The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is a grueling, dangerous event filled with purpose-built racing machines. This year Doug Siddens, a novice, hit the hill in an off-the-shelf ATV he souped up himself. Here's his story.
I'm from a small mountain town in New Mexico. Because my town is close to Pikes Peak, I've followed the hill climb since I was little. I didn't grow up around that sort of thing — my family wasn't into racing. I can't really think of one particular event in my life that go me into cars, but it was always a commanding force — it just seemed like what I was supposed to do.
Once I purchased my Polaris RZR-S UTV (Utility Terrain Vehicle, or basically a beefed-up ATV; base price of just under $14,000 —Ed.), I knew there was something special about it. For the first time, I was able to drive without limits — I could go anywhere and do anything I wanted. I could drift, jump, and race in my backyard and on any given day, I could go out and feel like a rally-car driver. It was the perfect motorsport mesh, all wrapped up in one convenient platform that was affordable and easy to obtain.
I was in love. Some partners and I created the modern UTVForum.net network. We hit the ground running and soon expanded the site to cover just about every make and model of UTV. I started following all of the major UTV racing series and wanted to do my part to help educate people about it. UTV racing was growing rapidly and expanding into many major events — the Baja 500 and King of the Hammers, to name two — so I decided to take it one step further. I decided to go to Pikes Peak.
Since I had a huge network behind me and one gnarly race-ready UTV, the first step was contacting the Pikes Peak racing commission. This was December of last year. It wasn't an easy task — the event is invite-only, and they only have one day to fit all the racers in and get them all up the hill. Due to the event's significance and history, it's virtually impossible to gain the approval from the commission to race something completely new. After months of submitting my personal driving videos and photos, and bombarding the commission with emails and phone calls, they agreed to create a powersport exhibition class.
I didn't have any racing experience, so I knew this would be a one-shot deal — my once-in-a-lifetime chance to realize my dream of being a racer. Driving fast through the woods at home New Mexico was one thing, but I knew, with all my heart and soul, that I had the ability to drive with the best. I didn't have any manufacturer backing or significant sponsorships to help pay the way, but I began ordering all the parts I could.
The month leading up to the race was hectic. I had to run all the websites, build my race UTV, manage all the logistics of racing, and find time to actually drive. The new motor was a beast and ran amazingly well in all the practice runs. But my practice days on the mountain were a different story.
I missed the first two practice days completely because of a few mechanical issues that would only surface about 10,000 ft. There is no way to simulate the stress and strain that Pikes Peak puts on a motor, and I was scrambling around just days before the race hoping to find a solution. After about a week of no sleep and barely enough time to eat, I had to forget about everything and just drive.
I learned that it's not a good thing to be both crew chief and driver. Instead of just being able to focus on the course and driving, I was stressing about the gremlins and the mechanical issues. Working on the car until midnight each night and getting up at 2:30 in the morning for practice sessions was taking its toll. The day before the race, I decided to back the revs down and turn the boost to a moderate 8 psi. This was a far cry from the 7500 rpm and 15 psi of boost that I was hoping to run on race day, but at that point, I just wanted to finish.
The pressure started to sink in on race day. Here I am, a small town guy with no racing experience, virtually no practice, and a brand-new car, looking down rows of semis and race trailers and mobs of mechanics and crew climbing all over high-tech racing machines. I roll up with everything UTV- and race-related that I own in the back of my truck and just hope for the best. After five of the first ten cars go off the road and a rain delay hits, I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into.
All the jitters went away the moment I strapped in behind the wheel. There was this odd sense of confidence. Once the flag dropped, I forgot about everything and my instincts took over.
Since I had hadn't really had much practice, I was still unsure of a lot of the blind corners. I just tried to drive to the best of my abilities. Everything was going well until about two miles from the end when it started snowing. Fortunately for me, I was running 4WD and had spent all winter drifting and driving as fast as I could through the ice-packed back roads back home.
I was almost to the top when it started getting slick. Snow was building up on my visor, my vision was poor, and I was willing the car to stay on the road. When I crossed the the finish line, there was a sudden rush of emotion — all of the pressure to perform, the lack of sleep, the blisters, and the feeling of accomplishment... it was indescribable. It doesn't get any better than that.
In the end, I laid down a time of 14:03, enough to better 40% of the 156 riders and drivers that competed.
The competitor in me occasionally comes out, and I think about an apex that I missed or a line that I didn't follow. All in all, though, I think I did well for the sport, and I feel like I represented the class well. I look forward every day to next year's event, and I can't wait to participate again one of the greatest racing events in the world.
Doug would like to extend a special thanks to the following companies, all of whom helped him climb the mountain: MCX-USA Turbos, FOX Racing Shox, ContourHD Cameras, Dynojet, Kenda Tires, and Dirty Dawg Performance.