Pikes Peak International Hill Climb

Ben: Okay. All right, Scott. Let's - let's play it straight because I think we're recording now. I just heard the button click.

Scott: Play it straight? What do you mean?

Ben: Well, you know, none of - none of the usual high jinx we get up to -

Scott: Oh.

Ben: - pre-recording.

Scott: Okay. Got it.

Ben: So let me take off this silly hat.

Scott: Clean up your language.

Ben: And clean up my language. You know, I do love a curse - a curse word. Well, welcome back to High Speed Stuff. Right? And - and here we are. I'm me, Ben. And you're you, and you're Scott.

Scott: That's right. As usual.

Ben: That sounded like there were three people. I'm sorry. I messed that up.

Scott: It sounded good.

Ben: Okay. Cool. We'll just go with it.

Scott: Yeah. Yeah. Fine. Yeah.

Ben: We'll just go with it. So today, I was actually very excited because for our listeners there, Scott showed me a video. And this is not unusual. Oftentimes, Scott, you'll - you'll stumble across something and I'll - I'll get an emailing with something like, "You should check this out."

Scott: Yeah. I do this all the time. I get real excited about the videos, the - the recent crop of racing videos. I love them.

Ben: Oh, yeah.

Scott: Yeah. They're awesome.

Ben: And - and to take up the cause with you, I have always found those incredibly fascinating. Some of them are a little bit scary and one of those, in particular, to be quite honest with you - well, what's the most eloquent way I can say this? It freaked me out. I don't wanna be in that car.

Scott: It freaked you - freaked you out? Really?

Ben: Yes. We are talking about Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

Scott: Oh, yeah.

Ben: What is that?

Scott: Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, all right. It's a competition - it's actually the second oldest automobile race in the United States. I don't know if you knew that or not. And I think - I'm guessing here - I believe the Indianapolis 500 is the oldest -

Ben: Oh, okay.

Scott: - racing event in the United States - but the second oldest. It's been around since 1916, and I guess from really worldwide competitors have come to the mountain in July. And I don't know if it's always been run in July or not. I would assume that it was just due to weather. It's run in July right now. And they've come to the hill to find out who can get to the top the fastest. It's - it's a timed event. It's not a - you know, there's not ten or 12 cars on the - on the course together at the same time charging to the top. It's - its one car at a time. They stagger them. There are different divisions. I think there are 11 different divisions this year. And it gets pretty good turnout, really. You wouldn't expect a lot of people to - to hike up a mountain or drive up a mountain and stand waiting for one car to go by and see it one-term, but it's a lot like rally racing, where you get to see just a small bit of the course. You choose where you wanna be. They said they had 35,000 people this year.

Ben: 35,000?

Scott: They were expecting 35,000 this year and - and watching the video, most of them are near the bottom, I believe.

Ben: Yeah. Yeah.

Scott: But as you get near the top, the - the crowd thins out a bit as does the air.

Ben: Sure.

Scott: It's interesting race. It's really cool to watch. It's an interesting idea. I think it's - I think it's really neat. We should talk about it a little more.

Ben: Let's do that. That's funny.

Scott: Yeah.

Ben: So I guess if we can, let's touch on the - on the basics, here. We - we mentioned that it's - it's unique among a lot of races because this sucker is almost all the way uphill. Right?

Scott: Yeah. You wanna know about the course? I got the stats here.

Ben: Yes. Yes.

Scott: Okay. Of course, this is unbelievable when you - when you really think about these numbers. It doesn't start at ground - at -

Ben: Sea level?

Scott: Yeah, at sea level, at zero altitude. It starts somewhere around - I think it's around 9,000 feet. Yeah, 9,390 feet is the beginning. I'm looking at the map right now.

Ben: That's the beginning. Yeah.

Scott: The beginning, yeah. We're both - we both have a copy of the map in front of us so you can follow along with me here, but the course length is 12.42 miles. And get this, it has 156 turns, so you're - you're turning left or right - or left and right 156 times before you reach the summit because they do race to the very top, which is at an altitude of 14,110 feet.

Ben: 14,110?

Scott: 14,110.

Ben: That's crazy. I think that's - that's - okay. I'm not gonna ruin it, but I - I see a couple of interesting plot twists coming up here with that altitude.

Scott: Yeah. It's okay. You can ruin it if you want. Go ahead. What were you thinking?

Ben: I'm thinking - well, as - as you said earlier that obviously could impact people walking around. Right?

Scott: Yes. Yes.

Ben: Which is probably why there's a lot of people who would prefer to see the cars start than to see it finish? And also, probably more importantly, I be it has some effects on the driver and the engine.

Scott: You are exactly right. Yeah. The - the crowd aspect of it, there is - oddly enough, there's altitude sickness to deal with. And not only that, but the driver would have to deal with this as well because as they approach the summit, air becomes thinner. And the - apparently, the drivers' reflexes slow, just their - their bodies slows down. They've got reduced muscle strength. It's - it's gotta be extremely challenging because you have to be at the top of your game at that point. You're - you're in a race car on a mountain that one side is the mountain, the other side is a cliff, so a lot of danger involved in this. And you mentioned the cars. Well, this is - this was interesting to me. We know that altitude - that the air thins at altitude. Right?

Ben: Sure.

Scott: As you gain altitude. This is kind of a progressive thing, so starting at the bottom; the car runs completely different than it does at the top because it's being choked for air. Cars need a lot of air to - to operate, of course, and race cars use even more air to operate. This is - this is unbelievable. By the time they reach the top, it progressively reaches the point where, I think they said 30 percent of the car's energy or power is sapped by the loss of air, so by the time they get to the top, the car is running at 30 percent less power than it had at the bottom of the course. So the car is - the - the horsepower and the power of the car is able to apply to the ground, which is gravel at this point, by the way.

Ben: Wait. What?

Scott: Gravel.

Ben: The -

Scott: Yeah.

Ben: Not the whole thing.

Scott: No, not the whole thing. They start out on [inaudible] - the - at the bottom - the map shows where there's pavement and gravel. And if you notice, it goes from pavement to gravel back to pavement and then back to gravel again. So this is a - this is ridiculously challenging course, and the drivers have to adjust for that. Not only do they have to choose the right equipment to be able to - the right tires and suspension set up, etc., to be able to handle both types of terrain, but they just have to have the skill to be able to drive on both types of surfaces. Because we're talking about drifting. We're talking about a lot of rally - rally driving techniques that - we've talked about those in the past.

Ben: Yeah. We've hit on a lot of racing techniques.

Scott: There's not really jumping going on in this because it is a - it's a - it's normally a public road. Normally, tourists are able to drive to the top of Pikes Peak and - oh, here's an interesting thing I read. I found this last night. If you or I were just to - to go to the top of Pikes Peak, guess how long it would take us to get there. Now, this isn't the same exact 12 miles. We're talking a total distance from starting it at the bottom of the mountain - it starts somewhere around 9,000 feet.

Ben: Okay. So we would -

Scott: It's a longer distance. It's about 38 miles.

Ben: 38 miles.

Scott: Round trip - round trip.

Ben: Round trip.

Scott: Yeah.

Ben: Okay. So okay. Okay.

Scott: Wild guess.

Ben: Okay. I'm thinking - I'm doing the math, 19 miles, right?

Scott: Yeah.

Ben: 40 minutes.

Scott: 40 - no way. You would be flying up that mountain at 40 minutes. That would be 60 miles an hour up the - that would be averaging 60 miles an hour almost, up and down the mountain, so that would be - that would be like race speed. Right?

Ben: Well, I live dangerously, so.

Scott: Close to it. I know you do.

Ben: I'm just kidding. You probably - probably you more than -

Scott: It would take - it would take two hours.

Ben: Two hours.

Scott: Two hours and a half a tank of fuel is what they say that it would take to get just an average vehicle up and back down the mountain. That's 38 miles round trip.

Ben: Holy crap.

Scott: Now, they cover 12.42 miles in - get this, the - the barrier - the magical number right now is ten minutes.

Ben: Really?

Scott: Ten minutes. And there are turns on this mountain - I saw them in the video - there are turns that say slow down, ten mile per hour turn. So you could imagine the - the steepness of this road - this course. I think they said there was up to a 10 percent grade at some points.

Ben: Geez.

Scott: The average is, I believe, 7 percent grade. That's the average. So it gets pretty intense. This is up and down. They don't race down, but there are parts of the course where it's a downhill run.

Ben: Oh, yeah.

Scott: Just the terrain. And I kinda lost my train of thought there, but -

Ben: No, no, I -

Scott: 60 miles - 60 miles per hour would be what we'd have to drive all the way to the top and back down. And there's just no way you could do it. You can understand the - the problem there. So these guys are going way faster than that, more than 60, of course. You'll see if you watch these videos.Ben:

RightScott: Covering 12.5 miles in ten minutes, and that's not everybody. That's one particular division.

Ben: So okay, I - I have some questions that I had planned to ask, but I wanna stop quickly. No. You know what? You know what? We'll get to it a second. I guess for our listeners who haven't heard of this race yet, what would you say are some of the - the main differences, just to sum up? It sounds like we've touched on a lot of the main differences between Pikes Peak Hill Climb and Nascar or some other rally race.

Scott: Okay. Well - well, first, I guess, is the classes. I mean, we've talked about the course and the distance and how - they call it the race to the clouds. That's - that's how strange or odd this course is that you're headed up in one direction. It's a hill climb competition, which isn't unusual, but this is a really big one. Again, 12.5 miles, a timed course, 156 turns, all this - this altitude to deal with, the thinning of air, the - the slowing of reflexes, etc. The other thing is that there are 11 classes that run in this - on this course. And it's everything from cars to super - what they call super stock cars, which are, I believe, modified cars, approach rock, which is trucks, of course.

Ben: Really?

Scott: There are big rig type racing vehicles that go up this - believe it or not, these - these mammoth - big - actual big rigs. They're racing big rigs, but to me, these - those are pretty exciting to watch as well because these guys -

Ben: Yeah. Yeah.

Scott: And they're not kidding around either. They're - they're hanging the - the rear end around the turns, too. I - mess it up - hanging the rear end out around the turns, as well. They're sliding. They're drifting, really, around the turns, these big rigs.

Ben: So like that guy in Can It Drift?

Scott: Yeah.

Ben: Or what's the name of that YouTube series?

Scott: Will It Drift?

Ben: Will It Drift, yeah.

Scott: Yeah. Yeah. So these guys are unbelievable, I mean, fearless. And they run everything all the way down to, I think, it's 250 cc motorcycles, and they have quad runners. They have, of course, motorcycles.

Ben: Uh-huh.

Scott: Cars, trucks, open wheel racers, this unlimited series, which is where you get the ten-minute mark.

Ben: Oh, okay.

Scott: And I'll tell you about that in a minute.

Ben: Yeah.

Scott: We'll get to that, but just interesting. It's really - really, the diversity is unbelievable.

Ben: It's staggering when you think about - I - I - just you know what? I cannot help but think of how terrified I would be to take a genuine big rig around some of those turns, especially that one - what is it? The one they call the bottomless pit?

Scott: Bottomless pit, yeah. There's a turn called the bottomless pit that everybody - everybody knows about and they give it a little extra care when they - when they run that turn, but it's - well, it's not truly bottomless, of course, but I've seen conflicting reports here. And I've got a bunch of stuff, but the best I can - I can determine from what I've seen is that it's about 1,000-foot drop.

Ben: Geez.

Scott: And thankfully, so far, no racer has ever gone off of the - the edge of the bottomless pit because I would have to say that wouldn't be a good situation.

Ben: No.

Scott: No. But you'll see in this video if you watch it that - the one that I'm talking about. And it's - I'll come up with the name - hang on. It's called - it's Rhys Millen who - who - you can catch his video on YouTube, Rhys Millen, and its spelled R-H-Y-S, and then Millen is M -I-L-L-E-N. And the one that we're talking about is where Rhys Millen - it says Rhys Millen smashes the Pikes Peak record.

Ben: Uh-huh.

Scott: And that's a 12-minute video and that shows the entire run. And if you watch that video, you'll see that along the way there are hay bales stacked up on the side. And that always kinda cracks me up because a hay bale is not gonna stop a race car from going over the edge, but it is a good visual indicator of where - where that turn is because when you get to a certain point, there's no trees. You're above the tree line. And it just kinda becomes this one big wide open landscape that looks very similar in all the rest - it's kinda tough to tell where the road is and where you're - you're off the road in kind of a ditch and then you're in a - a really precarious position. So it's nice that they put these hay bales up to mark these - these big turns so that these guys don't shoot off the cliff, I guess.

Ben: We mentioned a little bit about the - the strategy of choosing the correct equipment and vehicle. Are there some things that these racing vehicles have in common or that are specialized for this race?

Scott: Well, they all have to be adjusted for this altitude, which is - is kinda unique. So the air fuel mixture is completely unique and they - and teams will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and - and maybe all year preparing for their run. So it really is - these are specially prepared cars that are made only for Pikes Peak in a lot of cases, not every case. But in most cases, they prepare a vehicle for this run because it's such a unique race. It has such - it's just really demanding, and they have to know what - what to expect at every different altitude, every different type of pavement, all these different turns. It's not like you could set it up for like an oval course where the - the atmosphere stays the same at all times and - or mostly the same.

Ben: Yeah. And you can pull into a pit if something happens.

Scott: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. You can't' really do that. If - if you have trouble when you're on the mountain and your car is giving you - giving you issues, you're done. You stop. And that's it. Or - or you continue on with a broken car and you have - do terrible in your class or whatever, but that's unfortunate, but that's what happens. And that's what you do when you're 12 miles away from the nearest person that can help you.

Ben: So - so the racing strategy definitely changes due chiefly to the altitude.

Scott: Yeah. This is - this is completely unique. This is - this - there's nothing else like it.

Ben: So there are - now, I wanna be very careful how I say this because, of course, neither of us are professional racers or precision drivers, but this race sounds sufficiently different, maybe to the point where people who are pros at, say, Indianapolis or Formula One, would have a difficult time.

Scott: Perhaps, but I think that you'll see a lot of crossover in that. I don't - I don't know for sure that anyone who has competed in either one of those courses of - or either one of those series, rather, have - have competed in this. I - I couldn't say for sure because you'll often find that when a racer is - is skilled in his - his or her series, that he or she moves on to another series just to give it a try, just to - to attempt it. There have been crossovers from Formula One to Nascar and Car to Indy Car and Indy Car to Formula One and back and forth. Those are the ones that we hear about. But you know that some of these guys are enjoying getting behind the wheel of an off-road car as well and doing some - some rally racing or something that we don't necessarily hear about all the time. But if you were to follow their - maybe go on their website and follow them, you would - you would see that there's a lot of crossover, that they try to do these different events just to stay sharp, I guess.

Ben: And that's - and that would be very valuable as a professional racer to pick up as many different racing skill sets as possible. Right?

Scott: Yeah. And not only that, you'd have this - this round - more rounded skill. It may help you in the other series in some way. You may be able to handle a situation better, but also, maybe you could choose a series that races in the off season.

Ben: Oh, yeah.

Scott: So that you wouldn't have an off season. You would have this series and then this series, like you might do winter rally racing and then also do open wheel racing in the summer time.

Ben: That's - you know what? That's a good strategy. And while we're on the subject of the drivers themselves, maybe we could talk a little bit about - let's say, Scott, let's say you and I are so fascinated by this that we decide forget Atlanta. We're going right now to Pikes Peak and we are going to do our best to get involved somehow. What will we do?

Scott: Well, I guess you could contact the - well, probably the - the commission that - that sponsors the race there, I don't know, the sanctioning body that runs the event.

Ben: Yeah.

Scott: There's a - there's a website. It's called Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, as simple as that. It's PPIHC, and you can find it online. And I'm sure that somewhere on that site there's a place where you can find an area that you can volunteer or at least contact somebody and ask about participating in next year's event. If you wanna be someone who watches at the top of the mountain with - a flag person or whatever. I'm not sure all the different positions they have. They have a lot of spots, I would think, on a 12.5 mile course.

Ben: Uh-huh.

Scott: So yeah. I would say definitely check out again PPIHC online and ask them about what you can do.

Ben: And if they - if you'd like to drive in the race or if you'd like to enter into one of these divisions, you'll need to do a qualifying race first. Right?

Scott: That - that's right. There's qualifying a couple of days ahead of time before the event, and then, on the weekend. Again, this one's already been run this year. It was run on July 19th, I think it was a Sunday that it actually ran this year. So it happens in July. You have to - you have to be prepared way ahead of that. Don't think that you can come in in June and be ready to run - run there.

Ben: Right.

Scott: It takes a lot more than that. So contact them early. Make sure that you know the rules and know what's required and yeah, I'd say go for it if you can.

Ben: This - you know what? I - I went away from it, the final question we used to ask a lot, but I have to go back for it for this one. But - and don't let me step over. Is there anything else that we should - we should let people know?

Scott: One - one more quick thing.

Ben: Yes?

Scott: Quick thing and I'll - I'll try to keep it brief, but we mentioned that the - the record of Pikes Peak is right now around ten minutes. Right?

Ben: Ten minutes, yeah.

Scott: Okay. Ten - it's actually ten minutes. Hang on. I'm - I'm searching my notes, scouring my notes.

Ben: Ten minutes and -

Scott: Ten minutes, one second.

Ben: - one second.

Scott: And just hang on. Here it is. The current record for the unlimited division is ten minutes, 1.408 seconds, which was set by - and I'm gonna mess up this name - Nobuhero Tajima, who is the - the current record holder in a Suzuki XL7 Hill Climb Special. Now, that record was set in 2007 and this year there was an attempt at that record that was - that was made that didn't - didn't quite make it. In fact, Nobuhero, again, won this year's competition in the unlimited division, but he didn't break his own record. The previous record was held for 13 years. That's how difficult this record is to break.

Ben: Geez.

Scott: And the previous record was somewhere around, I think it was like ten minutes and I thought it was around 15 seconds. I - I've got that wrong, but it's somewhere around there. It's - it's - he broke it by about 12 or 13 seconds, something like that. So that record was held by another Millen, as a matter of fact. That was held by Rod Millen, so that 13-year record stood for - that's a long time for it to stand. And then, two - just two years later, for someone to say, "I've got a chance at breaking this record," that's pretty unbelievable, and it was a - an ex-British rally car cross champion. His name was Mark Renneson. And he had - and this - this will give you an idea of the cars in this unlimited series - he had a Ford Focus - what was it - a Ford Focus RS200, which is a specially - specially built vehicle for Pikes Peak. This is the only race that this car competes in, as far as I know. It may be modified from this point to race in something else. But the car, then, had 1,150 horsepower. So it's this unbelievably powerful car that's just shooting up the mountain. It's - it's - to make it up 12.5 miles on these turns where you're normally going ten miles per hour, it's doing 12.5 miles in ten minutes. That's unbelievable fast.

Ben: That's - yeah. I'm still trying to do some of the math on that.

Scott: Well, that record run that we saw was - I think it was a 12-minute run by Rhys Millen, and that was in a - in a series that's a two-wheel drive series, called Time Attack. The unlimited series is four-wheel drive, so that was a four-wheel drive Ford with 1,150 horsepower. Rhys Millen's car this year was a - a Genesis coupe, a Hyundai Genesis coupe, and he made it in, I believe, it was 12 minutes and nine seconds, I think.

Ben: That's crazy. And - and -

Scott: And that was a world record as well. He beat - he had the world record for - or the record for his class and world record for that - well, I guess that would be it, a world record for - for that series, Time Attack.

Ben: And it's so nuts if you see the - the way - just the way he was driving in that video. This guy's drifting left and right.

Scott: Yes.

Ben: And they've got the - the small inset screen where you can see how he's handling the wheel.

Scott: Yeah. Yeah. He's got - it seems like it's a pretty big handful doesn't it, to - to make it up the hill?

Ben: Yeah. And his hands looked very calm.

Scott: Yeah. He - you know what? I'm sure - yeah, he is. He's - he's calm about it. He's professional. He's steely, I guess, against the mountain because he - that's a little dramatic. Wasn't it?

Ben: I don't know, man. The video itself, it's a dramatic race. I think steely is okay.

Scott: It is. That was such a cool video because they're able to put cameras everywhere now in these cars, and you get to see these unbelievable views. You get views of what his feet are doing, what his hands are doing when he's shifting, view from the center or the front bumper down low, which is really cool.

Ben: Yeah.

Scott: That's the one I like. That's the main view. And then, you've got - apparently, there were a couple of cameras facing outside from high above because in a few of those shots - it switched a few times during - during the race.

Ben: Yeah. Yeah.

Scott: I don't know if you noticed, but that higher angle, you're able to see over the edge of the cliff at times. So there - there are points where he's sliding sideways facing the edge of the cliff, and you can look down at the edge and see that it's several hundred feet down. And that's terrifying. And he's on gravel, of course.

Ben: Now, okay, all right. I have to - I have to call shenanigans on you here because you're saying that's terrifying. I'm saying that's terrifying, but I think I'm the one who believes it because here' s the - the last question I have.

Scott: Yeah. I know where you're going.

Ben: Would you do this?

Scott: Definitely.

Ben: See. Yeah. Really?

Scott: No doubt about it. I'd love - you know what? There's something about driving uphill fast that I really enjoy. I love it. I - we live in Georgia. Right?

Ben: Right.

Scott: A lot of - a lot of - not - not anything like this, I'll admit, but there's something about driving uphill fast I just - I love it. I don't know. You feel - I don't know if it's more control or what. I - it's just a good feeling. I really enjoy it. I think that I would like something like this. Now, there's a lot of danger involved in this, and there's gravel and it's different. But I've had an all-wheel drive car on gravel before, and I kinda know that feeling. I also know that I enjoy driving uphill fast, which is an odd thing, I know. But I know that I like to do this.

Ben: That's - you know what? Scott, honestly, that's amazing, and even though I think it is - it is a crazy race and I - I respect the drivers involved. I also think they have nerves of steel. If you decide to drive - to race to the clouds there, I - I'll ride shotgun with you.

Scott: Oh, you would?

Ben: Yeah. But don't make me do anything because I'll be worthless.

Scott: You know what? If you were a true - like a real - in a real rally situation, oftentimes the person riding shotgun has to look down at a map the entire time and call out directions. I don't think they have to do that in this - I don't even know if they can have a rider.

Ben: I could totally do that. If I don't have to look out the window at the cliff -

Scott: Oh, could you?

Ben: Yeah. I could totally -

Scott: That would give me a headache.

Ben: Go left.

Scott: I would have a headache. No. That's - that's what a rally racer does. We'll talk about that maybe someday soon. We'll have to because a co-pilot in a rally race says left turn at a quarter mile or -

Ben: Like a spotter for a sniper?

Scott: Exactly. It's - it's just constant directions given to the driver because they're going so fast through whatever terrain they can't - it's almost as if they - they have to be prepared - well, they do have to be prepared for the next whatever it is. Anyways, we got way off track.

Ben: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I'm sorry.

Scott: But - so you wouldn't drive yourself, then?

Ben: No. I mean, I would do it if I had to do it to survive, but for fun? No.

Scott: Race or die, is that what you're saying?

Ben: Yeah. If I was - if I - if I had the choice of race or die, I - I would probably race. But first, I would ask just so I'd know if I was getting into -

Scott: You'd say seriously?

Ben: Yeah.

Scott: Really?

Ben: Yeah. I would -

Scott: Okay.

Ben: Yeah. But to - I guess that wraps it up for us today.

Scott: Oh, sure. I've blabbered on about this long enough over here.

Ben: Oh, no. This is awesome. I -

Scott: It's a great race, though. It's really, really cool. Check out the videos online, Rhys Millen. I can't say enough about the videos. They're really cool.

Ben: Oh. And for our listeners, we hope you enjoyed this podcast as much as we have. Pikes Peak Hill Climb is a fascinating event every year. If you would like to learn more about it, please do check out Scott's blog, which you can find on the homepage. And if you have any ideas for an upcoming topic or suggestions for a future subject, please send us an email at highspeedstuff@howstuffworks.com.

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