Sitting at home back in the Delta, it really feels like a dream. Racing Pikes Peak was one of the toughest challenges I've ever had to face. I had so much going against me in this dreamland where that mountain stood, with a presence you could feel in your bones.
As Budd and I were driving across Kansas coming in, there was a nice big storm coming out of the northwest, which I was really enjoying watching roll in. As I made my way into Colorado, I started to notice another smaller storm, coming from the southwest. I've always been a big fan of storms, even gotten into a little storm chasing, but this was really something else. The sun was going down, and the storms were really starting to kick up. The wind is yanking my truck all over the road while my phone starts blaring the emergency tone, notifying me of the tornado warning in my area. I'm now out of gas. Sweet.
I found a little gas station, and decided to hop back on the interstate, and roll it for the 30 or so miles I lacked to Denver, where it was clear. I put it on 85 determined to make it to the Mile High City, when the hail started. The hail got pretty bad, pretty quick. It got so bad that everyone ended up pulling over. Being from Mississippi I'm thinking there's no way my windshield is gonna hold up! After about 15 minutes of this, it let up a little and we made it safely to Denver. Thank God. Welcome to Colorado, I guess.
Since Pikes Peak is a public road, practice is limited to 5am-8am when the road opens up for the public to use all day, and boy does that road stay busy. We had practice Tues.-Fri. mornings, and the road was closed all day Sunday for the race. With the course being a one way, 12 mile shot composed of 156 turns, practice is split up into sections and you work on one section a day.
Practice was going well. GMDATL.com had the bike ready for the mountain. I made one minor suspension adjustment the whole time and was able to just ride the thing. It was really great!
Thursday after waking up at 2:45am and going to practice, I had to head to Denver and catch a plane home to attend my friend's funeral. Southwest shot me an email right before I touched down in Houston for my layover that my next flight had been moved to three minutes from when I got my email. There weren't any flights headed to where I needed to go soon enough, so I rented a car and made it home by about 4:30am.
Josh was one of the best friends I've ever had. He was a little bit younger than me, but I always looked up to him. He taught me so much when we were young. He was a fierce competitor. The boy introduced me to Otis Redding in the 6th grade, Biggie too.
I drove to Little Rock to turn my car in and caught my flight back to Denver. No disaster this time. Widespread Panic kicked off a three night run at Red Rocks Amphitheatre that night, and I was able to catch that with a friend. That was definitely one of my favorite shows. You've just got to experience Red Rocks. I'm pretty sure I went into a coma when I hit the bed around midnight.
Saturday the road is open to the public, like any other day, and my responsibilities were to set up the pit. What ended up happening was me struggling to get my Tacoma through the clearcut they deemed "Bike Pits" with a fully loaded race trailer. Finally I got the trailer parked and just got out of there, as there was no way to set anything up where they had me park. So I planned to just unload my stuff in the morning when they let us use the road for staging.
Sunday morning was insane. My dad couldn't get to registration on Saturday before they closed to get his credentials after driving in, but I figured they might let him to the start area with the fans, so I wasn't too worried. I left the hotel at 2:45am to find a line stretching down the highway before you get to the bottom of the mountain and kind of freaked out. After seeing a cop let a truck with a race car go buy, I talked to him and he let me head up the left lane. Dad never made it in, along with a ton of pissed off fans due to the traffic debacle at the bottom of the mountain.
I made it to the trailer at a decent time, to find out that I had left the key to the trailer in my jeans, in Mississippi. My buddy Jay, a sweep rider for the event, was able to help me get the bike out the side door, so we were good to go! Dad made a sweet cart that the bike sat with tire warmers and even the generator. Once I got all that set up, I thought I'd be alright. This was the first big race I've ever been to without help in the pits, but things seemed to finally come together after plugging away at it.
Dunlop Q3s had been on the bike basically the whole time out there, which are awesome street tires. I had run these tires in almost every practice session. I had my tire warmers set for my race tires, which require way more heat than street tires are capable of running well at. I was going to turn them down after they initially heated up, but between going over the course map and trying to remember markers on the course, push the bike forward, etc., I forgot to set the temperature. So they baked. Finally, after pushing my bike up the hill through staging, it was go time!
I flipped my visor down and all the question marks faded away. RPMs up, green flag, clutch out, blast off. The first couple of turns I had been thinking to take it easy, but I couldn't. I hammered through the first kink into the second turn, and the bike started wiggling all over the place. There was a left hander I was sure about coming up, and I put it in there pretty deep. The rear moved a little on entry, but as I made it towards the apex the front started moving all over the place. I had cooked my tires! I knew it! What I didn't know was if it would be possible to take it easy for a few corners and have them come back down, so I kept riding hard when I knew where I was at. The tires weren't bad, they just moved around a lot more than what I was used to from all the heat.
I was two turns from the finish line when I saw the red flag. I was told a rider went off at the finish line. That's not a good place to go off. After a little wait, we got the go ahead to ride back down to the pits. I rode at a pretty brisk pace on the way down, and tried to keep my mind off the incident. I had a few positive things I tried to focus on, like getting to run again with tires that aren't 50 degrees too hot, and getting a look at the bottom section before my run.
While changing tires I was informed of Bobby's passing. That was pretty tough, as I had met the man during testing and we got on alright. He was also on a Triumph, and staged right in front of me all morning until our runs. I was barely able to change both tires. After rushing to attempt setting tire temp and pressures, literally on the starting line, Lambert Fabrice got to me and reminded me how important it is to be calm. I needed that. I took a few deep breaths, hopped on, and took off.
The run went pretty smooth. I took it pretty easy on the front until after Engineer's Corner, then started pushing a little bit. The course was slick. There was dirt all over the surface from all the wind. It was pretty green the whole way up. I did have one moment crossing the paint at Devil's Playground. It probably wasn't much, but that particular corner had been haunting me since my first drive up the mountain. That fraction of a second felt like an eternity in the saddle.
Tears filled my eyes after I crossed the line. I can't explain what all was going through my head. I've never experienced anything like it. That was probably the most difficult week of my life, but it paid off in a big way and reminded me how important it is to stay focused and keep it pinned. That one was for JRW. Love ya buddy! See you on the other side!
Shout out to my family and friends for all of the support. I love you guys. Could not have made it out there without the help from GreenvilleMotorSports.com, GMDATL.com, Drippin Wet, and Moto Liberty. Thanks to everyone else who's helped along the way!