Updated: August 12, 2012 at 12:00 am
In the words of one racer, the mountain was angry.
With several of the fastest qualifiers never crossing the finish line, simply reaching the summit of Pikes Peak became an achievement all its own Sunday.
An electrical fire knocked out six-time Pikes Peak International Hill Climb champion Monster Tajima in the opening leg. Smoke enveloped the cockpit of Tajima’s brand new electric vehicle and he never got the chance for a seventh-straight overall title or to challenge eventual champion Rhys Millen.
But before the gregarious Japanese racer had to abort, six-time winner and Basalt native Paul Dallenbach crashed into pine trees on one of the opening turns of the course. Prepping at the start line, David Donner’s priorities shifted from beating Tajima’s 2011 record to making sure his friend and competitor of more than two decades was not seriously injured.
“That definitely takes the fun out of it,” said Donner, who won the unlimited division with a time of 10 minutes, 4 seconds, “We’re not running at a level that’s so professional that it doesn’t affect you. I think that affects anyone.”
As rain, snow and hail coated the boulders atop the summit, at approximately 6:15 p.m. race officials decided to stop racers at Glen Gove due to mounting safety concerns.
Red flags couldn’t stay away from the start line on race day, leading to several hours of delays and of the seven drivers in his division, Donner was one of only two drivers — along with Cody Loveland — to finish his run. Just when the race gained a steady rhythm and several racers made it up without incident, the worst crash of the day stopped all traffic on the mountain.
Hill Climb rookie Jeremy Foley’s Mitsubishi Evolution 8 veered off course near Mile 16, and rescue crews lifted both he and co-driver Yuri Kouznetsov to an area hospital. KRDO reportedly said Foley had a broken leg, but nothing was confirmed.
“I think as a race driver you learn to, once you know things are OK, put that aside and go with your normal concentration mode,” Donner said.
But it wasn’t that easy for the multitude of challenges facing many of the racers who came after Donner finished his race.
Not in it for cash, adulation
They don’t do it for the money or attention. Simply for the thrill.
That was the prevailing attitude of the racers across all 16 divisions Sunday, who said participating in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is a money-losing venture, sinking in thousands for the $1,500 first-place prize for each division winner.
“This is draining back accounts as we speak,” said Carlin Dunne, who set a Hill Climb motorcycle record. “But it’s such a piece of American history, this race. It’s cool to be a part of it, it’s cool to have your name on the trophy. It’s about iconic as it can be.”
Competitors agree the race has no equal in the motor sports world, but most were ready to head to the start line and take their adrenaline-pumping run. It’s difficult for them to explain the death-defying attitude, what keeps them risking everything for 10 adrenaline-powered minutes to the 14,115-foot peak.
“Everybody says we’ve got petroleum running in our blood and our veins and I kind of feel like it is,” said Codie Vahsholtz, 21, completing in the Hill Climb for the second time. “Every time I get up here I don’t want to leave.”