Updated: March 1, 2014 at 10:42 pm
If you assume Buddy Tubbs, at 15, is too young to race up Pikes Peak this summer in the International Hill Climb, first take a visit to his grandpa's shop.
The 2,500-square foot "garage" sits in the middle of the family's 10-acre plot, like a laboratory tucked just within the tree line on the eastern edge of Black Forest. It's in this work space, with the most high-tech equipment imaginable, that Tubbs' grandpa Larry Carnes is at work designing the quad - a made-from-scratch four-wheeler - that will take Tubbs up Pikes Peak at speeds that could reach 115 mph.
Also at this shop is a sister, Tia, who is Tubbs' self-appointed public relations director. She's quick to pull out a phone with videos showing her younger brother blowing past racers, all 25 or older, for victories that prevent him from competing with his age-group peers but brought resentment from those none-too-pleased to finish behind a "kid."
Also here is Tubbs' mother, Lesa Lehman-Tubbs, who is eager to tell stories of her son's first competitions on motorized bikes. He was 4 at the time, still too short for his feet to touch the ground. Since he couldn't balance on the bike when it wasn't in motion, he had to be hoisted onto it by his grandpa and, when the races would end, he would stay on for an extra lap until his father could come down and pluck him off.
Buddy is there in the garage, too, but his soft-spoken nature pushes him into the background. Watching him race, the aggression and assertiveness are unmistakable. In this setting, however, he can sit back and allow others to fill in the details of the life he's spent competing on tracks in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. The schedule became so grueling that two months ago Tubbs opted to leave the basketball team at Vista Ridge and take his final three and a half years of high school online - attending just one class a week on Wednesdays when he's not traveling for races.
Motorsports and a family legacy permeate the walls in this garage, with roots that have been established through Carnes' two victories on Pikes Peak in 1978 and 1984 and, among other things, his time in the shops of racing bigwigs Junior Johnson and Robert Yates.
As far as anyone can tell, Tubbs will be the youngest driver to ever compete in the Hill Climb. But is he too young? If anything, Tubbs feels his wait for a shot at the mountain has gone on too long. And he comes from a family that likes to reach its destinations as quickly as possible.
It wouldn't be right to tell the story of Buddy Tubbs without first telling about his grandfather, who carries almost infinite influence as his coach, crew chief, head mechanic, chief engineer and even gave him the name he uses.
Buddy was actually named Brandon Tubbs II. But Carnes, who had two daughters and four granddaughters before the first boy arrived, picked him up in the hospital, gave him a look and decided, "Brandon? Nope. He's my Buddy."
The name stuck. The love of racing was quickly passed down, too.
Carnes found the sport through his father and developed his love for the inner workings of engines through an advanced auto class at Mitchell High School before graduating in 1968. With an understanding that engines are little more than air pumps, he used connections to take 2 ? years of air-flow system classes at the Air Force Academy, though he was never a cadet.
That launched a career in motorsports that saw Carnes do everything from race, to build and test Ford parts for some of the sports' top teams, to even owning teams that raced in the NASCAR Winston West and Craftsman Truck series.
You know those commercials with the bottom-of-screen disclaimers that what you are seeing is not to be tried at home and was performed by a professional driver on a closed course? Well, Carnes occasionally served as that professional driver.
He also twice won the Hill Climb while running in the stock car division.
"It was kind of cool," Carnes said of his career, before looking at his grandson. "But it's not about me, it's about him."
Actually, it's about both of them.
Tubbs learned he had been accepted into this year's June 29 running of the Hill Climb on Feb. 18. Over the next nine days Carnes spent at least 120 hours on his computer-aided drafting program, and that was just to design the fixtures that will be used in building the quad.
This isn't how it started for the duo. Carnes first told Tubbs that he would have to prove himself as a driver and he would intervene only when it became clear that the only thing holding him back was a lack of horsepower. It didn't take long for Tubbs to reach that point.
"He's fortunate to have a grandpa that does this to this extreme," said Lesa, Carnes' daughter. "He's also blessed and talented and able to ride. So the combination is hard to find."
When applying for the Hill Climb, Tubbs asked to be assigned No. 96 - his grandpa's old racing number. Tubbs had always ridden as No. 12, which was also his basketball number. He had decided that if he was accepted by the race that he'd be jumping in at an entirely different level of commitment, and that was when he wanted to fully follow in his grandpa's footsteps.
Sponsors were the game-changer for Tubbs.
His family and prize money were supporting much of his early time in racing, but developing and running a quad for Pikes Peak was going to take some real backing. After earning support from Total Roofing and Andy Holloman of American Family Insurance - a pair of sponsors that the family repeatedly worked into conversation to show their appreciation - his mother decided it was time to make some serious choices.
"We told him it's too much dedication and time," said Lehman-Tubbs, whose family also has a house on the 10 acres along with Carnes' home and that giant garage. "You can't do it halfway."
Up to that point Tubbs was a shooting guard on the junior varsity basketball team at Vista Ridge, attending school like any other 15-year-old.
Now, Tubbs is fully committed to racing.
"I liked playing baskeball," Tubbs said, "but I like racing a lot better."
Tubbs is a legal resident of New Mexico, where an aunt lives, because racing takes him there so often. It is there that he was able to attain a driver's license.
He trains at Falcon Physical Therapy, conditioning his lungs for the rigors of the mountain, continuing to add strength to help his 118-pound frame control the 350-pound quad and to develop the body control to handle himself in the event of a crash.
Throwing themselves fully into an endeavor seems to be a family trait.
Carnes said he - kindly - asked his wife to speed up Lehman-Tubb's birth, since he had a race he couldn't miss in Nebraska and felt an obligation to his sponsors to be there.
When Tubbs' sister was 5 days old she joined the family in an RV trip to one of Carney's Craftsman Trucks races in Topeka, Kan., because Lehman-Tubbs "wasn't going to miss a race."
That sister, Tia, is already a business owner at 18, running All-American Interlock. She installs and monitors the systems that are put into cars after DUIs to make sure drivers operate their vehicles while sober.
Again, if there's a recurring theme with this family it's that nothing should wait. Ever.
Lehman-Tubbs knows she'll be nervous when her son races up America's Mountain, but she's nervous whenever any of her kids get behind a wheel.
"It's probably more dangerous with her out on the road," Lehman-Tubbs said of Tia, her 18-year-old daughter. "I'm calling them every 10 minutes, making sure they got there safely."
There is definitely no detachment or lack of affection between the mother and racer - a self-described "momma's boy" who is often ridiculed by his fellow racers for giving his mother as many as seven or eight hugs prior to each race.
As for Tubbs, he's aware of the dangers that the race will present. He's seen videos of spectacular crashes off the mountain and has been in attendance at previous runnings of the Hill Climb.
He'll push those fears back in his mind, however, when the day comes.
"I'm mainly focused on what's coming up next," said Tubbs, who has raced other mountain courses. "The corners and what I have to do."
Tubbs will have four chances to ride the course in the weeks leading up to the race. Should anything go wrong in one of those runs, his grandpa is building a backup quad.
Hill Climb representatives weren't definitively able to say if Tubbs would be the youngest to compete in the event. The nation's second-oldest race has a history that stretches back to 1916. If someone younger than Tubbs has ever competed, there's not an official record of it that anyone could find.
"I'm not trying to go up there and conquer the mountain," Tubbs said. "But I'd definitely like to do good in it."
The family endured three months of uncertainty before learning Tubbs had been accepted into the race. They'd been told "no" from other races because of his age and, they fear, because of the hard feelings created by his early success.
Since being accepted to the Hill Climb, there has been nothing but work on the car and excitement.
Among the emotions they haven't experienced are doubt or concern; certainly not the feeling that all of this is a bit crazy.
"Do you think it is?" Carnes said.
For anyone else, yes, this all probably would be crazy. But this is a family that lives for racing - trying to be the fastest is just in the genes.