Pikes Peak International Hill Climb has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. Watching video after video of people attempting to summit this monumental race has kept me wanting to go for years. I finally found myself with an invite to not only attend, but to have media credentials as well, I was and still are amazed and excited.
Race day we found ourselves at 7-Eleven around 2:30 in the morning wondering around looking for drinks and food to keep us going for a long day on the mountain. We knew we would need to keep hydrated as well as some food to keep our energy up, by the way, I recommend Pringles chips, they explode when opened at 13,000+ feet elevation. We found ourselves to be regulars at the early hours there by race day, we were always welcomed with a smile and a “good morning” from the clerk. The people of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs were very kind and glad to see us attending and racing in the event.
As we ascended up the mountain, we dropped off two of our crew at the Ski Area in the dirt section to try and cover as much as possible. We then continued on in a convoy of other vehicles to our final destination of Devil’s Playground. When we arrived, we found our vehicle being blown around by some amazingly strong winds we had yet to experience on the mountain. After waking up from what seemed to be a brief nap, we got our gear together, grabbed some provisions and headed down to find where we would be shooting photos for the day.
The wind was so crazy, it kept us on our toes always looking out for peoples falling camping chairs, coolers, and large rocks. We even found ourselves almost falling off a cliff a few times. It was a sight to be seen of all the people who would make the trek that early in the morning only to sit around for 4-5 hours before the race even began. The fans all seemed to be in great spirits and looking forward to an amazing race. Once the first car headed up the mountain and we were radioed that they had passed our other crew, we knew it was on, it was time to get our game faces on and capture this event in the best way we knew possible.
Time seemed to almost fly by as we watched car after car, from open wheeled to almost stock cars, as we anxiously awaited the unlimited class to see if the ten minute barrier would finally fall. As monster rapidly approached our corner, I literally could see the determination in his eyes through my lens, although briefly because that man was flying up the mountain. All we could do his hear him take off in the distance and wait by the radio to hear word of his time. A few of us even took guesses at what his time might be, I guessed a 9:52, and he ended up with a 9:51.61 what a feat. I can’t believe his record has stood for 3 years and then he beats it by 10 seconds. Next up was Rhys Millen to give it a go, we watched him climb up the mountain from our vantage point and hoped he too had a sub 10 minute time in his car. Sadly for Rhys he fell short with a 10:09, we heard him on the radio say he almost lost it at 150 mph coming up the mountain, and to still come within 9 seconds is only a credit to his skilled driving and knowledge of this mountain.
Once the excitement of the unlimited class was over, it was time to await the running of motorcycles, including our friends at the Ducati Spider Grips team with Greg Tracy and Alexander Smith. Both those guys have been great to meet and chat with during the week of practice and Fan Fest. With both of them being skilled riders and being on such great bikes we knew they had a shot at winning this and setting great times. As we heard the start of the 1200’s all we could do is sit and wait at our corner to see who arrived first, amazingly it was privateer Carlin Dunne also riding a 1200 Ducati Multistrada. He had a commanding lead over the other bikes and showed no sign of letting off. Next through was Alexander Smith right on the tail of another bike. What worried us is not seeing Greg Tracy come through, we kept being asked on the radio if we had seen him and nobody could put eyes on his location. We were like hawks flying overhead looking for prey, Matt Galantuomini and I were searching down the mountain with our telephoto lenses until we found a crowed of people. Searching through the crowd we finally found Greg and his bike, he was standing on the side of the road with helmet in hand, what a sigh of relief. Although he didn’t get to finish and possibly break his own record, to know he was safe was good enough for us.
When all the vehicles reached the top, it was finally time for them to come down. I was very surprised to find them giving people high fives as they trekked down the hill. Everyone from cars to motorcycles and quads, were extending their hands out to touch the crowd. They all were thanking us for being there, had huge smiles on their faces and you could tell they were just happy to complete the race and know they made it to the top. It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside to be a part of an event with such history.
As I write this article, I sit here a humble man, one who feels so thankful to have met the right people in my life, people who help push me further to do the things I love. People like Eric Gearhart, Matt Galantuomini, Chris Nazarenus and Andy DeVol, if not for these people, this event would not have been the same or wouldn’t have happened at all. I am so thankful again to have them around me and believe in what we do, and what is our passion in life. This event will go down as one of my most memorable of all time.