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Pikes Peak Memories

This email conversation between Bill Noroski and Bob Graham started because Bill’s daughter, Carolyn, sent him this link:

https://roadscholars.com/porsche-935-at-the-pikes-peak-international-hill-climb-2020-official-video/?fbclid=IwAR3iKaK8uFVzyoihOK7b2HPumDG_2wOLuceQZqL12HmkXjIHWRSr-Rrh7nE

Bill passed it along to some PCA’ers:

Hi All, Did you ever wonder about Pikes Peak? Well here it is – Jeff Zwart’s run in a Porsche. A record run. All I can say is I probably shouldn’t have just eaten dinner. Check out the link.

Enjoy, Bill Noroski

Bob Graham responded:

Thanks, Bill. Drove that road a couple of times back in the ’60s–mostly dirt then, so obviously much improved today. But even driven with respect to posted speed limits, the course was intimidating. No guard rails; a moment’s inattention and you would be in big trouble. I also had a few vertigo moments, which didn’t help, either. Still, glad I did it.

Best, Bob

Now really grabbing Bill’s attention, Bill responded:

Good morning Bob. I didn’t know you were a fan of Pikes Peak. I am too, sort of. Now, get this true story:

About the mid-1980s, our daughter, Carolyn moved to Denver. Jean & I would love to vacation out there each year. We would take side trips from Denver and enjoy the Rocky Mountains. They are so beautiful. I remember that damn Pikes Peak. It seems that everywhere you wanted to go (south of Denver) you had to drive around that extensive mountain. Miles and miles to get where you were going.

One evening Jean and I were having dinner with Carolyn and her husband Rick and we started talking about Pikes Peak. At that time I knew they raced to the Peak. I fancied myself as a race car driver from Driver’s Ed experiences at Watkins Glen. Yeah sure! I stated that I would like to do that run and create a video tape of it for the guys back home (flat-landers!) to see.

Rick, a native of Denver said “I’ll go. I’ve lived in Colorado my whole life and have never been there. I’ll drive and Bill you can do the camera work.”

The ladies weren’t interested. They said, “You guys go ahead. Just remember to come back home.”

So this is what we did…gathered equipment (a large cumbersome video camera – VHS, with a battery about the same size). You had to rest that beast on your shoulder and aim through a viewfinder attached to the side – very heavy, ugh. We were using a small Nissan pickup truck, 4-on-the-floor/clutch. It ran well, but WAY underpowered for the job. We attached the camcorder’s microphone to the exhaust pipe in order to catch the sounds of the revs and shift points. All packed up, we headed south. Little did we know what was to come next.

First, I wanted a FULL, CONTINOUS UNINTERRUPTED RECORDING of the run for the guys at home. It was a great plan! We got to the base of the mountain and wondered about running low on gas! Where do you buy gas on the mountain? Nothing in sight except a two lane weaving road ahead and lots of rocks. Made it to the top, had the obligatory cup of coffee and doughnut and started down. About halfway down I noticed the video camera was in negative mode. Not sure when that got switched to negative, so we drove to the bottom, and started the process again. But this time, the camera battery ran out of juice! So it was time to drive back to Denver without my illusive video for the guys.

Rick was a good sport and said he’d go back down to the Peak with me the next weekend. Got the full video that time!!!! We were happy about it but didn’t spend much time viewing it and enjoying the fruits of our labor. BUT, I got it – sound and all!!!!. It is great and very scary. I found that only CRAZY people drive that course at speed and that certainly isn’t me. And who uses VHS these days?

I’ll tell you one thing, at the top, if you can make it there, you can see forever.

Bill

Bob wrote back with his memories.

Hi Bill, thanks for your Pikes Peak memories.

Mine began in the spring of 1962. The first unit assignment for this young, just-married 2d Lieutenant (me) was at Fort Carson, just south of Colorado Springs. Our drive out from NY was our honeymoon, in fact!

We soon decided we liked Colo Springs, with great weather, clean air and plenty to see. During my off-duty time we explored the region. Naturally, this whole time the mountain loomed over us, visible from everywhere in town. I had read about the famous July 4 Pikes Peak Hillclimb, and put it on our must-see list.

But before that we took a Sunday drive up Pikes Peak. There was a toll, but no big deal. A little disappointing when the tarmac road soon became dirt, but no big deal. The drive up took a lot longer than we had expected it would, and at many places the road was downright scary, with no guard rails to prevent drops of hundreds of feet.

We had a ’61 VW Beetle, and stayed close to the low posted speed limit. It crossed my mind that over-doing a curve and experiencing oversteer on the dirt could land us in big trouble. It was beautiful, if also a bit scary, to survey the fabulous views as we climbed higher.

We finally reached the summit, and of course got out of the car to experience: COLD! The temp at over 14,000 feet was at least 20 degrees colder than at the base. Plus there was a hefty wind that we were told was almost constant. The view? We were so high it was hard to make out any detail below, but it appeared that the horizon was hundreds of miles distant.

The descent was quicker than the ascent. I got a little playful and slid a few corners, prompting a warning siren blast from a patrol car, but he didn’t stop us.

In my next email I’ll describe attending the famous Hillclimb. Meanwhile, take good care!

Bob

Bill responded,

Hi, Bob. Wow! That is a great ‘memory’ to have and recall.

I didn’t know you lived near there. It certainly is beautiful country. We always enjoyed our visits and side trips. Another thing that intrigues me is the gold and silver mining in the area – but that’s another story.

You are correct re: the drop-offs. What I remember is that damn heavy camera that I was holding and directing. I was worried about the scenes that I was taping. Most of the time, one eye closed, looking through that viewfinder. Occasionally, I would look sideways and see those drop-offs and gulp as they whizzed by and then go back to looking through the camera. I figured…what you don’t see, don’t hurt you!

Then there is the rail trip up to the top. Did you ever use that? What do they call it? The Cog Railway? I said, no thanks to that.

You used a VW (a BUG in those days, right?) Good choice – the pre-cursor to the 356! Oh, I see and am putting it all together now. I’m anxious to read your next installment.

Regards, Bill

Bob had some additional memories to share:

July Fourth, 1962: after hearing about it for years, I HAD to see the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in person! Part of the reason was that local radio-TV executive Bob Donner would be competing in his new RS-61. Donner was a successful entrant in local and regional SCCA events–an area celebrity.

So, fat, dumb and happy we packed lunches and departed our Colorado Springs apartment for the mountain, some distance west up Colorado Avenue. Took a while to get to the Pikes Peak Highway entrance with all the traffic. We drove quite a ways up the mountain on the dirt road, constantly looking for a spot to pull off the road that would offer a good view of the cars passing. At last we found one that looked promising, overlooking the road right at the end of a fast s-bend, and pulled well off the road amid other parked spectator cars. We then found a spot of sandy soil on which to deposit ourselves and await the start. The day grew warm, with no trees for shelter from the sun. Lots of other folks sat nearby.

Slowly but inexorably, the differences between attending a race and a hillclimb began to dawn on us. For one thing, no PA system near enough for us to hear what was going on. If there was any PA at all. Our first inking that the event had started was the roar of an unmuffled engine, growing ever louder. Who was it? Oh, right: no race programs.

So we sat for the next several hours, watching cars hurtle by at terrific speeds considering the conditions. We understood that a couple of the Unsers were driving, but were never sure whose cars were theirs. At last Donner and his RS-61 appeared. With clouds of dust he threw it through the s-bend at truly impressive speed. And was gone, in the space of perhaps six seconds. Other cars followed. Who was fastest? Could have been Donner, but no PA, no radio broadcast to tune in on. (Turned out, he was indeed FTD.)

Having seen Donner, my interest waned. The event was actually beginning to get boring, with the complete info blackout. Time to leave, perhaps. But wait! How can anyone leave until the close of the event? Only one road up or down, remember . . . . A certain feeling came over us; we’re trapped here!

Finally, no more cars appeared. Must be the event was over. But no official word. Finally, finally, we began to see other spectators climb in their cars and start to head down the mountain.

Well, not exactly. They got out on the road and joined an endless line of downbound spectators, the line itself barely moving when not actually stopped. Finally, we managed to poke the Beetle’s nose between a pair of obliging motorists.

Took us literally hours to get home, and by then we felt roasted by the sun that had glared on us as he sat watching, and still with no idea of who had done well, and who had not. Our ignorance of the event was total, with only one concluding thought that helped us through our day of naivte. Some lessons are only learned The Hard Way.

Never again. And anyway, we were within an hour of Continental Divide Raceway, up I-25 just south of Denver. In the months to come we enjoyed a number of fine SCCA race events there, watching from bleachers that provided an unobstructed view of virtually the entire course.

Good PA system, too.

A footnote — Bill, you mentioned another means to climb the mountain that I had forgotten: the cog railway that took visitors up impossibly steep grades. We never actually took it, however; driving up a couple of times worked fine for us.

A good friend of ours who lived out there, Stan Moskal, told us later how he and his then-10-yr- old son took another route to the top: They walked up. The secret? Both were in excellent physical shape. Stan had been an All- America-caliber hockey player, and he kept his son active, too. When we were in Colorado in 1962-63 I was in pretty good shape too, thanks to regular physical training in the army (we ran every day), but nothing close to Stan. I know I couldn’t have made it to the top on foot, even 60 years ago.

If anyone has any memories of Pikes Peak, drop me an email – I’d love to hear them.

Bill Noroski – wjn356@yahoo.com

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