The Pikes Peak “Race to the Clouds” features a one-mile vertical climb, heart-stopping dropoffs, and a century of tradition.
“I’ll race you to the top.” At Pikes Peak, you can almost hear those words echoing throughout the pine-blanketed mountains from a century ago. It was then, in 1916, that Spencer Penrose founded the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, sketching a route to the 14,115-foot summit composed of 156 turns and a vertical ascent of almost a mile. Penrose, a local entrepreneur and hotelier, converted a narrow carriage road into Pikes Peak Highway at the cost of half a million dollars, all in an attempt to drive tourism and business to Colorado Springs and Penrose’s Broadmoor Hotel.
Pikes Peak now draws 5.9 million visitors a year, but it’s still best known as the site of the annual race to the summit, commonly referred to as the Race to the Clouds. The 12.42-mile course features dizzyingly tight turns and cringe inducing drop-offs and can squeeze all four seasons into a single run up the mountain.
Racers often start in warm sunshine only to be hit by fog, rain, ice, and snow during their dash to the top. Visibility can change dramatically, and the altitude change wreaks havoc on the vehicles; the thin air means a car engine has about 30 percent less power at the summit than it had at the starting line.
Rea Lentz, the first Pikes Peak champion, steered his Romano Demon Special to the finish in 20 minutes and 55 seconds. Today, the record belongs to the Frenchman Sébastien Loeb, who drove an 875-horsepower Peugeot 208 T16 to the summit in eight minutes and 13 seconds in 2013. The event now has multiple categories, for racecars, trucks, motorcycles, vintage cars, UTVs, and electric vehicles. This year’s event takes place on June 25. Race you to the top.