The Land's End Hill Climb outside of Grand Junction, Colorado, is a qualifier for the 2010 King of the Hammers (KOH) race. The top five from the rock racer class have a guaranteed spot in the KOH race. For those that don't know, the Land's End Hill Climb is a race up a winding gravel road approximately 6 miles long. In February 2009, while driving back from pitting on the Evolution Machine KOH crew, Curtis and I decided we had to do everything in our power to get a spot in the 2010 KOH race. We had discussed the Land's End Hill Climb, but it fell on a weekend during which I typically downhill race my mountain bike, so we decided not to go. Curtis kept sending me links to JT Taylor's and the Lovell's in-car cams from hill climb competitions as the Land's End race approached. In typical Warner fashion we made the decision to race a little over a week before we had to leave for the event. However, this decision was not without its complications. The number one problem being that the LS1 in our buggy had a rod knock over 2000 rpm with the number two problem being a 20 hour drive and both Curtis and I needing to work the Thursday before the race. Problem one was solved by a couple days of searching the wrecking yards on the way down to Colorado for a usable motor. We found a 5.3 Liter motor out of a 2003 Chevrolet pickup at LKQ Corporation in Springville, Utah, which happened to be right along our drive. Problem two was solved by recruiting another poor soul, Joey, to share driving duties so we could drive 20 hours straight to Grand Junction.
Thursday, Curtis and Joey met me down in Vancouver around 9:00 pm and we loaded the buggy, parts and other gear into my enclosed trailer, and then set out on our drive around 10:00 pm. The drive was fairly uneventful but really long. Curtis drew the short straw and got the midnight to 8:00 a.m. shift. He downed a 5-hour Energy Rush and another energy drink. It's amazing how 'jacked up' he gets on those things. I don't think he stopped singing for 5 hours.
We arrived later Friday night to set up our pit and camping area. Our neighbour turned out to be Gino, the radar director for the Colorado Hill Climb association and a long time member. When he heard we were from Canada he immediately dubbed us the 'Trailer Park Boys.' Curtis was Julian, Joey was Bubbles, and I was Ricky. Gino turned out to be quite knowledgeable about hill climbing and the Land's End race. Apparently, Land's End Hill Climb has been around since 1928 and has seen the likes of Parnelli Jones, Ivan Stewart, and Mario Andretti among other racing stars.
The qualifying runs for the Land's End Hill Climb are really not the normal definition of qualifying but rather just practice runs as everyone gets into Sunday's race.
Our first run we waited our turn in staging as many of the other unmuffled cars and trucks screamed off the line. We had been told at the drivers' meeting that the starts were a rolling start where the start man would point at you when ready, then raise the green flag signaling for you to get rolling. When he dropped the flag you would hit it. Most of the high horsepower cars would shower rocks behind them onto unsuspecting spectators as they screamed onto the track. We pulled up to the start and got the once over from the official. On one run we asked what he was looking for as he peered inside the truck and checked things out quite thoroughly. He said he was making sure that everyone had the proper safety gear and were strapped in. Apparently, earlier in the day, he had actually found someone that had neglected to strap all five straps of there 5 point, which could spell disaster if he were to crash. The starter pointed at us, we gave him the thumbs up, and he raised the flag for us to roll. We rolled to the start line and when he dropped the flag we hit it. The truck immediately felt sluggish, which we though was due to the 8000 ft plus elevation, but later remembered we forgot to use the laptop to retune the motor after our last event at WE Rock. It's a long story to explain why we detune for WE Rock events, but let's just say it keeps Curtis in check when he gets a little too excited sometimes. The Land's End track was fast and smooth with some tight hairpin turns and some corners that looked real bad if you missed them. We've jumped our truck before, but I'm not into jumping it 30 feet or more! After a few corners I could tell our suspension was out of whack and the car seemed to wander everywhere. I could tell we were very loose and the car was a handful for Curtis. It was way sketchier than I can even describe and I'll admit the thought of making Curtis do the next run without me passed through my mind on more than one occasion. However, we were able to beat a couple of the times of the other rigs with a 6:55 run.
On the second qualifying run I found myself sitting in the copilot seat again, staring at the starter. I guess I couldn't find a good enough excuse to not make this run. We moved the antisway bar links 4 notches tighter between rounds and tuned the motor for more power. The starter flag dropped and right away the truck pulled much harder out of the starting gate. After the first few corners it was evident our suspension tweaks were working. It felt like we were railing the first section of the course. We came hard out of a hairpin turn to see a red flag. Apparently, the racer in front of us had left the course. We started again after a couple of minutes and came to the corner where the guys in front of us had left the course. The nose of the truck was pointed down a 80 degree slope that stretched for over 100 feet. They had hit a bump lost control but gained just enough to turn the car down the slope instead of rolling over and over sideways. Luckily everyone was ok, but if it were me I think I'd need to change my firesuit after that one. We finished the course but our time was out due to the stoppage.
On our third qualifying run we had decided to try using our momentum through the hairpins instead of dropping a gear into first. In previous runs dropping into first caused the truck to shift its weight forward hard and not turn the corner as fast as we could. The entire run felt much more fluid, but we ended up catching up to the Trailready buggy of Ian McGlynn near the finish line which slowed us down. Final time on the run was 6:36.
Saturday night we decided to run to Grand Junction for some Water Wetter as the truck was overheating by the time we hit the last mile of the course. While in town we got this brilliant idea to check out the course on Google Earth and draw ourselves a map. It was quite humorous sitting in the parking lot of a mall using their WiFi and tracing a map literally off the screen of the laptop. Later we learned that if we had been smarter (I like to think it was because we were lacking sleep) we could have just asked for a map at the race.
Sunday (Race Day)
Right after the Sunday morning drivers' meeting, Curtis and I sat down to discuss how we could improve our times. We were about 45 seconds off the pace to make it into the top 5. We figured just the use of the map would help shave some time off and we'd try to carry some more speed through the corners. In the qualifying sessions we had slowed down quite a bit for corners when all you could see off the side of them was blue sky. The first run of the morning felt very good as we carried good speed through the hairpins. We improved our time by almost 15 seconds. However, there were a few corners that were still playing mind games with us. Doing 50 mph down a straight stretch, seeing tire marks sliding off the track at the corner and knowing that the drop off the side would mean falling a long ways before even hitting the ground makes it hard to maintain speed. JT Taylor expressed it the best, "Going into that turn my mind keeps saying stay on it! Stay on it! But my foot says screw off and pulls off the gas peddle."
While we were at the top, socializing after our run with all the rock racers, we were all watching the rally cars come up the last quarter of the track. When Dave Kern in his highly modified Evo came up he was killing the upper section of the course, drifting around the corners right on the edge of the track. He flew through the finish line sideways out of the last corner. At which point all of us rock racers realized we were standing in a really poor spot. Dave slid back and forth on the road from ditch edge to ditch edge heading towards us before finally gaining control about 10 feet from the rock racer group. Let's just say that for future race viewing the rock racers were no where near the same spot when Dave's Evo came up.
As we sat in the starting gate for our final run Curtis said, "I'm going to drive the tires off of this thing" and then pretty much proceeded to do just that. We flew up the course on what felt like an awesome run. On the last half of the course I could literally feel the Toyo MTs on the ragged edge of traction and sometimes past that. We were drifting corners and using all the horsepower we could. Final time was 6:15. I don't think we could have driven the truck any harder and if we had, we most definitely would have ended up in the weeds. Our main problem at that point was the buggy just wasn't set up for this sort of course.
The top 6 finishers for the event in order were JT Taylor, Brian Shirley, Ray Mandel, Peter Wells, Roger Lovell, and Levi Shirley. JT Taylor in his Tube Shark sponsored buggy ran the course in a blistering 5:29:19. Places 2 through 6 qualified for the KOH race as JT Taylor already has a spot. A few times Curtis and I had the opportunity to watch the other rock racers come up in some very well set up rigs with tons of horsepower. The top guys were flying up the course and for the final run really stepped it up.
Going 70 plus mph in a rock buggy is awesome, scary at times, but a total adrenaline rush. Though we did not qualify for the KOH race the event was a success in our minds as we made some great new friends while down there. JT Taylor, the class representative and the driver of the Tube Shark sponsored buggy, is both hilarious and quite scary! He has awesome stories from XRRA racing and from being Crew Chief for the Speed Technologies Class 1 desert buggy, but is ex-military and owns many guns. Americans love big horsepower. When we hit most of the races up here in Canada, our LS1's power to approximately 3500 lb weight ratio is usually at the top of the power-to-weight ratio grid. Down at Land's End Hill Climb our buggy was at the bottom of the power-to-weight ratio list.
Our trip home was another 20 hour marathon filled with Curtis singing, Joey and Curtis 'rocking it out to some Meatloaf,' getting a flat on the trailer only to realize we forgot our jack at home, and having to borrow one from a biker guy driving his truck from Sturgis, and almost rear ending a car in Seattle after they cut me off then slammed on their brakes. Thank God for General Motors installing antilock trailer brake controllers because I definitely used it. The LS1 in the buggy lasted the entire weekend so we didn't have to pull an all nighter to swap motors, but we did have a ton of people laugh at us in the pits when they saw we brought an extra motor. At least we have a spare for the next race when we grenade the LS1!
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