there, that had to pull out all the stops to get to Pikes Peak and I encourage you to look around and listen, because some of them are incredible! For more of my stories visit my website, there’s always new stuff! cameracourage.com
Oh and yes, I know you are curious, here’s the aftermath of the Kern’s Evo. Bent and cracked front shock, busted front wheel, busted rear wheel, no rear tire, missing side skirt, missing headlight and a few bent goodies under the skin…