First Quadriplegic Driver Will Compete in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb

Colorado Springs, February 24, 2009----Pikes Peak International Hill Climb veterans Steve Bennett of Sedalia, Colorado, and Travis Tollett of Walters, Oklahoma, will team up to compete in the 2009 Race To The Clouds.......and make history together.

That's because Tollett will become the first quadriplegic competitor in the event's long and storied history.

Bennett and co-driver Tollett will be charging up the mountain in the Pikes Peak Open Division in a Mazda RX-7 TurboII, built by Don Walker of Horsepower Research and Development LLC of Commerce City, Colorado.

The Mazda RX-7, utilizing state of the art safety equipment, will be outfitted to handle Tollett's specific and unique needs. The Oklahoman was badly injured in a race accident on July 1, 2007, during the Gold Camp Hill Climb in Victor, Colorado.

Tollett went off the road at one of the worst spots on the course at an estimated speed of 80-90 mph and suffered broken C6-C7 spinal vertebrae in the tragic mishap, leaving him with a spinal cord injury that could have ended his racing career and left him in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. But he's having none of it, and views his situation in a much different way.

"From the day they told me I'd never walk again or ride again I knew I could prove everyone wrong. From day one I've kept the best attitude about this that is humanly possible and continue to do that each day. I still believe I can come back from this and be better than ever as long as I believe in myself."

Tollett is going to meet his challenge face-to-face on July 19 on mountain that he loves. "The chance to be a part of this race again is just awesome and I will make it to the top!"

Bennett has competed in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb since 2004 and was seventh last year in the Open Wheel Division in his 1996 Wells Coyote. Tollett has competed in the event before, but only in Quads. So the pair will be experiencing something very different in the RX-7.

"This will be a totally new experience for me, tackling the Peak in a car with a windshield and fenders,' says Bennett. "The Mazda RX-7 really is a different car than the Coyote, it's low, and wide, lightweight with good power from the turbocharged engine, and I plan on getting everything I can out of it."

The Mazda RX-7 TurboII Bennett will be piloting has been completely rebuilt and modified specifically for racing. Built and owned by Horsepower Research and Development's Walker, it was originally intended to compete in road race and drift events.

Powered by a turbocharged Mazda 13BT rotary engine and featuring composite bodywork to cover wide wheels and tires, the car is lightweight and agile. "The Mazda RX-7 is a great platform for a hill climb car" Walker says," The rotary motor in this configuration is powerful and reliable, it handles well and should give Steve and Travis what they need for a successful and historical run up the mountain."

The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is America's second-oldest motor sports race behind the Indianapolis 500, conducted since 1916. The race is run on a 12.42 mile course that begins at 9,390 feet and finishes at the 14,110-foot summit of America's Mountain.

This year's race has 11 classes and features a variety of automotive, semi truck, exhibition, open wheel, super stock car, pro truck and motorcycle classes with a field approaching 200 competitors.

The event's popular "Fan Fest," which will attract some 35,000 fans and participants, is set for the evening of Friday, July 17, in downtown Colorado Springs. The crowds will be able to see some of the autos, trucks and motorcycles up close, meet the drivers, and enjoy music, food and entertainment.

The event is part of a 2009 "Summer of Sports Sizzle" in Colorado Springs, which will also host the 2009 State Games of America (July 30-August 2), with some 10,000 amateur athletes of all ages and skill levels from 47 states coming to the city to compete in 31 sports.

TCI® Tire Centers, LLC and Hankook Tire America have been selected as title sponsors of the 2009 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

It's the third consecutive year that the companies have teamed up to be the major sponsor of the famed race.

-credit: ppihc