Woodmoor resident Chris Lennon first competed in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 2012. His fascination with the race grew each time he raced up America’s Mountain.
It reached a point of passion when he decided to pen a book on the famed event in 2019. Among the people Lennon interviewed for his project was Bobby Unser at his Albuquerque home.
“I spent 16 hours with him over two days, and then phone calls on top of that,” Lennon recalled.
Lennon’s book, “THE PEAK OF RACING: Pikes Peak through the racers’ eyes,” is a 150-page hardcover and includes more than 100 photographs. The book has a breakdown of all 156 perilous turns drivers must navigate during the 12.42-mile portion of the highway that is used as the racetrack.
Unser, who died on May 3 of natural causes at the age of 87, wrote the book’s foreword.
“Bobby is the predominant feature of the book,” Lennon said. “He was very generous with his time. It was a huge thrill for me at the time. For the rest of my life, it will be.”
Lennon didn’t plan on spending two days with Unser, who was born in Colorado Springs. But as the two talked, it became evident to Lennon that without Unser’s racing influence the Hill Climb might never have grown to international status. Unser was a three-time winner of the famed Indianapolis 500, and 10 times he won the prestigious Hill Climb’s prestigious King of the Mountain title.
Lennon also spent time interviewing Unser’s brother, Al — a four-time Indy winner — while in Albuquerque at the family’s museum.
“The Unsers came out of nothing,” Lennon said. “There was no silver spoon with the Unsers.
“Bobby built all that up. He got the relationships going with Goodyear and General Motors. He was a go-getter. He went for it. What separated him from everybody else is that he wanted it more than them.”
Bobby Unser’s first Hill Climb entry in 1955 was in the Open Wheel division, where he finished fifth, behind brothers Louis J. and Jerry, in a field of nearly 30 competitors. In 1956, Bobby Unser won the Open Wheel division, setting a new course record in the process. It was the first of eight course records Unser would achieve on America’s Mountain, including an unprecedented five consecutive overall records from 1958 through 1962.
Over the years, Unser was the first driver to break the 14-, 13- and 12-minute barriers
Lennon said that not only was Bobby Unser generous with his time during their interview, he was also incredibly entertaining.
“He was the best storyteller I ever met,” Lennon said. “It was like mining gold.
“The Hill Climb meant so much to him. He would get teary-eyed talking about it. The Hill Climb, right up to the end, meant everything to him. He never forgot his roots and what the Hill Climb meant to him and his family.”
Lennon is taking this year off from racing. But you will likely see him during race week, spending time with competitors while sharing stories of Unser.
“Bobby’s a local legend,” Lennon said. “He told me and a lot of other people that all the success he had in his life was due to the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.”
Unser brought drivers like Parnelli Jones and Mario Andretti to Pikes Peak. When he returned to the mountain with Audi in 1986 to recapture the King of the Mountain crown, he set a course record.