Rock racers join fun in Lands End Hill Climb
By ALLEN GEMAEHLICH
Rolling down an embankment on her first ride hasn’t kept Kellen Chiddix from climbing back in a dune buggy.
Chiddix loves riding shotgun in her husband’s rock racer.
“I keep telling him, ‘Go!’ ” said Chiddix, a native of Brazil. “The first time I jumped in the car with him, he flipped over the car and I said, ‘Wow, that’s fun!’ ”
“Yeah, we rolled over backwards down a 30-foot embankment,” Shane Chiddix said.
“You can flip the car and don’t get hurt,” Kellen said.
“What did you say when we got to the top?” Shane asked Kellen about Saturday’s first run up Lands End Road in the rock racer classification of the Lands End Hill Climb.
“(When) you couldn’t get the smile off your face?”
“Remember, I had some rocks and dirt here, in my smile,” Kellen said, laughing.
“Even though we did get it up on two tires,” Shane said, recalling the bumpy ride up Grand Mesa. “Yeah, we were playing bicycle around one of the corners. I came around it too hot, all of a sudden it came up on two tires on my side.”
“I just grabbed the seat and said, ‘don’t roll over please,’ ” Kellen said.
Chiddix and his wife, from Colorado Springs, are among 20 rock racers competing in the Lands End Hill Climb this weekend on Grand Mesa, many of them for the first time.
Instead of racing on hard-pan dirt roads, as is the case in the Lands End Hill Climb, rock racers usually compete on courses that combine the elements of Baja racing, motocross and rock crawling, which entails the high-clearance vehicles driving over large rocks and boulders.
“This road is phenomenal,” Shane Chiddix said. “You get to go fast and don’t get a ticket for it.”
The Lands End Hill Climb concludes with the finals at 9 this morning.
The rock racers are competing in the Colorado Hill Climb Association races for the first time as a class this year.
J.T. Taylor and Jack Childress were invited by Lands End Hill Climb Director Valerie Douglas to drive their vehicles on the course last year.
“Val called me one day and suggested I do the hill climb,” Taylor said. “I thought, ‘With what?’ I started doing some research and decided to give it a try.
“I had a custom-built, full-tube rock buggy built from scratch. It has a 525-horsepower motor with 29½-inch Goodyear Peak Specials, made for hill climbs. Normally, we run 40-inch Goodyears for rock racing.
“I did another hill climb last year in Victor and did well. At the end-of-the-year hill climb meeting, we were presented our own class.”
Taylor posted the fastest time Saturday, 5 minutes, 36.81 seconds.
Douglas is thrilled by the addition of rock racers.
“The Hill Climb Association has been around so long, but it’s dwindled in numbers,” she said. “The rock racers are always looking for something else to do.
“It’s basically (competition) trucks without a body. I told them, ‘Why don’t you indulge me on my crazy idea and do it?’ ’’
They took her up on the invitation, and from two rock racers last year, the entries expanded to nearly two dozen.
“J.T. and Jack came out last year and had an absolute blast even though they ran against Leonard Vahsholtz (who has won 98 hill climb races),” Douglas said. “Leonard looked at them and was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ By the end of the weekend, it was, ‘Wow, they can pull in a good time and keep up with the rest of us.’ It’s been quite a transformation.”
The rock racers were so intrigued, there were close to 100 applicants for the Lands End Hill Climb, but the event was limited to 25 participants.
Part of the interest in Lands End is because the event is a qualifier for the rock racers’ big event, the 90-mile King of the Hammers off-road race. The top five placers in the Lands End Hill Climb qualify for the KOH in February 2010.
“I got a call from Jeff Knoll and Dave Cole, who formed the King of the Hammers,” Douglas said. “They wanted to make a qualifier someplace out West, but didn’t want to make it a rock race. I said, ‘let’s do a hill climb.’
“Originally they wanted to do Pikes Peak, but (race directors) wanted nothing to do with them. That’s pretty much what happened.”
Another husband-wife team is racing its first hill climb, but Cottin Rodd of Cortez drives and her husband, Randy, sits in the passenger’s seat.
“It was his idea in 2004, I think,” she said. “This was my first hill climb ever, it was a little scary. We got up to 70 (mph).”
Rodd, though, has always been into racing. She grew up racing BMX bikes and skateboarding.
“I was supposed to be a boy, I think,” Rodd said. “That’s what my dad said, so I got treated that way. My dad was disappointed.”
Her husband wanted racing to become a family sport. Their three children are in a BMX race this weekend in Cortez.
“By making her the driver, it’s more for us,” Randy Rodd said. “That was five years ago.
All we do now is race. I built the vehicle and she drives it, that makes it an equal team.
“We do anything. We went to Florida and got in airboats. It took us about two hours and some hundred-dollar bills to convince (the airboat pilot) to let her and me drive, and we were racing. We race home from work and from the grocery store.”
Drivers in the other CHCA classes from stock cars to quads and open wheels have welcomed the rock racers.
“We’re glad to have them here, supporting our club,” Grand Junction sportsman driver Larry Thompson said. “They all have high clearance, if they get in the ditch, they can pull themselves out. They’re all good guys, we’re glad to have them here.”