The Penrose Heritage Museum is a treasure chest of mind-blowing exhibits. And it’s free.
Located a stone’s throw from The Broadmoor International Center, the museum offers visitors a glimpse into the decadent lifestyles of Spencer and Julie Penrose and a walk through the fabled history of the historic Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
“People often say we are a hidden gem,” said Sarah Woods, Curator of Historic Properties & Archives, El Pomar Foundation. “I take great pride in that, but I would also like to see more of the local community visit the museum.”
In a normal year, the museum attracts between 20-25,000 visitors, Woods said. The museum was closed this year from March 16 to July 1 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since reopening, visitors must call the museum in advance and make a reservation.
“We provide free and convenient parking and there is a bus stop nearby,” Woods said. “We make it easy for anyone and everyone to visit.”
The Pikes Peak Hill Climb Experience encompasses a third of the museum, along with the Carriage Gallery and Western Heritage Gallery. The Hill Climb Experience first opened to the public on July 1, 2014.
The Hill Climb is America’s second-oldest motorsports race. It dates to 1916, when Spencer Penrose sponsored the first event as a way to promote his highway to the top of America’s Mountain. This year’s race, brought to you by The Broadmoor and Gran Turismo, has been rescheduled for Aug. 30 due to the coronavirus.
The museum gives visitors an in-depth look at the race’s legends — first and foremost the famed Unser family — and the stories behind many of the not-as-famous drivers.
The first exhibit you come across is the Pierce-Arrow Broadmoor Special race car. It was made for Penrose and crossed the finish line all eight times it was entered in the Hill Climb. It never placed higher than fourth in the extremely competitive Open Class. It was retired after the 1932 Hill Climb.
As you enter the main portion of the Hill Climb Experience, several older and modern race cars immediately catch your eye, including a Conze raced by Louis Unser and Al Unser Sr.
On the second floor is a wing dedicated to the Unser family, America’s greatest racing family. Pikes Peak is also known as Unser Mountain due to the family’s incredible and long success in the race.
Bobby Unser, who was born in Colorado Springs, earned a record 10 King of the Mountain titles. He set a new track record nine times. His uncle, Louis, won nine King of the Mountain titles. Bobby’s younger brother, Al, won two titles.
“If it wasn’t for Pikes Peak I probably never would have made it to Indianapolis,” Al said during last year’s Hill Climb, where he returned a race commentator.
Al won the Indianapolis 500 four times.
The Hill Climb’s most successful racing family are the Vahsholtz’s of Woodland Park. Leonard, his son Clint and grandson Codie have combined to win more than 40 Class titles since Leonard ran his first race in the mid-1970s. Clint and Codie will compete in this year’s race.
Leonard and his wife, Barb, were inducted into the Hill Climb Hall of Fame in 2018. A cool exhibit of all the Hall of Fame plaques is located near the Unser wing.
Motorcycles have been a part of the Hill Climb since the beginning. There are several motorcycles and exhibits honoring riders, including one of the late Carlin Dunne, who died near the finish line of last year’s race.
Motorcycles have been discontinued for this year’s event.
Scattered throughout the museum are other artifacts like a program from the first race, the ornate Penrose Trophy, helmets, racing suits and patches. You can also learn about Nikola Tesla — a former Colorado Springs resident — and his contribution to the electric car racing world.
The Hill Climb comes alive when you visit the museum. For reservations, call 719-633-7733.