Louis Unser in Loop Café Special, 1938. First car to win in under 16 minutes. Photo courtesy Pikes Peak Hill Climb Museum
Pikes Peak International Hill Climb
This annual automobile race to the 14,110-foot
summit of Pikes Peak, above the city of Colorado Springs, spans a
grueling 12.5 miles along a gravelly road. More than 200
competitors in cars, trucks, and motorcycles participate, along
with thousands of spectators who line the winding route.
Pikes Peak takes it name from Zeb Pike, who attempted
to climb the mountain in 1806 with a small party of explorers. The
weather was bleak, and they were ill prepared. Finally they reached
a summit of one of the foothills, waist deep in snow, which Pike
estimated to be 18,581 feet. As more climbers and gold prospectors
followed, the expression, "Pikes Peak or Bust," became a byword for
By 1873, a primitive road led to the peak, where a
weather station had been established. In 1901, two Denver men drove
and occasionally pushed the first automobile-a locomobile steamer-
to the summit. Fourteen years later, local financier Spencer
Penrose spent $263,000 to rebuild the road for automobile travel.
The next year, Penrose, who founded the Broadmoor Hotel, started
the Pikes Peak National Hill Climbing Contest, as a way to
advertise Pikes Peak Highway and to encourage growth of the
burgeoning automobile tourism industry in Colorado Springs.
(Penrose had a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service
until 1935.) With an astonishing time of 20 minutes, 55.6 seconds,
the first winner of the hill climbing contest was Rea Lentz,
driving the race's smallest car, Romano Demon Special.
Dubbed the "Race to the Clouds," the hill climb
became a testing ground for new automobiles. The auto industry
found the twisty mountain highway a wonderful testing ground for
power of multi-valve engines, overhead cams, and superchargers, and
introducing balloon tires, and front- and four-wheel drive.
Pikes Peak Highway is still a two-lane, narrow,
mostly gravel road, with many blind curves and without guard rails.
Race drivers compete against the clock, dealing with weather that
can be sunny at the start and snowing at the summit. In 1935, Louis
Unser set a record, driving a truck up the summit in 26 minutes, 12
seconds-the first of his many wins.
From 1936 to 1939, the Veterans of Foreign Wars,
Willis Post No. 1, sponsored the race, using American Automobile
Association rules. In 1956, the United States Automobile Club
became the race's sanctioning body. Over the years, the race has
expanded to include sports cars, motorcycles, stock cars, and has
attracted champion racers from around the world. During the 1990s,
the fastest growing race division was for trucks, and a division
for electric cars was introduced. The race's name was also changed
to Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Still the race continues to
be a local tradition, and local drivers continue to win.
The Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb Educational Museum was
founded in 1989 to showcase race exhibits and a collection of race
vehicles from the 1920s to the present. This project is documented
with a short historical text, brochures, a video, a CD, newsletters
of the Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb Educational Museum, 13 photos,
and a 1999 Race to the Clouds handbook.
Originally submitted by: Wayne Allard, Senator.
The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.