Gay Smith back in Stock Car hunt at Pikes Peak

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – After 27 years racing in the Adelphia Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Gay Smith of Colorado Springs, doesn’t care to look into the future. He is a perennial favorite to win the race, but he has never stood atop...

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – After 27 years racing in the Adelphia Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Gay Smith of Colorado Springs, doesn’t care to look into the future. He is a perennial favorite to win the race, but he has never stood atop Pikes Peak as the Super Stock Car champion.

Instead, he has settled for second five times. A similar pattern began to develop in the second practice session Friday morning on the top part (Devil ’s Playground to the Summit) of the mountain. Smith, driving the No. 20 ’93 Ford Mustang, posted the fastest practice time in arguably the most competitive group to race on Pikes Peak in years. Of course, he’s been there before. It’s nice to run fast in practice but the test will come on July 4 in the 78th running of the Race to the Clouds.

"There are some tough guys in this class and today was the toughest yet," Smith said. "It feels good to be the fastest in practice, but it doesn’t pay much."

Smith clocked a time of 3 minutes, 15.08 seconds on the 3-mile practice course. The posse was close behind him. Clint Vahsholtz of Woodland Park, Colo., in the No. 18 ’99 Ford Mustang, posted a time of 3:16.6 and Steve Overholser of Colorado Springs (No. 28 2000 Chevy Camaro) was third-quick with a 3:19.02. Three other drivers were under 3:24.

Smith and Vahsholtz took their time in laying down their top times. Their best efforts came on their final runs. A bright sun shined in their eyes during the early runs and kept the times slow. The drivers also experimented with different tires, finally settling on a Goodyear brand named the "Pikes Peak Special."

Bobby Regester (No. 25 2000 Chevy Camaro), who was the best of the group in Thursday’s opening practice on the middle section, managed a 3:26.07 before suspension problems sent him to the shop.

"It’s no big deal," said Regester, who holds the Super Stock Car record (11:39.17, 1994). "We’ll just get it corrected and come back tomorrow. The car is super fast. It’s a racket."

Leonard’s luck runs out: Leonard Vahsholtz of Woodland Park blew the engine in his No. 81 Sprint car on his first practice run. Vahsholtz is one of the most talented drivers on the mountain. He has won 11 times, including seven Super Stock Car championships.

Ragland getting faster: Larry Ragland blistered the top section with a run of 3:07.07 in his No. 44 GMC Envoy 2000. He says if he could be braver, he could go faster.

"I’m not fearless," Ragland said. "I can’t make myself go too much faster. There are three big left sweepers (corners) where I know I can do more, but I chicken out every time."

Ragland has handled those corners before. He holds the Super Stock Truck record (11:24.36) and he won the class in ’98 and ’99. He is way ahead of the competition in the High-Tech Truck and SUV class.

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Series Hillclimb
Drivers Clint Vahsholtz , Larry Ragland