Pikes Peak Hill Climb Was Last Weekend… And Why You Didn’t Know

Pikes Peak Hill Climb

The 100th running of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb was last weekend, but unless you’re a die hard Pikes Peak Hillclimbfan you probably didn’t even know it was happening. The big names were there, but the event was restricted to 100 vehicles and 35 were motorcycles. I heard even less competed on race day after a bunch of racers failed to qualify. Unfortunately no one bothered to publish the race entry list or results from Sunday. It’s like the race never happened. Which is sad because Pikes Peak is the oldest continually running race in the history of the United States. How did we get here? Why did the media stop covering it? Why did the race itself do nothing to promote the event? I’m not entirely sure but here’s my guess.

Normally they take a few hundred entries apparently making it a large event with a huge reach on social media. With only 65 cars there were far less stories shared on the internet. (Edit: apparently most of the cuts were to the motorcycle class, but I remember there being more than 65 cars a few years ago. Unfortunately I can’t find the previous year’s entry lists.) It also means there were less stories for the media to cover. Either way, it looks like most of the usual media didn’t bother to attend. And with 65 cars, the published stories were all the same. Hankook sponsored Rhys Millen and Acura ran an electric NSX with 4 motors. I heard from friends that Acura actually entered four cars and Romain Dumas, the winner this year, had a two car team – that’s 10% of the field right there.

062716_motor_dumas_victory.vadapt.664.high.96

I’m a huge Rhys Millen fan so it was great to see his race covered, but it’s a shame because the interesting stories are generally about the home-built car run by a group of friends that have dreamed about reaching 14,114 ft for years. Their motors are unusual and their wings massive. Their cars look wild yet they’re still something that the rest of could build if we had the right group of friends and assembled the required knowledge.

Instead Hankook paid news outlets to publish their story(known as a “sponsored post”) and Acura appears to be the only team that sent out a press release. If you don’t have friends competing, it might as well have been a two car race. Three, if you include the winner Romain Dumas that no one heard anything about until he won. I wanted to link to the Hankook sponsored post but like an advertisement, once the paid program is over, the posts are gone too. There was one sponsored post discussing Rhys Millen’s 2016 entry and another saying he broke the electric record. Neither are still up on Jalopnik or any of the other blogs. It’s like the race never happened.

You can Google “Pikes Peak International Hillclimb” and click the news tab, but you’ll only find five or six articles and they all the same. Romain Dumas Wins Pikes Peak. Not one contains race results. Since initially writing this article, it looks like Blake Fuller of Go Puck sent out a press release about his run up the mountain in a Tesla S but that it. No raceweek coverage, no race results, Just Rhys, Acura, Dumas wins, and there was a Tesla there.

I get that the smaller field produces less social media but was is there no coverage of the race? Why did the usual media outlets skip the race entirely? I’ve heard people say that Loeb ruined the mountain by decimating the record in 2013, but others say that Pikes Peak changed because they fully paved the mountain road in 2012 and the race lost its huge following and excitement. Leob’s in-car video is cool but it’s nothing compared to the sideways era on dirt. Check out Climb Dance for a comparison.

Pikes Peak climb dance

I’ve also heard that the race isn’t as big of deal because many of the old racers that loved the dirt stopped going when it was paved. I don’t entirely believe that because the full pavement course opened the door for even more competitors that are used to paved race tracks and time attack racing. Maybe the customer base changed and made the race less interesting to cover?

I think has more to do with limiting the field to 100 competitors. In case you’re asking why would they do that? My hunch is that the organizers wanted their race to become more exclusive and loaded with big name drivers and fancy cars. But its also because the race became unmanageable for the current organizing body. In previous years, teams were complaining about the lack of practice leading up to the race. Back in 2010 you might get seven or eight passes up the mountain but by 2012, you were lucky to squeeze in three practice runs. Limiting the field gives the team more practice time and hopefully reduces the accidents on race day.

The smaller field also means they can get everyone up the mountain on race day which was becoming a serious problem. Between the accidents and weather, the race would run so long that daylight becomes a real concern. To be fair, it’s not something they can control. Weather comes out of nowhere at 14,000 ft and can cover the top in snow or hail in minutes causing an extended race delay. Accidents are uncontrollable too and they happen regularly. The course gets shut down while the ambulance deploys and it takes a while to get everything back into position before they can restart. Limiting the entries means everyone should get up the mountain in the time allowed. But it also means there are less stories to cover if you’re a media outlet.

Another factor is the hillclimb’s competition. The same weekend was Indy Car’s return to Road America. Pirelli World Challenge was there as well. Two big race weekends in one location. Nascar was running the road course at Sonoma and there was the Goodwood Festival of Speed was going on in England which is a massive event. I doubt any european journalists wanted to skip that to fly all the way over to see 65 cars and 35 motorcycles run up Pikes Peak.

The real problem is lack of media from the race organizers. The only updates on their website discuss the Pikes Peak Hillclimb Museum, Acura’s press release, and Rod Millen’s exhibition run up part of the mountain in his Celica.

Pikes Pike Hill Climb

You would at least think they would use their Twitter feed to post qualifying results and live updates during the race. Instead it discusses Loeb’s record run from three years ago and how difficult it is to setup wifi on the hill… So we know they have wifi, why didn’t the race use it? (Edit: Apparently the race created a live timing app for Apple and Android and all the timing updates went out through the app. I wish someone would have told me. Maybe they should have used twitter to let people know about the app?)

The sad part is this story is about the race fans that traveled from around the country to watch. I haven’t found one that wants to go back. The Pikes Peak International Hillclimb Official Facebook Page received a bunch of one star reviews over the weekend expressing their displeasure with race. Most felt the current race didn’t reflect the media from year’s past. The problem is they’re right. The race is very different than in years past.

65 cars means its a much smaller event but another reason the fans were upset is because their view of the race was significantly limited from previous years – but for good reason. Spectators were injured in previous years and new spectator safety regulations were implemented – meaning you can only watch from where the race tells you to. No more hiking up the mountain for a great viewing spot. The spectator areas were roped off and guarded to prevent people from leaving. Like a race fan prison. According to the reviews you just read, people felt like they were given a tiny snapshot of the race from these forced spectator areas. You can’t blame the organizers for improving safety, but it cost the race a lot of publicity and popularity.

As for the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb website, I still can’t find the race results from three days ago. How long does it take to publish the results of 65 cars? But under “info” there is a link to a gun manufacturer’s Facebook page… Not sure why that’s on there. (Edit: The Live Timing and Scoring tab is where you can find the final race results. I naturally assumed “live” meant live and it was no longer active. I also never went to the link because my virus protection software said that the link contains malicious code that could damage my computer. Its the first time Ive ever seen that message and I spend a lot of time on the internet so I never went to the link).

Pikes peak hillclimb

Also gone this year was the live video feed. It wasn’t that great so you’re not missing anything, but it did allow you to see cars and watch a tiny bit of the race. Instead there was no video coverage, no social media coverage, no automotive press, and no race results. It’s like the race never happened.

So what did happen to the longest running race in the United States? Here’s my guess. The race is far less interesting to watch now that it’s paved. Loeb broke the mountain and no one cares anymore, including the media. The race used be to the largest grassroots motorsport event of the year, but the organizers wanted it to be fancy and exclusive and limited the field to 65 cars – meaning there were far less stories and pictures on social media. The fancy teams do a lot less to promote themselves than grassroots racers because normally they don’t need to. The race organizers did nothing to promote the event or publish anything during race weekend and they still haven’t bothered to publish race results (Edit: they are under the Live Timing tab on the website apparently but you would think they would put up a post with the complete official results like most races). If the organizers don’t care why would anyone else?

The good news is that Speedhunters always covers the race and in the next few days you’ll get to see Larry Chen’s incredible photos from the event. But my guess is there won’t be much coverage after that. I wish I knew why Pikes Peak International Hillclimb is disappearing, but I’m not entirely sure. Curious to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Edit: I missed some great coverage of the 2016 Pikes Peak hillclimb by Right Foot Down. It’s worth a read. 

Bill Caswell is a self-taught racing driver, mechanic, and fabricator, and rose to internet fame taking a $500 Craigslist BMW to a World Rally Championship event in Mexico in March of 2010. His exploits have featured in places like ESPN Magazine, Grassroots Motorsports, NPR Radio, Wired.com and Jalopnik.com. A lifelong fan of rally and motorsport, Caswell famously believes nothing to be impossible.

There are 12 comments for this article
  1. Dar at 5:10 pm

    I didn’t even know it was happening and the only thing on Jalopnik was something about the Tesla after the event took place. Granted, I’m not plugged into Facebook but it feels weird to have it take place without even knowing about it.

    Oh, and the pavement/asphalt killed the mountain, not Loeb (I prefer Ari Vatanen anyway).

  2. Fed up at 10:51 pm

    The organizers didn’t even have the full results of every group published in the local newspapers. In the past, the local papers listed every participants finishing position. Also, the hill climb org didn’t recognize the finishers of all the groups at the awards banquet, only the top dogs. No thank you or hand shake for paying out thousands of dollars to participate and win your group.

    This was the 100th anniversary, why were there 18 rookies and not more historic/vintage vehicles?

    In 2008 the hill climb was within a hair’s breath of closing down. A deal was struck with a Colorado based vintage race organization which provided 20 entrants on the starting grid between 2008 and 2012. Were the old cars fast? Some were but ALL were cool to see. The vintage cars were LOVED by the fans. In 2013 the hill climb org took over the rules and changed them drastically, they’ve only had 3 or 4 cars each year after that.

    If they would run the motorcycles on Saturday and the vehicles on Sunday the fields could be much larger and the hill climb org could take in more fees for entry and crew. El Paso county would benefit from more money spent by the teams and spectators.

    You are correct in saying the org wants it to be fancy and draw in only the big name/big buck teams. They could care less about the average Joe. In the tight pursed corporate world of today, you can’t have 65 big buck teams, Nascar can’t, what makes the hill climb org think they can? The entry is the same $1500 for Dumas or the average Joe. If you only have a dozen teams paying a $1500 entry fee, that won’t support an event. What spectator wants to pay $70 to see at best, a car on 10% of the track?

  3. Kermit at 5:24 pm

    Hey race fans mostly blame yourselves!!!! All the spectator areas are due to drunk assholes who almost got hit 2 years ago crossing the track in front of a race car. They sued and the insurance company forces the spectator areas. Limited the race was nice because it made it possible to finish in 1 day. I agree pavement ruined it, but thats what Enviromentalists do!

  4. Tim H. at 3:47 pm

    This was my first year attending the PPIHC, and I do want to go back again. Yes, there were lots of red flags, especially toward the end. These made things kind of boring and made the day drag on, but it was still a blast to watch in person. Where I was watching from (Cove Creek), they didn’t seem real strict about staying behind the fences. If you wanted to move around, you certainly could. With only 35 bikes and 65 cars, they day started quick, but slowed down a lot toward the afternoon. If they ran the cars a bit closer together, they could easily have gotten another 50 cars up the mountain. Still, I do plan to go back again in the future, maybe for the 100th running.

    Also, If you are signed up for their newsletter/email, they sent out tons of info about the race, and they had a new apple/android app this year for live timing/race results/competitor list. I’m sure it’s still available for download, and the competitors and times are still available. KRDO NewsRadio was also there live, broadcasting the entire race, which was kind of nice, but you’d only know that if you were there.

  5. Will at 2:54 pm

    There seemed to me the same amount of media coverage as always 1240 am covered in on the radio, the helicopter chased the top racers it was covered by the evening news media coverage didn’t change . They probably didnt post the race results because they posted them on the ppihc app and they wanted everyone to download it. I do agree that the small field of cars was disappointing but from what I understand they did it because it was the 100th running which is understandable I guess, and the limited spectating area sucks that is why I chose to watch from cove reek so that I could still see a fair amount of the race but also avoid the unpredictable weather at devils playground. I will go back every year to watch and hopefully I will get to run it someday

    • Bill Caswell Author at 10:52 pm

      In the past there used to be a lot of articles on pikes peak. A bunch on who’s running and their builds, updates from each day of practice/qualifying and a few detailed posts about the race itself. I didn’t see any of that this year.

      How does the helicopter provide media coverage? Don’t they just sell the footage to the top teams? I certainly have never seen it published as a stand alone video.

      I guess I should have tuned into am radio… But we have the internet now… Why can’t they use it?

  6. Stephen F at 1:51 pm

    This year was my first PPIHC experience and I left the event with a sense of excitement for next year’s race. There were some disappointing aspects, like the spectator corrals and repeated red flag runs for some racers, but that’s sort of a necessary evil when safety is a major concern. I’ll post on your Facebook link, the picture I took of the top finishers on the live scoring screen they had set up.

  7. bmatney@ymail.com at 1:28 pm

    Great story, I agree 100 percent with you. I myself am with the 167 team. This was the year of the Red Flag.

  8. Morgan McLane at 1:21 pm

    It’s sad, Bill you’re 100% correct. I remember standing at 16 mile watching you careening toward the hairpin and Swedish flick the BMW (directly towards me…..) but it was awesome to be so close to the action. I’ve managed in the past two years to be lucky enough to slide my way into some secret spots allowing me to get wonderful photos, and stories. But, the race is still amazing but the choking from organizers will kill this race I’ve been fascinated with, since I was 11. Spectators are nonexistent and those who are spectating, are in the worst places possible. Caged like animals. Of course no one wants to go to a grassroots race and deal with mainstream rules.

    2 years ago, I can remember shooting photos and hearing sounds above me, and poof, like magic two guys from New Zeland were propping up their folding chairs with their cooler and offering me beer to keep me quiet.

    The exciting part died the year you wrecked the M3 on that ghost corner. I hate to bring up that memory. But it’s the truth.

  9. Jason at 1:19 pm

    I thought it was quite a shame the limited field at Pike’s Peak this year. Cody from Lovefab was not accepted into this year’s race, with his enviate car that is basically built for Pike’s Peak. When racers and builders like this can no longer enter the race, I feel it’s life span is nearing it’s end.

    The Pike’s Peak facebook did have some live streaming coverage of the start during the race and qualifying, which was better than nothing. However it was still far from the coverage I would like to see from an event like this.

    Lovefab’s Enviate:
    [img]http://engineswap.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/LoveFabs-Enviate-v2.0-Twin-turbo-LQ9-V8-Pikes-Peak-race-car-07-620×414.jpg[/img]

  10. Nick at 12:36 pm

    Wow. I didn’t even think about any of these points until reading this article. I live in Colorado Springs, and love going to the hill climb, but the last two years have lacked epically. I didn’t go this year and you know what, I ended up not being that sad about it. A lot has changed, and not for the good of the fans. I really hope it doesn’t become some douchey exclusive race for the high rollers. I always went to see what wicked, homemade machines were coming to dominate the mountain. Take Lovefab for instance (google it, thank me later) that man is making an incredible automobile that I hope makes it’s way back. Bring back the mountain!

  11. Andrew P at 12:11 pm

    Social media did seem light on coverage this year. I went in person in 2013, that was amazing part of motosports history to see.

    However I have no real desire to go back unless end up knowing someone who is competing possibly.