A ROOKIE YEAR TO REMEMBER
Colorado Springs, CO – The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, brought to you by Gran Turismo, brings together a host of elite drivers, each with a story to tell. Meet Kendall Samuel and Mary Barker owners of Mechanical Advantage Racing in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. However, their story begins a bit further west.
A Colorado native, Samuel attended the Colorado School of Mines earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering where a class visit from veteran PPIHC racer, Dan Novembre and a racecar wing design project, set Samuel on the winding road to Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain. “I began racing cars at High Plains Raceway in college in SCCA events,” stated Samuel, “and I always wanted to do Pikes Peak.”
With his first taste of racing action as a spectator from Devils Playground in 2014, Samuel was hooked, recalling, “One of the racers, I believe it was Mark Rennison, unfortunately broke the gearbox in his white Ford RS200 and had to park in our spectator area. I talked to him for a while explaining that I wanted to do this as well. He pushed me to work hard and pursue it…and here we are.”
Samuel’s racing highlights include 3rd overall in the 2018 Gridlife season Unlimited Class; 4th overall in the 2023 Gridlife season Track Modified Class; and an impressive 1st in the 2021 SCCA Time Trials Unlimited Class CMP, to name a few. His work experience at Honda of America, and in turbo charger development for BorgWarner Turbo Systems, when he relocated to North Carolina, enhanced his automotive knowledge allowing him to partner his passion for racing with his expertise in engineering. He spent 10 years developing and testing prototype systems for his Subaru Impreza to find the optimal combination.
An Asheville, NC native, Mary Barker shared, “We met through the shop. I bought a Subaru, but I’d always run trucks. When I had a problem with the car I posted on Facebook and he messaged me. That was it. He’s taught me all about racing and Subarus. I quit my job and joined him at the shop. We’ve been together three years.”
Samuel designed and built the car, a 2000 Subaru Impreza with Barker’s help, pointing out, “Pikes Peak was the first race for this car. We applied to race and were notified at the end of January that we had been accepted. We had a nearly identical car that we’d been racing, but wanted to improve on it for our Pikes Peak debut.
It was a bare shell on April 3. No roll cage. No fuel cell. So, we finished up our customer projects, closed the shop and worked on the car until June. It’s just Mary and I who operate the shop, so while our expenses went way up, our income went way down!
We finished the car and left North Carolina the first week of June to arrive for the second weekend of testing on the mountain. Then we spent some time testing at High Plains. Having grown up in Longmont, I knew the dyno shops and were able to get the engine tuned right for the elevation.”
o All Wheel Drive
o 99in Wheelbase
o Subaru 2.3L Turbo
o Fueled by E85
o 500 hp
o Overhead Cam
Samuel further shared, “We have painted the car an incredibly beautiful color, ‘Blue Ridge Pearl’ an OEM Subaru color. This was a perfect choice for us since we constructed the car while living in the Blue Ridge mountains.”
Qualifying Nemesis: Engineers Corner
When asked about his favorite corner on Pikes Peak, Samuel was quick to describe his least favorite, explaining, “We’d put a new pedal box into the car that I’d never used. Approaching Engineers, my front wheels locked up and I ended up roasting my clutch to save it.
I was towed to Halfway and thought I might be done for the week, but I asked the tow truck driver if he had some tools I could borrow. He did and I worked on the car right there in the trees and got it repaired. I had no aero since we had to ditch the splitter for easier loading in case we had to have it towed on a flatbed. I was cleared to return to the pits and made my qualifying run.”
A Wealth of Mentors
When asked who mentored the first-time team on Pikes Peak, Samuel was quick to reply, “Who didn’t! Everybody was so good. Almost everyone on the mountain was coming up to us and offering advice. Derek Boyd who lives close to us in North Carolina was also really helpful with the upper section. Matus Huska, Dan and Trevor Aweida, and David Hackl – that group was just there for us the whole time. David Hackl stopped on the side of the road after Friday’s practice and helped us change the wheel bearing on the trailer so we could make it to Fan Fest. He took so much time, showed us how to do it – it was just ridiculously kind. He deserves some kind of medal for that.”
Samuel strapped in behind the wheel for his Sunday run, but despite being plagued by overheating he was able to coax enough out of the car to cross the finish line in 11:40.859 in the highly competitive Unlimited division. He used an analogy to describe the race, “It’s like going from high school to college.”
She Said Yes!
Samuel shared his idea to propose to Barker during the race, a plan he began crafting as soon as he found out he would be competing. “Before we started the build, I had the ring. She was selflessly helping me achieve this dream of mine. That’s a quality everyone wants in a lifelong partner.
Barker pointed out, “I didn’t know Kendall asked my dad for permission to marry me at the Start Line – three cars before he ran. When he got back down to the pits after the race, the car was smoking. I instantly threw up the hood to check it out and didn’t know he was standing behind me with a ring.”
“Though pretty much everyone in my life was cheering me on from the sidelines, Mary was in the garage helping knock out the massive to do list to make sure we were ready and made it to the race,” shared Samuel. “Without her help there would be no race.”
A Much Tougher Mountain to Climb
For all the excitement of race preparation, planning for the month of June, the successful finish on Race Day, and the unexpected marriage proposal on the mountain, there has been a shadow over their lives since last fall. Barker began experiencing health symptoms that pointed to something serious and doctors began running tests. “When we drove out to Colorado in June we were fully prepared to return home if a doctor told us that needed to happen,” Barker recalled. “I just got a definitive diagnosis of Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma and will begin chemotherapy soon which is scheduled to last through February.” Samuel says he’s moving the simulator from the shop to the house so Mary can practice on it during her treatment.
Sights Set on the Summit
Undeterred, Barker is gaining experience behind the wheel herself, racing the Pikes Peak car in Gridlife’s Track Battle event at Lime Rock Park in August. She’s also planning to attack some regional Appalachian HillClimb events, and hopes someday soon to match Kendall’s feat of conquering the mountain at Pikes Peak. The pair hope to become regular competitors in the PPIHC in the years to come, but first Mary has her own mountain to climb. As she begins cancer treatment and battles the disease, the racing community will be behind her every step of the way.
GET TO KNOW KENDALL SAMUEL
Three Things For Fans To Know:
“I love mountain biking and travelling almost as much as racing!”
“I didn’t come from racing or get into the sport with any guidance. It’s been a long haul and a learning process to get where I am, but its been worth it. I hope everyone who has the desire to pursue motorsport in any capacity takes that to heart and just gives it their best shot. Worst case you’ll learn something, and likely meet great people along the way!”
“I always want to do everything myself. It’s rare I purchase things or pay for labor. I have to do everything myself!”
The Zoolander “Blue Steel” character on your car: “We have several race cars – our first was named Slum Dog – when we got this car, which is almost identical, we used Blue Steel since the car was blue. – ‘Everyone knows me by ‘one look’, but I’ve got several.'”
Biggest Race Day Challenge: “The Upper Section”
Favorite Section: “For me, the lower section. It’s weirdly flowing and technical. I felt like I could push pretty hard there since it wasn’t overly scary. It was similar to the simulator. The upper section was not even close. The bumps in the road were impossible to duplicate.”
Good luck charms or superstitions? “Not really. I tend to trust my gut.”
Advice for PPIHC Rookies? “Focus on safety equipment. It’s a no brainer and it’s so critical. Scope the mountain as much as you can. This event is so different. Typically races are so ego-driven, but here, everyone is so helpful and we made friends. No one is competing with each other, they’re competing with the mountain. Take advantage of the fact that everyone is willing to help out. Ask for help. Ask questions. Get to know people. We made some lasting friendships.”
Communications Manager / Historian