JEREMY FOLEY'S MITSUBISHI ECLIPSE BECOMING AN AIRCRAFT, THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND, PIKE'S PEAK, 2012. THE DRIVER'S SCREAMS OF 'AGGHHH!!' COULD BE HEARD FOR 40 MILES IN EVERY DIRECTION. IMAGE COURTESY OF AMERICALOVESHORSEPOWER.COM
Michele Mouton. Ari Vatanen. Walter Rohrl. A certain family with the last name of Unser, you know, the Unsers that could be accused of hogging the Indy 500 winner's Borg-Warner trophy to themselves for a number of years (nine, to be exact). Rick Mears, 4-time Indy 500 winner. Mario Andretti. Names that struck a bit of fear, or at least garnered more than a bit of respect and/or concern whenever they showed up at a track to drive a race car like they meant it.
What do these names, and several others that you haven't heard of before, all have in common?
They were the fastest in their respective classes up the mountain while competing in the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, otherwise known as the Race to the Clouds.
Kings...and Queen of the Mountain. (If I am looking at my records correctly...Michele Mouton is the only female to have ever won this title at this event.)
If you want specific information about the event, visit this link here. This article isn't meant to be a informational piece, the factual details of the race itself can be seen through the website of the wonderful folks that are running the event.
MY REASON FOR DOING THIS.
When I first came up with the idea of writing about the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, it sounded like such a great idea, and a welcome change from writing all of that silly satire stuff that I occasionally toss into Drivetribe in the attempt to generate a laugh or two. But when I began doing some refresher research on this project (I have already been following this event for years, and someday hope to attend), only then did I realize the enormity of what I was thinking of doing. The Race to the Clouds (as it is also known as) is only one race, once a year, and all anyone typically hears about in the motoring press is whether or not the record to the top was beaten.
The issue is that while yes, it is only one race, it's not a single class of car that attempts to be the quickest to the top in their particular bracket. The Unlimited Class, which has seen some of the most astounding mechanical engineering in history to ever visit a racetrack, demands the lion's share of attention, simply because of the ridiculous record times that have been set...and then broken. A record, if my research is correct, stands at 8:13.878, set in 2013 by Sebastian Loeb in the world's 4th-most insane Peugeot. Video of this feat can be seen here.
Attempting to write a story about a gigantic event with a rich history is something of an exercise in futility, simply because there typically isn't enough space...or enough attention span to keep a reader with you long enough, especially if you were to attempt to cover the expansive lifespan of an event that has been going, with only minor breaks in between, for around a hundred years or so. I would have to quit my job and devote most of my waking hours assembling an encyclopedia, there's simply too much there. Think of this as an overview of this event as written by a guy with no attention span, and there's lots of shiny things floating around his head. That's what this article is, it's that type of overview.
This event has been going on for nearly as long as the Indianapolis 500, and has many more stories to tell versus what has happened at Indy over the last century. The Indy 500, in comparison, is pretty easy to follow, because it is one class of race car, and they're all on the track at the same time. Yes, I might be oversimplifying things just a bit while attempting to condense Indy's history for the sake of this article, but then again, we're also talking about a race (Indy) which might not have identified the correct winner for its very first event in 1911...
To that end, I am simply going to skip over talking about the extensive history, and try to focus on what the Pikes Peak event is, some of the heroes of the Peak, the glory that was achieved...and the tragic loss of those who didn't quite make it all the way up.
SO, JUST WHAT IS THIS SILLY PIKES PEAK HILLCLIMB, ANYWAY?
So, what is this whole Pikes Peak Hillclimb thing, and where can I buy one for the wife?
To make things really simple, the Race to the Clouds is an event where several dozen individuals spend a ridiculous amount of money all for the purpose of getting somewhere they consider to be reeeeally important in a reeeeally short amount of time.
This particular somewhere is exactly 12.42 miles away. They have to navigate 156 turns to get to that specific somewhere. They have to climb some three thousand feet in elevation while they're getting there. The starting point in this trip to meet a specific production deadline (or exceed it) is already some eleven thousand feet up. They have to navigate this particular artery at fairly high rates of speed in order to meet or exceed those production deadlines. It's also important that they do this in the most spectacular and dangerous manner possible. It's actually a requirement.
It might also be necessary to create a considerable amount of loud noises while attempting to quickly navigate from point A to point B, loud noises in the form of open exhaust pipes, with the exception of the new Volkswagen Pikes Peak electric car, which insists on doing it as quietly as possible, more than likely because Volkswagen enjoys mowing down as many ground squirrels as they can because nobody, not even the ground squirrels, can hear the new VW electric Pikes Peak car coming until it's about three feet away, and all you hear is an electric whirring as the spoilers slice through your ankles.
I'm thinking that this is because it might be possible that a really important VIP figure within the halls of Volkswagen may have had their car disabled/starter wires or other electronics chewed in half by a ground squirrel or other similar rodent at some point in the past, and this expansive/expensive effort to beat the world record to the Clouds is merely a rodent extermination attempt disguised as an electric car public relations/"Please Forget Our Whole Dieselgate Thing!" goodwill effort.
And until 2012, they had to do this hurried navigating over large portions of gravel-covered vehicular artery. It's now paved, of course. Safety first. That, and there were some environmental concerns about rain and snow runoff from the unpaved road endangering the lives of Indian Ocean dolphins or something.
Who cares, right? What have dolphins ever done for anyone?
NOW THAT I HAVE OFFENDED DOLPHIN LOVERS AROUND THE WORLD...
So we've established that the competitors feel an expensive need to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.
How do they do this?
For the most part, each trip up the mountain is a singular effort, in that throughout most of the classes, it's one participant on the road at a time. With some of the motorcycle classes, more than one may run at a time, so while it's a timed run to the clouds, it's also a beat-your-neighbor-but-not-in-a-physical-sense-as-that-sort-of-thing-is-illegal-in-some-countries-and-besides-you-might-need-to-borrow-some-eggs-or-sugar-from-that-same-neighbor-someday run against other racers.
In essence, it's only you, the car, the truck, the motorcycle, or even the ATV, the tarmac, and whatever nightmarish visions of 17,000 different ways you might be impaled by your shifter handle, the images that you think about right before you pull the pin on your choice of vehicular hand grenade that's going to explode you up the slope of the mountain, and hopefully either into the record books, or at least to the top of the summit...in a form that allows for either a cold refreshment with fellow competitors when you get to the top, or at the very least, there's enough left for the benefit of an open-casket funeral later on.
Oh, did I mention that Pikes Peak is kind of dangerous?
PIKES PEAK IS TOTALLY KILLING IT.
Pikes Peak is not content with merely spectacularly killing you with sudden stops while attempting to attain and maintain high speeds. Towards the upper elevations of the race course, the race becomes a bit more manly, in that it adds astounding, multi-thousand-foot drops off of the edge of the course, drop-offs which do not have the benefit of at least slowing you down first with a bit of guardrail or snow fence before you become a low-speed aircraft off of the side of the mountain, similar to the unfortunate team in the Mitsubishi in the title picture at the top of this article.
Think of it as the Isle of Mann, but they've cranked the "Different Ways to Kill You" volume knob to 11, as if someone's figured out how to create, in reality, the Rainbow Road from the Mario Kart game series, but instead of simply falling into open space, and you're eventually picked up and placed back on the race track.
If you go off-course in this event, you're more than likely going to spend a few hours of your life tumbling down a rocky embankment, discovering as to how many different languages in which you know the words "Oh Shit!", and "Ouch!" and "Medic!".
And the interesting bit? There are actually people lined up to do this, year after year. It's almost like an amusement park ride called the 'KillDeath", which has a 20% chance of simply exploding somewhere along its track, and patrons cannot hand over their cash fast enough, due to because of how freaking awesome it is.
How awesome is the Pikes Peak Race to the Clouds?
THY AWESOMENESS LEVEL BE PEGGED.
The Peak is so awesome, it's the only peak in recorded history where a busload of boy scouts would consider it the ultimate badge of manhood if they went careening off of the road somewhere along their way to the top. No screams of terror will be heard as the bus goes sailing off of the tarmac, as if a ten-ton yellow Crayola crayon suddenly decided to explosively color outside the lines.
No, The only cries or screams that will be heard from this Short-Flight Magic School Bus of Awesomeness will be excited yells of "Hell Yes!" as it does its own version of Free Willy over whatever barrier might or might not be in its way.
In all seriousness, however, this is an amazing event. Think of it as the Nurburgring, but this one is called the Brown Hell, and is more difficult in that you really only have two or three chances to get it done right, and there's that whole "sailing off of a mountain" thing to contend with as well.
It's almost entirely just you, the car, the bike, the large diesel race truck (scroll down), the open wheel monster, and the mountain, along attempting to fill an empty, spiritual bag of experience while you pull from a full, but exact-amount-unknown bag of luck. If you can fill the bag of experience before the bag of luck runs out, you might have a chance of making it to the top, and perhaps set a record or two along the way...or in the case of Leonard Vahsholtz, you set two records, in two different classes, in the same day. He won his class 18 times in 33 years, and I seem to recall is the only one to set two records in two different classes in the same day, either before or since this record was set.
Concerning other record setters, however, this mountain is essentially owned by the Unser family. The Unser family includes Al, Bobby, and Al Jr. who have piled up a combined amount of nine wins in the Indy 500: Bobby, four wins, Al (senior), three wins, and Al (junior) with two. It's almost like watching three kids passing a large soda back and forth between them, all taking drinks and not bothering to wipe the spit off, all while they hog it to themselves, not letting anyone else get a sip. And it's even worse when it comes up to tallying the amount of times that the Unsers went home with another 'King of the Mountain' trophy in their grasp: It's almost as if they have a particularly difficult problem with buying coffee tables that have at least one leg with the incorrect length, and they're merely winning races in order to win specific-length trophies that this race provides in order to get the tables to sit correctly.
The Unser family of drivers have come home with a grand total of twenty six King of the Mountain titles, which also includes patriarch Louis, and the youngest driver, Robby, who won as recently as 2004. It should also be noted that Bobby Unser, who won this title some nine times, won his first title in 1956, and won his last title thirty years later in an Audi Sport Quattro in 1986 Unser sandwiched himself in between Michele Mouton winning and setting a class record in 1985, and...Walter Rohrl, with Unser setting a class record in the process, beating Mouton's time, but getting beaten one year later by Rhorl in 1987, who would also set the final Audi class record. Audi's class record would be beaten in 1988 by Ari Vatanen, in a Peugeot 405.
At this point, I am going to turn this story over to a collection of pictures that I have been gathering over the last several days, and let them tell the rest of the story from this point on. Did I miss anything? Yes, I did. I do hope, however, that I've given you, the reader, something to go on in discovering your own Pikes Peak Hillclimb stories, as there are thousands of them just waiting to be rediscovered.
Thank you for reading this.
THE TERRIFYING BIG RED CAMARO, AS IT RAN IN 2017. IF YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT, PERHAPS YOU SHOULD. THE WORLD'S BEST SWISS-ARMY CAMARO. HIT BIGREDCAMARO.COM FOR MORE INFORMATION. PHOTO COURTESY OF ENGINESWAPDEPOT.COM
PIKES PEAK, 1947. BILL MILLIKEN MAKING IT LOOK SOMEWHAT-EASY. FOR ME, THE OPEN-WHEELED CAR IS QUINTESSENTIAL PIKES PEAK. IMAGE COURTESY OF SILODROME.COM
Open Wheel is, in my opinion, the class which best represents the history of the hillclimb, as other than motorcycles, no other class racing vehicle is as timeless throughout motorsport history as the open wheel automobile...and few are as beautiful.
REA LENTS, FIRST PIKES PEAK WINNER IN 1916. HE SET THE RECORD TIME GOING UP THE MOUNTAIN EVEN AFTER STOPPING TO WRESTLE A BEAR ON THE WAY UP. MEN WERE MEN, AND WOMEN WERE JUST AS TOUGH, BUT DIDN'T RECEIVE ANY PRESS. COURTESY OF HISTORYGARAGE.COM
I'M FAIRLY CERTAIN THAT NOBODY HERE KNOWS WHO THIS GUY IS, I CAN'T REMEMBER EITHER, DUE TO SOME KIND OF MENTAL BLOCK. IMAGE COURTESY OF AUTOEVOLUTION.COM
REMEMBER THE LOW-FLYING MITSUBISHI FROM THE BEGINNING OF THIS ARTICLE, AND FROM SCENE 24? THIS IS THE AFTERMATH. COURTESY OF BLOGSPOT.COM
THE LIGHTNING-QUICK, BATTERY-POWERED LIGHTNING MOTORCYCLE, ON ITS WAY TO NEARLY BREAKING THE TEN-MINUTE BARRIER IN 2013. IMAGE COURTESY OF WIRED.COM
THE AMAZING PORSCHE 928 OF 928 MOTORSPORTS. I HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING THIS PARTICULAR CAR FOR SOME YEARS NOW, . IT'S PUSHING SOME 900+HP, IN ADDITION TO OTHER MODS, HAS ALSO RAN CLOSED-TRACK AND LAND-SPEED EVENTS. IMAGE COURTESY OF ROADSCHOLARS.COM
UNKNOWN VW-POWERED BUGGY ATTEMPTING TO WHEEZE ITS WAY TO THE SUMMIT. IMAGE COURTESY OF PINTEREST.COM
WHY WORRY ABOUT A CUSHION FOR THE SEAT WHEN YOU'RE ONLY GOING TO RIDE THIS ATV FOR MAYBE 11 MINUTES AT A TIME. IF I AM DOING MY MATH CORRECTLY, AN ATV WITH ITS ROOTS IN A YAMAHA BANSHEE. IMAGE COURTESY OF RIDEAPART.COM
THE RIDER OF THIS MOTORCYCLE MADE IT ALL THE WAY UP THE MOUNTAIN, ONLY TO NOT MAKE IT MUCH FARTHER THAN THE FINISH LINE, HE CRASHED IN THE SHUT-DOWN AREA. THIS RACER UNFORTUNATELY DIDN'T SURVIVE THE ACCIDENT. IMAGE COURTESY OF THEDENVERCHANNEL.COM
CANEPA PORSCHE 930 TURBO-POWERED SPRINT CAR. INSANELY FAST. WAS FAST ENOUGH TO MANAGE A 2ND PLACE OVERALL EVEN AFTER HAVING TO STOP TO AVOID AN IDIOT SPECTATOR WHO RAN ACROSS THE COURSE. BANNED FOR 1981. IMAGE COURTESY OF THEAMAZOEFFECT.BLOGSPOT.COM
1965 MERCURY BEING TOSSED AROUND LIKE SOMEONE HATES IT, DRIVEN BY THE AMAZING PARNELLI JONES. HE REPORTEDLY LOOKED BORED DURING THE ENTIRE RUN. IMAGE COURTESY OF PINTEREST.COM
THE EVOLUTION OF THE OPEN-WHEEL ROADSTER AND SPRINT CAR. PAUL DALLENBACH'S 'FAMOUS DAVE'S' OPEN-CLASS MONSTER, ATTEMPTING TO GO FOR A WORLD-RECORD RUN SEVERAL YEARS AGO. IMAGE COURTESY OF BANKSPOWER.COM
AN OFF-TRACK EXCURSION WITH A HAPPY ENDING: MIKE RYAN ATTEMPTING TO COLOR OUTSIDE THE LINES WITH A GIANT DIESEL TRUCK. IMAGE COURTESY OF KNFILTERS.COM
Remember this car from the Gran Turismo game series? The Suzuki Escudo? The car that could be modified to produce over 1800 horsepower in Gran Turismo 2, and would also do over 250mph on the test track, provided you went around it backwards? This car below?
IF YOU CAN REMEMBER USING THIS CAR IN GRAN TURISMO 2 BACK WHEN IT FIRST CAME OUT, YOU'RE PROBABLY OLD. IMAGE COURTESY OF GRAN-TURISMO.WIKIA.COM
Possibly unbeknownst to some people, but possibly knownst to all of us, it was actually a real car:
Once again, thank you for reading.