top of page

Meet Laura Hayes: Pikes Peak International Hill Climb driver speaks on racing career, family ties and racing a Toyota Supra in altitude

A woman peers out of the window of a car wearing a cap and sunglasses.
Laura Hayes is racing in her third Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Credit: Instagram @Mobil1

Laura Hayes was born to race. The Northern California native first got behind the wheel when she was eight years old and hasn't looked back since.

This weekend, Hayes is competing in her third Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. She's part of the new GT4 division and is turning heads in a Toyota Supra. The car won her team, Thunder Bunny Racing, the World Racing League GTO National Championship last year and is ready to go for the elements of the mountains. Hayes qualified with the 15th fastest time overall after an intense battle with others in her division and will be the fifth to take off for her official ascent on Sunday.

Hayes' passion for racing was ignited by her parents' love for the sport. When she moved to South Carolina, Thunder Bunny became her racing family. Both have molded her path to destiny. That path led to Hayes being one of six women (alongside Katherine Legge and Loni Unser) out of 65 drivers competing in the 102nd running of the second-oldest race in the United States.

Besides the WRL title, Hayes had much success early in her career, including becoming the first girl to win the IKF Shifter Kart National Championship and winning the first leg of the Red Bull Driver Search. Although she is confident in her abilities, she is quick to give credit to her team, sponsors and the behind-the-scenes people who make events like The Race to the Clouds possible.

Kick The Concrete spoke with Laura Hayes when she had a small pocket of time between qualifying and the Fast 15 Alley at Fan Fest. She sat on a bench surrounded by greenery outside the team's Airbnb, and chatted about her racing career, the unique nature of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and the family ties that continue to inspire her.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Kick The Concrete: This is your third time at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. What’s the experience been like this week so far?

Laura Hayes: It’s been a lot of hard work for sure that’s led up to this. For something that just lasts about 10 minutes on Sunday, it’s pretty insane the effort that it takes to pull something like this off. So it’s really cool seeing it all come together in reality. We have a crew here and everybody’s working together really well, so that’s been fun. We’ve probably been averaging I would say like three to four hours of sleep a night. Some of us have been able to do a little bit more than others. Some a little less. But it’s been a really good week. With our car, we’re running a Toyota Supra GT-4. So that’s in a new division this year in the Hill Climb. It’s been going really well. It’s been very competitive.

There aren’t too many cars in our class, but we’re all like super close together. I think it was like a hundredth of a second that separated myself and the guy who just pipped me for pole. I was a little upset about that honestly. (laughs) And the next guy, he was only like a few tenths behind us. So it’s really exciting. It’s going to be a battle on Sunday. But yeah, it’s been a good week. The weather hasn’t been the greatest. Yesterday, we got iced out, so we missed out on some practice and a little bit of seat time. Then this morning, it wasn’t great either. It took a while for it to clear up. So we haven’t got quite the drive time that I would have liked, but everybody’s at the same disadvantage, so just kinda have to see who’s the bravest on Sunday.

KTC: Does it make for an even playing field if you’re all dealing with the same elements?

LH: Somewhat. Depends on who gets the best, I guess when the clouds are coming through, who gets the clearest path up the road. Because sometimes, clouds move in so fast that it could be fine for the person in front of you, but it can be terrible for you. So it’s pretty crazy.

KTC: I did want to ask about the Toyota Supra. I know you used to race with BMW and the Supra won the World Racing League last year. What is that experience like with that car?

LH: Yeah, so we moved over to the Toyota platform about a year ago and we’ve seen a lot of success with it and we’ve really enjoyed working with the Toyota engineers. They’re fortunately located not too far away from our race shop, so they’ve been really helpful and instrumental to our endurance racing program and kind of dialing in the tune on the car, which is how they kind of do their balance of power in the endurance racing series, WRL. So yeah, we’ve got the car pretty dialed in. We won the national championship last year with it, so that was pretty awesome. And we’ve also been able to convince other teams that the Toyota platform is pretty awesome. So there’s many other Supras in the field now and that’s nice to have teammates in other teams. So we’ll help each other out on the track, right?

Going into the Hill Climb, I’m very comfortable in the car. I know it. There’s nothing new for me to have to deal with as I’m climbing up the hill. I can just focus on driving the road, which is really nice. With this division, all of the cars in our class have to be on the same tire, which is the Yokohama A052 and that is also the tire that we race in WRL. So it’s almost the same car, right? That’s I think very helpful going into Sunday’s race. But yeah, I love driving the car. It’s a ton of fun and everybody loves a Supra.

KTC: Yeah, everybody knows the Toyota Supra. That’s my friend’s dream car.

LH: It’s been turning some heads up on the mountain this year. It’s cool.

A Toyota Supra on the road for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Laura Hayes is driving a Toyota Supra GT4 in the 2024 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Credit: X @PPIHC

KTC: The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is one of the country’s most historic races. The altitude presents unique challenges. Why is it a special race for you to want to compete in?

LH: This is like you could call it a side quest for us throughout our entire race season. But for me, personally, and I think the team probably agrees as well, this is the most unique, the most fun challenge that any of us have ever undertaken and being able to just kind of be in nature, which is something that I just personally like being outside in an area like Colorado Springs driving up Pikes Peak, it’s just kind of a surreal experience. And the race, obviously, offers very unique challenges like the altitude you’re talking about. We’re running oxygen in the car, I think a lot of the competitors do that as well. We have an oxygen tank in the passenger area and then there’s like a hose that routes up into my helmet. So it’s just pumping a little extra air into my helmet for some extra clarity and focus up on the hill. And it makes a difference when you don’t have it ‘cause there were a couple runs where I didn’t and I’m like hoo breathing extra hard. I can’t breathe so well, but neither can the car, so it’s doing things that we don’t normally experience when we’re at sea level at all these other race tracks. So yeah, it’s just a unique challenge, like I said and it’s also forced the crew to have to put on their thinking caps and come up with some solutions for some of these problems. Some of those things have been working and it’s really cool when it works. So yeah, just absolutely love this race and everything about it.

KTC: You first got behind the wheel when you were 8 years old and you have some family ties to motorsport. What got you into racing in the first place and what kept you going?

LH: I would say my family for sure. So my mom and dad, they met at the racetrack, so I guess it was just kinda natural one day that I would be behind the wheel of a racecar. They introduced me to it at a young age and took me out to our local quarter midget track in California. They had this little training car where the kids could get in and this guy like sat on the back of the car and he had these hand controls so he could control the gas and the brake and we were just steering. I guess I liked it because we had our first quarter midget like a couple of weeks later and then I’ve been doing this ever since. So my family is definitely a huge reason why I’m doing this and doing this to this day. My parents are actually out here for the first time. They just flew in yesterday and they were up on the hill with us this morning. So that was pretty special having them there getting to experience all of this. I think they’re pretty proud of their little girl.

KTC: That's so special! Do they get to travel to several of your races?

LH: They do. They do now. I live in South Carolina now and my parents just moved to the East Coast I guess going on two years ago. So there was like 10 years where we were on opposite coasts, so they weren’t really a part of my racing for a while. That was tough on my dad because he’s always been right there with me for many years and now we live close together. So they’ll come to some of our WRL races when they can. But they have dogs and that type of stuff, which makes them have to stay home most of the time.

KTC: I know Thunder Bunny Racing is the team you’re a part of and have a leadership role in. Is that somewhat of a family for you too?

LH: Yes, we are very close-knit. I mean we’re living in this Airbnb together for a week. There’s nobody else who I would rather do this with. My Thunder Bunny family, they’re as close to me as my real family. We’ve all been together doing this for, I guess it was 2016 is when we all kind of found each other and joined forces and we had this little Nissan 350Z and we’re like, hey, let’s all scrap our money together and let’s go do this endurance racing. This looks really fun. And one Nissan turned into two Nissans. Then suddenly, there’s more people racing with us and driving with us and the Nissans, they turned into BMWs and then those BMWs turned into the Supras that we see today. It was very humble and modest beginnings and now we’ve evolved into this multi-car stable and we’re out doing cool things like Pikes Peak and we still have more to go. We want to be at IMSA level and I think we’re not too far away from doing that. But yeah, you’re right. I love these guys. They’re the absolute best.

KTC: What has it been like for you as a woman in motorsport? Have you faced much adversity or what has it been like being a minority in the sport?

LH: That’s a very good question and I think because I started racing at such a young age and with it being really all that I know — I mean if you ask me if I wasn’t racing, what would I be doing? I have no idea. Because this has been my focus pretty much since I was eight years old. Because it’s been my passion and I’ve dedicated myself to it, I don’t know that I’ve felt any adversity because I’m just out here doing what I’m doing and trying to do it the best that I can. I will say there was one year in my racing career where it was tough being the girl out there on track and that’s when I moved to the East Coast and was in lower level NASCAR racing and that was in Virginia. So it was just a different experience coming from California to that part of the country where it was still kind of like that good ole boy mentality. It was a little tough being the lone female in the field and they didn’t treat me with a ton of respect. That was a tough season and quite honestly, it can bring you down, right? It can shake your confidence, but I learned a lot from it and I think it made me tougher.

But I’ve been very fortunate to have had a lot of really good people in my corner and people who have always supported me and probably believe in me more than I believe in myself sometimes. And I think that’s really important to have those types of people in your corner, right? But yeah, for the most part, everybody’s been great and super accepting. Just a girl out here just doing my thing!

KTC: What do you enjoy outside of racing? Do you have something that you do for a mental break or a creative outlet?

LH: Being in motorsport or any sort of professional sport or any hobby that you take seriously and enjoy, it can take up a lot of your time and a lot of your focus and you do have to find that healthy balance and do other things outside of racing. It’s actually more recent in my life that I’ve finally figured this out that this is really important for my mental health. I like, like I said earlier, being outside. I like riding my bicycle. So that’s I would say my biggest outlet is hopping on my bike when I get down to the end of a stressful day and it’s like, you know what, I need to stop thinking about this. Let’s just go crank out 10 or 20 miles and then everything’s better again, right? I would say that’s most what I enjoy doing and being with my family. And sleeping when I can. I’m just kidding.

KTC: No, that’s good. That’s awesome to hit that reset and keep yourself motivated.

LH: Yeah, you need to do that!

KTC: I love your Instagram bio, it says you’ll drive anything, anywhere, anytime. Is there a specific story or something out of the box that you’ve driven or a place or time that is a memory that always stands out?

LH: People ask, "What’s your favorite type of racing?" And I do have a favorite type, but if I’m behind the wheel of something with four wheels and an engine and I’m going fast, I’m going to be happy. There’s been some fun times in my career where I’ve been lucky to kind of bounce between different types of cars. So there was one year two years ago at the Hill Climb where I was also racing in the MX-5 Cup, so I actually left here in the middle of the week and flew to Watkins Glen in New York and then came back here and did the Hill Climb, so it was like this insane week. I just, I love racing. I wish that I could do it every single day and yeah, I’ll drive anything, anywhere, anytime.

KTC: Is there anything else that you’d like to share or make sure we cover?

LH: The sponsors, all the people who’ve helped me get here. A huge reason first why I’m here is because somebody has to let me drive a racecar. I don’t own this racecar. So he’s a very generous gentleman. His name is Bill Graham and he’s the owner of this racecar. So he is extremely trusting and allowing me to do this this weekend in his car. So I better not mess it up, but gotta thank Bill. And also Mobil 1 and Yokohama Tire, Shift Up Now, Toyota of Colorado Springs. After we’re done on the mountain every day, we’re very lucky that we get to go back to the Toyota dealership and have access to their shop and their resources and be able to work on the car at the end of the day in a really nice facility. That’s been really big to our weekend. They gave us keys to brand new Highlanders, so we’re rolling around Colorado Springs in nice new Toyotas. So just really wonderful people. And the Pikes Peak Hill Climb staff. These people, I don’t even know if they sleep during the week and they’re there greeting you on the mountain at 3:30 in the morning when they let us in and they’re there with a smile on their face, welcoming you and thanking you for being here. So yeah, everybody who puts this event together, they’re special people and they need to be thanked a lot.

93 views0 comments


bottom of page