Gary Lee Kanawyer Returns to Pikes Peak

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Gary Lee Kanawyer missed the Adelphia Pikes Peak International Hill Climb last year after dominating the race for most of the 1990s because he was building a new home in Scotts Valley Calif. During Thursday's first...

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Gary Lee Kanawyer missed the Adelphia Pikes Peak International Hill Climb last year after dominating the race for most of the 1990s because he was building a new home in Scotts Valley Calif. During Thursday's first practice session for the 2000 edition of the Race to the Clouds, Kanawyer proved he hasn't missed a beat.

Practicing on the lower one-third of the 12.42-mile course that winds its way through 156 turns and has an elevation gain of 4,708 feet, Kanawyer, a five-time open-wheel classification champion, posted notice that he's back to reclaim past glory.

Horsing his Chevy-powered No. 84 Wells Coyote across the gravel, he not only posted the three quickest open-wheel times of the morning, he even made drivers outside his classification pay attention.

On the first run after sunrise, Kanawyer clocked 3:32.34 while overall record holder Rod Millen, who runs a four-wheel drive Toyota Tacoma in the Unlimited division, was timed in 3:34.16. Millen came back on his second run to go 3:31.24 while Kanawyer marked 3:33.42. Millen’s best time of the day was 3:25.2 to Kanawyer’s best of 3:30.78.

And while Kanawyer knows Millen is the odds-on favorite to take the overall title in the 78th running of the Race to the Clouds on July 4, he does want folks to know he's around.

"We'll just have to see what happens,'' said Kanawyer, whose real goal is the open-wheel race record of 10:05.85 set by Robby Unser in 1994. "I know there is a lot of talk about Rod breaking the 10-minute barrier (Millen holds the all-time record with a ti me of 10:04.06 set in 1994), but we're not going to sit there idling and watch him."And this year, we're starting with a little more than we had the last time.''

While Kanawyer didn't race Pikes Peak last year, his car was not hidden under a tarp.

"We'll turn about 800 horsepower,'' he said. "All the guys on the crew did their homework, and they found some more horses.''

Sitting this one out: Defending open wheel champion Stan Kossen isn't racing this year, but he was a very interested spectator Thursday morning.

"I'm taking the whole year off from racing,'' Kossen said. "I still have my car, but it takes about $20,000 a year to run the whole season correctly, and that's if you don't break anything. I just couldn't see my way clear to spend that kind of money this year. It's not like I'm retiring from racing, and I imagine somewhere down the line I'll be back.''

A quick trip: Jay Stewart had the first mishap of the morning on the lower section, putting his car wrong-side up after catching a front wheel in the ditch.

"It was about a ½ mile from the starting line, but it felt like I had only gone a block,'' said Stewart, who pilots an open-wheel Newman-Dregger sprinter. "Normally, I'll have a front wheel in the ditch on most of the corners, but the way the ditches are g roomed this year, it just pulled me in and the next thing I knew I was going backwards.''

There was some body and structural damage, but nothing that can't be fixed and Stewart plans on making Friday's second day of practice.

"We've got the stuff at the shop to fix it,'' he said. "In fact, if we had it with us, we could have fixed it up here and we might have gotten one more run.''

The joys of racing: Pikes Peak rookie Don Sanborn was excited about getting his first trip up the mountain. That excitement quickly came to an end with mechanical problems of the worst kind.

"We broke a rocker arm stud,'' Sanborn said. "It was one of those freaky things where a $1.98 part disabled an entire race car.''

Off to the hospital: Mike Burnell, who was fifth in the sprint cars last year, got the first ambulance ride of the year when he put his upright sprinter off the road at Engineer's Corner. Burnell complained of pain in his lower back and was taken to Penrose Hospital to be checked.

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Series Hillclimb
Drivers Robby Unser , Rod Millen