Well, I am pretty impressed with this little thing. Currently DataTech Labs is trying to recover the data off the SD card that was in here, but this little camera just happened to be exactly where the primary impact was on our Pikes Peak crash. Not only that but it was directly between the roll cage and the ground so it took every bit of energy that the crash had. Of course it did not survive, but it didn’t do too bad really. Check it out.
I didn’t have the battery or back with me when I shot this stuff but the battery is very deformed and the back is pretty normal looking. Interesting tid bits. the lens is pressed into the camera and the camera itself is definitely thinner than it was before. The case is remarkably in tact (not useable but definitely not as bad as I thought it would be) I did have to do a bit of surgery to get the SD card out of the camera, but it wasn’t too bad really. Not to shabby considering it was under here!
As a photographer and a spectator I have been to Pikes Peak every year since 2005 and a few years before that as well just for practice days. The mountain really has a way of sucking you in. As a spectator you see this crazy road, you see these brave individuals and you get this feeling that this is not like any other event in the world. When you stand at Devils playground and the air around you is 30 degrees and the wind is bone chillingly cold but the sun rises in front of you and illuminates the world that appears to be under your feet you get a sense that you are alone with natures beauty even though you can see houses miles below.
Over the years I have met many people on Pikes Peak. Photographers, spectators, competitors and more. I have spent countless hours on the side of the mountain waiting alongside of some of the best photographers out there. If there is one thing that I can say about photographers it is that they have seen it all. The stories I have heard from folks like Rupert Berrington or Peter Brock are just awesome and I never thought I would be able to trade that time on the mountain for anything. I never thought I would need to make that choice at all actually.
This year fires ravaged the landscape of Colorado Springs. Devastation at a scale that Colorado hadn’t seen before occurred and the original Hill Climb date had to be abandoned. This was a logistical nightmare for many teams, but it was absolutely the right thing to do. 24 was closed, the fire crews were chasing wild fires all over the state and slurry bombers were a common sight for many of us on the front range. When the date changed I was trying to sort out my plan for Pikes Peak again. In typical fashion I delayed thinking about it until I needed to and at that point I got a phone call. I met Valentin Ivanitski I believe a few years ago. I met him Ice Racing when he would bring his crazy V8 Audi A4 out onto the lake to race. Last year he raced that same Audi at Pikes Peak. When he did, on his first year he made it to the top and immediately got donuts. He also met Savannah Rickli. I have known Savannah for a bit as well. Ice racing and Pikes Peak have both been her thing and I have put a camera on her car for a few years now in order to edit up and release some videos from her runs. Well it turns out things worked out well between Val and Savannah and they ended up getting married this year. With them together I have had a chance to get to know each of them a bit better as well. So when my phone rang and I saw it was Val I answered and the question was “do you want to be my codriver for Pikes Peak?”
Over the years I have thought about what it would take to race at Pikes Peak. I have driven the road many times, up and down, sometimes multiple times a day, I have driven it at night in dense fog and I feel as though I know that road very well, but racing it, that is a whole other thing. I have always been curious. As a photographer you always have a feeling that you know what the competitor is going through. You combine your own experience with what you perceive their experience is and you generate this sense of what is going through their mind. I immediately said “Yes” to Val, then thought two things: “wow, I didn’t realize how much I wanted to do this” and “Hmm, Maybe I should make sure I don’t have any work commitments.”
Time was tight and Val and I sat down a few times to get things in order. First up was making sure the seat fit well and the harnesses were adjusted properly. I got down to his place and tightened everything up to fit me perfectly. While I was there I noticed quotes on his car. One on the drivers door and on on the Co-Drivers door. Val told me that my door is open, if I had a quote for that side then it is easily able to be changed. So I went to work on that. Finally with notes in hand for a few days we went up to Pikes Peak for a recce day. We ran the mountain 3 times (at the speed limit) with notes being called to make sure that everything matched up as we wanted and to work on timing. We found a few spots where alterations needed to be made to the notes and we went about changing them, adding things and basically dialing them in. When we got back from Pikes Peak that day I spent time correcting the notes, getting them bound nicely and cutting corners so they were easy to turn with gloves on.
Tuesday finally came around and I was finishing up some things at work before I left. I headed out to Colorado Springs with two helmets in hand. One for me and one for Savannah. Her helmet failed to pass tech even though it still had 4 years of use left in it based on Snell certifications. Fortunately I was able to save the day and bring her a new helmet. We went through tech, we went through the drivers meeting and we were off to bed. Another day down and the short nights were about to begin since we were going to wake up at 2 am for our first day of practice.
When the alarm sounded I was up and in the shower in an instant. We were outfitted with coffee and only one turn shy of devils playground when a radiator hose blew off our tow rig. Fortunately quick action by a spectator and we made it to devils playground without issue. Val and I were getting ready to get onto the mountain. Lots of anticipation had been building up in myself and honestly I was really curious how well I could do this job. We soon discovered that our intercom system was not working as well… Oh good. The sun began to rise but I didn’t watch it like I did when I was taking photos. I could only see that the light was coming and I didn’t see the beauty that it was creating. Light means we can run and that is all I cared about. When the line began to form we were at the front of it and when the first car lined up we were right there ready to go. When the flag pointed at Val, I was ready and when the flag dropped we both sprung into action. I was screaming at the top of my lungs and he was just able to hear me over the V8 that was roaring through an unmuffled exhaust. We arrived at the top of the mountain and I realized that the quote I had chosen for my door was even more appropriate than I expected. “on the other side of fear there is freedom.” Fear, anticipation, expectation and just plain nerves creep up on you in that start line. When you arrive at the flag the world is in slow motion it seems, since that flag can’t wave soon enough, but as soon as it does there is nothing besides you, Val and a mountain road and you do your job in deep concentration so you don’t mess it up! (trust me, you don’t want to mess up)
After the first day on the mountain we ended up helping our friends Scott Crouch and Lea Croteau by towing their car down to Wreckmasters for a bit of TLC.
Then we spent time sorting out our intercom systems and we also prepared for the next day. Our crew was fantastic. Stephen, Collin and Rhett made it so we didn’t have to do anything. Honestly that was awesome for me. I sure do like tinkering and I like building cars, but wow, it is really nice to simply be able to relax, rest and concentrate on your job. I spent a bit of time just checking notes, looking for any photos that popped up online and relaxing until day two of practice.
At this point we had purchased some Chatterboxes from Apex motorsports. They were great to work with and really gave us a good amount of information. We installed everything and we were on the mountain again ready to try them out. The roar of the engine came with a bit more expectation this time. Day two was our qualifying day. We had two runs on the mountain today, through the fastest part of the course and our job was to learn the road AND qualify for race day. Lots of things change when you see a road for the first time at race pace. Wow, suddenly all those lefts and rights come up on you faster and on our first run I truly got a bit lost. “Is this the 3rd left 6 or is it the 4th?” I came up on the corner before engineers and saw for the first time how, at speed, it looks so much like engineers! Wow, these are things that I never experienced before on the mountain and wow, it is very interesting to see it now. With our first run finished we moved on to run two. We headed up the mountain with much more success and when we arrived at the top Brianne Corn stopped by our car to see if we happened to have any tools with us. Val popped the trunk to discover, no, we don’t have tools, but wait… ALL our spare wheels are in the trunk! We just qualified with both of our runs with 150lbs of wheels in the trunk of the car. On the way down we chatted and decided, yes, this needs to be a trick we play on our crew. We lept out of the car and told them about the odd handling, the clunking, the rear of the car, too much downforce? What could it be. Instantly the guys were on it. they were jacking up the car, they were inspecting all the elements they were looking they were not finding anything until Rhett popped the trunk and everyone collapsed in laughter.
When we headed home to the Rainbow Lodge in Manitou Springs I spent some time with the notes. Red Sharpie and Large letters were put just below that turn before engineers to simply say “fake” I made a few other notes, but I found that simply having a confirmation of a few points along the bottom section really just made my confidence a lot higher. The same day our friends Cody Loveland and Tabitha Lohr had crashed at Engineers. Cody was determined to get the car running and Tab was banged up from the days events. Tab stayed with us and Savannah took good care of her while our guys, Rhett and Stephen, helped Cody get the car together.
Fridays practice was also very interesting. We decided to take it easy, though I don’t know if we actually talked about it ahead of time. I think that this section of road is really a bunch of drag races with corners in between and I suspect it is really the hardest on the car. We ran 2 runs at a casual pace then on our third run we tried to open it up. Oil was down, coolant was down, people were on the side of the road and our idea to run a quick run was foiled a bit by all of these elements. We got down and realized they were lining up for a 4th run. We got in line first and we headed up the hill only to find out that the timing van had already left… Based on our onboard cameras we found that we shaved 7 seconds off our last run from the fastest of our first 3 runs. That felt pretty good and definitely boosted a bunch of confidence as well.
Before we knew it race day had arrived. With our cars ready there is little to do but wait. We arrived very early and slept for a bit until the sun came up. Our crew was buttoning up some of our details as other cars were leaving the line. It appeared that the mountain was putting up a bigger fuss this year however. Monsters car caught on fire, Paul Dallenbach’s throttle cable stuck and only two of the unlimited cars actually made it to the summit! A bit later as we began to line up Jeremy Foley and Yuri Kouznetsov had their now famous crash as well.
We could see as clouds covered the summit and if the anticipation was high on Practice day #1 it was through the roof now that we were waiting on crashes. Every once and a while I would ask what time it was and someone would say 5 or 5:30… It kept getting later and I had never seen the race go so long! Finally we were at the start line. “Guys, do you want rain tires?” was the question we were asked “this is all we have!” was our response and we headed up the mountain.
Val and I were in perfect rhythm. The lower section went better than it had ever gone and I don’t think that is because of the spares that we remembered to remove this time. We crossed a line around 11 mile where we saw a few drops of rain on the windshield but the road was still dry. Val would test the traction periodically to see how early he needed to brake and we were still making great traction. We climbed up the mountain and every turn seemed to be a bit more wet but our traction was holding strong. We passed through the speed check at Picnic grounds at 65mph which was remarkably quick for our car. We passed through glen cove and headed up the middle section. We came up to one of the w’s and val hit the brakes early because of how wet the road looked and we nearly stopped! We still had traction! We arrived in Devils playground and hauled through there as well giving the fans something to talk about again. The next note was L5 /CR and we saw Bottomless. Hmm, that looks really wet. I heard Val say “braking early” and the back end of the car stepped out. Immediately he was on the gas, he was pulling this out, we were drifting and we caught traction… Oh no, It is over now was my only thought, but the car had already begun to roll. The back had touched the outside concrete gutter and it threw the nose of the car into the wall. Once that dug in we were landing directly above my corner of the windshield before we knew it and then over again with a final stop on the roof for good measure.
Here is a video of us at Devils Playground. Listen to that thing! It sounds MEAN!
When all the rolling stopped I thought to myself: “is that it? It sure seems like there should be more.” Then I thought about getting out of my seat and realized I was hanging from the harness. “Ok don’t forget to put your arms and legs in front of you, last thing you want to do is hurt yourself getting out of the seat after all that!” Once I was out of the car things were very clear very fast. I saw the corner worker with the radio and ran over to him. I don’t know how long it takes to roll a car, get out and run across the street to someone, but in that time he had made it about 10 ft in our direction from what I could tell. I looked at him and told him that Val and I were just fine, we are ok, we need him to get on the radio, get a truck down here to get this thing out of here and we need him to get info out to the broadcast to make sure everyone knows both the driver and co-driver are ok, I said, please trust me, you gotta do this or my mom will fly to Colorado and kill you! “Yeah, ok I got it” was his response. The tow truck arrived so fast it was pretty impressive. The car was loaded up within about 10 minutes of when we actually left the car. The driver of the truck was quick to respond, the safety truck arrive and asked us to write down some pertinent information so he could make sure we were ok and we were towed back to devils playground within a total of 15-20 minutes from the time the crash occurred.
When we were at Devils playground we had crowds around the car, taking photos, looking, asking us questions. The first person to ask me a question was a kid, he was probably 10 or 11 years old. “Hey buddy, do you know who broke the record today?” We tried to piece together what had happened, but it all happened so fast, we took some info from the lady in the corner who said to us “wow, you guys looked great coming through that corner, well up until the (then she gestured a rolling motion with her harms)” and we took what we felt in the car and wow, it is all just a bit skewed from what the video cameras tell us!
We discovered as well that at the same time that we went off Jerod Voight’s Camero and Roy Tompkins Corolla went off as well. The radios were a flurry of calls apparently and they were scrambling to get things back in action. They made the call to run to Glen Cove for the final cars.
Soon they sent all the cars down. There are few times in life when you can see exactly how much you mean to people based on the look on their faces and when we were standing there, in front of our wrecked car with drivers coming down we could see the concern we made sure they knew we were ok and it was a good feeling to know how concerned your friends are about you.
On the way down we chatted with our tow truck driver, He told us stories from over the years, he paused and showed us where Jeremy and Yuri’s car ended up and he talked about years before when they used to have 15 tow trucks on the mountain and now they have 6. This all just went in one ear and out the other at the time but the next day I realized what that meant. We drove down with the window down, I didn’t know where everyone was that I knew on the mountain, but I did know I wanted them to see me with a smile on my face waving to them to alleviate any concerns they may have. During that ride down I saw what was becoming a very common sight. The look on friends faces mimicked one another with absolute looks of concern. We passed by Joel Yust and the concern on his face began to wear on me. I knew he had borrowed my radio, he should know we are ok. We began to ask and discovered, no, the broadcast said nothing about our whereabouts! It listed us as “lost” or “missing.” From what my family told me later we were never found but fortunately our car was found at some point during the broadcast.
This race is not for the timid, it is scary, every driver has a few turns that really get to them, but if you can face that fear there is a feeling on the other side that you won’t experience anywhere else. That is Pikes Peak and now I can say that I have experienced both sides and wow, it is an interesting experience.
I need to say a big thanks to my friends and family who have supported me through this and also to some photographers as well for capturing the event.
If you have read back in my posts you know Pikes Peak has been a constant passion for me. I have followed the race, spectated the race, reported on the race and more. I really enjoy the mystique of the race. It just has this spirit that you don’t find other places. The mountain seems to have a personality and moods and each year you can’t quite tell the mood the mountain will be in until race day.
I have never been in the race, I have had a real desire to bring this race out to the world. More specifically I have had a strong desire to bring the underdogs of this race out to the world. There are many competitors on Pikes Peak and there are some who hold records, who break records, who are on the podium regularly and whos names are never mentioned. I enjoy bringing light to their efforts and showing the world what these people are made of and what it takes to get there. Some of the drivers I have highlighted are Dave and Allison Kern, Spencer Steele, Jimmy Olson, Savannah Rickli and her codriver Rebecca Greek. Others have been featured in my videos and photos as well and as much as I enjoy the big name drivers that come to this race I am proud of the exposure I have given to these smaller name drivers so people can see what it takes to make your own way to the race. The endless hours of fabrication, the endless hours of counting pennies to get all the parts that you need to make the big day and the final push to make it onto the mountain.
As with other years I have helped the RaceKern team in preparation for the year. Unlike last year however I have had my own car to work on and therefore I haven’t been able to spend as much time as I have in the past. With the accident last year the car had a definite need for body work. Lots of dents and dings and some more serious stuff as well. The decision was made to simply cut all of the body work out and make carbon fiber panels to replace it. We were taking a 4 door EVO and making it a lighter weight coupe. After all the work and all the effort the final result is pretty incredible. It looks like a factory body, but when you touch it you start realizing it really isn’t. each panel on the side of the car is 4.5 lbs. So both panels together weigh about 1/3rd of one of the two doors we removed. After you factor in the other steel that was removed this was a pretty significant weight savings and in addition there is a mold so more panels can be pulled at any time.
When the race date for Pikes Peak came around fires were ravaging Colorado Springs. 350 homes were lost and many were displaced in the aftermath. The race was canceled, there is no way that they could have a race with such uncontrolled chaos going on nearby. Soon afterward I received a phone call from Valentin Ivanitski. Val’s codriver couldn’t make the new date and he hoped I would be interested in giving it a try.
My gut reaction to his request was “YES.” But I decided I needed to be more responsible than that. Check the schedule. Check the vacation time. Sort out work needs as well. In the end the answer was Yes! This of course put me in a tizzy. I have things to get, my helmet isn’t the proper certification, I don’t own a hans. I needed to get the right shoes since mine were torn. Socks, yes you need fireproof socks too and finally a physical for the race. Things keep delaying the completion of these tasks and of course are just stressing me out. But I think I have this all under control now and I am psyched to get on the road, tomorrow, to go race.
This past Saturday Val and I took a trip down to the peak. We did Recce runs, or basically, we took the pace notes we have and we made sure they worked for us. It was a good thing we did all this because we found a few quirks and those quirks we had extra time to go through and correct. I am feeling very confident in the notes now. It is interesting how the notes turn from a bunch of left and rights to actual turns you recognize when you get on the mountain. It is interesting as well how turns you have never really noticed before become the turns that seem most critical when you start seeing the road at race pace. You can feel the pucker factor and if anyone says that they don’t have nerves going into a race then are lying. But as this quote says “beyond fear there is freedom.”
I am really excited for the week and I am looking forward reaching the summit and posting a good time. Keep your eyes on the site and I will make sure to keep you updated this week on the mountain.
For some reason when you buy a GoPro suddenly there is nothing sacred in this world and the GoPro MUST be mounted to everything. I know it sounds silly, but seriously, go buy a gopro and find out for yourself. I can assure you that you will say “Oh! I could put it on ______!” to more things than you can imagine. So when we were out at CORE and Aaron brought along a kite… well guess what happened next!
Turns out the kite is a great way to get an ariel view. However there will be a bit more work to figure out a good way to get it mounted a bit nicer on there. With the aid of a Zip Tie and a My Life @ Speed sticker we were able to get it reasonably mounted on the kite so we could get a few shots.
Of course, timing is a bit tough. The camera takes photos every 2 seconds. (on the setting we were using) and that seems like enough time to get a shot of a car in general part of a course. However that assumption is completely wrong
The GoPro does have a 1 second interval as well and we will try that out in the future as well as some new mounting ideas. In the mean time I bought my own kite to see if we can use a stunt kite to direct the camera a bit more toward what we want to see. I suspect that it will be twitchy and tough to watch like the video that we shot initially (wow, don’t watch that kids you are going to throw up!) But this definitely ads another element to the fun stuff you can do with a gopro… so what do we think, should we try this shot for Pikes Peak next year?
Oh, as a side note. Aaron has this kite for a pretty awesome reason if you ask me. I mean, kites are fun and all, but he bought this so he could fly it at the top of the 14ers that he ascends…
It’s all part of building a race car. Nothing works perfectly the first time around. Ask Rhys Millen. They built a million dollar car for Pikes Peak last year and without enough testing they had issues with the wing, the transmission and on and on. Well, for the Kern’s it isn’t that different. Each test has revealed a problem. The first showed some issues with the diff. The second test showed some issues with the suspension and between those tests we had some issue with the oil pump.
Yesterday we headed out to CORE and we tested again. 11-2:30 with only a few stops that were each under about 10 minutes. About 3 hours of running at 80-100% (except when I was driving that was probably more like 50%!) This thing is proving itself! The engine runs strong, very strong! The transmission is working nicely and the suspension is nearly dialed. One more switch around with valving and possibly a bit of a change on the rear spring rate and this thing should be ready for whatever you can throw at it.
Check out some video from the day and don’t forget to check out RaceKern.com for updates from the Kerns