Pikes Peak Part 2: Registration and First Practice

Arriving at the campground Tuesday morning I got a chance to meet Dave and Steve Hennessy, who I had only talked to on the phone until now.  Both motocross hack racers, they seemed to approach the coming race with a casual manner. Dave had grafted an EML left-side chair to a Suzuki TL1000S, with a shoe-string budget and a lot of late nights in the garage. I would be riding with brother Steve on a late 70’s Wasp MX hack with a Yamaha XS650 engine punched out another 100cc’s.

My first taste of the race would be at tech inspection, where very serious race machinery was being rolled in and out. The myriad forms were filled out and I got my registration packet, so I helped push the machine through tech. Being a road racer myself, it was strange how easy tech was: no safety wired hose clamps (or even drain plugs), no taped up wheel weights… just a check that the controls were sturdy and the overall machine looked “right”. I wasn’t about to complain.

Getting our tech sticker
Getting our tech sticker

We then shot over to our sponsor’s place, Bristol Brewery. These were some really stand up folks and we got a tour of the facility, ending with a cold pint and some free swag. It was really fun to check out the operation since I’m a fan of craft brewed beers.

After our meet n greet was over we sat through a rather long and drawn out riders meeting in one of the Crowne Plaza Hotel’s conference rooms. I was doing everything I could to stay awake after two fitful nights of sleeping in a sub-compact car, and I pulled it off for the most part. I was also able to mett Eddie Mulder, who made good on his promise of a $100 donation to getting my but back to California after this was all over. With the unexpected problems with the car, this money was much needed. In fact, I remember breaking that $100 bill in a town on the AZ/NV border, and using it to buy dinner and my last 2 tanks of gas.

The Pikes Peak Highway is still a public road, and in order to keep it open during practice, racers are there before sunrise, and gone by 830am. Our first practice would encompass the bottom half of the race course; fast pavement leading to tight pavement, then through a long dirt section and on to the brake inspection straight where the asphalt picks up again.

This is my first time on an MX hack and I know the speeds will be slower than a road racer, but the transition will involve more steps to get from side to side. I was trying to be early on my transitions but kept stumbling to get out for right turns. Having suspension in the chair wheel is new to me and I was having a hard time smoothing things out. The  hay bales were far too close for comfort on right turns and I nearly clipped them with my hip in several spots. When we rounded engineer’s corner and I saw the dirt I was partly glad that the speeds would be lower, and partly terrified since I had no idea how much traction we’d have. There was no blue groove like is often seen in race photos and videos. It’s extremely hard pack earth with loose gravel strwen everywhere. I was surprised how deep we would go into corners before getting on the brakes. It also surprised me how little traction we could get driving out of slow bends. I learned fairly quickly that you had to hand off the chair through the apex, then- while still hangin out of the chair- get you left leg in near the rear wheel. This way, you could lean out to hold the chair, but plant weight to give rear wheel traction.

The remaining runs of the day just kept getting smoother, and I could tell Steves’ confidence was building as well. His last race saw him slam into the culvert at engineer’s corner during the race. This was the first time he’d run the course- or the bike- since.  Our final run of the day was qualifying, and Dave managed to send the TL over the edge. The machine had been horrible in left handers and the stock front end must have made it quite a handful. I was looking down the track and saw them go into a weave on the brakes. The chair popped up once, then twice, then it was airborne. Just before the bike left the road, passenger Jim Vietti decided there was little left he could do and came off the back. The bike was only in thei air for a moment, but from my angle it just disappeared over the edge. We slowed as we came up and looked over. About 20 ft down Dave was already up and trying to figure out how to get the bike onto the road. We finished the session and qualified 2nd since only two of the four sidecars made it to the finish. The Kennedy brothers from Michigan sprung a major  oil leak on their home build hack.

No one was hurt so I was more than happy to call this day a success. I left the mountain feeling accomplished. I had actually made it. I was on the mountain I had seen on TV for so many years as a child. And I didn’t suck at it. We hung out at the team Doctors place that night and enjoyed good food, good hospitality, and watched angry storms pass accross Pikes Peak as it sat in it’s majesty above us. At 315am, we would be at it again.

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