Whitneys Maneuver for Peak Performance


Pete and Scott Whitney have been to the mountain top.

Not the one that shares their surname and stands as California's highest crest. The brothers are reigning kings of another hill: Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs, Colo.

It's been an uphill battle--in more ways than one.

Pete, 40, who lives in Simi Valley, and Scott, 38, who lives in Redondo Beach, will defend their title today in the Sidecar Motorcycle Division in the 77th "Race to the Clouds," the annual Fourth of July Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

About 150 competitors driving an assortment of automobiles, trucks and motorcycles will navigate a 12.42-mile narrow gravel road with 156 turns while ascending from 9,000 feet to 14,110 feet at speeds exceeding 120 mph.

Pete drives the duo's Harley Davidson 1200cc sportster. Scott is chief mechanic and performs the unsung but important role of passenger.

Scott bristles at suggestions by those unfamiliar with the sport that he simply is along for the ride. The role carries a label too often used to refer to passengers in sidecar motorcycle racing: Monkey.

"I'm the passenger," Scott said. "Don't let anyone call it something else."

Constant bumps and tight turns come with the territory in sidecar motorcycle racing, requiring driver and passenger to constantly shift their weight for stability and additional speed. The passenger is anything but baggage.

"The word 'sit' doesn't even come into play," Scott said. "You're constantly moving your weight back and forth, from side to side. Sometimes, I'm dragging my body on the ground. It's very physically demanding."

Said Pete: "The chemistry between the two is very important. Scott and I have ridden together for so many years we know what we're both thinking. Some teams mesh pretty well. But I don't think any other competitor has that bond the way we do."

Sidecar motorcycles were among the first vehicles to ascend Pikes Peak. In 1915, Jerry Unser, father of Indy racers Al and Bobby Unser, and his brother, Louis, were the first to reach the top in a sidecar motorcycle.

The vehicles were included in the inaugural Pikes Peak race in 1916, but the class was discontinued after only one year. Sidecar motorcycles did not return to the event until 1996.

"Sidecars were a difficult thing to race, originally, because they were much slower," said Stanley L. DeGeer, author of three books on the Pikes Peak race. "Now that they have the power to get up the hill, they've come back. And the monkeys have gotten so much better."

Horsepower and automotive ingenuity, more than riding skills, have played prominent roles in the Whitneys' success. After years of competing in sidecar motorcycle races, they entered the Pikes Peak race for the first time in 1997. They qualified fourth and finished a distant second in the race.

Determined to aim for the top the following year, Scott studied race regulations and capitalized on rules permitting turbos, nitrous oxide and other performance enhancements. Months of work on the chassis to hone suspension resulted in a superior machine.

"Our strategy was simple," Scott said. "We planned to dominate practice, dominate qualifying and dominate the race."

Multiple missions accomplished. Distancing themselves from the competition in the early stages, the Whitneys won a race that was not much of a contest.

After finishing 46 seconds behind the winner in 1997, they won by more than a minute. Their time of 14:34 shattered the record for sidecar motorcycles. It was the only course record broken in the motorcycle class.

The Whitneys raced so fast they passed two solo bikes from the vintage motorcycle class that started two minutes ahead of them. Victory was so overwhelming, competitors questioned their rapid rise.

"They called us cheaters and plenty of other names," Scott said.

The brothers were even booed during the awards presentation.

"I heard some jeers and that bothered me," Pete said. "I didn't enjoy the fact that other people thought negatively of what we had accomplished. . . . I think we just raised the bar a little. Now, it's up to them."

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