Just two more weeks, and we'll see what the future looks like for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. If the early pre-race testing runs are any indication, the all-paved road will produce records in every class for the July 8 race's 90th running.
We've already brought it up once before, suggesting strongly that PPIHC organizers must preserve the event's history by drawing a historical line, saving the records that stood as of the end of last year's climb, and starting over now. That proposal is hanging out there, but the Hill Climb's board still has time to do the right thing.
Let's offer another nod to the past nine decades on America's Mountain. We could easily rank the top competitors, but that would only cause hard feelings. We'll never know who would have won a match race, in identically prepared cars, among the best from different eras, classes and road surfaces. Let's try another route, simply offering the Hill Climb's Best Dozen.
Even doing it this way isn't easy, because worthy champions won't be mentioned. The mountain has had other tremendous drivers: Al Unser Sr., Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti, Al Unser Jr., Bobby Donner III, David Donner, Roger and Rick Mears, to name a few. But this list emphasizes longevity, to help make sure the race's past isn't forgotten.
With that, here's the list, alphabetically:
• Ralph Bruning: He was one of the top drivers during the Super Stock Car division's glory years, winning eight times between 1973 and 1992 with family as his crew.
• Davey Durelle: Among the motorcycles, nobody has come close to his successes with 15 titles, eight in 750cc between 1996 and 2009, with seven more in other classes including 250cc in 2010.
• Gary Lee Kanawyer: This Californian had a great run in Open Wheel when that group ruled Pikes Peak, winning six times in 20 years including a four-year streak (1981, 1995 through 1998, 2001).
• Rod Millen: He dominated in the 1990s, with five Unlimited victories between 1994 and 1999 plus four other division wins, but his 1994 run of 10:04.06 stood as the overall record for 13 years.
• Bobby Regester: One of the few to excel in both Open Wheel and Super Stock Car, Regester won Open Wheel in 1985 and ruled the stockers in 1994-95 and 2007.
• Nick Sanborn: During the stock cars' early rise to prominence, Sanborn led the way for a decade, winning five times between 1958 and 1968, then later returned as race director for many years.
• Nobuhiro Tajima: He has spent two decades pursuing records, amassing nine Unlimited titles along the way including 1992-93-95 and the past six years, breaking the 10-minute barrier in 2011 at 9:51.278.
• Bobby Unser Sr.: His 13 victories are magnified by the fact that eight times he set overall race records across four decades, winning Open Wheel eight times from 1958 to 1968 and coming out of retirement to drive an Audi to the Unlimited title and record of 11:09.22 in 1986.
• Louis Unser: Nobody was more successful in the pre-modern era, as Uncle Louis battled against the likes of Al Rogers and Glen Schultz, winning nine Open Wheel victories from 1934 to 1953 (and he lost four years when the race was dormant during World War II).
• Robby Unser: He kept the family in the headlines with eight titles between 1988 and 2004 in four divisions, with a best time of 10:05.85 in 1994.
• Clint Vahsholtz: Following his father's lead, Clint has won 18 times in the past 19 years, failing to reach the summit only in 2007, with three wins on motorcycles and 15 in Super Stock Car topped by his 10:55.603 last year.
• Leonard Vahsholtz: Building his own (and his son's) cars, Vahsholtz reigned over the stockers with seven wins from 1981-93, eight in Super Stock Trucks from 1993-2005, two in Pikes Peak Open and one in Mini Sprints, giving him 18 in all.
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