In American sports history, there is a cadre of great athletes whose careers have been notable because they have carved out success for 25 years or more, a quarter-century of fame, some failures, but always answering the call.
NHL hero Gordie Howe showed hockey fans his incredible array of talent for 34 seasons.
NFL icon George Blanda was a quarterback and place kicker for four teams over a career that spanned 26 years.
Major League baseball superstar Nolan Ryan showed millions of fans his blazing fastball for 27 seasons.
Auto racing great Richard Petty set records and thrilled fans for 34 years on American tracks.
And, so it is for a roster of heroes and celebrated drivers from the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, brought to you by Gran Turismo, which began in 1916. Pikes Peak has seen champions over decades who are part of American motorsport history—Ari Vatanen, Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, Michèle Mouton, Nobuhiro Tajima, Bobby Unser, and Malcolm Smith, just to name a few.
This year’s 98th running of the Race to the Clouds on June 28 casts a spotlight on six drivers who have blazed their way to the 14,115-foot summit of America’s Mountain for 25 years or more, a grand total of 165 years from their rookie debuts to the present. Each will be on the Peak on June 28.
25 Rhys Millen, Huntington Beach, California. The New Zealander, son of racing great Rod Millen, another Pikes Peak legend, began his quarter century of traversing Pikes Peak in 1992 when he won the Pikes Peak Open Division and Rookie of the Year honors in a Mazda. It was the first of 13 titles won by Millen, with 11 of them setting records at the time. He has broken the 10-minute barrier five times, chalking up an amazing 8:57.1 in 2016 when he captured the title in the Electric Modified Division. He will race in the Time Attack 1 Division in June, tackling the Peak for the 25th time. With over 20 years of racing experience, Millen has carved out a solid career and reputation, becoming one of the most sought after performance drivers in the gigantic U.S. automotive scene. Rhys joined dad Rod in the U.S. as a teenager and founded Rhys Millen Racing at the age of 21. RMR (Rhys Millen Racing) is an automotive tuning and parts shop concentrating on rally, drift and movie car preparation. Besides racing, Millen has been a stunt driver for films such as The Dukes of Hazzard, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. He also did the driving for the first Hyundai Genesis Coupe commercial.
Rhys says: “It’s been an amazing 25 years of racing Pikes Peak from winning rookie of the year in 1992 to two overall King of the Mountain titles and multiple class wins. I’ve had the opportunity to represent seven auto manufacturers in successful programs on the mountain and to compete in the event with the excitement of an all-dirt road to now fully paved in production cars to unlimited monsters. Every year the mountain challenges you as a driver and keeps the thrill of racing the peak fresh and invigorating.”
26 Paul Dallenbach, Basalt, Colorado. The celebrated veteran will make his 26th journey to the summit of America’s Mountain this summer in the Open Wheel Division behind the wheel of a 2006 PVA-03 Dallenbach Special. The Western Colorado native has been attacking the Peak since 1989 when he made his debut in the Pikes Peak Production Division in a 1989 Oldsmobile, finishing 6th in the event won by the great Rod Millen. Over the years, Dallenbach has been a consistent star, taking home ten championships, including last year’s Open Wheel crown. He’s been under ten minutes five times in the last six years, with a best of 9:36.041 in 2016, racing in the Unlimited Division, finishing behind winner Romain Dumas of France, who blazed to a then record of 8:51.445. It happened so fast in 2012 – no more than a few tense seconds – that brought racing reality to Dallenbach. A quest for another Pikes Peak International Hill Climb title ended in near disaster after only two turns up the famed fourteener. Mechanical failure caused Dallenbach’s 1,400-horsepower, open-wheeled car to careen off the pavement and into a heavily wooded area. The vehicle crashed through four pine trees, splitting them in half, and uprooted another before skidding to a stop. He was covered in dirt and was disoriented, but somewhat miraculously, Dallenbach suffered only minor injuries.
Paul says: “This will be race 27 for me. It’s crazy to think I have done over 1/4 of the races on Pikes Peak. Every year I say this will probably be my last. Then, as winter comes, the ideas of how to improve get me motivated to come back. I love coming back year after year and seeing my friends and helping out the new drivers. There are special friendships made up on Pikes Peak. We all want to win but I will help my most fierce competitors if needed and I know they’ll do the same. It’s unique compared to any other racing that I’ve been involved with.”
27 Layne Schranz, Birmingham, Alabama. Schranz, who began his 27-year tour of the Peak on a motorcycle in 1993, switched to autos in 1997 in the venerable Super Stock Car Class, where he piloted a 1994 Chevy Lumina to a 4th place finish. He competed for a total of 16 years in the Super Stocks, winning a pair of crowns and adding six runner-up finishes. His leading championship run came in 2016 race when he drove a Chevy SS to a winning time of 9:53.071. The Southerner will be aboard a 2018 Chevrolet SS in June in the Pikes Peak Open Division, where he finished third last year with a 9:40.630 clocking behind record-setter Peter Cunningham (9:24.433) and David Donohue. Schranz was born and raised in the shadow of America’s Mountain, Pikes Peak. He grew up as the son of Pikes Peak Hill Climb legend Randy Schranz. Each year since his birth in October of 1971, he has been present as a spectator or competitor at the world’s most famous auto hill climb.
Layne says: “Peak Week and the race itself is extremely special and unique! It’s part family reunion – family, friends, officials, and competitors all together – whether getting a few minutes with an official I’ve literally known my entire life at Tech Inspection, seeing a friend from high school at Fan Fest or catching up with a fierce competitor after a practice run while we wait to come downhill. In a strange way, Pikes Peak all feels like family. It’s part Super Bowl – the pinnacle Hill Climb in the entire world of motorsports. You dream, plan, prepare, spend and pray for a great week for 51 weeks. You depend on the skills and commitment of your team! You face unexpected setbacks and you fight through it all with tremendous unity and camaraderie! Just a few short days after a Peak Week of disappointment with a DNF or an unsatisfying finish, sleepless nights or unexpected challenges, a powerful optimism sets in and you start getting ready for the next year. A common response when you ask competitors why they come back is “I can’t explain it.” Anything spiritual is hard to explain! Thank you God for creating us with a spirit of competition and the most amazing place to exercise it! This year will be my 48th year at the race (my entire life) and my 27th year competing. There’s nothing like it. I love my team, the event, the people, the challenge, even the disappointment that turns to drive after defeat, and the thrill of victory. I love Pikes Peak!”
28 David Schmidt II, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Hometown driver Davey Schmidt made his Pikes Peak debut in 1992 and competed until 2006 in Super Stock models. He moved to the Pikes Peak Open Division in 2006 and has competed in that field since. His best finish was a second place ending in 2007 behind the veteran Leonard Vahsholtz. He was 5th last year on the Peak, driving a 2014 Ford Mustang on a weather-shortened course. This summer, he’ll drive a 2014 Mustang Howe TA2 on the challenging course to the summit of the Peak in the 98th running of the Race to the Clouds. While Schmidt has had a passion for Fords all of his life, it wasn’t until 2008 that he built his first Mustang to take on Pikes Peak. At that time, the highway to the top of the over 14,000-foot mountain was only beginning to be paved, creating a whole new competitive hill climb atmosphere. He hasn’t notched a championship yet, but it seems inevitable for the passionate driver.
Davey says: “As a Colorado Springs native I have been blessed that I can look out of my windows to the fantastic mountain called Pikes Peak. I was Rookie of the Year in the Truck Division in 1992. I have really watched the race change in many ways. When I started it was just the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and changed to The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb as the number of foreign competitors kept growing. I started racing Pikes Peak when it was still all dirt. It was the biggest thrill to go up a mountain throwing rooster tails from my back truck tires. As the years went on so did the change from dirt, to dirt and asphalt, to all asphalt. As I have changed with the race, and now compete in a car designed for asphalt, I look back and know that Hill Climb racing and The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb provide the biggest thrills and challenges along with absolute enjoyment for all competitors. With 2020 being my 29th year of competing I can say this is still my Daytona. I will never get over the memories, the friendships formed, and the bonds this hill climb race has given me, and I look forward to still being a competitor when this race celebrates its 100th running.”
29 Clint Vahsholtz, Woodland Park, Colorado. The Teller County resident of the City Above the Clouds (Elevation 8,465 ft.) is a figure known to the legions of Pikes Peak fans and followers. He made his debut in 1992 aboard a motorcycle and won three championships in four years before switching to autos in 1996 in Super Stock Cars where he was the Rookie of the Year, winning the event in a Ford. He dominated the division for 17 years, taking home championships 16 times, almost always driving a Mustang. He owns the Open Wheel record (9:35.747) set in 2017. Finishing second last June in Time Attack I, Vahsholtz will be driving a 2013 Ford Open in the Open Wheel Division in 2020. There are those who have nicknamed Pikes Peak “Vahsholtz Mountain” after his family, which includes his father, Leonard, a Pikes Peak Hall of Famer, and his son, Codie, who is a motorcycle champion. In fact, a member of the Vahsholtz family has participated in the famous race every year since 1977.
Clint says: “Since 1977, I’ve woken to the sight of America’s Mountain and watching my dad race. I’ve been competing since 1996 in what is the most exhilarating event imaginable. This is a one-off event that once you’ve done it…you’re hooked for life.”
30 Steve Goeglein, Falcon, Colorado. For three decades, Steve Goeglein has packed up his truck and found his way to America’s Mountain where he raced Super Stock models for 22 years before taking on the thunder in the Unlimited field in 2013. He graduated from Mitchell High in Colorado Springs, and has never won on the Peak, finishing second in the Super Stock Car Division in 2000 and 2002 behind Hill Climb icon Clint Vahsholtz. In his return to the prestigious Unlimited Division in June, he’ll be behind the wheel of a 2002 Chevy Camaro. He plans to race as long as he’s able, which could be a while. He has failed to reach the 14,115-foot summit only three times in 29 races. It’s something he and his crew take great pride in, knowing it is the first step to a breakthrough victory that could come in June.
Steve says: “I first attended the 1971 Hill Climb and thought to myself that I wanted to compete in this. Twenty years later I entered the 1991 Hill Climb and have been competing ever since. The friendships I’ve made over the years with crew members like Mark Weller and Danny Wells, along with competitors like Andrei Mitrasca from Romania, and other drivers from around the world, are priceless. For a local guy competing in an international event it is an honor and privilege.”
Colorado Springs, Olympic City USA, and millions around the world salute these racing greats and the moments they will create in history.
Mike Moran – email@example.com
PPIHC Senior Media Consultant
1631 Mesa Avenue, Suite E
Colorado Springs, CO 80906