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Vahsholtz boys closing in on victory records in Falken Tire Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Something has got to give in the Falken Pikes Peak International Hill Climb family feud. For as many years as most ...

Vahsholtz boys closing in on victory records in Falken Tire Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Something has got to give in the Falken Pikes Peak International Hill Climb family feud. For as many years as most can remember, Pikes Peak has been - and rightfully so - nicknamed Unser Mountain.

A dozen members of the famed racing family have competed in the Race to the Clouds, and two - Bobby and Robby - share one of the race's most unique records. The father-son Unser duo has combined for 21 classification titles. But so has the father-son duo of Leonard and Clint Vahsholtz.

And while Robby is the only Unser present this year -- as the pace car driver - Leonard and Clint are on a roll as they enter the 80th edition of America's second-oldest automobile race on a roll.

Clint is seeking his seventh straight Stock Car title. Leonard, running in the Super Stock Truck and SUV classification this year, has 12 titles, leaving him second to only Bobby Unser on the all-time list.

Clint cares that he and his dad could eclipse the Bobby-Robby record. Leonard doesn't.

"I would rather see Clint win another one than worry about any record," Leonard said. "That would be a big enough highlight for me."

And when asked about his chance to tie Bobby on the all-time list, Leonard just shrugged. But Clint didn't have to be reminded that he and his father are on the verge of being by themselves in the record book.

"There probably will be some pressure on race day," Clint said. "But both of us just have a job to do. That's to win the race."

Team Vahsholtz was on the lower half of the course for Tuesday's first day of practice for Saturday's race and it gave them their first look at the new asphalt that has been put down for the first mile of the course.

"It's fast," Clint said. "You can get hunkered down in the grove pretty quickly, but you really can't change your setup for one mile."

Clint and Leonard both left the practice session early, declining to take their final run from the starting line to Glen Cove - the same distance they will face in Thursday's qualification.

Gay Smith and Bobby Regester - Clint's top competition in Stock Car - stayed around, making full use of the three-hour practice.

"It's going to be quicker," Regester said in reference to the first mile. "You don't have as much road to work with because they (race officials) have put down hay bales to keep us out of the ditch, but the road that is there is a lot quicker."

Smith was even less concerned about the asphalt.

"There is still 11 miles of dirt left," said Smith, who has more second-place finishes that anyone in the history of the race. "You can worry about the first quarter-mile."

Regester and Smith both gave Clint Vahsholtz a run last year - even being ahead of his pace while on the course -but Smith had a mechanical breakdown and Regester put his Camaro on its roof in Boulder Park.

"The last two years have been tough on us," Regester said. "Both times we were ahead of the pace that Clint had set and I couldn't get it to the top. I think we're due."

Big Rigs: Mike Ryan (No. 77, 1998 Freightliner) and Bruce Canepa (No. 1, 1999 Kenworth) were faster than the qualifying records for their classes over the bottom half of the course. Qualifying takes place from the starting line to Glen Cove -- the same as the practice course on Tuesday. Ryan eclipsed the qualifying record for single-axel Big Rigs with a fast time of 5:50.53. Canepa beat the qualifying record for double axels Big Rigs with a run of 6:08.64. If they can do the same during Thursday's qualifying run, they'll rewrite the Hill Climb's record books.

Exhibition: Randy Schranz clocked 5:26.01 in his propane-powered Cobra (No. 17), faster than the qualifying record.

Open-wheel - Tucked away in a wooded pit area below the massive pink granite bowl that is Glen Cove, Open wheel driver Jimmy Olson's pit crew was laughing and joking and feeling relaxed.

"There is a serious side and a fun side," said Jim Olson, senior, the team's owner and engine-builder. "All in all you can't take things too seriously because you lose what you're up here for, which is to have fun."

The laid-back attitude of Olson's Denver-based team was in no small part due to the fact that their 1993 EWJ 4-wheel-drive Wells Coyote was turning consistently fast times on the upper section from Cove Creek to the 14,110-foot summit in the first practice session.

Olson navigated the approximately six-mile section in 5 minutes, 57.12 seconds on his first try, 5:56.25 on his second try and 5:54.81 on his final run. His split times - gauging his speed on the (apporximate) two and a half-mile section up through Ragged Edge and the Ws to Devil's Playground -- were 2:45.10 and 2:43.01 respectively.

"We're just taking it easy," said Olson, which belies the message on front of his car reading, "Never Lift." As in your foot off the gas.

"We made a couple of changes," said Olson, who won Open Wheel in 2000, and came in second to overall winner Gary Lee Kanawyer - who isn't entered this year - in 2001. "We're looking good. I've just got to relax - that's all."

If Olson was nervous, it sure wasn't apparent, least of all to his father, who has been racing hill climbs, ice races and other series since 1965.

"This year is probably the best the car has ever been," said Olson senior. "I always told Jimmy to keep a cool head and he does. I always say to him, 'You must be going a hundred miles per hour on the inside, 'cause it doesn't show on the outside.' "

Another reason for Team Olson's easy attitude is that they are a small independent team, not dependent on satisfying manufacturers.

"We are so low budget," Olson, senior said. "We do everything ourselves. These guys on the other side (of the pits) have so much help and they can't get out of the pits."

But Olson wasn't the fastest in the Open Wheel Class. ON his final run of the day, David Donner, driving the 1996 Donner/Dyksta, clocked 5:46.62.

Jimmy Keeney of Colorado Springs drove his 1996 Greenwood-Hull to a 6:04.47 on his final run.

Unlimited - Per Eklund and his Saab 9-3 Viggen had problems. Eklund failed to finish a practice run on the top section. First an electrical problem, "some stupid thing," Eklund said, stopped him about a mile short of the summit. On his next run, a problem with a cam sensor threw the timing off, stopping him before he reached the first corner. Nevertheless, Eklund appeared fast on his first run, passing Devil's Playground in 2:52.24.

Fellow countryman Stig Blomqvist fared better. He drove his Ford RS 200E to Devil's Playground in 3:05.49, and made the summit in 6:41.62 on his first run and 6:24.46 on his second try.

But Blomqvist said they were taking it easy on the car's turbo charger running at one-third of full power, and taking a lesson from Rod Millen, who in 2000 hit Glen Cove on pace to break the 10-minute barrier, but shortly thereafter blew his turbo charger and did not finish.

Blomqvist's team will turn the turbo up a notch to two-thirds power when he practices on the lower half Wednesday.

"The car was not moving around hair-pins," Blomqvist said. "It was a bit boring, but it should be better now."

Champs Back: Long a standard of the hill climb, upright open-wheel champ cars have found a resurgence at Pikes Peak. For the past few years only Butch Hardman of Golden entered one, but this year seven cars are entered in the division. His son Brian Hardman, however, set the pace with a best run of 6:20.62.

High Performance Showroom Stock: Jeff Zwart of Woody Creek, Colorado debuted his two-wheel drive 2002 Porsche in the High Performance Showroom Stock division with a respectable 7:28.94. Masayuki Akaba in a 1997 Lancer Evolution 4 was best with a 6:58.07 run.

Pikes Peak Open: Hill climb veteran Koichi Horiuchi turned in a 6:35.47 in a 2001 Mitsubishi, FTO, while Blake Fuller of Sarasota, Fla., coaxed his 1995 Honda to a best-time of 7:20.77.

-ppih-

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Series HILLCLIMB