Colorado Springs, CO

Immerse Yourself in Pikes Peak International Hill Climb History at this Local Gem

Colorado Jill

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Penrose Heritage Museum in Colorado SpringsPhoto by the author

(Colorado Springs, CO) On June 26, 2022, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC) will run its 100th race. This event, also known as "Race to the Clouds," is a 12.4-mile route with 156 turns and a finish line at over 14,000 feet elevation.

The race was the brainchild of Spencer Penrose, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, who financed the construction of the Pikes Peak Highway in 1915. Penrose wanted to publicize the new road, so he organized a motorcycle and auto race that would later be known as the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

Today, in addition to spectating along the course route, you can learn about the Hill Climb's traditions and history at a much lower elevation by visiting the Penrose Heritage Museum.

This free museum is next to the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs and has an extensive collection of memorabilia, artifacts, and race cars. It is a must-see for all racing fans. Here are a few interesting facts that I learned while recently visiting the museum.

The First Years

The first PPIHC race ran in 1916 on an all-dirt course. The winner, Rea Lentz, averaged 35.5 mph during the climb and was rewarded with a $2,000 prize.

After the inaugural event, the PPIHC did not run again until 1920 due to World War I.

Otto Loesche won the second Hill Climb in 22 minutes and 25.4 seconds. His record still stands as the slowest fastest time in PPIHC history.

The Race to the Clouds ran consecutively from 1920 until 1941, when it was canceled for four years due to World War II (1942-1945). The PPIHC has occurred every year since 1946 making this year's race its 100th run.

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The Broadmoor Special at the Penrose Heritage MuseumPhoto by the author

The Broadmoor Special

In 1922, Spencer Penrose had his touring car turned into a race car called the Broadmoor Special. It also had the nickname, Yellow Devil, due to its color.

For the next ten years, the car, driven by Penrose's chauffeur, ran in the Hill Climb. The car's best finish was a fourth-place which it earned in both 1926 and 1930. The Broadmoor Special's last race was in 1932 with a 6th place finish.

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Al Roger's PPHC car @ the Penrose Heritage MuseumPhoto by the author

Local Driver Advantage

Al Rogers, a Colorado Springs native, competed in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb fifteen times and had five overall wins. According to the museum, when Rogers was young, he drove tourists up Pikes Peak highway and became very familiar with the challenging road. That likely gave him quite a competitive edge!

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Penrose Heritage MuseumPhoto by the author

Safety First

In 2012, Jeremy Foley and Yun Kouznetsov were racing the Hill Climb when they lost traction in their car near 16 Mile and plummeted down the mountain. Thankfully, due to safety equipment requirements, both individuals survived the crash.

There is a video clip of the frightening ordeal at the museum and the destroyed car which is pictured above.

The race is dangerous due to high speeds, sharp turns, and unpredictable weather conditions (rain, wind, snow, hail, blinding sun). Safety equipment and checks are a priority.

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Carlin Dunne's motorcycle @ the Penrose Heritage CenterPhoto by the author

Motorcycles

There have been seven deaths during the PPIHC, four of which were motorcyclists.

In 2021, the Board of Directors for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb announced in a press release that the motorcycle competition would be discontinued from all future Hill Climb races.

This announcement came after the 2019 death of Carlin Dunne who died from injuries after high-siding fifteen meters from the finish line. Dunne was the first motorcycle rider to finish the PPIHC in under ten minutes, and during the fatal 2019 race, he was on a record-breaking pace. A tragic loss for his family and the racing community.

Although many things have changed since the first Race to the Clouds in 1916, it is still one of the most highly anticipated events of the year. This 100th run milestone will make it even more memorable.

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Photo by the author

Before the big event in June, I highly recommend stopping by the Penrose Heritage Museum to learn more about the history of the race, the cars, and the fascinating people who compete in it. The museum is free and well worth a visit.

  • Location: 11 Lake Circle, Colorado Springs
  • Admission: Free
  • Hours: Tuesday - Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to noon, and 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Sunday from 1:00 - 4:00 p.m. CLOSED on Mondays and during the lunch hour.
  • Parking: Museum visitors can park for free in the Broadmoor Parking Garage located next to the museum. Parking will be validated for up to 1.5 hours.
  • Website

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Colorado Springs, CO
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