Battle of Perseverance
The ninety-eighth running of The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC), also known as “The Race to the Clouds,” is an invitational automobile hill climb to the summit of Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain in Manitou, Colorado. This year the event was held on Sunday, August 30th. Forty-four vehicles raced to the summit of the 14,115 ft. mountain, containing 156 turns and totaling a distance of 12.42 miles.
While the annual running of this event was postponed due to the COVID pandemic, it wasn’t going to put a stop to the race altogether. With limits on attendance, only competitors, pit crew, safety personnel, and media were allowed on the mountain. Even though the international competitor count was down this year, competitors traveled from all over the world in hopes of setting new class records.
Two of those hopeful competitors were Gregoire Blachon (Boxeer TDI), from Knoxville, TN, and Scott Birdsall (Chuckles Garage) from Santa Rosa, CA, who were both after the same record. The rivalry between the two started during the practice sessions this year, but which team would set the new Diesel Record? That record had been previously set by Factory Mercedes-Benz back in 2015, with an elapsed time of 11:37.149.
Both teams (Birdsall and Blachon) were plagued with mechanical issues in the days leading up to the race. Blachon was fighting numerous tuning concerns, fluid leaks, and electrical issues. Where as Scott Birdsall had much bigger problems on his hands. Birdsall had transmission issues during Monday’s practice session, which ended up ultimately costing him an engine due to an overspeed failure.
Tuesday – Aug 25th: After a phone call, a replacement engine was en route to the mountain. Lenny Reed, Dynomite Diesel Products (DDP), volunteered his brand new power-plant that was to be used in his personal truck. The Freedom Racing Engines 6.7L power-plant had only arrived (at DDP) the afternoon before it was loaded up into a truck on Tuesday, to complete the 18 hour trek down to Colorado from Northern Idaho. Once the replacement engine arrived on Wednesday afternoon, Birdsall’s crew worked tirelessly into the night to get the new engine in the chassis, wired, plumbed, and running.
Thursday – Aug 27th: Birdsall’s truck, affectionately known as Old Smokey F1 (1949 Ford F1) was back in the trailer, and headed north to ATS Diesel in Arvada, CO. Some changes to the transmission were made, followed by a dyno session to ensure that the new engine/transmission combo were on-point for the next morning’s practice session.
Friday Morning – Aug 28th at 4am: Birdsall’s team headed up the mountain for the final practice session before race day on Sunday. Now that the first pass on the lower stage complete, Birdsall’s team reviewed data, made a few small changes, topped off the fuel, and sent him out for the second pass of the day. Troubled with new mechanical issues during the second pass, the team loaded up and headed back to their shop for additional repairs.
Fast Forward to Saturday afternoon, all repairs were made, and a shakedown run made on a private road was complete. Birdsall and crew hauled the truck up the mountain one last time, and setup for race day early the next morning.
Race Day – Aug 30th: The original start time for the race at 7:30am, drivers experienced a 2-hour delay due to ice on the road. Scott Birdsall in Old Smokey F1 was the first man up the mountain at 9:30am. With no cell reception, and spotty live coverage, Birdsall’s crew anxiously awaited updates from the race announcer. After what seemed like hours had passed, the world had finally received word that Scott Birdsall had reached the summit, and unofficially beaten the previous record with an elapsed time of 11:24.065.
Even though Birdsall had made the climb to the summit, the race wasn’t over yet. Blachon had still yet to run, Birdsall and crew eagerly awaited for the Boxeer TDI entry to complete his run up the mountain. Blachon completed his climb to the summit with a time of 11:25.107, which meant that Birdsall had two major accomplishments! In his third year as a competitor, these accomplishments entailed completing a run up Pikes Peak start to finish, and setting a new record for a diesel powered entry!
Scott would like to thank all of his Sponsors, Crew, Wife (Julie) and Children, and last but not least, the Wagner Family for opening their home and their shop to his team, to make his dreams turn into reality.