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…