With a build of my own this year has been a bit hectic. Trying to manage my time while being committed to building and helping with the Kerns cars has been quite an undertaking. I am sure Dave would love more help, but this year sleep is a consideration…
So last year on the mountain was quite an effort by Kern Racing. They have been pushing it to the limit and as they say, if you aren’t crashing you aren’t getting better. Well, they did crash last year, then they finished 4th. Yes, that is pretty impressive considering they sat on the guardrail for 35 second, then raced 6 miles on a missing tire and a busted shock! At the end of the race last year their car looked like this.
So when they assessed the damage the realization was that the body work needed to be done and that means that there needs to be some thought into the future of the car. The race is all pavement in 2012, so the car will need to be wider, the tires will be bigger and it will need to be ready to accept them. So how about we modify the overall width of the car with a widebody kit? Well, if you are going to do that, then why not lighten the car by removing the rear doors? And if you are going to do that, why not make the entire body out of carbon fiber? Well that is what the plan boiled down too and they are in the midst of making that happen.
Dave got started on the car by ordering up a stock widebody kit and we got crackin on getting that installed. You can check out all the details of the assembly on RaceKern.com
With all the body work in progress I took a day or two to stop down and work out the details. It is a lot of work doing all the bondo work for a job like this but we got it to race car quality and we’re pretty happy.
Once it was all finished up a good waxing went down we made a mold of one side of the car. This is a big panel and we are glad to get through it without any issues.
With the mold curing still and the polyester resin still stinking up the place we rolled the car on over to the lift and started cranking away on other projects. We switched out the rear suspension, the rear brakes and installed the new front fenders. Then we cranked on the new beefy rear sway bar and looked at the front brakes only to realize we didn’t have the right wheels nearby to fit over the rotors.
So we worked on a plan for the rear wing mounting, we worked on a plan for the new front splitter and we called it a day. Tomorrow we will meet with John Wanberg. John was my professor at Metro and he is getting a bit giddy to make really cool composite projects happen. Tomorrow we are talking aero elements and primarily the splitter. I am looking forward to see what he comes up with!
I have been working hard on my current project, Project Baja. If I haven’t mentioned it too much on here it is because I spend most of my time writing about it on the Project Baja site. I started thinking about this project though: why do you do this stuff? That was the question that crossed my mind. Why? Well. These are the interesting things in life. The adventures that many look at and few do.
One day, many moons ago I watched the movie “Dust to Glory.” When the movie finished I thought to myself “I could do that.” I have watched that movie repeatedly since then and I always think the same thing. “I could do that.” The real question is why though. Why spend all the time, the money and the effort on something like this? For me I think it comes down to one word: Experience.
In 2008 while sitting around with some friends we decided to make a soapbox car for the RedBull soapbox race. Cars for these events are often cardboard, taped together. Some of them are more complicated but none are taken to the level that we wanted to go. The purpose was not entirely winning. The reason for that is experience. If my team or I choose to do something we do it so we get something awesome of of it and what is more awesome than education? We learned a lot from that car. Little lessons like: “Wow, fiberglass sucks to sand!” or “Body work sure does live up to the ‘WORK’ part.” When we went to the race we had an amazing time, we met a ton of people we answered questions and we basically had an amazing experience.
In 2009 we did it all over again. The Mach five wasn’t just another fiberglass car, it was a completely different molding technique. We decided we needed to learn how to do make a female mold on this one. It was a completely new experience and we were able to learn how and be successful making the project all in a very short period of time. When we took that car across country we had so many experiences along the way. Meeting new people, showing our vehicle and well, creating the story of the trip. We have friends that I am glad to say that we would not have developed otherwise.
So when we circled around to the Baja Car I thought to myself. Imagine the places you will go, the people you will meet and not only that but the stories you will have from this project! We jumped in and yes! As usual we flailed a bit but we are going strong.
Already I have met some amazing people. I traveled to California to go to Lisas Wedding and I was able to meet the Desert Dingos. Specifically I met Jim Graham. They showed me around the car as well. Jim has been an amazing resource and has quickly become a friend. It was a great experience walking through their outdoor shop nestled in the redwoods. It was fun to check out their car and learn as much as we could. I only wish I was able to go back! Now that we have made the progress that we have it would be great to see it all again. In addition we have met Yves Braun. Yves is in the desert racing community and just happens to have a shop that is just up the street from us. He has been one of the most generous people and has provided us with a tow when we need it and a free donor car too!
The more we learn about all of this the more the experiences are becoming apparent. I met Paul Massey through all of this as well and his friends at the Fire Guys Racing Team. Paul has told stories, showed pictures and just added fuel to the fire. The other night as we chatted he was telling me how excited he is to go to Mexico for 2012’s race and he also said “there is always a big part of me that is excited and a small part that is pretty nervous.” I think that about sums it up. Everyone that goes to this event knows that there are a lot of question marks. When you are in the middle of the desert with nobody around and you are relying on this vehicle to save the day… Well. It is plenty to make you nervous. Add to that the possibilities that simply exist in Mexico. Unpredictable law enforcement, unpredictable fans, the challenge of getting everything you need into Mexico and the additional challenge of getting everything you own out of Mexico. There is a lot to worry about! But every piece of that is just another chapter in the story that is the Baja 1000!
With all of these potential experiences laid out just imagine the stories that are going to come out of it. Now consider that we aren’t even there yet. We are working like crazy to find sponsors, money to join our team and help make this happen. We can figure out a lot of stuff, but we can’t just create money. So now we spend a lot of time trying to figure out exactly how we can get money. You know what? Well it turns out that we have been developing relationships, we have been able to be very creative with some marketing ideas, we have just learned a ton about dealing with potential sponsors and it just adds to our experiences. Our marketing plan is always evolving but our webisodes are something that we love to make and people love to see. It has been a lot of fun and a big learning experience figuring out all of this!
The youngest driver and the most encouraging navigator, yup, you guessed it! The Dynamic duo of Savannah Rickli and Rebecca Greek attack Pikes Peak in their Mini cooper with only 200hp. Pretty crazy when you think that others in their class have more than 3 times that kind of power.
Ride along as they rocket up the mountain with only a few mishaps along the way.
I spent pretty much the entire week climbing around Pikes Peak in order to get shots for this small video project that I was working on. The project was to create a PPIHC video that features a group of smaller name, lower budget drivers and I guess I root for the underdog so I really enjoy bringing these names to the front of peoples minds if I can.
After spending that week collecting footage, you know I am going too also shoot other cars too so I put together a lot of Extra footage to put that out there as well. This is very comprehensive. It is nearly every car that practiced with the unlimited/time attack cars and a few others as well. There are a ton of locations and this was all shot by me over the 3 practice days, race day and the test and Tune day. Enjoy!
If you looked up the word ‘determined’ in the dictionary, it says “see racekern.com.” The Kerns have had some of the toughest years at Pikes Peak and each year they come out of it wit a smile on their face and a lesson learned. Some of those lessons I don’t think they could have ever avoided so it is amazing how positive and driven they can remain!
This year’s lesson? Dirt may be scary at times, but asphalt has many faces to. The thing about dirt is that you are relying on a surface that has minimal grip, so you are driving in such a way that you are constantly compensating for that lack of grip. On asphalt you are using all the grip that you can get out of the road. So if that grip goes away, you have a much tougher time. This year the Kerns found a part of the course that dust, gravel, something was blown onto the road and braking grip was eliminated! Stephan Verdier found the same place, but his experience was even more catastrophic! So ride along with the Kerns as they take you up the mountain. Keep your eyes peeled for their incidents and for the pieces that decide not to make it all the way to the summit with them!
Take a moment and read the Kern’s recap on the week at Pikes Peak on RaceKern.com
Jimmy and Spencer are great friends and it is amazing to see how close they are in all the racing they do. Ride along with Jimmy as he finishes second in open wheel by only 1 second! His time is good enough for 5th fastest on the mountain a pretty awesome thing to be able to say as well!
I will be adding each of the drivers full run’s over the next week, but today we have Spencer’s. He was the fastest in the group of drivers that we had cameras on and I figured it would be nice to get his run up first. Ride along with Spencer as he claims the top rung on the podium in Open Wheel devision and also grabs the 4th fastest on the mountain. Keep your eyes peeled, he’s got a few hairy moments too!
If you haven’t seen already, check out my previous entry with video from all the cars we ran cameras on this year. Video Number one link
Yeah, I decided after working on this first video and realizing that YouTube now allows uploads over 10 minutes that I will also put together individual race runs this year. I will work on that later today actually, for now, here is the first edit from the mountain. Ride along with Spencer Steele, Jimmy Olson, Savannah Rickli, Rebecca Greek and Dave & Allison Kern. It’s quite the adventure and keep your eyes peeled the race runs were, very eventful!
Every year I go up to Pikes Peak for the hill climb and every year the adventure is a bit different. I have worn many hats on the mountain including Photographer, writer, video guy and even tour guide. This year was a bit different. My roll this year was a bit more involved with the teams and it really gave me a good look at what they have to go through to make it to the summit.
Now let me clarify, the teams that I have been spending more time with are all small budget teams. These are guys and girls that don’t have the big dollar budgets and the ones that are sometimes the most impressive on the mountain with the least amount of fanfare. This year I spend the most time with the Kerns.
Dave and Allison are a great duo of Husband and Wife, Driver and Co-Driver. They have two race cars and I am pretty familiar with nearly all the nuts and bolts on both of them now. Their BMW Compact race car you can see more info on the build on my site and the EVO is their hill climb car for Pikes Peak. They seem to always find just enough support to be able to pull off another hill climb and they don’t show up with junk. The EVO is over 600 hp at the wheels, it is very well thought out with weight reduction measures taken at any place that they implement them. It is a rocketship with tires in my opinion and in the capable hands of the dynamic duo, it is a force to be reckoned with.
The other teams, who’s cars I don’t work on, but who I spend time with instead are the teams of Spencer Steele and Jimmy Olson. I met both of these guys through Ice Racing in Georgetown and these guys, well they are best friends and some of the fastest guys on the mountain. Their budgets are reflected in their vehicles as well. Spencer has a philosophy that you don’t paint a car till you can find out what color duct tape you can buy and Jimmy, well, he’s actually driving a car for a different owner named Butch. Both of them have a collection of used tires that they have collected from other teams, they have motors that they built themselves and every part of the work on the car they have a hand in. None of these teams tuck their driver in to get a good nights sleep then go to finish work on the car, the driver is the main part of the team and is integral in making the car go both on the course and in the pits.
In the weeks leading up to PPIHC these teams were working on cars. The kerns were driving to Chicago to get a new AMS power package put into their car. Spencer was building a motor and Jimmy, well he was trying to get his own car running for the event when catastrophe struck and he ended up running in Butch’s car. Exhaustion leading up to the event is a regular thing for these guys and with minimal support a lot of this is just out of pocket expenses too. On Tuesday night, the night before practice, we were under the Kerns EVO readying the car for the next day on the mountain and though the car was mostly ready, the final touches took till nearly 11pm to get through. With a wakeup call at 2:30, that makes for a short night!
On the mountain the first day, the Kerns were battling an under steer issue. With new suspension that they hadn’t been able to test due to rained out track days, they were experimenting on the mountain with the new suspension setup and it was pushing like crazy. Spencer and Jimmy were experimenting too, but they were working with different tires. With all the new pavement on the mountain the tires that they have used in the past, the Pikes Peak Specials, seemed to be too dirt oriented and not quite as pavement friendly, so they were playing with different front tires, different rear tires and run after run you would see different things being tested.
After practice the Kerns headed off to PPIR to continue testing and tuning. The suspension needed to be changed, tire pressures needed to be dialed in and the handling needed to be corrected. After hours at the track only a minimal improvement was felt. It was clear that they were missing something, but there was still time. With that being said, I as able to ride in the car for the first time at the end of the day and experienced a vehicle that has some intense amount of power. 0-60 seems like a silly measurement in this car as you feel that you could just barely stand to drive this thing 60 when it has so much more power to go. Maybe 0-100 or 0-150 even is more appropriate!
Practice day two came about and the same tweaks were being made. The kerns were working with suspension and at the same time AMS tuner Mitch was dialing in the tune on their motor. Jimmy and Spencer were clearly testing tires on each section to see what they could figure out would be faster and I was on the side of the mountain taking video of all of them. In case you don’t remember, last year we ran cameras on most of these cars and this year we stepped that effort up quite a bit. Cameras on the cars and a lot of video from the side of the mountain as well. This is a huge undertaking so check back in a week or so and I will have our final edit up for you to check out.
After practice the kerns headed out to PPIR again, this time they had an infield spot to work on the car. Federal Tires rep Taz Yeh came out to lend a hand and his help was fantastic. His knowledge of the tires and the suspension worked out well and they were able to dial in the suspension and tire pressures to really meet Dave’s driving needs. At the end of the day we laid down a final run on the track. Fully drifting most of the turns in 3rd gear with predictable handing in an AWD car… what an impressive feeling!
Practice day three was qualifying day. This was also the only day on dirt and the dirt was LOOSE. Yeah, The kerns headed up on their newly dialed suspension and they were looking quick. 5:09 was their qualifying time which bettered their previous best qualifying time on the mountain! This was good for second qualifying position however by 4 seconds and they were sure that they could find the extra seconds on the mountain. Jimmy and Spencer were battling out in their own class. Jimmy put down a 5:00 and Spencer a 5:07. With these two guys though that difference in time was going to be cut down… You can just feel the competitive nature between these two best friends! After practice everyone was off to Fan Fest.
Saturday the teams were dialing in, changing oil and just finalizing the prep for race day. Spencer and Jimmy were aligning their cars when I stopped by and as you can imagine it was unique. Big teams, they use tire alignment machines, lasers and other goodies. Jimmy and Spencer? They have a tape measure, a retractable dog leash 4 beer cans and a stick of aluminum. Now keep in mind they have this down to a science. They use two Coors cans on the back of the alignment bar and one Coors and one Bud can on the front… since the Bud can is shorter.
Race day came and the crowds were just huge. It is great to see people recognizing the majestic nature of this mountain and this race. I was asleep at Devils Playground and when I woke up there were probably 500 cars around me. It is a great sight to see! The weather was warm but a bit windy. Overall it was a perfect day for a race and clearly a great day for the unlimited class. Monster set a new record of 9:51, Rhys at 10:09 showed that his car was really capable on the mountain in only two years of running that car and Jean Phillipe had a very impressive appearance at 10:17 which is amazing for the first year on the mountain at all!
The Kerns were poised to break their own record. They headed up the mountain and as they did I turned my radio off. I didn’t want any of that audio on my video. So I waited. They passed by and when I saw their car my heart dropped. Something’s wrong. I turned the radio back on and found that they had crashed at ragged edge and later found out that they crashed, lost a headlight, lost a side skirt, tore a hole in their front suspension and tore the tire on their rear wheel. By the time they got to Cog Cut the were running on a rim and when they got to the top at 12:12 they found that they had just placed 4th in their class… 15 seconds down from the leader while running a flat for the last 5-6 miles of the race. Pretty amazing if you ask me, especially when the race is 12.42 miles long!
Jimmy and Spencer were battling it out as well. Both passed by at a crazy amount of speed and in the end they were separated by 1 second. 1 SECOND! It is incredible. Spencer took the win; Jimmy took second with Spencer’s time being 10:42. Now, here is a little detail for you. This is what impresses me the most. Spencer’s time of 10:42 was set in a car running used tires, a home made motor and duct tape nose cone. This is a homemade project with nearly no support. Spencer’s time was good for 4th fastest overall time on the mountain. This is up with cars that have hundreds of thousands of dollars wrapped up in them. Cars that show up with a crew of mechanics and specialists. Both his time and Jimmy’s time is just incredible to me when you look at the budgets involved. This is what makes Pikes Peak most impressive to me I love that a team with a car built in their garage can show up and challenge the biggest budget factory teams. I think it is an incredible race when money doesn’t dominate and experience skill can win. This really makes this race awesome to me and I am pretty fortunate to have the ability to spend time with these guys and experience the race through their eyes!
I will have a video up from all of these cars and more very soon, in the mean time, check out some quick teasers…
Three days of practice are done. Qualifying has happened and the results are online. The Kerns have been dialing in the vehicle all week. With a major change in suspension this year in response to the added tarmac the testing to dial in the suspensions performance is critical. We were finally able to get it dialed in to Dave’s needs on Thursday night.
This year Dave and Allison have been supported by AMS again for his engine setup, tuning etc. They have also been picked up by Federal Tires. One of the nice things about both of these sponsors is that they are here, they are hands on and they are bringing their own setup experience. So out at PPIR this week while testing they have been hands on, talking about suspension setups, tire pressures engine setup and more. It has been a very interesting experience and I can’t imagine that we would have gotten the setup to dave’s liking as quickly without them.
As we were heading out Dave Carapetyan’s crew rolled up with his newly built Unlimited car. So new in fact that it didn’t get to practice all week.
They were in for a late night and said they were hoping to be at practice on Friday however a blown head gasket held them back from that goal.
We’ve been shooting video all week as well, as you may remember from last year, we are doing a similar project again this year. Spencer Steel, Jimmy Olson, Savannah Rickli and Dave & Allison Kern are all participating and we may even have some video from a motorcyclist, Darryl Lujan. So far I have a ton of video.. I mean seriously, I can’t get through it all just yet, but I can show you a bit of a Teaser… So check this out.