I was finally getting The Pink Car settled into its new garage here at my home in Benicia, CA when it occurred to me that 2011 might have been the last year Travis rides with me up Pikes Peak. I had already committed the car to Anthony for 2012 and I had a feeling that the Race Director would be less than enthusiastic about letting a rookie take Travis up the hill.
I knew Travis wanted to go up the hill as a driver. And he should. As we talked about in part one, it’s no secret that Travis is a great competitor and deserves to be behind the wheel of his own motor. The question was how. He had mentioned to me that modifying a UTV might be an easy trick, and something he could certainly handle. Made sense to me, but I don’t know much about side-by-sides, or what the possibilities really were. I needed the input of an expert or two. That’s when I reached out to my good friend and Five-Time (technically six-time…long story…I’ll tell you about it later) Pikes Peak Pro Quad Champion, John Stallworth. I’m going to spend some time here telling you about John because he really is one of the most interesting cats I’ve ever met. Like Travis, I love him like a brother and still find myself wondering, how it is that I should be so lucky to have friends as incredible as these two.
You either love John or you hate him. There just doesn’t seem to be much in between with him. I can honestly say I’ve never heard anyone say of John, “Meh”. But if you don’t take the time to get to know him then you’ll never understand why those of us that love him, do. He’s abrasive and bold; and will never hesitate to tell you that his toys are faster and better than yours (with a wink and a grin). But, as the old saying goes, “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true”. John is one of the most talented engine builders not only here in the US, but anywhere in the world. His creations are regularly featured in ATV and motorcycle magazines and he spends the bulk of his time pushing the edge of whatever mechanical envelope is courageous enough to wander into his Wichita, Kansas shop. What you learn about John when you DO take the time to get to know him is that his heart is considerably bigger than his braggadocio, and the way he always looks out for his friends is second to none. He genuinely cares. Not for bragging rights and not for profit. That’s just who he is. As much as he wants to win, he wants to see you do your best and I genuinely believe that’s what drives him.
For five years I ran the Pro Quad Division at Pikes Peak, and during that time I was never without the help and advice I needed to get better each year. He’s that way with friends and competitors alike. Ask him for something and he’s there, ready to lend a hand. He’ll even loan you parts, for a race against him. I’ve seen him do it. Because God forbid he should take the checkered flag without beating EVERYONE. When John was in his prime…come to think of it, even past his prime, he’s the hardest guy on the hill to beat. He’s not the smoothest guy on the hill, I think that title goes directly to Jim Goertz, but what John lacks in smooth he makes up for in brute strength and an overflowing abundance of testosterone. I’ve personally witnessed some very talented, very experienced riders after a test ride, jump off the 125hp Banshee, John has ridden at the hill for the past several years and just look at him and say “Nope…that’s insane”. Unrideable death machine is a common phrase used to describe John’s #91 ATV; but somehow, through some sort of Kansas mojo, John gets it done…usually far, far in front of you. If you don’t know John Stallworth, you should. And be sure you take the time to get to know him. You’ll be glad you did.
OK, so why “technically” six, but “officially” five Pikes Peak Championships for John? Funny story actually. Many years ago the rule book for Pro Quad was a bit more limiting than it is today. And, as it is with any motorsport, guys are usually trying to re-define the limits within the “intent” of the rules. John is no different. The rules at the time stated that the factory cylinder must be used. So John, not happy with the design of the factory Yahama cylinder on the Banshee melted it down and re-cast it into a more efficient design. Still only using the factory cylinder. When his competition failed to catch him on race day, his “factory cylinder” was protested and John’s hard fought win was revoked and he was disqualified. The rules have since been changed regarding cylinder heads. This is just one of the rules affected by John’s search for a faster way up the hill. Moving on…
I may have initiated this project, and Travis certainly brings all the heart and determination; but John is the catalyst that this party needed in order to become reality. I called John in September and pitched him the idea, and asked him what he thought. He jumped in with both feet and was immediately working on getting a vehicle and planing what he could do to make sure Travis will be safe and competitive. John started making phone calls to see who might be interested in loaning us a RZR and then he went way beyond that; and started getting in touch with suppliers and parts manufacturers. Telling each one of them our plan and seeing who might step up and be part of this record setting venture.
All of this before we even got the green light for Travis to Race and during one of the busiest times in his career, opening and moving into a new shop. That’s incredible! Oh, and I think I was clear about what type of competitor John is in the paragraphs above, so with that in mind, here’s the real kicker; John has decided to take this year off from racing Pikes Peak in order to focus 100% of his attention on Travis’ project. If you know John, then you know that this was a monumental decision for him. There’s not many people that love racing there more than he does. With the entry deadline being moved up and the field being limited, John wouldn’t have been able to get his entry in if they had said no to Travis. His commitment to this whole thing has been amazing and I am endlessly thankful.
By January first, John had secured a commitment from Stewarts ATV and Buggy in Wynoka, Oklahoma to provide a brand new Polaris RZR 900 to the project. We had to have Travis’ entry in by January 31st just to be considered. With the course now being completely paved, the entry list was overwhelming and the Race Director had moved the deadline up from the end of June. We had no time to waste. Travis had his entry fee in hand, and sent in his application in plenty of time. I immediately started getting phone calls from the Pikes Peak Board of Directors, and Race Director, Randy Ruyle. First thing they wanted to know was “Is Travis capable?” “Of course he is,” I assured them; and over the next twenty minutes I proceeded to give them a dissertation on how the program would be run, who’s involved and the fact that if Travis, in the end, wasn’t able to get comfortable and manage the UTV that we (the people that care about him most) would pull the plug ourselves…it would never be left to them to have to do it. Ultimately, we’re all racers and would never put Travis in a situation that might be extraordinarily dangerous. Because really, Pikes Peak is dangerous enough and needs none added.
As the months went on, we waiting anxiously for an answer as to whether or not Travis would be allowed to race. We made inquiries now and then and were never able to come away with much. Other than to have them say “Well, I haven’t heard anything really negative”. We were concerned, but hopeful. When the call finally came approving Travis to race, we knew that the real challenge was just about to begin. There is much work to do and even more money to raise, in order to ultimately land Travis on the Summit on July 8th.
So here we are. Stay tuned over the next three months as the most talked about story in the 90 year history of the most epic race on the planet comes together.
Next Time: The day they said “Yes”, Stewarts ATV and Buggy, “Seat Time”.