Racing Isn’t Always On The Up and Up

This last weekend was very exciting as I followed the 99th Annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb via live-stream. It was with great angst that I awaited the runs of friends Paul Dallenbach and Randy Pobst. The Pikes Peak Hill Climb is not called the most dangerous race in America for no reason, and its definitely not for the faint of heart. Paul and Randy know exactly too, since both have crashed while doing their impersonation of Superman at this event. “It’s a bird … it’s a plane… oh, no … it’s Paul and Randy!” And yet, here they were, waiting at the starting line. One word: Cojones!

Everyone knows racers, car builders and crew chiefs like to plan for every possible “what if” possible, but good sakes alive, if you want to talk about variables, Pikes Peak is the place to do it.

How can anyone possibly put together a worthwhile plan when the track may start out dry and hot at the bottom of the mountain, then change to rain, fog so thick you can’t see 20 feet in front of you, and don’t be surprised at all if it begins to snow!

For this, racecar builders and engineers have sleepless nights trying to come up with structural designs, wing downforce formulas, shock and suspension setups knowing full well, all of which could go out the window due to changes in the weather and worse yet, it changes by the minute. One driver in the same class might have a great run going when all of a sudden it begins to rain, and the very next car could run immediately after him and have a perfect track.

In the meantime, crew chiefs are attempting to convince their drivers, “Looks pretty dry up top. Slicks should be ok.” While the drivers have visions of cars flying off cliffs with no guard rails at altitudes as high as 14,115 feet.

Now take, for example, the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, where drivers, engineers, and teams also have to prepare for many unknowns. However, everyone runs at the same time, given exactly the same conditions no matter whether it’s below freezing, raining, snowing, day or night. Unlike Pikes Peak, nobody gets a break should the weather change, not to mention, there are no towering cliffs with bottomless pits far below.

And don’t forget, at most races while teams are busy setting up their pit spaces and paddock areas and getting the cars set up with last minute details, racing fans are quietly home in a nice a nice warm bed or having breakfast before driving to the track an hour in advance. On the other hand, fans and spectators who wish to attend the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb are required to enter the gates at 2:20 a.m. so they can get to their designated viewing area. Not only do they have to wait patiently for the official 7:30 start of the race, but they have to stay there all day without leaving until every last racecar has driven back down the hill after the very last car has completed the course.

The most inspirational thing about all of the above is that truly great drivers must get their head around all of this. They must be able to overcome all adversity any driver could possibly be faced with, be it wet, dry, slicks, rain tires not to mention controlling whatever part of the brain needs to be controlled so fear doesn’t overpower the pedal on the right.

At the end of the day, I’m pleased to report that Paul, competing in Open Wheel Class and Randy in Exhibition Class won their perspective classes. Well done, gentleman.

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