If you’re looking to attend a hot rod event like no other, the annual Hot Rod Hill Climb in Central City, Colorado, has everything you could ever want. You’ll find everything from the classic Reliability Run to good old-fashioned mountain racing by some of the coolest traditional hot rods in the country. Every year, more and more enthusiasts make the trek to Colorado to attend the one-of-a-kind, old-school event, and once again, we were in the thick of the fun as the event took place last weekend.
The Hot Rod Hill Climb’s beginnings can be traced back to the early 1950s. After having heard of a local sports car club making claims of their “fast” times up the switchbacks of what is now Guanella Pass just outside of Georgetown, Colorado, in 1952, local timing associations and hot rod owners gathered together at the base of the mountain in 1953 to prove that they too could not only run what the sports cars had, but also do it in a faster fashion.
The event, known at the time as the Georgetown Hill Climb, only lasted two years, however. By 1955, the hill climb was but a mere memory to be cherished by the few dozen who had the honor of racing or attending. That was until Mike Nicholas of Nick’s Hot Rod Garage got his hands on a March 1954 Hot Rod Magazine in 2010, while building a 1950 Ford coupe that was a traditional ’50s shoebox survivor.
In the magazine, Nicholas found an article about the Georgetown Hill Climb and decided that the event should be brought back to life. After three years of planning and countless hours of work, Nick’s Hot Rod Garage hosted the first recreation of the Hot Rod Hill Climb, exactly 60 years after the event’s first running.
Five Years Of Fun
For three years, the revamped Hot Rod Hill Climb called Georgetown home, with an increased number of vendors, enthusiasts, and racers coming out each year for the event. There was also the addition of the Friday Reliability Run – a poker-run-style cruise through the surrounding mountains in period-correct hot rods and classic cars – as well as a Friday night kick-off party and a Saturday night hangout session.
This year’s “poster vehicle” was a truck nicknamed the “Odd Rod,” which was powered by dual engines.
But after three years, the event outgrew the location and in 2016, it moved to nearby Central City, which provided more room for spectators and show cars, as well as more opportunity for racers to take on the hill leading out of town as many times as they wanted in a day’s time.
This year, the change in venue proved to be even more beneficial, as nearly 150 pre-1954 traditional-style hot rods and their owners challenged the hill on Saturday, and hundreds of spectators came from all over the country to participate in the unique event.
The 2017 Hot Rod Hill Climb
Just like in years past, the 2017 Hot Rod Hill Climb kicked off on Friday with the reliability run. This sent classic hot rod enthusiasts along gorgeous mountain roads and through historic mountain towns on a journey to collect special passport stamps at various stops along the way. After a larger-than-ever number of participants took part in the Reliability Run, hot rods were tech’d for Saturday’s race, a mandatory drivers meeting was held in the pits, and the annual Kick-Off party commenced at Charlie’s Bar on Main Street.
A record-number of 1950s-style hot rods competed in this year’s Hot Rod Hill Climb, all of which started their trek up the hill by a jump and flag drop by Nicholas’s wife “Barefoot Amy.”
While dozens of hot rods staged in the Big T parking lot pit area, a number of impressive vehicles were on display parked along Main Street. Crowds lined the sidewalks up Spring Street stretching up out of Central City. The opening ceremony for the Hot Rod Hill Climb kicked off with the National Anthem at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
The opening ceremony also included a flag drop display and the traditional running of the “poster vehicle,” the recreated T-33 car, driven by 1953 and 1954 Hill Climb legend, Cal Kennedy, up the hill before the first cars hit the starting line. Once the opening ceremony was over, there were more than five hours of Hot Rod Hill Climb fun, with “Barefoot Amy” jumping off every vehicle at the start of their climb to the top.
When the racing shut down between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., the Hot Rod Hill Climb still had plenty to offer. Live music played on the main stage, food and drink vendors remained open for business, and the Hop-Up Magazine After Party was promised to start at 7:00 p.m. While enthusiasts milled about the streets checking out both the race and display vehicles on site, beer flowed freely from area pubs until it was time for the 5:00 p.m. awards ceremony.
Although not your traditional race podium honors, many special awards were given out to various participants at the awards ceremony, including Cal Kennedy, the only legend who raced the 1953 and 1954 hill climbs, as well as at all five events since the Hill Climb was revamped.
Other awards given included a number of car club picks like the Denver Deton8tors, the Throttlers, the Denver Timing Association, and the PeckerHeads. The awards celebrated participants who were down on their luck, a long-distance award given to a couple who drove all the way from Ontario, Canada, to participate in the event, and recognition awards for all the Roosters who helped run the pits and starting line for the day.
Other notable honors given included an award given to Nicholas’ father, “St. Nick” for all the time he has put into the event over the years, a signed Hot Rod Dirt Drags poster given to Mike and Amy Nicholas to commemorate their wedding at the Dirt Drags earlier this year, and racer-signed Hot Rod Hill Climb shirts, also given to Mike and Amy.
As the sun began setting and the temperature began to drop, enthusiasts scattered to their various cars to either head home or to hotels to get ready for the After Party. On Sunday, participants were invited to participate in a cruise up the Peak-to-Peak highway over to Estes Park for brunch.
The best Hot Rod Hill Climb yet, we heard nothing but wonderful things said about the 2017 event. Definitely an automotive bucket list item to cross off, we can’t wait until Hill Climb time next year.
Be sure to check out the Photo Gallery from this year’s event below!