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Pobst Position: Pikes Peak
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Let me tell you about what I did last week: The Pike's Peak Hillclimb. As Ernest Hemingway was once heard to say, " Pike's Peak, bullfighting, and mountain climbing are the only true sports. All others are just games." This event is an old-school anomaly. A leftover, from a time when drivers and spectators were far less insulated. Starts at nine thousand feet, and the winding minimal-guardrail mountain trail ends high above the tree line at the fourteen thousand foot summit. First trees, then thousand-foot dropoffs line the course the whole way, along with beer-drinking fans in lawn chairs. Any Solo Safety Steward worth his salt would fall over in a dead faint with just the slightest glance at the crowd gathered, rally-style, along the roadside, watching the ground-shaking hillclimb beasts roaring by, mere inches away in many cases. By the grace of the racing gods, none were killed, though a couple were injured. From what I've seen on TV and Internet, this is just how the rally world does it, right?

The road is all paved now, after almost a hundred years of dirt. Pike's Peak is, in fact, the second-longest continuously-running auto race in the country (after Indy). My 034 Motorsport Audi A4 lost its engine on the last run of practice, and heroic resuscitation efforts were finally called off at 1AM the night before the race. Blew the cam belt crank pulley, of all things, one result of getting 500+ HP from a street-based two liter. Nearby Denver-based K-PAX had been seriously considering a trip up the hill, but other Volvo commitments had derailed that possibility. Maybe next year... I love the event, and I will be there again in one of these cars, mark my words. I did the hill once before, in 1995, when it surprisingly showed up on the Bridgestone Supercar Championship schedule. Perusing the list of events the first time that winter, I see Mid-Ohio, Sears Point, Pike's Peak...whaaaaat? An all-dirt full-on mountainclimb rally special stage for a bunch of road racers? That's nuts! But, my heart began to race with excitement. "Yeah, I'll be good at this, bring it on" said the closet rally driver inside me. I had a really cool TC Kline/Ed Arnold BMW M5 Touring Car on steriods. Best thing I ever did in a car. Ran terribly, however. The across-the-pond engine tuners missed the altitude calibration by light-years. Plugs were black and wet. Still got a fourth.

The pavement has really changed the race (it's a Solo I style timed event). Corner speeds are way, way up, which means crashing speeds are also way, way, up. HIllclimbs and performance rallys once were a normal part of SCCA competition, but I have not been to many, so this less-restrained racing is still new to me. In spite of spectator concerns, I remain fascinated with open-road racing. Attacking a road with no speed limit, and little practice. Going by feel, by pace, by reading the road, the tree line, the sky. Here the challenge is you, the car, the road. You leave the line at three-minute intervals. No other cars to worry about, no others to punt you off, nor to gauge your performance against. It's much more raw than a race track, which seems so sanitized in comparison. I got sideways and dropped my rears into a real-live ditch. SCCA autocrosser Jeremy Foley misread a blue-sky corner, upshifting to fourth where he shoulda been downshifting to second, and ended up on ESPN and "Good Morning, America" when video of his spectacular, flying, tumbling, yard-sale crash went viral. I darn-near went off in the same place, though I blame the small stone cairn someone built for a turn-in earlier in the week that had fallen over since my first run. I saw a couple rocks lying there and thought, "Was that my marker?" Then "Yikes-yikes-yikes-brake-brake-brake!!!" Slid to the white line, downshifting, then floored it. Jeremy: there, but for the grace of God, go I. And I cannot wait to go back.
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