|From Burry Dolbeare
Colorado Springs (Colo.) -- I was going to write about all the new records and all the great things that happened during qualifying for the famous Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb this afternoon, but it wasn’t meant to be. We lost a stock car racer and friend and son and husband and brother this morning.
Thirty-one year old Chandler Bruning of Colorado Springs died instantly after taking the green flag to begin his qualifying run up the 14, 110 foot mountain. He got about 150 yards up the course when his 1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo drifted to the outside of a curve, went over a dirt berm, and dropped about twenty feed down an embankment. The car landed upside down but a tree had entered the driver’s compartment through a side window and gone out the other side.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is a unique event. It is the second oldest race in the United States, second only to the Indianapolis 500, and this year marks it’s 79th anniversary. There are several divisions of racing automobiles, trucks and motorcycles that attempt to make it to the summit in the shortest amount of time. The racers leave the starting line at about one minute intervals, and it’s man, woman, and machine, against the mountain. Now you have to understand that this is not just a run up a mountain road like you might find in the Sierra Nevadas or the Poconos or the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee. This dude is mostly a dirt road, two, sometimes three lanes wide, starting out at 9,400 feet up in the air, consisting of 156 25 to 75 mile an hour left and right hand turns, 25 to 125 mile an hour straight-aways, 20 –1,000 foot drop-offs, and no guard rails. And if you and your machine are really together, you go those 12.4 miles to the 14,110-foot summit in a fuzz over 10 minutes. That’s better than a sixty mile an hour average. Thousand of men and women have entered the Hill Climb over the years and naturally most of them have made it to the top. Only three men have died trying. A stock car driver in 1921, a motorcyclist in 1982 and Chandler in 2001.
Back in 1916, Ralph Mulford, in his Hudson Special, made the 12. 4 miles in 18 minutes and 24 seconds. Then in 1958 along came Bobby Unser who raced the course in 13 minutes and 47 seconds. He won the Hill Climb some 13 times before he retired.
Others have been in a hurry up the mountain. Germany’s Audi car company thought it would be nice to see what the all-wheel drive Quattro’s could do, and sent Michele Mouton to Manitou Springs at the base of the mountain, and she hauled herself to the summit in 11 minutes and 25 seconds a record in 1985. Now if you know Bobby Unser, no way is a French girl going to hold a record on his mountain, so he talked Audi into letting him drive one of their cars, and he proceeded to lower the record the next year to 11 minutes and 9 seconds. Then in 1994 along comes Rod Millin, formerly of New Zealand with his prototype Toyota Celica truck and set the present record of 10 minutes and 4 seconds. He and others have tried their best to break that mark, but so far…
This year a big Japanese fellow named Nobuhir Tajima, known in the world of hill climbing as the “Monster”, (he is a big man) is in town to see what he can do with his prototype Suzuki Aerio. The word is, Suzuki wants the record big time. They have brought 440 folks over from Japan to witness this year’s race, and if his practice times are any indication, there may be a whole lot of happy people in Japan Saturday night. Nobuhrio says he hasn’t really pushed his 1,000 horse powered Aerio to it’s limit yet because there is no point of crashing the thing before race day.
“In this race, no matter who you are, no matter what country you come from, whether you are a sponsor or fan, you are a part of our family. Today, we lost a family member.” So said PPIHC media coordinator, Tim Bergsten.
Beside Tajima there will be over 40 other auto drivers and dozens of motorcyclists who will pit their talent against the mountain Saturday. In this world, life goes on, but there will be heavy hearts on Pikes Peak come race day. A family member will be missing.