For more than 60 years, the Sanborn family has been a major part of the rich and storied history of The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Twin brothers Nick and Frank Sanborn screamed up the mountain as Hill Climb drivers for the first time in 1956. A year earlier, they built a car but were unable to race since they did not meet the 21-year-old age requirement for competitors.
More than six decades later, Nick and Frank’s children and in-laws are still involved with the “Race to the Clouds.”
Lisa (Sanborn) Haight is one of the Hill Climb’s event coordinators and an event historian. Cousin Don Sanborn is president of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb Historical Association (Over the Hill Gang) and a member of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb Museum Committee, as well as a former Hill Climb competitor.
Linda (Sanborn) Ruyle — Lisa’s sister and Don’s cousin — is married to Randy Ruyle, the Hill Climb’s race director. Linda developed and supervised the original Hill Climb Museum gift shop in Manitou Springs in the 1990s.
The whole gang grew up together in Cascade and are all graduates of Manitou Springs High School.
“The Hill Climb for us is like summer camp for adults,” said Don, who resides near The Broadmoor. “We grew up with it. It’s a big part of who we are.”
Don’s father, Frank, was a mechanic and competitor. He drove in the Open Wheel Class in 1956 and finished 14th in the “Sanborn Special.” Brother Nick, Lisa and Linda’s father, finished fifth in the Stock Car Class in 1956 while driving a Chevy.
Frank competed off and on 11 times as a driver from 1956 to 1978. His best finish was third in the Stock Car Class in 1963. He died in 2014 at the age of 79.
Nick raced every year from 1956 through 1972, winning five Stock Car Class championships. He clocked his best winning time (14 minutes, 17.70 seconds) in 1965 while driving a 1964 Plymouth. In 1969, he ran a second faster in a Mercury, finishing fifth in his class.
Nick is considered Hill Climb racing royalty. In 2000, a year after he died, he was inducted into its Hall of Fame.
“With Uncle Nick’s exceptional driving skills and Dad’s mechanical abilities, they made a winning team,” Don Sanborn said.
Don tried to keep the family racing tradition alive when he got behind the wheel of a 2000 Camaro during the 2000 Hill Climb. Competing in the Super Stock Car Class he reached the top in 14:09.77, which was good enough for ninth place.
Randy Ruyle, was his crew chief.
“That was a lot of fun that year,” said Ruyle, who has been the Hill Climb’s race director for five years. “Being a part of this race has always been a lot of fun with a lot of great memories.”
These days, Don is still involved on race day as a radio commentator. He can usually be found at the start line.
“I try to add a little color, historical perspective and give the listeners a feel for what’s going on just before the competitors head to the summit,” he said.
Nick Sanborn’s daughters — Lisa and Linda — have a treasure chest full of fond memories. Living in Cascade – tThey were neighbors of their Uncle Frank in Cascase and it was not unusual for them to make friends with many of the other competitors.
“During race week they’d be working on the race cars late into the night, and we’d hear the engines revving,” Linda said. “We didn’t think anything of it, but I’m sure some of our neighbors didn’t appreciate it.”
As far back as the 1930s, Nick and Frank’s father, Nick Sanborn, Sr., drove a tour car at one time and used to drag the Pikes Peak Highway (an all-gravel road until about 10 years ago) each night after the tourists vacated the mountain.
Lisa and Linda’s grandfather, Roger Knight, worked summers at the restaurant in the Summit House in the 1920s. Don’s grandfather, Don Lawrie, also drove a tour car in the 1920s, started the Pikes Peak Ski Club in 1935 and was the first superintendent of the road when the City leased it from the forest service in 1947.
In the 1950s, Nick and Frank worked as patrolmen on the highway and, presumably unbeknown to their boss and Frank’s future father-in-law, Don Lawrie, often raced each other to the summit in their patrol cars. The brothers met their future wives on Pikes Peak. Nick’s wife, Carole, a college student from North Carolina, had a summer job working in the photo booth at Glen Cove. Frank’s wife Jean worked at the Toll Gate.
“I guess it would be fair to say we all know this mountain pretty well,” Lisa said.