You are more qualified than you think to drive the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (or the “PPIHC”)! I am going to share a little about my racing career, experience with being a rookie in the PPIHC, and how you can do it too. So warm up your scrolling fingers, this will be good.


Let me start by introducing myself and providing some context to my passion for racing. My name is Adam Smith (aka “Driveshaft”). I participated in the 2021 PPIHC as a rookie, but had a rather irregular, or possibly regular, rookie run. More on my experience to come. Outside of the PPIHC, I am the Chief Driving Instructor for NASA Rocky Mountain (Colorado based region of the National Auto Sport Association) and compete with my hill climb car in the Super Touring wheel to wheel racing class. I have been active in NASA, SCCA, PCA, BMWCCA, and open lapping groups since 2007. My racing career started with an E30 sedan, moved to Miatas, mid-life crisis’d my way into C5 Corvettes, and then into a road course converted 2004 ASA stock car nicknamed the “Skulletmobile”. The Skullet has the usual Home Depot special aero treatment and budget friendly goodies to handle the track and PPIHC. Ironically, this car has been cheaper and easier to maintain for a season of racing than my Miatas were. I would be lying though, if I didn’t mention this car really tested my patience when I first got it!

I say that you are more qualified than you think to drive the PPIHC because it is only as hard as you let it be. With a reliable car, with a reliable team, with proper focus and proper preparation, this mountain can be very welcoming to a rookie driver. Although, always respect the mountain. The typical saying by all drivers, officials, and crew members: “the mountain decides”; and it decided for me.


My team, composed entirely of PPIHC rookies, came in with laser focus. We practiced tire changes, fueling the car, setup changes on the fly, and as a result, everyone knew the car inside and out. My crew chief, Patrick Mizenko, organized our parts and packing lists, our to-do lists on the mountain and at the shop, as well as wore his captain’s hat each day. His goal was to for me to be as focused on the driving as possible. No distractions, no worrying about the car, just get in and drive. This is a large key to success at Pikes Peak for any racer.

My only significant part failure during practice came from one errant clutch drop. When practicing the lower section, drivers have to turn around just before Glen Cove. I did not realize I could drive up to the larger parking lot area at the Cove, and pulling my best Austin Powers impression on a two-lane road with a three disk clutch, soft compound tires and an aluminum driveshaft. On my sixth practice run, just as I had the car 90% pointing downhill, the final clutch dump took out the U-joint in spectacular fashion. Easy fix, new U-joint and back to it for the middle section the next day. 

All went well from that moment on until Sunday, race day. We were warming up the drive-line on jack stands in preparation for our race run. With tire blankets cooking the racing slicks (Hoosier A7s) to keep that sweet, sweet grippy boi status for the big run. We received the five minute warning, got the car on the ground, and drove up to the starting line for the big run. While sitting on the start line, the driver ahead of me, Paul Gerrard, had lost a wheel only a few turns past the start gate. Paul had pulled the Enviate Hypercar off the course with only three wheels attached. We sat on the line, ready to go, for 28 minutes while the crews cleared the track. During this time, my A7s, which sat in tire blankets at 160 degrees for over an hour, were gluing themselves to the pavement. As I got in the zone, and that green flag finally flew, I stuck to my original plan of a gingerly launch… but the mountain decided otherwise and the front yoke on the driveshaft exploded the instant I rolled off the clutch. I rolled 13 feet forward clearing my rookie status, and the reward was getting pushed back to our pit box.

Moral of the story: don’t always assume things will go your way and prepare for everything. I now own a spare part for almost everything on the Skullet, and next time the car will have the freshest steel driveshaft with the newest U-joints. While getting pushed back to our pit box wasn’t the result I wanted, it was still an experience of a lifetime.


Team and Car

Now that you have had a chance to learn a little about my rookie campaign, let me share with you how you too can make an attempt at the PPIHC

First you need a solid team. Once you build a solid team to back your effort, you must make sure your race car is as prepared for the elements as possible. This will include having a good set of rain tires, ways to manage any weather, tuning that can handle the elevation, and ultimately, reliability. Ideally, you want a soft, long travel suspension that can handle the high speed bumps in the upper section, as well as the uneven pavement in the middle section and rapid camber changes in the lower section. Predictable handling is more important than ultimate, on-the-edge grip. You want to know what the car will do over the bumps, as well as through the off-camber turns that might just have ice or water across most of the surface. Soft compound tires, low temperature brake pads, anti-freeze, custom valved shocks; all of this will go a long way in making your stints up the mountain predictable and fast. One thing to remember, the air is very thin on the mountain, so cooling and aero will work much less efficiently than it will at your usual road course.

Trust me, this mountain will throw everything at you, so having simple worries about the car will detract from your focus behind the wheel. Having each crew member know their role, know what they can do to support the car, and know this is entirely a team event, is the most crucial part of a successful event.


With the car and the crew prepared, now you must prepare yourself. If you have a racing simulator (or know a friend with one), I found it to be an incredible tool to start to learn and predict the hill climb course. With what we learned, the sim is good enough for you to get a pattern to remember, but the accuracy to the actual course is a bit lacking. Patrick, my crew chief, and I put several hundred laps on the sim before our first practice day. On tourist days, some of us would jump in a street car and just drive up the mountain, at the speed limit, and start to compare our knowledge we gained from the sim and transition it to the actual course. You should start to see reference points, find the big cracks and dips in the road, as well as notice all of the camber in the lower section that the sim just does not have. Before your first practice run in your race car, you should be able to run through at least 80% of the course, start to finish, in your head. The last thing you want when you are going fast is to be surprised where you are on course!

Social Media & promotion
The PPIHC week is truly an international event. Racers that run this event must make money to cover the costs of the current and future events while attracting as many spectators and sponsors as possible to keep this event going. Balancing this, of course, with preparing your team and your car to commit to this new level of visibility; making your car exciting to look at, exciting to listen to, and worthy of the time the spectators put in to see you on the course. Team swag and social media presence really goes a long way to help promote this event and generating interest in your team and your car. Be prepared for interviews, social media posts, and promotional events during the week. The more you can promote yourself, your team, your car, and the event, the stronger your presence will be felt by the PPIHC crew.


One thing I found to be a source of motivation and inspiration for running Pikes Peak was the incredible PPIHC community. From the veteran drivers, veteran crew, and your assigned mentor for the event (all rookies are assigned an experienced mentor by the race organization), the amount of mountain knowledge you can gain is incredible. I had the privilege to know many veteran drivers before I even signed up. We were able to continue to grow our existing network into an ever expanding group of veterans, getting each driver’s different perspective of the event. The racing community has always been an open and welcoming community, but the PPIHC community goes above and beyond for rookies. Reach out, ask questions, absorb all the information you can from the folks that know the mountain better than even the park rangers. The road changes almost everyday and the help you can get from PPIHC veterans can help you react to these changes faster and with more forethought. Also, keep in mind, Colorado Springs lives and breathes PPIHC every year. You will be blown away with the amount of support you will get from the city as a team member or a driver. 


Rookie mistakes, we all make them, and sometimes they are televised for all to see. Some simple rookie mistakes you can avoid should seem obvious but many can sneak up on you before you realize it. 

Mistake #1 for most rookies would be setting your goals any further past just seeing the checkered flag on Sunday. Going fast up the mountain is great, but if you cannot make it all the way to 14,115ft on Sunday, it will feel like a very expensive practice week at best. 

Mistake #2 is not overbuilding your car. Keep it simple and reliable. Keep your race car under-stressed and overbuilt. Avoid over-complicating your build, that can come after you are a veteran and have a bit more to lose in terms of your time. 

Mistake #3, as stated earlier in this article, is being underprepared as a driver. Do not take the mountain for granted, it truly is a dangerous road. Learning the course to the point you can drive from the start line to the top entirely through memory is crucial. 

I can list numerous other rookie mistakes, but my final one will hit home a little. My biggest mistake as a rookie in the 2021 PPIHC was assuming nothing could go wrong. I came away from that event with a new nickname from my friends, and it is a bit endearing at this point. “Driveshaft.” I learned many lessons of my own and know what we are capable of as a team for our next journey uphill. I have never had as much fun behind the wheel as I had during my time on the mountain. With our preparation of the car, our time spent learning the mountain, and our focus during the entire event, barring the driveshaft failure, we would have had a spectacular rookie time on that Sunday. 

Being mentally prepared will take a lot of fear out of your mind, but always remember to respect the mountain at all times. The mountain decides, but you can decide how difficult it is when behind the wheel. After my very first practice run, my confidence was very high and the more runs I made, the more comfortable I was behind the wheel.

You will not regret the time and money you will need to put into the Pikes Peak hill climb. You will gain many friends, experience the full spectrum of emotions behind the wheel and with your team, and ultimately have one of the most incredible experiences of your life. 

Adam “Driveshaft” Smith

@G60CAB on Instagram (reach out to me anytime)