First off, this run will elicit emotions of sheer terror and joy at the same time. Everyone on the hill asks their respective car god(s) for clear weather. However, the mountain has a will of its own, and while the prior competitor’s run was mostly dry, Victor Kuhns #151 of DMRally, was not so lucky. He was delayed 5 minutes due to a hay bale that was hit by a driver ahead of him, and that was just enough to bring in the weather.
As Victor lined up for the start, the skies to the north were already turning an eerie, dark, grey-green. Although it was the middle of the afternoon, the sky was more like dusk. Despite all of this, he had a smile on his face and was ready to make his run. You see, Victor has been at Pikes several times, and of those times, he has lost his steering and landed on his roof at Boulder Park (2010), finished on the podium on the last year of the dirt (3rd, 2011), mechanical failure twice (2012, 2016). This year, FINALLY, there was no mechanical issues with his Subaru Impreza (GC8) AND he had a spare GC ready for swaps if needed. This year, everything was going so well…maybe a little TOO well.
I snapped a few short shots of him from the media corral by the start, and then as I ran to the media tent to watch his run, the paddock and start line began getting pelted by golf-ball size hail. Competitors, crew and spectators all ran for cover (and for covers for their respective cars). Kash Singh, who was in line in the Mustang directly behind Victor, moved under the nearest popup but was still pelted by quarter-sized hail that punched straight through. Nearby crew members picked up a folding table and held it in place, getting pelted on their arms and legs, to protect his rear window and wing as he couldn’t fit the entire car under the nearest empty covered area.
As a member of his crew, a meteorologist, and someone who has also been in the position of being behind the weather as a driver at PPIHC (2012), I watched with excitement and hope that he would be able to get all the way to the top. There is nothing quite as disappointing as losing your chance to reach the summit due to weather. A safety crew member of the PPIHC came and told us later there were discussions as to if they should flag him and stop him on his run. The decision was made that it would be up to the driver to stop at this point, as the driver could not see the safety crew, nor the safety crew easily see Victor.
Victor was able to fly through Picnic grounds, driving on old, soft Hankook rallycross spec-tires that were intended for the dry. It wouldn’t have mattered what tire he was on at that point, as he was driving on marbles. There was snow at the top, coupled with rain, hail, and hail-fog which obscured the road, not to mention the clouds themselves once he reached the W’s just past Glen Cove, all moving in within a matter of about 10 minutes. But he did it, and he pressed on like the Rally driver he is, constantly testing the level of grip of the road, hanging close to landmarks and ditch-hooking for grip around turns whenever possible. His crew, family, friends, and fellow competitors cheered him on, knowing that if any car could make it to the top in these conditions, it was a Subaru with a rally driver behind the wheel. This is one time that, I’m sure, Victor wishes he would have had a co-driver by his side. His co-driver, however, was down in the pits with us and I’m guessing was oh-so-fondly remembering 2010.
When he came back down, you could see the look of relief as well as the effects of the adrenaline coursing through him. Cheers from the crowd and crew members increased as he came in, with the loud pops of anti-lag pleasing the crowd.
The crowd cheered him just as loudly as they did Dumas at Picnic Grounds, as there is an incredible love for drivers who take on the mountain against the odds. Grassroots has been slowly disappearing at Pikes over the last few years with the change from partial dirt to all tarmac, but Victor showed once again that fighting for a time or a class win isn’t what Pikes is all about. As he has said many times, “It’s about the stories.” The racing family. Things like: side-bets among the 3 Subaru drivers with some friendly competition, ignoring the overall results as they were the underdogs; dancing at the Glen Cove start line when there’s an oil spill during practice (looking at you Kash and CJ Wilson); or catching your fellow competitors on video sneakily putting vinyl on other competitors cars in good fun (yes, even the big teams get in on the fun.. looking at you VW ID R media guys). But the one commonality for all of them is that – it’s about taking on the mountain, no matter what she throws at you; finding a bit of yourself out there, and digging up the courage to do more.
If it sounds like I might have a bias towards Victor as a Driver, it’s because I do. When he had mechanical failure early in the week in 2012, he didn’t pack up and go home.. he and his whole team instead helped out another grassroots driver who was also at the peak…in a Subaru. That driver was me. So when he asked if I wanted to crew for him this year, there was zero hesitation. I said yes, as did several others. He’s not only a great driver, but a good person as well. A nerd with an affinity for high-performance computing, with a crew full of scientists, software, and mechanical engineers with the commonality of loving Subaru and rally. He has an energy that ends up spilling over to everyone around him. His team was just one team of many that you’ll rarely hear about, but are remarkable to watch and be around. I recommend you see them and talk to them in person while you attend PPIHC for yourself to see the magic and the passion these folks have.
So here’s to you, Victor! Cheers on a ballsy run up the mountain and bringing home a trophy of a car that was surprisingly unharmed. Now, watch him driving to the top in what might be the worst driving conditions in the history of PPIHC, and do it in 15:20.