Every Summer, an incredible race takes place in the high altitude of Colorado Springs, Colorado, as drivers ascend the curves of Pike’s Peak. Widely known as the second oldest motorsports race in North America, the face of the race in changing.
Since 1916, drivers have made their way through the 12-mile course that winds up to an elevation of 14,100 feet at the summit of Pike’s Peak. With over 150 turns, this mountain road race was initially ran on a primarily dirt road surface. However, that dirt is disappearing. The Pike’s Peak toll road, which is used by tourists and sight seers the other 364 days a year, was paved to the half way point for a number of years. However, a recent lawsuit by the Sierra Club is changing that.
According to recent legal action, the gravel and dirt sediment that washes off of the road surface is causing irreparable damage to the Alpine eco-system that borders the roadway and provides for the Peak’s stunning scenery. While these claims are meant to protect the environment around which one of the world’s most famed road-races is built around, the off-road element of the race is gone. A project to finish paving Pike’s Peak toll road to the summit is expected to be completed later this month, making the 2012 race the first to be ran on an fully-paved surface. Gone are the days of watching world-class drifters and insane men in semi trucks whip around loose gravel corners.
However, the legend of Pike’s Peak continues. While racers adjust to the new fully-paved course, there will be no lack of insanity for the spectators. With an average of only 60% of the oxygen available at sea level, high performance cars are pushed to their limits. And it’s not just cars. Classes of competitors allow everything from dirt bikes, motorcycles with sidecars, stock cars, vintage mountain racers and a ridiculous class of exhibition vehicles meant to showcase motorsports advancements. And by that, the fine folks who organize the Pike’s Peak International Hillclimb mean things like, oh say, a modified semi truck capable of making it through the mountain course in under 15 minutes.
With modern times come more modern races. It will be interesting to see how the lack of any unpaved track changes the feelings of competitors and spectators at the Pike’s Peak race in this, and years to come. Meanwhile, it will be up to off road racing enthusiasts to care for the land we love and provide off-road recreational opportunities to future generations while maintaining the health of Mama Nature.