out to Pikes Peak last year to see what I thought...
and well, I just had to race up that big hill, like so many others before me.
And now I hope I did homework.
I have raced for the last 25 years, just about anything I could afford,
slot-cars, go-karts, dirt-bikes, mini-bikes, roadracing bikes, speedway bikes (you know
the ones with no brakes and sideways all the time), observed trials riding, formula fords
to big camaros with lots of HP, to roadracing trucks (somewhat like the Nascar
Craftsman trucks, looks only). Lately I have been racing a Datsun 240Z in a class called
TPS-1, a very fast class. Now that hill calls to me, come and race, and I will try to do just that.
I'm back from the race, and here's my story. Enjoy!
I'm no great writer, just a
racer, but if you're interested, here's my story of the
"Pikes Peak Hill Climb, Race to the Clouds" 1999:
(There are lots of photo's to come, so check back soon)
The bike that I Race in this story is a box stock 1996 ATK 605cc with Avon tires.It's time to go, I give my loving wife a kiss, and head off on my trip, " The Race to the Clouds", the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. My first stop, Oakland California to pick up my good friend Chris Hovey. After a very short stop, we're on our way, for a very long drive. Our first stop will be in Auburn CA. Time to fill up the old van. Did I say old? How about a 1977 Dodge that I've had for years. Anyway, we top off the gas tank, about 20 gallons, stopped at the local DQ (Dairy Queen), had us a burger and some fries, and we're off! Heading east on highway 80 our next stop will be Winamucca Nevada. It had "Win" in the name, and that must be a good thing. We add about 20 more gallons of gas, and off we go. Our next stop is Elko NV. We get gas and make a short stop in Spring Creek, where I bought some land years ago. I just wanted to see how things are looking around my land. The area has grown, a lot of big new houses, looks great. Didn't have time last year to stop on my pre-run to Colorado. After a very short stop, we're on our way again headed across the Nevada salt flats. It's now starting to get dark, lights on and we're cruisin'. Now we see there is a problem, a small one, but a problem. The van only goes about 98 MPH, that doesn't seem like a problem, but all the BIG RIGS are going 110 MPH. I could not keep up with them to save my life, and if you have ever had an old van that's shaped like a salteen cracker box, near 100 MPH, being passed by a BIG RIG at a 110 MPH, you know what a fun ride that makes. Oh well, we keep on going east. Next stop Salt Lake City. This time we only take on about 18 gallons of gas. It's starting to get late now and the time zone change is starting to work against us. We decide to keep on going a while. We take a look at our map and 215 east looks like the best shot to I-70 east. That might have been true in about 2-20 years. What we didn't know, was that in Utah they like to do most of the road work at night, and get this, they close the Highway. That's right, close the Highway. All the lanes, not just one or two, but all of them! In fact, all the highways going east are closed! Well, after going 30 to 40 miles out of our way, we stop, and get this, we decide to ask for directions. Can you believe two guys on a road trip stop and ask for HELP! Wow. After talking to a young couple who told us how to get around the problem, using side streets and back roads, they tell us that they had moved out of the area because of the traffic problem. We are on our way now, going through back streets and side roads. We're on our way to Provo Utah. It's late and the map shows that the next 150 miles is a lot of nothing, so we are tired and decide to stop for the night. We grab a bite to eat and find a room. We made about 950 miles the first night. Not too bad for the first leg. We awake about 8:30 am out of a dead sleep. The both of us slept like rocks. Time to kick her into gear and get going. A quick stop at Mickey D's for a cup of joe and an Egg McMuff, and it's right pedal down and away we go! Off across the Utah desert, for what seemed like forever, and not too much to look at but dirt and rocks. Looks a lot like the moon. No water or trees or signs of life as far as you can see. Our next stop will be Grand Junction Colorado, just past the border. It's a small river town, so there are trees and signs of life near the river. Time for gas and time to eat. I had found a small sports bar here last year on my pre-run to The Race to the Clouds. I thought Chris could use a beer by now, and a good old greasy burger, so we stopped for a short time, then back on the road again. Next stop will be Denver Colorado. Life is starting to show itself now. The landscapes are starting to look beautiful. Heading east on I-70 the old van, she's running great, averaging about 16-17 MPG. No too bad for a 20 year old van, driving about 75 MPH on the interstate. Staying with traffic, things are looking great!
Up ahead we see smoke, lots of smoke, looks like a big forest fire or something like that. As we are driving, we start to see black smoke. I said to Chris, "black smoke usually means too much fuel for the fire or worse. As we continue driving, the size of the fire is starting to show, it looks pretty big. As we come out of the cannon we now can see, for the first time, what the smoke is. We can actually see flames now. It looks to be a small town on fire, the closer we get. Cars are stopped on the interstate watching the fire. In a short time we are next to the small burning town, and it looks like it's out of control. Doesn't look good for the town. We can't stop, our problems lay ahead anyway.
In a few hours the road will start going up up and away. The elevation in Nevada and Utah is about 4000 feet above sea level, but in Colorado it's starting to head to the sky. I mean 5, 6, 7000 feet and oh my GOD! the PASS. The summit of the Rocky Mountains. The year before, on my pre-run, I had taken the lower route, about 6 to 7000 ft. Well at about 8,500 ft the old van started showing her age, starting to slow down now, looks like a down shift is needed, cruisin' about 55MPH things are looking good. At about 10,500 ft she's dropping fast. Looks like 45 MPH is the best she'll do...we can see up ahead it's still going up. The pass is near 11,158 ft above sea level. The old van is cruisin' at 45MPH and the road levels off, but the mountain keeps going up! Wow, they bored a hole in the mountain, a long tunnel right through it and out the other side. Now it's time for a long downhill run. The old van sure could use a rest now. She was a laborin', so I pull her into neutral and let her coast for a while, about 12 miles. Headed down the mountain to Denver we found our next problem. All the people of Denver like to get out of town on the weekends. East was not an option, Nebraska, eak! So they go west to Veal or other stops west. That's the problem, all those people have to come back to Denver, and I-70 is the only road out of town, so for us, coming to Denver on Sunday, well guess what, traffic. Did I say traffic? How about a 32 mile traffic jam! Not yet knowing this, I asked a car that was parked next to us, "is this normal?" and they said " yah, it's always like this on weekends" Wow, we just look at each other, and we settle in for the drive, we move about 40 ft in about 25 to 30 minutes. I look over in the fast lane and see a young guy with a lacrosse sticker on his back window. Back in Veal there was a Lacrosse game being played, so I asked him, " is this normal?" He replied, "yah, but I know a shortcut up ahead that will save lots of time". So I let him over into our lane, and we followed him to the next off-ramp. We figured it couldn't hurt, we haven't been moving much at all, so we took the shortcut. Man oh man, we were sooo glad we did. We wound around for miles along side the stopped Interstate. This was the old highway. We finally get back on the Interstate, into some traffic, but we must have saved 2 to 3 hours at least. Thank you! We are near our destination now, it's about 5:00 and we're at Chris's sister's house. We settle in and have a great home cooked meal. Soon it's time to hit the hay.
It's Monday now about 10:30am, more sleeping like rocks, and it's time to go find out where we need to be for registration and tech inspection down in Colorado. So off to the Antlers Hotel, down I-25 south to Colorado Springs and bang, more road work, a sea of tail lights. Having had this most of our trip, we decide to take the next turn-off and find our way. This turns out to work in our favor. We are at the Antlers without a hitch. That was easy, now we find tech. Great time to find some race gas. We ask someone in tech, he tells us about a place down highway 24. Great, that's where we're going. And on our way, we find it easily, pull into this parking lot, which is gravel, look for the office, and in I go. I asked the nice old lady behind the counter, "do you sell gas?" she replies," yes we do, it's over there. Go pump it and come back and tell me how many gallons of gas you got". Wow, so I went over and pumped 10 gallons and came back in. I asked, "how much is your gas?" she replies,"$3.00 per gallon plus tax" Wow, I gave her $31.85. Chris asked, "do you sell this gas on the west coast?", and a white haired man comes out of a room and says "sure they do ,it's called TRICK, it's a new label and there you go". With that, it's time to go, off to the Pikes Peak Museum towards Manatou Colorado, where the Pikes Peak Race is. We stop for a short time to look at the things in the museum. it's small but nice. Seems that most people like to keep the things they race. Too bad for the rest of us. It's time for lunch, so we find a nice Pub in town and order a beer and an Iced tea, and a couple of steak sandwiches. Ahhh, starting to feel like a vacation now. We hang for a while. Now it's time to look for a place to stay near the mountain, because you have to be there about 3:30 to 4:00am each day, so the closer the better. We thought we could sleep in the van on those nights, so we head out of town to Pikes Peak Toll Gate. It's just out of Manatou. We drive to the toll gate to meet Ranger Rick. At first, he seems like a jerk, but turns out to be real cool. He told us that there's no camping in the park except for the night before the race. He told us, you guys might want to just park outside the gate, you know, somewhere discreet, on the side of the road. Cool, on our way to the Pikes Peak toll gate. Going through town, we had noticed that there was a lot of vacancy signs on the hotels, so we figured they must cost hundreds of dollars, so we continue on our way down the mountain. Then just out of the gate there was a small hotel, about 15-20 rooms. I said, "why don't we ask, just for fun how much" So we stopped and pulled the old van in and got out. We walk into the lobby, which was part of the owner's room. A young gal with her kid asks, "can I help you guys?" "Yah, do you have any vacancies?" we ask. She replies "on what days?" "The 1st ,2nd and 3rd" we say. She takes a look "yes we do", so naturally we ask "how much? She replies "since you guys want 3 days in a row, how about $58.00 a night?" It took us no time to decide "We'll take em" Now things are looking good. Back to Chris's sister's house to work on the bike. Not much to do...
We returned to Chris's sister's house after our pre-run of Colorado Springs. All we had to do was to change the jets in the carburetor. Since we only had one set of lower jets, it wasn't like we had lots of choices, so Chris replaced the jets and the work on the bike was done. The trip to Colorado Springs made registering a piece of cake. We showed up late in the day to find no lines of any kind, this sure was nice. I finally got to meet Annie Brokaw. She had helped me so much in the last year. She made the preparation for this trip to the Race to the Clouds, almost painless. She hooked me up with the right people to talk to and lots more. Registration was easy. Chris and I were in and out in minutes. Because it was the first day of registration for bikes, a lot of the riders didn't show. Also, tech was closed until tomorrow. The cars are the big show there, so they take up most of the time and effort. Chris and I checked out the town some more and then went back to Denver. It was only Wednesday and the stress level was very low, so we took it easy the rest of the day. Tomorrow will be a different thing.
Now it's Thursday, the day of tech inspection. We weren't sure what to expect. We just wanted to get there early in case there were any kind of problems. That way we could have time to fix them and still have the rest of the day for other things. We left Denver about 7:45 a.m. for an easy drive to Colorado Springs. We arrived at tech at 8:50. It was a piece of cake. We unloaded the bike out of the van, and got into the line that had already started. There were only two bikes in front of us, so by about 9:15 it was our turn in tech. These two guys from tech are now looking at the bike, walking around it like two lyons after a kill. Back and forth, up and down, looking at this and that, writing things on their clip boards and talking to each other. After about 10 minutes, which at this time seems like hours, the head tech official says with a soft voice "well, the bike is mechanically sound, BUT (the one word we did not expect to hear), you will have to clean it up. It looks like an old trials bike, and to make this show you will have to make your bike look better". He said "you know this race is a world wide event and 60 countries around the world are here, plus ESPN and ESPN2 and lots of others, so we need to make a good show and have all the bikes looking their best". I had washed the bike before I had left but I didn't polish it (O.K. I may have missed a few things on my washing), so we pulled it back to our van and began to clean it up. I drove to this bike shop to get this cleaner that one of the tech officials had told us about to make things easier. Chris and I worked on cleaning up the bike for about a half an hour or so, and the bike did look a lot better. The cleaner I bought at the bike shop really did work great. So we rolled the bike back over to tech, to see if it was O.K. They took a look at the bike and said "good job, try and have it looking that good on race day too". They gave us the tech sticker. Wow, that was a lesson.
The next thing I had to do was the rookie meeting at 12:00, this was for riders only. Chris and I got a bite to eat in town, and took it easy until noon. I left Chris at the hotel bar, and headed on to the rookie meeting. The meeting took about an hour and a half. They took roll call and talked about how dangerous the event was. The time frame, where and when we had to be, when qualifying would be, when practice would be, etc. Wow, this was intense, no room for a mistake. Afterwards, I found Chris back at the bar and we headed out. Chris said we came all this way, it sure would be nice to go to the top of Pikes Peak. Yah, and now is a good time to find out if the van will make it to Glenn Cove, which is at about 12,500 feet high, and is where we need to be for the first day of practice. So we headed to the Pikes Peak toll gate. We pulled up to the toll gate and showed the rangers our new race passes, so they sent us right through. We started up the mountain. The old van seemed O.K. This road starts going up in elevation quickly, I drop her into low gear and away we went. It was 5 or 6 miles form the Toll gate just to get to the starting line. The van was running good, but at about 11,000 ft she started slowing down, but kept on going. She was going pretty slow now, getting close to Glenn Cove. Now, at about 12,500 ft, she is going very slowly. I'm now starting to feel like we may not make it. I was right. Just past the down hill check point, the van is starting to slow down to a stop. That's it, she won't go any further. She stopped right in the middle of the road, but before she dies, I put her into park, try and rev her a bit. There's not much air, black smoke is coming out of the tail pipe. Sounds bad, and then she stops running. I look behind me to find it clear. That was a break. Off to the side was a parking lot, so I put her into neutral and rolled backwards into the parking lot. That was fun. No power brakes. Thank God no one was in the parking lot yet. The old gal gave up the ghost, dead, and stuck on the mountain. I said to Chris, "I guess that's as far and as high as she goes. But no, Chris says let me have a look, and with that he takes off the engine cover and starts messing with the carburetor. Let's lean her down a bit and see what happens. That did it, she started right up, sounds pretty good. Let's give her a shot at the mountain again. We pulled out of the parking lot where she had died before, and we were on our way. The van was running better than before. We are starting to get above the tree line now, closer to 13,000 ft., It looks like we might make it to the top. At about 13,700 ft she slows down to about 10 MPH, but keeps on going. We just barely made it to the summit,14,110 ft. We stayed on top long enough to get our photos taken, then started back down. Did I tell you there is very little air up there. Wow, now for the fun part, the down hill trip. Oh, by the way did I also mention that the brakes in the van aren't all that great? Using low gear and hard braking once in a while, it wasn't too bad. By the time we got to Glenn Cove, where the ranger check point was, the brakes where pretty hot. The ranger checked out the brakes with a heat gun (like the ones we use in racing, for tire temps). I asked "how hot are they?" He replies, "not too bad, but I can sure smell brakes" I said, "That Jeep behind me was riding on my bumper all the way down. You should check him out good." As we pulled away from the check point, I looked back to see the ranger pointing the Jeep over to the parking lot. That is where they make you stay if your brakes are too hot. The rest of the way down was fine. The old van was running great.
It was getting late in the day, this time we didn't have to drive back to Denver, just to the bottom of the mountain where we had found our hotel. We checked in, unloaded the van, placed our stuff in the room, and man oh man was this going to be great. The room was so close to the mountain, we were going to get to sleep in until about 3:15am, so we could be at the toll gate by 3:30, so that when the gates open at 4:00, we will be ready. We settled in, got some food in town and went to bed. I could not fall asleep, tossing and turning. I finally fell asleep, afraid I would sleep through my alarm, I awoke at 2:57. I couldn't fall back to sleep so I just laid there, waiting until 3:15 for the alarm to go off. It seemed like hours. Soon it was time to go. I fired up the van and we're on our way. Oops, forgot to warm up the van. As I pulled out onto the highway, she fell flat on her face. Lucky no one was on the highway at that time in the early morning. Our trip to the toll gate was short, that was the beauty of it. We must have shown up at the toll gate at about 3:40 and the line was already long. The gate would open at 4:00am. Soon the gate opened and we were on our way. We had to be there so early because we had to beat the cars and trucks who were using the lower half to qualify. They had been using the top half the day before. You see nobody use the mountain at one time. You tune your engine on the top half and qualify on the bottom half, that's what makes the race so unique and difficult. We made our way up past Glenn Cove where the day before, the old van had stopped. This time no problem. We stopped about a half mile past Glenn Cove, at Cove Creek, and parked where we saw vans and trucks parked all along the side of the road. This seems so wild. Its about 4:30 now. We just sat there for a short time, gave us a chance to wake up, and collect our thoughts. We got out of the van and looked around. This seemed so cool, on Pikes Peak at about 12,000ft before the first light of day. The moon was the only light in the sky. The air was about 60 degrees with no wind. This was great! Someone said this is not normal for this time of year. The moonlight was casting a weird look on things, like it was a dream or something. It felt like we were in the twilight zone or something. We Unloaded the bike from the van, and I got ready.
The riders meeting would be at 5:30, before daybreak. At the meeting they said the first ride up was to be slow, don't go fast, just check out the road, see how things looked, and that the sunrise would make some of the turns very hard to see. In fact, the turns they were talking about were some of the most dangerous of all, so beware, take it easy. They said we might get 5 or 6 times up the mountain. The quads would go first, then the bikes, so get ready, and don't be late. It's up to you to be there. They would not come and tell you when to go, so don't miss your turn, you won't get a second chance! Just before daybreak the mountain that seamed to be sleeping, came alive from the sound of lots of engines revving.
The echo seems like voices from a wild time to come. The fresh alpine air was soon replaced by the smell of speed and excitement. The quads started up the mountain first. Soon it was time for the bikes. All the times I had viewed my video of the road and the turns seems to fly out the window. I could not remember anything! This seemed so intense! I let 8 or 9 bikes go ahead of me. I thought that might help me see the road. They let each bike go with about 9 or 10 seconds between them. At the rider's meeting they had said, at the first turn, called blue sky, before you turn, there are two poles, one on each side. This is a good place to back off before the turn. To try and tell you how scared I was, would not be easy. Butterflies and a list of other things were clogging my mind. I shot off the line like cowboy Bob coming out of chute # 5, flying up the mountain into the first turn. I saw the two poles on the sides of the road, and I thought I had more time before the turn. With the sun in my eyes, that turn came up so fast. It was a hard right hander, about 190 degrees and up about 30 degrees. I was coming in way to fast. I got off the gas and the back end started to come around. I was sliding sideways, knowing that there is a 1000 foot cliff on the outside. I got back on the gas and I saved it. Now riding with three adams apples in my throat, (if you know what I mean) I looked behind me to see one of the past champs shaking his head. I got real lucky. A real rookie mistake. I made my way to the top. I had plenty of time to think about my dumb mistake. After all the bikes are at the top, they send two bikes up, called sweepers to make sure the road is clear for the downhill ride. It was soon time to come down. There was a long line of bikes headed down. They started spreading out soon. It's about 6.2 miles from where we started. Somewhere about half way down, on a hard left hander, probably about 195 degrees and 30 plus degrees down. I fell, I still don't know what happened, but I was on the ground. I got up before anyone saw me. The bike came out from under me faster than get can get ready. Wow, two rookie mistakes on my first trip. The bike was O.K. and I was too, just my pride was a little dusty. I shook it off and got back on and headed back to the van. I told Chris what had happened on the way down. What a dumb mistake. I had about 10 minutes to regain my composure, and it's time to make my next trip up the mountain. This time I was a lot more aware of what I was doing. This is not about going fast, but learning the road. I backed off to 75% and just learned the road. The upper half of the mountain must have 60 plus turns, each one with it's special things to know, plus the upper half is just above the tree line, so the road is just cut out of the mountain. So one side is a wall straight up and the other side is well... cliffs with rocky bottoms. Nice. This made things a bit intense. After my second trip up, it started to catch up with me. I have to say this, by far was the most intense thing I've ever done. I thought the first time I raced my speedway bike was intense. Bikes inches away, no brakes, going 60MPH. That was a ride in the park, there were no cliffs! My focus now was so intense you could weight it. There was a delay in going up the mountain. It seems that a quad rider had gone off the road near the top. The rider had broken his back in 4 places. No one knew he went off the road. They don't have turn workers on every turn. He had crawled his way up the side of the cliff and flagged a rider over. The EMT's took him to the hospital, and soon we were back at it. I was trying to take it all in. All the turns, the danger, all of it, maybe too much. After 5 trips up the road, I said to Chris "I'm as ready as I'll ever be, there's just too much to learn in 2 or 3 hours. Lets pack the van". So we did.
It's about 8:00am now and it's time to go down the mountain. We heard that the rider that had broken his back was in good spirits and wanted to come back next year.
We were back at the hotel by 9:30. We had the nothing to do for the rest of the day but just hang out and relax. I had lots of time to think about my first time on the mountain. What a wild, wild, ride! I was starting to understand what a commitment it was, to do good there. 12.5 miles 156 turns and one chance to do it. I guess in some ways, I could understand how a downhill skier at the Olympics must feel like. You see them rocking back and forth before they shoot out of the gate, knowing that they have one chance to do it right. Doing the type of racing that I've currently been doing, on tracks like Sears Point, you have12 turns, 2 plus miles, and in one race, you go about 20 miles and go through 120 turns, but you only need to know 12, over and over again. You can get your timing down, and get into a rhythm, and you get lots of practice to perfect it. At Pikes Peak you get one run up the mountain, and you never get that until race day. There's also one part you never get to test on, just above Glenn Cove. You have to keep reminding yourself, this is a race against the mountain, not against the other riders. Maybe in time, 5 or 6 years, you might start thinking about racing the others, but not on your first time.
Chris and I took the rest of the day easy, playing tourist in Manatou. We hung out in town for awhile, grabbed a bite to eat, and headed back to the hotel. Our room was nice and had a good T.V. It seams like all we could watch was SpeedVision racing and more racing. The history of racing, and stuff like that. We tried to go to bed early again, about like the night before. Day two would be a later start because we would be the only ones on the mountain, since the cars and trucks were already done practicing. I thought I was going to sleep in today, to 4:15 or so. No such luck. I first awoke at 1:52am. I tried to go back to sleep. No way. All I could do was keep thinking about what I had gotten myself into. I Finally fell back to sleep and awoke again at 3:25am. I just laid there until the alarm went off. This time it seems like it look days not hours. We got up and away we went, this time I let the van warm up, she liked that. We headed up the mountain. This time we would get to use the car and truck pits. There was plenty of room, unlike race day we would be down from the cars and trucks in a very small spot. We unloaded the bike from the van and I got ready. Chris got the bike ready and put gas in it. Did I tell you that I had the only bike there that was box stock? I changed the tires and the one jet and there you are, race ready. Oh yah, the other riders; I guess now is as good as any time to tell you about the other riders in my class. There were only 5 rookies in the 750pro class, and what I mean is rookies to the Pikes Peak, they where all champions of some type, with very trick bikes, that were built for the mountain. I came to make it to the top that's all. What an under-statement. Some of the other riders in my class included a past winner of Pikes Peak and a state champion in Ice racing and flat track. There were some very nice bikes in the 750pro class. I may have been out classed by the other bikes and riders, but I was going to give it my best shot. I just had to remember what I had come, to learn and experience one of most prestigious and oldest races in the U.S., and race the mountain, not the other riders. It's about time for the riders meeting now. Just before daybreak, they said, we would get only 2 or 3 times to practice up the mountain and then qualify. They said that qualifying would be just like the race, 5 bikes in a row, get a green flag and go, wow. Practice on the lower half was going to be the same, start slow and learn the road, and then pick it up a bit. This time I was not going to make any rookie mistakes. They would send out quads first to help clean the track off from the cars and trucks and the people that pay to drive up the toll road. Lots of marbles and loose dirt on the road. We are much lower now, and I would have to start with the choke on about 1/4 to get going and start turning it off after I got started up. They sent the quads up first, and I did the same thing again, let 6 or 7 bikes go ahead of me, then I took off, trying not to repeat the day before. I kept my head on straight, looking and learning. The lower half of the mountain is quite different than the top half. Lots of trees and very loose dirt, some paved and some not. Half way through a turn, might go from dirt to paving, with loose dirt on the apex. Fun. This made for a very interesting ride, lots of long straights out of turns and tight switch-backs. Wild. You could see the turns ahead somewhat, but intense. We got three times up the mountain and that was fine. I could not take any more in. Way too much to learn in such a short time. It would be time to qualify soon. I could not breath, and it was not from the altitude, but from what I was about to do. I had seen this on T.V. so many times before. You get a green flag and head up towards Glen Cove, at the Picnic Grounds they would radar you for your top speed and at Glen Cove you would see a checkered flag. It all seemed to come into focus now. A year of trying to put this all together, convincing myself that I could do it, and now after being there for almost a week, now it all came down to one chance to qualify. One chance, and then it's over. Then you race. One shot at the mountain until next year. They would try and put us into groups that where close in bike size. I lined up for the start. I pick the #3 spot from the right. As we got closer to the starting line, I could see loose dirt to the right of me. The rider next to me must have noticed it too, because when we were to pull up to the line, he pulled over into my line. Not much I could do about it but deal with it. The starter gave the bikes in front of us about a 2 minute lead, so as not to have any bikes catch the group before. The starter walked to his starter spot, looked at the line, pulled the flag tight and let her go. I took off, hit the sand. The rear wheel started to spin a little and the bike slowed down, just for a second. One of the other rookies over to the right got in front me and we were headed up the mountain. I was faster than him, but didn't know the road. I waited for the right time to pass, after one of the sweepers there was a long straight away. I made my move, coming into a nice loose left hander, I put the bike into a nice slide, hard on the gas, out onto a long straight away. They call this one the Picnic Ground. At the end of the straight is a man standing with a radar gun. Wow. I had seen this so many times before. Cool. At the end of the straight, was a left followed by a hard right. Wow, what a ride. That rider must have cost me 15 to 20 seconds. I looked back on one of the straights and didn't see him. The road started taking on some very hard aspects, dirt leading into the turn, the Penn Suppress, then dirt again, some paving and pot holes and more dirt. I road perfectly, keeping my mind on what I was doing. I didn't make any mistakes. As I was coming out of the last turn I could see up ahead, Glen Cove, the green roof of the lodge. I new I had made it. I was on the gas has hard as it would go. I could see the two waving checkered flags Across the Finnish line, wow! The hair on the back of my neck stood up, my eyes started to well up with water, this was not form the altitude, but form the excitement of what I had gone through to get this far, and this was only to qualify for the race! I can't explain how I felt, but there are few words I know or can spell that could let you have this feeling. I sat there for about 20 seconds before the other riders came up the mountain. I knew that I was not the slowest there. I was starting to feel a bit better.
Things were starting to wind down now. The only thing left to do was the race. Right. A timed race against a mountain. This was it for now, back down the mountain, load up the bike and back to the hotel. We got back to the hotel and just took it easy for a few hours. We headed into town for a bite to eat, and relax. We return to the hotel early, took a nap or two, watched some racing on T.V. and tried to go to sleep. Just as before, it was even harder to fall asleep, thinking about tomorrow.
Sunday the 4 of July, was like the other days. We had to get started early, before the crowds arrived, so we headed up the mountain at about 4:30am. Not too many cars yet, but at the toll gate there where lighting trucks, lighting up the area like day time. The circus was about to begin. They must get 15,000 people or more up the mountain before 9:30. After we got into the pit area, there was a line of traffic going up the mountain that never seemed to slow down, and some of the people came the night before to camp out. We where the second to the last group scheduled to race up the mountain. First the stock cars, then the rally type cars, then the open wheelers, and the trucks, and the unlimited class (the fastest class). So after the unlimited class, the quads, then the 250 pro, then 500pro, then us, the 750pro class. After us, last but definitely not the least, the Big Rigs. Then it would be over. It was early now about 5:00 or 6:00am. I asked what time the rider's meeting was. Oh, about 8:30 or so, cool, we had time to walk around the car and truck pits and see the other part of the show. Man there was some really nice stuff there, lots of bucks. We grabbed a cup of coffee and headed back to our pits. Very soon we were talking to some of the other riders, making some new friends. Like NASA these people are very nice to be around. It was soon time for the rider's meeting. They told us how happy they were with us for getting there early and parking without any problems. They said they had a lot of prizes to hand out, tee-shirts, oil and junk like that. That seemed to take forever. When that was over, they said good luck and have a great race. We need to be ready about 2:00pm for the pre-grid, same as qualifying, the quads first, then 250, 500,750, then sidehacks. The day seemed to go a little faster this time. I guess because it was race day. Soon the last of the trucks where running up the mountain and the quads where on pre-grid. Most of the bikes started out to pre-grid, it was getting very close now. The last truck headed up the mountain. The quads where starting to line up now. Wow, people where lined up all along the side fence looking at this group of crazies getting ready to go up the mountain. The first three quads line up and bang, the got the green flag. They where on their way. About 2 minutes later the next group was off. Soon after that the next. Then all of a sudden the ambulance next to us fires up with the lights flashing and siren going. They stop the next set of quads. I could hear on a radio, in a truck next to me, the announcer saying that a quad had gone off at Blue Sky. It looked like the rider was O.K. but the quad was down about 300ft off the road. Soon the ambulance was back and parking. Before long, the rest of the quads had taken off. The 250pro class started lining up, and they where on their way. Next, the 500pro class started lining up. Before we knew it, we were up. The fastest qualifiers up front and so on. I had qualified in the middle of the third row, two to the left and two to the right. There was a Woods Rotax two bikes over from me (a very fast bike), next to him was a Honda, and on the other side two more Hondas. Some hot bikes. It was getting closer to my race. The endless sea of bikes in front of me was getting less and less. Before I knew it, we were next. The starter pointed us to the line. it's all coming down to the next few seconds. My heart is starting to beat faster and faster. My focus is starting to narrow by the second. The sound of all the commotion around me is getting less. Soon all I can hear is my heart beating and the engine revving up. Things are starting to slow down now, almost as if in slow motion. I see the starter walking to his spot, and he is looking at the line, to see if we are ready. I see that he is about to give us a green flag. He starts to pull the flag up, I dump the clutch giving as much gas as I could with out pulling a wheely. The bike pulls forward, and I get a great hole shot. The first one to the turn, wow, keep it together. Like a stuck pig, the Wood Rotax next to me shoots past me like a bullet. Making a few shifts and keeping on the gas, no one is passing me. One, two, three turns. I think I hear a bike very close to me, can't look back. Keeping my cool and riding as good as I can, I pull ahead of the rest of the pack. I finally look back. Three bikes are so close to me that I could spit on them. I keep my cool, heading to the Picnic Ground. All four of us are in a line, with about 1 or 2 feet between us. We start heading up into the tight stuff, lots of tight turns and switch-backs. Heading into Glen Cove, I look back to see if I have made a pretty good lead on the rest of the pack. Just the upper half to go. Earlier Chris had said that the bike might be a bit fatter because of the temperature, but there was not a thing we could do. As I started up past the tree line, the bike did start running a little slower. I would just have to ride smoother, no sliding into the turns, try and keep the wheel from spinning, keep it hooked up, as we started toward the " W's ", a very steep part. I could feel someone close to me, as we went through a few of the switch-backs, I could look down and see that two of the three bikes where starting to fall back, but one was so close. I could see his blue eyes looking at me, every turn closer and closer. Just before Devil's Playground he made his move. He got past me. Hard into the turn, his bike started to slide, he stayed on it, but because of the wheel spinning, he slowed down a bit. I held it in close to the turn and passed him back. As we went through the Devil's Playground, people where lined up along side of the road. Someone put his hands out to me indicating that the bike behind me was just inches behind, he was waving and screaming at me to go faster! I knew his bike was running good and I could not make any mistakes. I was trying to keep my focus on the line in front of me, not making any mistakes.
The first time I went up the upper half I was scared because I was taking it all in. On some of the turns you could see Nebraska, and some, I swear you could see California, but now all I could see was the line in front of me. I guess all the experience I gained, racing different types of vehicles, paid off. On our way up we must have changed places eight or more times. Going into the last tight turn, a switch-back at about 14,000 feet, just below the finish line, a very tight 180 degree plus, uphill turn. He makes his last move, to hot, his bike starts to slide, I pull it in tight, I got it! I'm pulling him out of the turn. I can see the finish line up ahead, not more than a couple of hundred feet away. I think I'm going to make it to the finish line first, then I start to hear that Honda come alive. The revs start coming up, and my bike is going as fast is it will go. Not 25 feet from the finish line, he pass me. He got me by four one hundredths of a second. Wow. It's over, all the work to get here, the time off from work, my friend Chris taking time off from work to come nearly 2000 miles for this race. I can't believe it! I made it! I made it to the top of Pikes Peak! I got to see those two waving checkered flags that had been given to so many great racers before me. I just couldn't believe I had made it!
The ESPN camera man came up to me, turned on his camera and asked "well how does it feel?" I can't quite remember just what I said, but all I know is that this one race will stay in my memory for a very long time.
Next was the trip down the mountain. I was not quite sure of what to expect as we left the finish line. There was a line of cars, trucks, bikes and big rigs, so long you could not see the starting point or the end. Near the top there weren't too many people, but as we got closer to the Devil's Playground, you could start to see people, lots of people, lined up along side the roadway, all clapping and cheering us on and putting their hands out for a high five. This part was somewhat overwhelming. At no race that I had ever been in, did the fans all come down to the race track and line the outside to congratulate you and cheer you on. Wow, they had told us about this, but I could not believe my eyes! (which, at this time had some type of water in them, not to sure where it was coming from). This was almost as wild as the race. I fell very lucky to have been invited to compete in this race, and make it to the top.
Back in the pits now, I saw Chris videoing me on my way back to the van, what a great guy. We said goodbye to our new friends in the pits. Most asked, "will we see you back next year?" Well I'm not sure. One trip to the clouds at a time.
With my feet on the ground it was time to go back home. The trip home seemed so fast, back to the rat race.
The story you've just read is true, and for the most part, as close to what had happened at the time. I tried to write every night after the events of the day, so I also could help keep this in my memory for a very long time. Thanks for reading, and trying to understand what it may have felt like.
In retrospect: Being invited to race Pikes Peak was definitely one of my greatest tests yet. Getting to the top and taking the checkered flag was the goal. Getting to race someone to the top and have a real race was the icing on the cake.
I think back now and feel that this race taught me more than any race yet, about myself and racing in general.
I can't thank Chris Hovey enough. Making his way back there, giving up his time to help me chase a dream. In life it's hard to find a good friend, and one like Chris is something I can't believe. I'm very lucky to have so many good friends that supported me in this race to the clouds, because without them, I probably would have made up some reason way I couldn't have gone.
My wife has supported me in all the racing that I have gotten myself into for all these years (20+), she believes in me and encourages me to try whatever I think I can do, I am a very lucky individual.
The Following people made this possible:
Paul and Theresa Smith, Chris Hovey, NASA - Ali and Jerry,
Bugformance, I/O Port - Ken, GoGoGear - Becky, G & B Kawasaki, Sand & Sea - Dave, Dave Brown my co-driver, Big Chris, Matt, Jeff
and my wife - Debra.
Please give me your comments on my story. Thank you!
or my email is firstname.lastname@example.org