OF THE PIKES PEAK INTERNATIONAL HILL CLIMB
Commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to explore the Great Plains, Lt. Zebulon Pike first saw Pikes Peak from the eastern portion of today’s Colorado in 1806. As he approached the magnificent peak, rising abruptly from the plains, Pike swore this mountain would never be climbed by man.
By the mid-20th century Pikes Peak had been conquered by tourists from all over the world – by car, motorcycle, bicycle, train, mule, horse, and on foot. The spectacular view from the summit inspired Katherine Lee Bates to compose the famous lyrics to America the Beautiful in 1893.
Pike could never have imagined the vehicles or the automobile race which would conclude at the summit of his peak a little over a century after his first sighting. By 1900 a carriage road had been built. Spencer Penrose, one of Colorado Springs’ city’s major benefactors, realized the tourist potential of such a beautiful landmark and in 1915 he finished converting the narrow carriage road into the Pikes Peak Highway. In order to publicize his new road, and draw visitors to his Broadmoor Hotel, he devised a simple plan; run an automobile race to the summit of Pikes Peak. The Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb was first held on August 10, 11, and 12, 1916 with Rea Lentz crowned the winner in a time of 20:55.600.
For more than a century, competitors, race fans and members of the media from around the globe have converged on Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain to experience the best in hill climb competition. Boasting 156 turns over a 12.42-mile course beginning at over 9,300 feet and ending at 14,115’ above sea level, this race has no equal. The harrowing course has long served as an automotive proving ground – for automatic transmissions, brake fluid, front-wheel drive, and electric vehicles. In 2018 the current race record, 07:57.148, was set in a prototype electric Volkswagen, with French driver Romain Dumas behind the wheel.
Halted only during WWI and WWII, the race has become known as the second-oldest motorsports race in America. In 2016, a 100th anniversary celebration took place. On June 23, 2024, the Race to the Clouds, will notch its 102nd Running.
Drivers, then and now, are challenged by the torturous road and the rapidly changing weather. Starting out in sunshine, the driver could travel through sleet, thunderstorms, wind, hail, fog, or blinding snow before finishing, earning this famous race the descriptive term “The Race to the Clouds.”
Over the 100+ year history of this event, auto racing legends have pitted themselves and their machines against the mountain. American racing families from across the country have championed the course – names like Unser, Mears, Pastrana, Zwart, Vahsholtz and hundreds of others. International competitors have also etched their mark on Pikes Peak including Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima, Ari Vatanen, Walter Rohrl, Michele Mouton, Rod and Rhys Millen, Sebastien Loeb and most recently Romain Dumas who set a new course record in 2018 of 7:57.148.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is the second oldest motorsports race in America and a long-standing tradition in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak Region. The race is run on a 12.42 mile (and now fully-paved) course with 156 turns that begins at 9,390 feet and finishes at the 14,115-foot summit of America’s Mountain.
From the first race, an upset victory by Rea Lentz while driving a homemade car, to Sebastien Loeb’s record smashing run in 2013, “Race to the Clouds ™ 100 Years in the Making” is a 90-minute documentary film capturing the history of America’s second oldest auto race, The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The greatest challenge in motorsports for both man and machine, founded in 1916 by entrepreneur and philanthropist Spencer Penrose, has grown into an international event attracting the best drivers and riders from around the world.