If you know me, you know I love this race. It is more than just cars racing against a clock, it is cars racing against extremely variable conditions, history, the clock and themselves. The more time I spend on the mountain and the more drivers that I have the good fortune to get to know the more I realize how much this race means to the people who participate.
This year I spend a good deal of my “spare” time helping the Kern’s prep their evo. The car is fantastic, but unfortunately two weeks before practice started at PPIHC they had a major failure. I rod blew through both sides of the engine block causing a large fireball to sweep through their engine compartment and wipe out most of their electronics. This is a HUGE setback, but Dave is probably the most determined guy I know… and apparently requires less sleep than anyone else in human history.
After countless hours packed into two weeks as well as a trip to chicago to have a new motor installed and tuned dave returned the day before the tech inspection and we buttoned up the final details throughout the day of tech inspection. It seemed that the impossible had been done. The car now sported a new aero package, all body panels had been fixed, new rear diff and of course a new power plant. This thing was about as new as could be! So I went to bed anticipating a good day. It is satisfying to go to bed knowing that you helped accomplish what you thought wouldn’t be accomplishable.
Practice began Wednesday and I woke from a bit of a nap at 5:30 am to the sound of a safety car passing by. The practice was about to begin and the sun was just rising. We had the opportunity to see Rhys Millens new car. This thing is a lemans style car that is built specifically for Pikes Peak. It is amazing to watch, but it is clear that it has some bugs to be worked out. The acceleration that it is capable of is intense however! We had the opportunity to see Dave and Allison fly up the mountain as well. Run after run they were looking smooth! Their lines were great and they were definitely looking fast. We had our eye on a few other cars as well. Spencer Steele and Jimmy Olson were running onboard cameras for a little project that I am playing with and they both drive pretty awesome open wheel cars. In addition the Monster has fully updated his vehicle and he is serious about trying to beat the 10 minute barrier again this year. It is always amazing to hear the high RPM roar of a stock car V8 as well. Those things sound so incredibly angry when they are under full throttle and finally Jeff Zwart in his Porsche GT3 cup car…well that thing just sounds amazing.
After the first day of practice we headed down and saw Dave and Allison fussing over the car. I pulled off and they had the motor apart. Turns out their timing belt snapped and basically obliterated the top end of their brand new, 3 run old motor. I couldn’t believe it! Dave hadn’t slept in probably 2 weeks and now this happens.
The next day we were on the top section. This section is the least viewed section since all the spectators typically are stopped at Devils playground. Boulder park is our choice viewing location and we were up there to see Rhys spin out, watch ACP show up and see an amazing sunrise. Dave flew past us again! How could he have possibly fixed that thing? Well, turns out they replaced the top end of the motor and during their run…well the bottom end let go.
On the third day of practice we were on the bottom section of the mountain. I was feeling pretty refreshed from several days of good sleep and recovery and was out taking some photos. We got word from Dave. They now had a stock motor in the car, but it was going onto the Dyno in an hour. That guy is an animal. Nothing will stop the Kerns from competing! Dave hasn’t had proper sleep in easily 2 weeks and yet the spirit hasn’t changed, his motivation is still just as high as it was when the week began. It is incredible!
After a full day of practice I went down to talk to my open wheeler friends. Jimmy and Spencer were having a good day, but Spencers motor let go as well. “Nothing I can’t fix before the race” he said in his normal mater of fact way. I was chatting with Jimmy’s wife Andrea afterward and she mentioned that she’d been coming up here since 1978 and told me about all the changes that have happened. I had a realization that this race is not just a race to most of these drivers. It is a family tradition, it is an annual reunion with racing friends. The banter that goes back and forth is from years and years of handing trophies back and forth to one another. It is fun to watch this race and I can say I have a sincere appreciation for the history and challenge that this race presents but I wonder if it will ever mean as much to me as it does to these people.
Today is friday, the event is Sunday and Dave now has a car that is in one piece. The car has been dyno tuned and not tested at all. The motor that is in the car is the same motor that they set the standing record in their class. (Time Attack 4wd) But the motor is about 250hp less than the motor that they started the event with. Anticipation is building as the weather reports show poor conditions approaching. It is going to be an interesting year on the mountain this year and only time will tell how it all plays out.