Hill Climb veteran Paul Dallenbach welcomes rules changes

April 24, 2014
photo - Paul Dallenbach races the Hill Climb in the unlimited class. Photo by COURTESY HILL CLIMB/COLORADO SPRINGS SPORTS CORP.
Paul Dallenbach races the Hill Climb in the unlimited class. Photo by COURTESY HILL CLIMB/COLORADO SPRINGS SPORTS CORP. 

Paul Dallenbach regained consciousness shortly after his car soared off the track and into the trees at 130 mph at the 2012 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

Dazed, he first asked what had happened. Next, he asked, "Did I hit anybody?"

Because of regulations put in place just before that race, the only casualty stemming from the jammed throttle was Dallenbach's car. Had the crash happened anywhere else, people could have died.

The limitations put in place in 2012 were the first of their kind for the Hill Climb. In 2013 there were eight sections off-limits to spectators. This year, there will be just six viewing areas for fans.

Dallenbach welcomes the changes.

"It was two seconds from when I realized the throttle was stuck to when I hit the first tree," Dallenbach said. "If there was somebody standing there I wouldn't have been able to do anything.

"As drivers, to hurt yourself or kill yourself, that's one thing. But if you hurt someone else, I wouldn't be able to live with myself, really. That would be a tough thing to swallow."

Various angles of Dallenbach's crash have been viewed on YouTube more than 2 million times. The high-profile incident left race organizers feeling justified in their decision to limit viewing areas and no doubt served as a catalyst for the far-reaching changes that are being implemented.

"That was one of the areas that was roped off and had no trespassing in there," race chairman of the board Tom Osborne said. "And that's exactly where Paul went through. This is just taking it to a whole new level."

Race executive director Megan Leatham said drivers' opinions were considered when making the decision.

"Items that we get the most feedback on from drivers and riders after a race are the amount of uncontrolled spectators that impact their run," Leatham said. "They're honestly scared - they use those words. They're scared they're going to hit people."

The fear for Dallenbach comes from a lack of control at high speeds. During his crash in 2012 that took place just 15 seconds into the race, he said he was reduced to little more than a passenger.

Such a crash could happen at any point, he said, because the corners have actually become more narrow with the paving of the highway, which did not extend to about a foot and a half on both sides of the road. With speeds increased and sharper corners, seemingly factors like gravel or dirt kicked onto the road or a previous car leaking water or oil could turn catastrophic.

"There are some places where I wouldn't watch, no matter who was driving," said Dallenbach, a Basalt native who will run the race for the 20th time this year. "People just don't really care. So I think it's a good thing that they're doing it. People just don't think anything is going to happen to them until afterward. I think we've been very, very lucky up there."

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