Westside racer prepares for fully paved Hill Climb
You'd think after 20 years driving in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, Westside race car driver Davey Schmidt had seen it all.
But he could be found recently in his rented garage on Busch Avenue, retooling his customized 2008 Mustang for the Open Wheel Division in the race Sunday, Aug. 12, which will feature an all-asphalt track for the first time.
Mechanically, the main work involves the suspension. “We're spending a lot of time on the settings, getting it tightened up for the course,” Schmidt said, referring to himself and “my chief,” his older brother John, who helps him work on the car.
Other than meeting safety standards and “resembling the vehicles they claim to be,” Open Wheel rigs have few major restrictions, he explained. The types can range from trucks to propane-powered cars.
But it's not just the car that's having to change for this year's road surface. After recent years in which the course was partially asphalt and partially dirt, “I'm relearning how to drive,” Schmidt said. “The acceleration and braking points have changed.”
One likelihood is a faster race. The car's top end is “in the 100s,” but his wife Linda, who will be with him on the course, predicted faster times for him as well as the other divisions because of the smoother course. “It's a new thing for everyone,” she said.
The Pikes Peak Hill Climb website notes that Open Wheel cars “have competed in every Pikes Peak International Hill Climb since the first race in 1916. This is a very fast division. Open Wheel Record: Robby Unser (1994), 10:05.85.”
Schmidt has never yet won the Open Wheel, but he finished second in 2007 - to multiple winner Leonard Vasholtz, whom he describes as “a helluva guy.” He is also proud of finishing all but 3 of his 20 years. One of those checkered-flag misses resulted from the failure of “a 50-cent part,” he said, ruefully.
Growing up in the area of Fillmore and Chestnut streets, Schmidt has been racing “almost since I was born,” he said. His late father, Dave Sr., was a mechanic on the side, and his son followed suit.
The younger Schmidt's years as a professional driver started in 1989. In addition to the Hill Climb, he drove regularly in the annual Colorado Hill Climb race series until 2005.
He's rented his current garage space on Busch for the past nine years after several years before that in a location near the dog track.
Racing is not cheap, and even though Schmidt has some sponsors, he receives nowhere near the $1 million level that at least one of the top racers commands. His own support amount? “Knock the zeroes off,” he laughed.
Nonetheless, he has found ways to use racing to help his favorite charity, the Susan G. Komen Foundation. He and Linda have known women who've dealt with breast cancer, and “a bucket [for donations] sits out wherever we're at,” she said. One year, Schmidt even donated his Mustang hood to help with a Komen fundraiser.
Always keeping his day job, Schmidt worked for many years as a glazier. This followed the footsteps of his father, who was with City Glass for 47 years. More recently, Davey has been employed as an inspector on contracted projects at Fort Carson.
But a full day at work doesn't deter him from twisting wrenches on the Mustang after he gets home - although such can mean some very late nights, especially during the PPHC practice period leading up to race day. “This is our relaxation,” Schmidt grinned.
Westside Pioneer articleEditor’s note: The above article was written in late June, before the Waldo Canyon Fire forced the Pikes Peak Hill Climb to be postponed from July 8 to Aug. 12. Schmidt reported this week that the car is now “ready to go” and it appeared in the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Parade July 10 in conjunction with the Komen Foundation.