As a spectator I have watched the race on the mountain for twelve years. Last year on George’s Corner after a night of light drinking, I watched car after car rip past us including Dave and Allison Kern. I had always wanted to compete but my car was built for road racing. I knew that my time had come, they were paving the rest of the road. I told my friends, next year they would be watching me go past them, and you know what? I was right.
I started planning early, having just left my previous employer of 7 yrs and started my own business. It was a lot to juggle. I borrowed money from a friend to pay for the entry fee. Money was tight and business was slow. I had to make a lot of improvements to my Subaru for the higher elevation, so the search for sponsors began as well. I approached some of my vendors with my proposal and was turned down by some, but persistence paid off.
I stripped the car down in October and the hill climb build began. The car needed a cooling system overhaul. I cut out the entire front end. Built a custom radiator and intercooler setup with integrated brake ducts, and modified the hood for additional airflow exhaustion; I also shortened the intercooler piping. The car was pretty much ready to go other than some suspension work and a respray.
After the fresh coat of paint we decided on a color for the intercooler piping. The car looked so nice I didn’t want to drive it. People think I’m crazy because I enter my race car in car shows. I just think if your life depends on how well you build something it better look darned good.
In April we had our first shake down race at the first NASA race of the season at PPIR. The car did great and we took 1st in Super Touring.
The new radiator and intercooler setup worked flawlessly. May would have other surprises, like a blown motor on lap three of our warm up at High Plains Race way, due to oil starvation likely from the added grip of the newly acquired 275 tires.
I called my engine builder and got another short block back in the car by the following weekend.
That following weekend, we burned a full tank of E85 through the car before we blew third gear in the stock 5spd trans, the Achilles heel of the subi drive train. We did however get the suspension dialed in and we were confident the car was ready for the climb. I put a call in to my tranny guy and he tossed in some spare gears I had left over, from a customer’s leftovers. Needless to say the car sat ready for action until July when we were told we would be sitting some time longer due to the fires.
The weekend before Tech Inspection, I raced a friend of mine’s 99’ Camaro that runs American Iron. I had driven the car before during a NASA Enduro and it was a lot of fun. I really needed the seat time but didn’t want to cram a busy race weekend in, before the beginning of such a large event. I figured if the professionals can do it, why shouldn’t I? Besides it felt pretty cool to say,”Yeah I been pretty busy. Just last week I drove an AI car to a third place finish.” When in reality I’m thinking, I’m pulling my hair out from the stress of being a small business owner, while trying to figure out how I’m going to pay for a whole week of closing the shop.
The Monday before Tech Inspection, I was getting the car ready for the week ahead. Nut and bolt check fluids, basically the same check I had performed dozens of times before, but this time it was a little different. I didn’t want to miss anything and have a failure that would cost valuable time and cause us to head back home early. You really have to remember, you may have practice week but you only get one shot at the whole climb. My Crew Chief, Don Williams let me borrow his Traq Mate Data System. Which even though I’m a rookie, can still see the benefits of having data in the car. That was pretty much the last part to install before we loaded up.
I don’t know why this is, but it always seems like no matter how much I prepare for a race, the night before I leave I’m always up late loading. Regardless we made it to PPIR for Tech Day on time. I don’t think it had really sunk in that I was running the climb until we pulled into the lot and saw all the other competitors. Legends were everywhere: Monster, Millen, Dallenbach, Ryan, and others. I have always wondered what goes on behind the scenes and now I was a part of it, wow! We parked in the back of the lot and pulled down the door of the trailer. I hopped into the car and backed it out. No sooner than I opened the door to climb out, did Breanne Corn’s rig pull in next to us. She would be the first competitor to introduce herself, and I had no idea who she was. Don my Crew Chief filled me in later.
Shortly after Dave and Allison Kern pulled into the lot. I had known Dave for some years from autocross, rally cross and mutual friends but had never met his better half Allison until then. Dave really stepped up to show me how things worked around the entire event: before, during, and after. Dave helped push me along the entire way from registration to race day. Dave was a wealth of information and if you were a rookie like me, the guy you wanted to know. They have no idea how much they helped me out. Thanks again, guys!
Tech was somewhat stress full. I was getting asked questions about myself, sponsors, and the car. All while making sure subconsciously, I prepped everything correctly for the event’s safety requirements. We were given some grief for not having windshield wipers. Some old timer said I was crazy not having wipers. I told him I would be going so fast I wouldn’t need them, but it still made me think twice. I was amazed how many people were failed because of incomplete welds on their cages. I passed with no issues. Next up were the Rookie and Drivers Meetings.
My crew chief Don, our Data Master Kyle, and I were early to the Rookie Meeting which went as expected. The Drivers Meeting was another story. We walked into the meeting with Monster following closely, Monster Tajima: the “man”, the current record holder. He sat right behind us during the meeting.
Big names were all around us: Dallenbach, Millen, Tracey, Ryan, Tajima. It was crazy to think that just a few years ago I was asking for these guys autographs. I can recall back somewhere around ’99, 2000 when I was roaming through the pits and I ran into Rhys. At the time he was racing an Evo. I currently owned a Galant VR-4, we chatted briefly, and I asked him to sign my hat. Through the years I had bumped into Rhys several times at the hill climb and finally the Global Rallycross at PPIR . I hadn’t kept close tabs on his career but was always interested to see what new concepts his company was coming up with; the kind of stuff where if I had the opportunity I would be doing myself.
The meetings were over. It was time to get all the final details worked out and get some sleep. I saw Dave Kern walking around and asked him how practice works and how early we needed to be there. “Be early” Dave said. Early is an understatement. 2am to get ready. Be on the mountain at 3am. If you’re not an early riser don’t worry, unless you’re literally on drugs all night, I don’t think it’s easy for anyone.
This spot right here. This exact point, is when you test yourself; not when you’re behind the wheel, right here. On the mountain, at 3am when you’re waiting in line to get into the gates. Your brain tells you that you need to be dreaming and it almost feels like you are. I can’t think of the last time I was behind the wheel of my race car, on the road this late or early for that matter, legally. You follow your instructions to your practice destination. Ours was top section, Devils and beyond. It’s cold but not too cold. I’m nervous. I’m about to rip my pride and joy, up some of the craziest sections of road she’s ever been on and I haven’t even had breakfast. We readied the cameras and double-checked the data. It’s amazing how hard it is to use the whole road, when there are lines painted in the middle. It didn’t take long to remember there is no traffic, just you and the mountain.
Practice day one was over, back to the bottom to eat breakfast. Don, Kyle and I came up with a game plan for tomorrow’s qualifying runs down below. Zombie mode is coming.
We went to the hotel on the way back to our home at PPIR, to get credentials for my girlfriend. On the way out Kyle was showing the first signs of zombie mode. Passed out in my truck so I scared the stuff out of him. This would come back tenfold the following evening when we overslept.
Day 3, qualifying. I am awoken by Kyle frantically yelling “Get up, we over slept!!” “No way” I said “it’s not funny.” Well we did, It was 3:30 am and we were in the fountain. I was one of the last people to show up and the first in line to race.
Remember when I mentioned that phrase about zombie mode and dreaming. Yeah at this point they start becoming the same thing. I sat at the line on what has always been my favorite part of the mountain.
The bottom, this was awesome. The first time I had been able to freaking haul some tail up this mountain and not worry about speed limits, people, or rules for that matter. Just keep it on the road, I told myself.
I took my first run pretty easy, trying to soak up some terrain knowledge.
Run two was time to get it on, Mess this up and you’re done. Mess this up and you don’t make the cut. Needless to say we made it, but barely. We made it in after they dropped from 115% of the fastest to 120% and the next fastest qualifying time.
Thursday night had us scrambling for some cooling modifications to the car for Friday. Zombie mode was doing a number on the whole crew. Day turns to night and before you know it everything just melts into one long day.
Friday morning was a relief, because I was pretty sure I was in the Main Event; but nothing is set in stone until its official. My mom and aunt came to watch practice in the middle section, believed to be the scariest section of the race. It’s great having the support but tough having your mom, who even though isn’t saying be careful, but has it plastered all over her face the whole morning. As a son and a driver you have to tune it out and go to work. In practice, it was this section I really showed the most improvement, from a 3:19.03 to a 2:57.21.
When you know where to go, it’s easy to pour it on. The transmission was the only part of the car I was worried about. The switch backs play havoc on a car’s drive train and mine is definitely not bullet proof. I tried to tell myself to take an outside line to get all four wheels on the ground but that wasn’t always the case. As a race car driver I’ve never driven wide open throttle into a corner with a guardrail and a cliff on the other side. The car did great and we got through another day. Besides a couple changes we basically were ready to go racing.
During our week of practice we stayed at PPIR. Bob and Paul really took care of us. We had a garage in the middle of the Doran/Monster Team and the Dacia/ Dayraut. Unfortunately we couldn’t really communicate with the Duster Team too well due to a language barrier; but the Monster Energy guys were a real hoot. We talked shop throughout the whole week. When it came time to load up for Fan Fest, we shared a pit spot.
One of our main sponsors, Suba Performance brought us a tent and some tables for us to sit at together. It was great for both teams to pit at one spot. It brought a lot of attention and after a few beers got to really know the guys. We met some friends we would never forget. One of the best parts for me as a builder, is watching people look at all the hard work I put into something. Sitting back away from the crowd gathering around my hood and watching them point at certain things in the engine bay is a small pleasure I enjoy. Just before we packed up Jeremy Foley and his team mates came up to the car, we chatted for a while about each other’s build and wished each other good luck. Who would have thought what lay ahead for Foley and his co-driver!
Saturday was a good day to relax, fortunately the car stuck together all week so we were just giving the car a simple once over then going to install an intercooler/radiator sprayer. Troy Matta from Suba Performance brought down all the components to build a simple yet reliable spray setup.
With some help of the guys from the Duster Team as well as the Monster Energy guys we felt we had the system dialed in. It was 4pm and we loaded the car up on the trailer and headed up to drop the car off on the mountain.
It was finally starting to hit me that tomorrow, I was racing up the mountain. With a whole week of zombie mode behind me. I really didn’t have any trouble sleeping; no dreams either just sleep. The alarm woke me up around 4:30am. Race Day: Don, Kyle, my girlfriend Mini and I loaded up and headed to the mountain. It’s 5am and already the stress and anxiety were beginning to put pressure on me. I walked over to the guys at the Monster Energy booth and talked small talk with Tommy, one of the techs. Staying busy was the only way to keep myself from having a meltdown. I had never been so nervous in my life. Throughout the whole day, I stayed busy talking to fellow competitors and studied course notes and video.
My parents came to visit the pit area before the race, Again my mom had that look on her face, she just said “Scott, I love you and I just want you to be safe.” She gave me a little religious metal to put on my keys. My dad told my mom to relax and let me concentrate. I made one last round the pit and talked to Dave Kern for a little bit before helping the Pat Doran Monster Energy car at the start line. It’s amazing how staying busy helps keep your mind from racing away. Back in my pit area I tried to eat a little, but really didn’t have an appetite. One of the race officials gave the announcement to line ’em up.
Time to go to work I told myself. I had been wearing my suit for the last hour. I hopped into my Subaru, and put in my earplugs, then my head sock, Hans, helmet and finally gloves. I fired up the engine and pulled out of the woods, onto the race surface.
Things suddenly sped up. I was driving slowly up the road to the start line trying to visualize the course. Part of me was so freaking excited, hundreds of people were looking at me crawling up the grid. The other part was scared as heck not to wreck my baby. Another, scared to not break the tranny from a launch right at the start line like others before me. Funny how not once was I scared about my own well being. Although I tightened my belts tighter than any road race before.
The next car pulled away from me. I was next. I fired up the car. Sound even though muffled from my earplugs seemed to fade out. Complete focus had fallen upon me like never before. This was it. I talked out loud to myself, “Breathe…..remember to breathe……… relax ………you can’t win if you don’t finish.” The wait, seemed like it took an hour but mere seconds had gone by. The Official looked one more time at his watch mumbled something into his radio, pointed both green flags at me and gave the universal signal to kick butt. I clicked the gear selector into first, revved to 4,000 rpm’s, slipped the clutch and before I knew it was on my way up the hill. People were everywhere. This was the biggest mind blower for me. When you’re on a road course there are only corner stations here and there, not thousands of fans scattered around each corner waving at you as you go by.
I used to be one of those people.
It’s totally different from the driver’s perspective, fans are crazy getting this close to the action but I guess that’s half the fun. It only took about 2 seconds to think all of this and treat them as part of the scenery. I was very tense for the first couple minutes and had to verbally remind myself to breathe. I felt confident though, smooth and focused, I rounded the corner to enter the Halfway Picnic Ground at 92 mph on the throttle hard. I noticed someone waiving a fairly large red thing, I realized that the red “thing” was a flag. I put on the binders to shut her down. I’m pretty sure I yelled an expletive of some sort and pulled up to the corner worker. He was a real nice guy. He said, “Sorry buddy but someone went off.”
I found out later it was the Foley team. I told him I was just getting comfortable. He said they clocked me at 92mph at the corner exit before they shut me down. That made me feel pretty good. After a bit of a wait they sent me back down. It was like having an after-party practice. People were yelling and waving as I came back down. I was so ready to go, I told the race officials to get me back in front of the line, I wanted to go asap! My tires were warm, brakes were ready to go and the bottom section was fresh in my mind. That decision would play out to be more important than ever. As they shuffled my car back into line about two cars from the start, the wait began. News of the severity of the crash began to spread. Rumors of the engine being torn out of the chassis were running rampant. I really didn’t get psyched out at all, I just hoped they were ok and wanted to get back to racing. The weather looked like it was beginning to change and I only had one set of tires. Nitto NT01’s DOT R compounds. I think I ran to the port-o-potty 3 times before we were green. The race that is.
Finally I was back at the starting line. An official reminded me of possible wet/rainy conditions. It bothered me some but I felt calm, collected, and better than the first time. Again, the green flag was given and I launched away from the start line.
I tore through the gears and made it beyond the point where they turned me around. I began to get into somewhat of a rhythm trying to remember where I was as I was climbing “Remember this is fun,” I told myself. This is supposed to be fun. I ripped through Glen Cove. By this time the race surface had been soaked. Remember the old timer at the beginning of my story way back at tech? The guy who told me I was crazy for not having wipers. Well I was beginning to hope he wasn’t right because as I climbed elevation, the rain became more evident. The race basically turned into several drag races put together for me. Because of the wet surface I dialed it back, I would rip on straights and corner exits but stay pretty conservative on braking and cornering. I entered George’s Corner where a little over a year ago, I was spectating. All of my friends were there rooting me on, air horns and all. That was a little moment of encouragement, as I rounded the next few corners into the W’s, it got even wetter. Light rain was beginning to fall on my windshield. I felt great though I know I could have pushed it harder. You have to finish to win, right?
Devils Playground was packed and no sooner than I had passed the crowded parking lot full of spectators, was I headed past Bottomless Pit. There was only a short part of the course left. The rain was beginning to fall at a steady pace and before I knew it, I was rounding the last corner at the top of the mountain. “Checkered Flag!” I screamed into my helmet. I did it I made to the top! Everyone asked me, what my goal was for a time earlier in the week? “Time?” I would say. “I just want to finish!” I would reply. As the checkered flag waived there was no press, no champagne popping, no trophy girls jumping up and down. Making it up to the top for me at least, was a very personal victory. I pulled into the line of cars and Dave Kern was there to congratulate me. It felt great but the outdoor celebration was short lived it began to hail pretty bad.
The decision to get back in line asap when I was turned around, would be one of the best ones made during the event. Shortly after I crossed the finish line, they shortened the course. After a brief talk with Cody Loveland, we were given the go ahead to head down the mountain. This would be my moment the one I had been dreaming of.
They waived us down the hill from the finish line. As we headed down I saw the first group of spectators, the wave of accomplishment began to crash over me. I rolled down the window and stretched my hand out as far as it would go.
“Good job” each spectator said as they slapped my hand. Some yelling, “Scotty!” or “Go Mofab!” Dave Kern had given me some advice on top about keeping my gloves on for the trip down. Man, was Dave right! Its seemed like the further I went down the hill, the harder people slapped my hand. When we made it to Glen Cove I spotted my friends. I had to fight back the emotions. Some of them had come to watch with me at the very spot from last year; and now I was in the car. They reached into the car to hug me and have a mini-celebration it was great. After a short stop, I continued my descent. I slapped every single hand on my side, on the way down. By the time I made it to the bottom it was getting dark. I think I was one of the last competitors to the bottom, taking it all in. I pulled into the pit area, pulled into my spot and hopped out of the car. I grabbed onto my girlfriend and lifted her up with a huge hug and kiss. “We made it!” I yelled to my team mates. I grabbed all of them and gave them all hugs. I was given my time 12 minutes 4 seconds good enough for 6th place. Wow I thought. Not only did I finish my Rookie year, I took 6th place with 27 competitors entered in my class. My team mate Chris handed me a cold beer and we headed for the award ceremonies. After the ceremony we went to the pits. I thanked everyone for all of their help support; and as quickly as it began it was all over. We loaded up to head home. Back to life, back to reality. I was asked if I would be back next year…………………”I’m hooked” I said.
Thanks to My Life @ Speed for giving me the opportunity to tell my story; God, my fiancée for putting up with the late nights, my family and friends for their support. Don Williams for pushing me throughout the year. Kyle, Eric, Chris and Troy for their help during race week. Thanks to all my sponsors, Nitto Tire, Suba Performance, Mofab LLC, Phoenix Industries, Radium Engineering, Heads by Drew, MAC Autosport, Preferred Home Repair and Construction, Colortuned Powdercoating, BC Suspension.