Pikes Peak Saturday update

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - While 21 other drivers scrambled to get in a fifth run on Saturday's final day of practice for the Adelphia Pikes Peak International Hill Climb,Larry Ragland watched calmly as his No. 44 2000 GMC Envoy was loaded on a...

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - While 21 other drivers scrambled to get in a fifth run on Saturday's final day of practice for the Adelphia Pikes Peak International Hill Climb,Larry Ragland watched calmly as his No. 44 2000 GMC Envoy was loaded on a car hauler for a trip down the mountain.

Skipping his last chance to practice before Sunday's qualification, Ragland stuck with the basic philosophy of racing. If it's not broken, don't fix it.

"We just didn't have a lot to change,'' said Ragland, the defending champion and record holder in the Super Stock Truck classification. "I just love this racecourse, and it's more predictable this year than it was last year."Even the driver is getting better. If I learned anything this year in practice, it's knowing when to slow down.''

This year the trucks have been divided into two divisions, Super Stock Trucks and High-Tech Truck/SUV, the latter of which Ragland will race in.

Looking at Saturday's practice times, Ragland didn't slow down very much. He clocked three minutes, 48.03 seconds on his first run across the lower one-third of the 12.42-mile course just moments after the sun peeked over the horizon. He was 3:33.11 on his second, 3:31.08 on his third and a blistering 3:25.81 on his last before calling it an early day.

To put those times in perspective, Ragland was running in the same practice group with the Stock Cars, Luxury Cars, ASA Series Cars and one lone open wheeler. He had the three fastest times of the morning.

Where's Leonard?: Leonard Vahsholtz, who has won Pikes Peak titles in everything from stocks to last year's Mad Maxmobile race-wining sprinter, was absent from the final practice session. During Friday's practice on the top one-third of the mountain,Vahsholtz scattered the engine in his brand-new sprinter and he couldn't get it back together in time for Saturday's practice.

"He just didn't have enough of the right parts for the new engine,'' said Leonard's son Clint, the defending Super Stock Car champion who did practice Saturday. "He found them Friday afternoon, but he couldn't get them to town and in the car in time to get here this morning. "But you know Leonard, he'll be here for qualifying.''

Tighten it up: Speaking of Clint Vahsholtz, he knows there is no lock on him winning his fifth straight stock car title. During the five practice runs, Vahsholtz twice had the fastest time. Bobby Regester, the stock car winner in 1994 and 1995 and the open wheel champ in 1985, was also fastest twice. Gay Smith, the 27-year veteran who has yet to claim a title was quickest once.

"Today is decision day,'' Clint said after spending the majority of his practice changing tires, looking for the perfect set. "The decisions we make today will be the ones that we have to live with during qualification.''

He can run, but he can't hide: When the times for the second runs were posted for the stock cars, a 3:49.58 went up next to Steve Goeglein's name. It was the second-fastest run of the session, finishing just behind Bobby Regester's 3:44.46. "That's got to be a timing mistake,'' Goeglein said. "I can't go that fast.''

Turns out that his disclaimer was nothing but a smokescreen when he turned the third run in 3:48.90 and the fourth in 3:43.04. "We'll be right there with them,'' he said. "The car is working good and more importantly, I'm feeling good.'' He was the Pikes Peak rookie of the year in 1991 and has a "bunch of fifth-place finishes. "When you are running against Leonard, Clint, Bobby and Gay like I did all those years, fifth place isn't that bad.''

Getting comfortable: Chandler Bruning will be driving his late father's car in this year's event. Ralph Bruning, a legend in hill climbing, died earlier this year after a long fight with terminal cancer. Ralph wanted to run the car last year, but made a last-minute decision to pull out of the race.

"It isn't as scary to drive now as it was a couple of days ago,'' Bruning said. "I think maybe I'm learning to handle it. It just has so much more power than anything I've ever driven.'' During his five practice runs Saturday, Bruning improved from 4:23.55 on his first run to 3:47.84 on his fifth.

Up until Saturday's final day of practice in the Adelphia Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, things had gone fairly well. But Pikes Peak always has some surprises.

Pikes Peak Open drivers Kahee Namikawa and Ohashi Masaki, Big Rig driver Shane Chapman and Exhibition Quad rider Kevin Gigot learned that lesson the hard way with crashes on arguably the toughest stretch of the 12.42-mile course. Namikawa, Masaki and Gigot were all transported by ambulance to Penrose Hospital where they were treated and released. None of them had serious injuries. Chapman was not harmed.

Early in the morning, while making his first run from the old Ski Area to Devil's Playground, Namikawa (No. 8 Subaru) slid off the road near Elk Park. His car rolled about 75 feet down the north flank of Pikes Peak, where it was stopped by a boulder. Had he rolled a couple of more times, his car would have plummeted several hundred more feet.

Then came Chapman in his thunderous No. 60 Sterling A113 Class 8 Diesel truck. The New Zealander found some loose gravel on the first right-hand turn above Glenn Cove and crunched his truck into a low rock wall and up an embankment.

Despite suffering extensive front-end damage, his crew believes the Big Rig bruiser can be fixed in time for the race, -- but it will have to pass tech inspection. Chapman does not have to run in Sunday's qualification in order to race on Tuesday. Chapman said he was traveling about 83 mph when the front end slid out from under him.

Soon after Chapman's wreck, Masaki (No. 27 Mitsubishi) lost control at the same place and slid into Chapman's truck. Gigot, riding a super-fast Exhibition Quad, lost control then hit Masaki's car and sailed over it and the back of Chapman's truck.

Choiniere charging: Paul Choiniere, the 1997 Pikes Peak Open champion from Shelburne, Vt., was fastest in the middle section with a quick time of 4:10.62. He is driving the No. 12 Hyundai Tiburon. Nobuhiro Tajima (No. 3 Suzuki Esteem), who had the best time in two previous days of practice, posted a 4:12.1 on his first run, then had gear box problems and failed to finish his third run. Jean-Pierre Richelmi (No. 111 Lancia Delta Integrale) was third fastest with a 4:14.06.

MILLEN FAST ON TOP:Warm weather and abundant sunshine prevailed on the top section of Pikes Peak on Saturday. On the final day of practice before Sunday's qualifying for cars and trucks, drivers from the Super Stock Truck, Open Wheel, Sprint, and High Performance Showroom Stock divisions, tested on the top section of the 12.42-mile course, the 3.07-mile section running from Devil's Playground (12,870 feet above sea level) to the Summit (14,110 feet.)

Defending Unlimited division champ and overall record holder, Rod Millen in his No. 1 1999 Toyota Tacoma truck also practiced on the upper section. On his third run of the day, Millen blistered the course for an overall (unofficial) practice record on the upper section with a time of 2 minutes, 50.06 seconds on his third run of the day.

Early reports on course conditions on the top were that the road was dry and a little slippery, but as the practice rounds continued, a good racing groove developed and several drivers saw their times drop significantly.

Olson opens up in Open Wheel: Jimmy Olson was fastest on the top section Saturday. Olson, in only his second year in the Race to the Clouds, is a veteran of the Colorado Hill Climb Association. His best run was a 3:09.51. Between his first and third runs, Olson shaved over 41 seconds from his time. "I'm totally happy with the car," said Olson, of Denver.

John Johnson, of Reno, Nevada, was second-fastest with a time of 3:19.17 in his 1999 Greenwood/Hull. Open Wheel rookie Spencer Steele was third fastest in his '94 Wells Coyote with a time of 3:21.54. Steele is also an accomplished ice racer. Barry Isaac, was fourth fastest with a 3:22.49.

Five-time Open Wheel champion, Gary Lee Kanawyer, of Scott Valley, California, made a 3:23.23 run on his first attempt, but engine problems forced him to cut his practice day short.

Father and Son fastest in Super Stock Trucks: The son and father tandem of Chad and Richard DeVries were the fastest of the Super Stock Trucks. Son Chad had a fast run of 3:29.19. Richard, was next best with a time of 3:36.21. Both drive 1997 Ford Rangers.

"We're hoping for a one-two finish," Chad said. "(My dad) is a little quicker down below so I had to try to make some time up, up top."

Keeney hot after Wells in Sprints: Jimmy Keeney, in only his second year, posted a 3:33.30 in top-section practice. He was driving 1997 Kewe Sprint. John Wells, the inventor of the legendary Wells-Coyote drove his newest creation, a 2000 vintage Wells Coyote, to the best time of the day with a run of 3:27.61.

Don gets it done in Stock Car: In the warm sun at Devil's Playground Don Sanborn sat back in a collapsable chair and beamed the good news via cell phone to friends and family. His smile said it all.

"I made it up," said Sanborn, "Yesterday they were calling me half-way Don."

Sanborn didn't finish a practice run until Saturday's final day of practice.

"The first day I broke a rocker at the Picnic Grou

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Series Hillclimb
Drivers Paul Choiniere , Clint Vahsholtz , Rod Millen , John Johnson , Larry Ragland , Nobuhiro Tajima , Jimmy Keeney , Steve Goeglein , Spencer Steele