Fan Fest adds to Pikes Peak Hill Climb's popularity

by BROOKE PRYOR sports@gazette.com - Updated: December 27, 2013 at 8:17 pm • Published: December 27, 2013 | 8:15 pm 0

Leading up to the 75th running of the Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb in 1997, an adjustment was needed.

The growing number of motorcycle entries and international talent presented a need for the name to be adjusted.

And so, before the race in 1997, the race was rebranded as the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

"The new name addressed two issues, namely removing the name auto and stressing the international flavor of the event," said Donald Sanborn, vice chairman of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb Historical Association.

Now, 16 years later, the race has continued to grow in international popularity, but its identity is still tied to the city sitting nearly 8,000 feet below the summit finish line.

"The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is part of the DNA of Colorado Springs," PPIHC Chairman Tom Osborne said. "It's just an iconic race that has just taken off."

As the race has grown, so has the number of people interested in the race. This year, RedBull TV live-streamed the 91st running. The livestream, complete with an in-helicopter camera, brought in 1.1 million viewers worldwide. Combined, France and Italy had more viewers than the United States.

Though the race has become a focal point of the international race community, reaching new heights this year with the record-breaking run by France's Sebastien Loeb, there is still a draw for the local crowd.

For the past 10 years, the downtown Fan Fest celebration has been an integral part of race week.

The celebration the Friday before the race is the city's largest downtown celebration. This year, the festivities drew more than 30,000 people and featured performances by Red Bull Motorcycle Jumpers and Skydivers.

The actual race day continues to draw a large crowd to the mountain - many of them repeat spectators.

"You get a sense that a lot of it is people that have been doing this for years and years," Executive Director of Operations Megan Leatham said. "You hear about different changes that we make and people have it down. The people that know exactly where to go and what to do versus the people that call us with very rookie questions about the race. It really is a lot of repeat spectators."

This year, a record crowd of 8,093 watched as Loeb broke the record by more than a minute, becoming the first driver to post a sub-nine-minute time.

The race is also enhanced by the large contingent of locals who organize and help with race day setup.

"If you count general volunteers, the law enforcement agency volunteers, and the officials and safety volunteers, there's about 475 to 500 local people up there making this go," Leatham said. "When it comes to race day, the whole city really does pitch in."

Local awareness of the race has grown over the years, and race organizers don't anticipate its popularity declining any time soon - especially with the building of a race museum and the 100th anniversary on the horizon.

"I think that as this race grows in popularity, we'll see a lot more locals plugging into it," Osborne said. "With the 100th anniversary coming up in 2016 and the 100th running in 2022, I think the local families and businesses will really get behind this.

"Internationally it's really a cool race and locally it's a cool race."

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