The Pikes Peak Hill Climb was a typical Spencer Penrose move. In 1915, the fearless entrepreneur, adventurer and gold baron who created many iconic landmarks in Colorado Springs turned his attention to Pikes Peak.
A rough road had been built up the glimmering hulk of a mountain in 1888. Horses pulled carriages of tourists toward the summit, and mules assisted for the final push.
Penrose widened and converted that primitive road into the Pikes Peak Highway. And to publicize his feat, he created an automobile race to the summit.
The first Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb took place Aug. 10-12, 1916, with Rea Lentz, a 22-year-old from Washington, driving a diminutive Romano Demon Special to victory in 20 minutes, 55.6 seconds. The motorcycle division was popular in that first race, with 19 of the 29 entrants riding Excelsiors built by Ignaz Schwinn—who later produced the iconic bicycle.
By the Numbers
8:13.878 Current record, in minutes, set by Sebastien Loeb in 2013.
12.42 Length of the race course, in miles.
13 Countries and territories represented in this year’s event.
20:55.6 Winning time of the first Hill Climb.
156 Turns on the Pikes Peak Highway course.
4,720 Feet of elevation gain of the race course.
The race was a huge success, attracting media attention from around the world. But because of the eruption of World War I, it didn’t return until 1920.
Since then, the race has been an annual summer festival, drawing racers from around the world. This year’s Hill Climb on June 26 celebrates the 100th anniversary, with 100 competitors chosen for its roster, including 2014 King of the Mountain Romain Dumas, who has two class victories and one overall championship.
Thousands gather for the Hill Climb and pre-race Fan Fest downtown. Many are true motorheads; others are drawn to the uniqueness of this event. What other auto race warns that the best viewing area “depends on what your tolerance level is”? Spectators along the winding road above tree line must contend with the potential of conditions that both attract and batter the racers: brutal wind, rain, snow and lightning.
Get all the Race Week details, including a spectator guide and ticketing info, at ppihc.com.
100 Year Timeline
1916: First Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb takes place on the gravel and dirt road.
1920: The race resumes after a hiatus because of the demands of World War I.
1926: The famed Unser family begins racing, with three brothers taking a motorcycle and side car up the mountain.
1929: A stock car division is added to the original field of all open-wheel cars.
1952: Terry Ives is the first female driver, racing a Porsche.
1956: The second generation of Unsers arrives, with Bobby and cousin Jerry Jr., winning their divisions.
1976: The third generation of Unsers begins winning.
1979: A new car, the Wells Coyote, designed specifically for racing on Pikes Peak, is developed by John Wells of Green Mountain Falls, Colorado. By 1981 it begins claiming many open wheel victories.
1984: Michele Mouton is the first female division champion in her Audi Sport Quattro (she wins again in 1985).
1993: The Vahsholtz family from Woodland Park, Colorado, begins a streak of victories that include at least one class win in every edition of the race up to the present day.
2011: Pikes Peak Highway is paved, changing the face of this race but not deterring fans or racers.
2013: Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima is the first competitor to break the 10-minute mark with 9:51.278 in the unlimited division. He also sets a new electric division record with a time of 9:46:530.
2013: Rally driver Sabastien Loeb sets the current overall course record of 8:13.878 in his Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak.
2015: Clint Vahsholtz places third in the open wheel class, and is the winningest competitor in the history of the race.
2016: The Broadmoor Special Yellow Devil, a 1918 Pierce-Arrow once owned by Spencer Penrose, is restored and returns to Pikes Peak to drive to the Halfway Picnic Grounds.
—by Deb Acord