Road conditions keeping Dallenbach’s record safe
In 1994, Basalt resident Paul Dallenbach broke the record for the fastest time at the Lands End Hill Climb on Grand Mesa. That record still stands and likely won’t be broken this year, he said, because of road conditions.
But for the first year since breaking the record, Dallenbach, now 45, isn’t racing in the Lands End Hill Climb. He is lucky to be alive after the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, where he careened off a turn at 130 mph, buzzed down five trees and severely lacerated his right hand. Dallenbach was unconscious when they recovered the vehicle, which was totaled.
But for his second year, Dallenbach’s 20 year-old nephew, Wyatt Dallenbach, is making the nearly 5 1/2-mile climb in the Super Sprint division, a classification for open-wheeled cars.
Wyatt, young compared to other racers, has racing in his blood. Wyatt, also of Basalt, is the son of Wally Dallenbach Jr., a former NASCAR driver turned TV commentator, and grandson of Wally Dallenbach Sr., a five-time winner on the Indy Car circuit.
Paul, serving as Wyatt’s “driving mentor,” has seen a lot of updates to cars in the past 18 years, and he said his nephew is “very talented,” but breaking the Lands End record will take more than technology and talent. It will require car control, the willingness to push the car and the ability to learn the road quickly, Paul said.
Drivers at the Lands End Hill Climb, regardless of classification, head into their first run blind. Drivers have to rely on what they remember from previous years, which, depending on road conditions, can change dramatically from year to year.
“When you come here once a year, reading terrain is big,” Paul said. “It’s something I was very good at. Not necessarily looking at the roads and seeing that the canyons are turning left, so the road must be turning left. He’s picking that skill up pretty fast, and he’s knocking off time each run.”
During the Saturday preliminary runs, drivers compete for the lowest time to determine who goes last during the finals. In perfect conditions the last racer will have the firmest surface, with the least gravel to drive on. Track officials place a chloride solution on the track to keep dust down, and if rain falls any time during the race, it can wash the solution off.
If temperatures are too high, it can be hard for cars to maintain grip. Drivers want the course to be “tacky” enough to maintain grip, while keeping the dust down. Since his record-breaking year, The fastest time at this year’s event is more than 30 seconds off the record.
But what has really helped racers is the ability to actively track and rewatch races. The Dallenbachs mount GoPro cameras on each of their cars, sometimes pointing up the track to analyze speed and turns, and sometimes pointing back at the car to analyze how the car is performing.
“It’s a great tool because we can download the footage straight to the computer and watch it,” Paul said. “You think you’re going fast, but you go back and watch the tape and realize you really let off the gas.
“A lot of times the driver forgets, and after you sit up there for awhile and have to drive down, the crew chief will ask, ‘So, what was the car doing?’
“If it was understeering, or the car was loose or the engine was missing, a kid like Wyatt will say that he doesn’t remember. This gives us the power of feedback. It lets us look at the gears, engine, shocks. It allows him to look at the road.”
Wyatt will compete in the Super Sprint car finals today, beginning at 10 a.m. on Grand Mesa, off Land’s End road. Land’s End is reachable by Kannah Creek Road via U.S. Highway 50 south of Grand Junction.
“This weekend the road’s pretty loose, and I don’t have a lot of experience,” Wyatt said. “I’m treating each run as an opportunity to learn, and we will see where it goes from there.”