Hello, and sorry for the long stretch between posts. This years race was safe and no major accidents or injuries. That is always a positive when it comes to Pikes Peak. Suddenly I have found myself questioning how the race is changing and trying to understand where it is headed.
“Paid Practice” and “Tire Testing”
The first moment of my nativity seems to start from the “Tire Testing ” and “Private Practice” weeks leading up to the race. Learning the course has been an issue from the beginning. To get a better grip on the issue I looked into the past to see how tire testing got started at Pikes Peak. But first we need to go way back. From the beginning of the race, many of the early race car drivers where also the tourist bus drivers that took folks up to the summit several times a day every day of the week. Knowing the road is more then half the battle at winning . Car owners from around the USA would hire those guys come race week to give them that extra edge on race day. Many out of state racers who wanted to run their own cars complained about the locals having an advantage. Thankfully over time the Cog Railway began to take over and even today takes the majority of the tourists to the summit. Asking around about when tire testing started and why, seemed to be like the response you would get from asking a moonshiner for his family recipe. No one could give me a real answer. So I dug into my archives and found the earliest mention of tire testing and it was In 1974 , with who else but Bobby Unser. Bobby was a major factor in development of tires to run at Pikes Peak and even had his own line tires for a short time. He had worked out a deal out with Goodyear in 1974, to do some early morning practice on the Pikes Peak Highway prior to race week and figure out what compounds worked best on his Dodge Kit Car. Bobby already knew the road by heart and didn’t need the additional practice time, it was really for the development of Goodyear Tire types. There was an uproar about his extra practice time and the organization and the city, who owned the road, had to make some decisions. From the PPHC organization, at the time, the response was” We don’t have anything to do with the highway until race week” and from the director of PR for the PPHC , “I wouldn’t say whether I’m in favor of it or against it” ( Gazette 6-14-1974) But the big kicker was the cities decision. Up until that point, auto and tire manufacturers could ask for private time on the road for testing at no cost. Once the “Unser Testing” story hit the papers the city began policy changes and charging additional fees for road use testing and declared it only for company use and not individual usage. The stone was cast, and an additional revenue source for the city of Colorado Springs was born. What didn’t happen right away, was race teams actually doing paid tire testing, Most companies found other places to conduct testing and teams didn’t want the bad press associated the tire testing concerning and race.
The Sierra Club
Let’s save the environment . Its a long story for another day but a federal lawsuit was brought against the Forest Department and the City of Colorado Springs about the environmental impact the Pikes Peak Highway was having on the mountain. You may ask, why am I bring this up ? The matter of tire testing at Pikes Peak would bring itself back to the race once the lawsuit was filed in the 1990s. Many different attempts at erosion control were attempted , experiments with different rock and gravel types and even oiling down the course , along with several drainage and containment control efforts . In the end the Sierra Club’s federal lawsuit was handled out of court, and the agreement was, the Pikes Peak Highway would be paved all the way to the top over a period of years starting in 2002 and finishing in 2012. During the transition from dirt to pavement, what type of tires would work on the ever changing road surface was a real concern for all teams . Tire Testing prior to race week was truly needed and was a major issue for many teams. The system worked, but the grumblings of was it fair for everyone was beginning to be heard.
Is it still needed and fair ?
Back to the part where the PPIHC doesn’t control the road prior to tire testing and race week. The city controls it the rest of the time. If you have enough money you can rent the road for”Paid Practice” and then also pay for additional time on the course during the official “Tire Testing”. Big teams want the most bang for the buck and getting full runs on the road is the best way to get the answers they are looking for. The race is changing and money does buy it advantages. Is it fair ? Probable not, but the teams that can afford the extra practice time also bring a bunch of attention to Pikes Peak Hill Climb race. The race hasn’t been traditional about the battle of the dollars. In the past if you thought you could build a car that could compete , bring it to tech and practice and see how you do during qualifying. Many years fifty plus cars would show up for twenty five spots in a class come race day. Your speed did the talking. The little guys had a chance against the big dollar teams and that was what hill climb racing was originally about.
Is “Tire testing still needed now that the pavement is completed all the way. Should it just be called additional practice time. Can the origination do anything about the big teams renting the course from the city or should they even bother. I am worried about the direction the race is headed.
The arms race at Pikes Peak
This year was an eye opener for me and has made me look at the future of the race in a different view. The real change started a few years back when several millions went in to breaking the record. Cost is no object and as much time needed on the course is a wonderful way to break records. We need that at Pikes Peak, but we also need a field of classes that allow and encourage innovation and competition on Pikes Peak in order for the race to survive. The classes need to be reworked to split the money is no object and the guy who wants to race. Unlimited is always going to be there, but it has leaked down into other classes. The Time Attack One Class is a great example of the need to split things up. One look at the two major cars in the running to win that class and you are seeing big, big budgets. Time Attack Two class had only two entries and one on race day. This year had several cars in excess of $250,000 invested, spread throughout several classes. (Maybe I am just old and remember a time when the most dollars didn’t buy wins)
Well if you made it this far, thanks for letting me vent. The “Paid Private Practice” days and then the additional paid “Tire Testing” days has made me see things differently. In addition to seeing the massive amounts of money some teams are spending on their PPIHC cars is making the race look more like F1 or NASCAR racing then the traditional hill climb racing. Are we honoring the races past history or just out to break records? The good news is that I have many posts lined up about the cars and folks racing at Pikes Peak in the past and have found several cars that have been gathering dust and ready to be brought back into the light.
Thanks for staying with me and allowing me to explain my lack of posts in the last few weeks. (Discouraged i was but no longer !)