My Pikes Peak International Hill Climb experience

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Buck Futter
Well, as some of you know, I recently traveled up to Colorado with some of my fellow CMRA troublemakers with the intent to race the Pike's Peak International Hill Climb. I didn't expect it to be easy by any means, but I had no idea how much of a challenge it would actually turn out to be.

I should start off by saying that without Tom Anderson and Mark Niemi, I wouldn't have ever even HEARD of the hill climb, much less garnered any interest in racing it. I ended up with my Aprilia SXV450 almost by accident, and while it was about as reliable as a condom made out of tissue paper, when it did manage to run it sure was a hoot to ride.

The race was initially slated for the first week of July, with a weekend of open practice for a select few bikes and cars taking place in mid-June. Luckily, my pal Mark Niemi gave me an early heads-up about the practice weekend (which wasn't highly advertised), and I was able to be one of the select few riders who got to get a few runs in before the actual race week - this would turn out to be absolutely crucial, as I would get almost NO practice time during race week.

Following a hectic and problem-filled season of half-assedly racing at CMRA events, with the intent to get all the Priller's issues sorted out prior to heading to Colorado (ha!), I ended up grenading my motor just a few short weeks before the practice weekend. Luckily, Phil and Ryan Warren at SixThreeCycles in Dallas came through with a spare 450 motor that he just happened to have laying around, and I managed to get the motor stuffed in the bike in time to make a few laps during the last session of a Fastline Motorcycle School trackday at Mercedes-Benz Sugarland Road Course / Motor Sports Ranch Houston on the Sunday before I was to leave for Colorado - huge thanks to Tim Tucker for allowing me to show up at the end of the day and get on the track. The practice weekend on the mountain went without any major mishaps, and although the temptation was high to get out there and try and go fast, I concentrated on learning the course and getting comfortable rather than trying to set any records - which, realistically, was PROBABLY not a whole heck of a lot faster than if I had been. I made some good progress, and headed back to Texas confident that I'd be ready for race week.

Once the initial race week rolled around, wildfires in the Waldo Canyon area of Colorado (right around the corner from Pike's Peak) caused the race to be postponed, and we began scrambling to adjust to the new date. August 12th was announced as the new date, and luckily it fell on a week(end) that myself and my crew of miscreants were able to attend. Jesse Davis, Ryan Warren, Dustin Sperry, and myself set forth from the Six Three Cycles hangar on the evening of Friday, August 3rd (which also happened to be my 26th birthday) for an adventure that we would never forget.

Upon arriving in Colorado, we began getting adjusted to the altitude. The thin air and cool climate was quite a change from the 110+ temperatures and sauna-esque humidity that we'd been experiencing in Texas, and we welcomed the atmosphere with open arms. Our hotel was located right at the base of Pike's Peak, and while it lacked cellphone reception (well, for all of us except JD and his Jesus-phone), it had a hot tub and was exceptionally awesome in just about every aspect. Tech inspection wasn't until Tuesday, so we had a few days to get into trouble prior to having to act 'official', and did we ever.

I wasted no time convincing the crew to head to what we'll refer to here as a 'Venue of Lesser Morals', and proceeded to do exactly what I do in those types of places - get blackout drunk, harass'waitresses', and let everyone with me know how much of a jackass I am. Ultimately I ended up abandoning everyone at the hotel, informing them that they could 'ride their f****** motards back to Texas for all I care', and disappeared to not-even-I-know-where, only to return the next morning with tail-between-legs and what some circles would refer to as a 'hangover to end all hangovers'. Luckily, the fellas have known me for long enough to know that I'm an idiot, and didn't take any of my shenanigans seriously.

I've really, really, really, REALLY gotta stop drinking.

Anyways, I spent most of Monday recovering and apologizing, and we got ready to carry on with what we originally came there for - to conquer Pike's Peak. Tech inspection breezed by without so much as a hiccup, with the exception of forgetting my leathers at the hotel room. Those of you who know me know that this is practically unheard of, as I'd NEVER take off and forget my leathers. Really. I wouldn't. Wednesday showed up early, and we were set up in the middle of the mountain at Glen Cove for the first day of practice in the middle section.

Dustin got the bike unloaded and started up as I wandered off to find a rabbit to check on, and the morning seemed to be going smoothly - smoothly until it was time to actually get on the bike and ride. To my horror, and to the dismay of my pit crew, the bike decided it didn't want to start. We found a stick to poke at it with, and although we spent a good half hour hopping around, hooting, and poking at it with a stick, the Pezzo di Merda refused to fire. The downside to running three different sections of practice on a mountain that has only one way up or down is just that - there's only one way up or down. Since we were unable to do anything productive with the bike, and since (being the genius that I am) I'd opted to leave my electrical testing equipment back at the hotel, we were dead in the water. We hiked down the mountain a bit and watched some of the cars practice on the bottom section, and once that was said and done we hiked back up to Glen Cove to drag my beaten steed back down to the hotel. A few quick tests pointed to a failed fuel pump, and with a few quick phone calls I had another one on the way. Unfortunately though, it wouldn't arrive until the following afternoon, meaning I would miss out on the second day of practice, which would see the bikes running the top section of the mountain from Devil's Playground up to the Summit. Luckily, we'd come (relatively) prepared, and quickly prepped Jesse's 450, complete with vintage 1996 Alan Tan Rain Tires, for me to practice on. We hit the hot tub and then got to bed early, ready to give the mountain another shot the next morning.

3am rolled around sooner than expected, as it always seems to do, and we headed up the Pike's Peak Toll Road for what we hoped would be a day of successful practice without any bike issues. What we didn't count on, however, was not having enough diesel in my Dodge to make it up the mountain and back down. Driving up the Peak is not nearly as easy as you'd think, and it's actually pretty tough on a vehicle to creep up and then crawl back down - the Park Rangers at the bottom recommend at least a half tank of fuel due to the more-than-average load put on a car or truck's engine needed to make it up and down the super-steep incline. I had just over a quarter of a tank, and my Lie-O-Meter informed me that I had approximately 98 miles left until empty....which, by Crystal Reservoir turned to 60; by Glen Cove turned to 40; and by Devil's Playground turned to 'You're almost out of diesel. Stop driving, dummy.' We frantically scourged the pits for someone with a jug of diesel, but since diesel motorcycles aren't currently the rage here in the states, no one had anything to offer. Oh well, we'll deal with that later, let's get the bike going.

I've always felt uncomfortable and sketchy riding someone else's bike, and this cold, crummy Thursday was no exception. I wasted no time throwing down the absolute slowest practice time of the day, and on my second session up the course managed to lose the front and topple over.

Fun fact, prior to just now Jesse didn't know that I crashed his bike. Sorry buddy! Betcha can't even tell :D

I collected myself and the bike and finished the run, and after being persuaded by Craig Gleason (who would go on to qualify on pole and finish 4th, setting some of the fastest 450 times of the week) to quit being a b*tch and keep practicing, made a few more incident-free trips up to the Summit. The rest of the morning went off without any more incidents, and with Jesse behind the wheel of my truck managed to coast down the mountain and sputter into a fuel station trouble-free. We continued on into Denver to collect the necessary parts to get the Priller back up and running, and upon getting back to the hotel and installing the new fuel pump she fired right up and ran like a champ. Whew! Crisis averted!

Friday saw the motorcycles on the bottom of the mountain for practice and qualifying - something I wasn't particularly looking forward to, seeing as the week had been going hectic enough already, and what little seat time I WAS getting saw me WAY off pace from where I needed to be. Nevertheless, I pressed on, and with fingers crossed set off up the bottom section to try and get a good run in. I couldn't seem to get a clean run up the mountain in the morning, it seemed like I'd be running great up until I caught up with a slower rider. I still wasn't feeling all that confident, and passing wasn't something that I'd really had much of a chance to do. I threw down HORRIBLE times my first few sessions, and felt sure that I was doomed to not make the 115% time necessary to qualify for the race. I collected myself at the bottom of the mountain, and decided that I'd wait until there were hardly any bikes left, stall as long as I could, and hope to get a shot up the mountain far enough behind the rest of the pack so that I wouldn't catch up with anyone. I took off from the starting line and felt GREAT - I knew in my gut that this was the run. I clicked off the first several turns like clockwork. My Bridgestone tires were glued to the pavement, the suspension that Brandon Spradling at P1 Racing had set up ever-so-perfectly responded gracefully to every bump, divet, and crevice in the pavement, and the 450cc Italian V-twin sung like a bird.

That is until I got about 3/4 of the way up the mountain and reached for the front brake in one of the hairpin switchbacks towards the top of the bottom section.

Ever squeeze your brake lever, feel it hit your bar, and realize that nothing is happening? That's a pretty darned spooky feeling, tell ya what. I managed to keep my cool and not panic, and slid around the last bit of the course using my rear brake and strategically-placed downshifts to slow me down - and managed to qualify next to last.

But next to last was good enough.

We retreated to the hotel, where a shiny new set of brake pads from Ted Phillips at AF1 Aprilia was waiting for me, via USPS. Tired of fiddling with the bike, I took the evening off, and decided that I'd spend the next day dealing with the brakes. It was now that I started getting down in the dumps - I hadn't seen a single day go by without incident, I'd gotten almost ZERO practice, and I was barely able to qualify. Who am I to think that I deserve to come and compete with some of the absolute ballsiest racers in the world, in the hands-down most competitive motorcycle class nonetheless! Surely I'd do nothing but make a fool of myself on Sunday, and let down my friends, family, and sponsors.

Cue Tom Anderson, the knucklehead who'd helped talk me into this whole thing, with a 'quit being such a little b*tch, race, and have fun' phone call. I can't thank the guy enough for that, because that's EXACTLY what I needed. The next morning I pulled out my tampon, flushed the brakes with slick new Motul RBF, threw on the new pads, and went over the bike with a fine-toothed KFC spork (combs were in short supply that day). I spent the rest of Saturday watching videos of the mountain and studying course notes that I'd made, determined that I was going to show up Sunday with my game face on, and regardless of what happened I was going to have the time of my life.

2am showed up WAY before I expected it, and before I knew it I was deep in the woods in the staging area setting everything up. I was determined to knock it off with them negative waves, dig how beautiful it is out there, and say something righteous and hopeful for a change.

And that's when it happened.


While warming up the bike, I noticed a good amount of smoke coming from my clutch cable.


Yup. Clutch cable. Mere minutes before I was due to grid up on the starting line, the ol' Priller decided that it didn't care too much for the grounding points that it'd been born with, and that it was going to ground itself through the clutch cable. Luckily, I chose what was undoubtedly a 'Pikes Peak Pit Crew Dream Team', and while I was having a panic attack they rigged up some safety wire from the engine case covers to the frame, and solved the grounding issue - albeit in what's probably the most ghetto way that anything's ever been grounded on a motorcycle. It worked though, and I made my way to my lonely spot towards the back of the starting grid.

"It's a race against the mountain, just me and the road," I told myself. "Nothing else matters, not any of the other riders, not anything that's happened in the days leading up to this, nothing. Head down, throttle open. Have fun. Don't die."

I worked my way up to the front of the grid, the starter dropped the green flag, and off I went...only to find out that the piece of duct tape that we'd put on the top of my visor to block the sun's vicious glare was placed too low, and I couldn't see a f*****g thing when I was tucked down. Phooey.

Luckily, Jesse had the foresight to fold a tab on the edge of the duct tape, so that just in case this scenario happened I'd be able to pull it off. Unfortunately, we stuck the tab on the wrong side, and it took me the first several turns to get the tape off so that I could see (in the video at one point, you can see my shadow frantically trying to pull the tape off). I managed to get the tape off before I reached Engineer's Corner, which is the first super-tight turn on the course. I breezed through the rest of the bottom section, and felt great. The bike was running great, and although I felt I was geared a bit too tall, it seemed to be pulling extremely well. I had a few 'Oh Spit!' moments, tucked the front a few times (pay attention at 6:16 in the video below), lost the rear a few times more, and blew two of the hairpins towards the top of the middle section - but I made it. It seemed like a matter of SECONDS since I'd left the starting line - literally - but I was at the summit. I did it. I finished, and I didn't die.

Initial scoring showed me in 18th, however the official results would put me in 27th place with a time of 12:56, which was good enough to put me next to last - but not last.

And as far as I'm concerned, in a class that's not only one of the absolute most competitive out there, but mostly full of folks who've been racing up this mountain since before I was tall enough to be denied entry to the log ride at Six Flags, that's nothin' to shake a stick at.

There was plenty I could have done different, and I feel like I could have done a lot better overall had I been dealt a better hand, but that's racing, and that's the way it is. Do I realistically think that I could have done better? Absolutely. Will I go back next year? Probably. Will I race next year? Possibly. Do I regret anything about it? Absolutely not.

There was plenty more that happened after my race, but that's another story for another day. For now, I'm plenty happy with how everything turned out, and I can say with 100% sincerity that last week was absolutely the most challenging, most stressful, and most importantly most fun that I've ever had in my wee 26 years of life.











...and the video:

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Wil Kitchens Pike's Peak PPIHC Hill Climb 2012 full run (next to last place 450) - YouTube

Wil Kitchens Pike's Peak PPIHC Hill Climb 2012 full run (next to last place 450) - YouTube

Thanks to my mom and dad for supporting me in all this - Dad flew out just to watch the race, and ended up snapping a super awesome photo of me coming thru the checker. I wouldn't be here without them (literally), and couldn't have made it to the Peak without their support.

Thanks to Ted Phillips at AF1 Aprilia, there's absolutely no way that I would have been able to keep the SXV up and running without him, and he's spent countless hours playing tech support with the seemingly neverending Aprilia gremlins.

Thanks to John Hutchinson at South Central Race Center for providing the Bridgestone tires that kept me upright, and with the exception of the trip down kept the Aprilia's handlebars from smacking the pavement.

Thanks to Brandon Spradling at P1 Racing for providing absolutely flawless suspension tuning and support, for hooking it up with the parts and gear necessary to accomplish the hill climb, and for being the inspiration for me to start racing in the first place.

Thanks to Phil and Ryan Warren and Six Three Cycles, I don't even know where to begin...I absolutely, positively could not have competed on Sunday without their help.

Thanks to Jesse Davis at Davis Rod and Cycle for the super sick paint on the helmet, for providing top-notch pit support, and for putting up with me being a duckhead. In case no one has seen it, Jesse did the absolute most awesome paint job EVER on the new Arai (from Brandon at P1), and I just about had to fight him to get him to give me the helmet back. Anyone looking for a custom helmet, hit up JD.

Thanks to Dustin Sperry for coming along and not only being an absolutely perfect crew member, but for putting up with us, and for keeping everyone in line throughout the week. I can honestly say if Dustin hadn't come with us, we probably would have ended up murdering each other before race day.

Thanks to Lisa P at 212 Decals for the always amazing graphics and super-quick turnaround time, and for the absolutely ASTONISHING pit shirts. I don't think there was a single team that was dressed as snazzily as we were!

Thanks to Jimmy and Jennifer for coming up with me and being my pit bitches during the practice weekend.

Thanks to Tom Anderson and Mark Niemi for getting me involved with the Hill Climb in the first place, and for being the absolute greatest friends that anyone could ever ask for. I've never known either of those guys to say anything that wasn't nice or helpful and/or supportive, and I would NOT have made it thru the week without their guidance and support throughout this endeavor.

Thanks to Keith and Jerrett Martin and Ryan Ambrose at Big D Cycle; Tim Tucker at Fastline Motorcycle School; Brian C, Doug, Steve, Matt W, Colin G, and all the other arsehats at, Chris Cummins, Danny Buckson, Joe Trice, Thomas Busselle, and all the others that donated to support the cause; thanks to everyone in the CMRA; and thanks to anyone that I'm forgetting to list here.

This was hands down the coolest thing that I've ever done, and I absolutely could NOT have done it without you guys.

So thanks again to everyone for the support, and remember; do it IDB, just not in the face.

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Fucking awesome. I'm going to have to watch it when I get home. Great read :thumbsup:. Glad you had a blast.
I was very surprised how difficult it is on a vehicle. I haven't read the full story, but it's amazing thus far. Every other pulloff in the Civic I stopped at on the way down because the brakes overheated and I could only engine brake for so long until I was running 6000rpm in 2nd gear at 45mph. Very tough drive. Let alone the altitude drunk I was at the top making it very scary.
Awesome! Congrats!

You made the goal! My goal for any first time race is to not be last. Even if it's next to last, it's a win. Great job!
Good read! Glad you finished unscathed. I watch the video of the horrible accident that Evo was in. Glad to hear you had a good time. Learn from this experience for next year. :)
That evo crash was crazy. Even crazier, they waled away wth just some bumbs and brusies.

Thanks for the name drop. I'm not sure that I was very supportive of your efforts in this case, but of course always want to see a 'family' member do well in what they do.

And you REALLY need to stop fucking drinking. lol
Fun fact:

Most likely not in 2013, but in the near future I'll be racing the hill climb again, only not with an Aprilia - it'll be with a Honda.

...and it'll have more than 2 wheels.


So glad you had a good experience and that you came back in one piece!