For the last 59 years, the Hot Rod Hill Climb in Georgetown, Colorado has been nothing but a memory. Held in the quaint mountain community for the first time 60 years ago, the hot rod event was short-lived, despite its popularity and outlet for the local hot rod community. But after over 50 years, the hill climb returned and we were lucky enough to be there to take it all in with legends and newcomers alike!
In 1953, the town or Georgetown, was a tiny mountain community 45 miles West of Denver with a population barely breaking 300 people.While this may not surprise many people based on the location of the town and available roadways back in those days, 60 years later Georgetown hasn’t changed all that much.
Still featuring many of its old downtown buildings and houses built from ancient construction, Georgetown now supports a population a little larger than 1,200 people annually, with access to much larger cities compliments of a short trip down Interstate 70.
A close-knit and very friendly community, Georgetown now acts as an oasis for city dwellers looking for a place to get away on the weekends, fans of the outdoors as a handful of Fourteeners (mountains upwards of 14,000 feet) are literally right out their back doors, and retirees looking to settle down in a quaint little mountain town with a lot of history. This last weekend, Georgetown was also the location of the 60th anniversary celebration of the original Georgetown Hill Climb.
The Original Hill Climb
The Georgetown Hot Rod Hill Climb, called the Georgetown Hill Climb originally, was put together in the summer of 1952 by the Denver Sports Car Club. Based on an old wagon road just outside town, which is now Guanella Pass, the hill climb pinned vintage sports cars, their engines and capable drivers against one another as they competed for the fastest time up the winding 2.5-mile dirt course.
In 1953, area hot rodders, headed by Don Lutes of the “Strippers” of Denver, were determined to make their own name in the hill climb sport so the the hill climb was run again, this time eliminating the sports cars and focusing on hot rods. Headed by the Strippers Hot Rod Club, the 1953 event was a great success, bringing in 30 cars from eight Colorado Timing Association clubs.
For the inaugural meet, all members of the Colorado Timing Association were invited and rodders competed in one of seven classes based on engine displacement compared to the vehicle’s weight. In total, there were three Open classes and four Closed classes, designating open and closed-top vehicles.
Giving the sports car guys a run for their money, Jim Babcock of the Denver Dolphins piloted his T-V8 Roadster to the top of the course in a blistering 2 minutes and 45.5 seconds in the Open Car A Class, the fastest time for the event. In total, six hot rods broke the record for the fastest time set at the sports car hill climb meet the previous year of 2 minutes and 58.0 seconds, set by a Jaguar. Unfortunately, the Hot Rod Hill Climb only lasted two years (1953 and 1954), leaving area hot rodders to find other means of expressing their competitive sides.
While the Georgetown Hill Climb has been gone for 59 years now, it has remained a positive memory for hot rodders all over Colorado and beyond. So, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the hot rod event’s original inception, local hot rod enthusiast Mike Nicholas of Nick’s Garage in Englewood and his family worked tirelessly to bring the Hot Rod Hill Climb back to Georgetown with race openings available to 50 pre-1954 automobiles.
They also wanted to include pre-1965 vehicles in the show part of the event. On September 14th, the fruits of their labor paid off.
Kicking off at 8 a.m., the Hot Rod Hill Climb began with a pancake breakfast and plenty of bench racing. Among the crowd of people who gathered in the middle of town were a handful of Hot Rod Hill Climb Legends, guys who had run the original Hot Rod Hill Climb event in 1953 and were back 60 years later to run it again, along with many more generations of hot rod enthusiasts.
Among those making their return to the hill were Cal Kennedy, one of the team members for the fourth place Open Car Class B Scroggs-Kennedy ’34 Chevy Roadster in 1953, Don Joy, fifth place Closed Car Class B ’32 V8 Vicky in 1953, and Jim Nielsen, the driver of the first place Closed Car Class B Nielson-Netherly-Rexrode ’32 V8 coupe in 1953.
Jackie O’Bannon was also at the event racing in her dad’s honor, the great Jack Richards who raced his 1929 A-V8 Roadster numbered T-5 to a first-in-class (Open Car Class B) win and a second place time on the course in 1953 with a time of 2 minutes and 49.31 seconds.
Other notables that joined the event were Steve Schwalb and Larry Bell in the famed Bell Roadster that raced in the Hot Rod Hill Climb in both 1953 and 1954.
Also Dave Scroggs, the son of Don Scroggs who raced with Cal Kennedy at the 1953 Hot Rod Hill Climb, Scott McCann in Dale Young’s ’34 Roadster, Vern Holms, who acted as the road block in the 1954 Hot Rod Hill Climb, racing in his ’34 Ford 3 window coupe, and Forney Museum staff in a ’32 PB Roadster in honor of Del Wilson.
The Competition, 60 Years Later
So what’s it like facing down the Georgetown Hot Rod Hill Climb 60 years after you made your first mark? Well, according to Cal Kennedy, “It’s different.”
Now paved and only 1.5 miles long due to accessibility to safe turn-around areas, the hill climb has changed quite a bit for the drivers, unlike most of the town that supports it.
“It would be exciting to run the dirt again,” Kennedy told us, explaining that some 60 years later his car just isn’t the same. “It’s the same type of body I raced, but not the same engine. The fun engine’s sitting in my garage. So I’ll just putz up the hill this time.”
In 1953, Kennedy raced a 1936 Chevy truck chassis fitted with a 1934 roadster body. In 1954, Kennedy and teammate Don Scroggs fitted their hot rod with a rare Wayne 12-port motor.
While many of the Legends and first-timers to the Hot Rod Hill Climb took things “slow” up the hill this year, we didn’t see a single frown on any of the drivers’ or passengers’ faces traveling up the course.
In fact, grins could be seen ear to ear on practically everyone’s faces while many participants waved and yipped with glee as they flew up the hill full of spectators.
Continuing the Celebration
After the hill climb was done, with the legends getting in two passes each and the other participants one each before rain hit the area hard, there was plenty more fun to be had.
Racing valve cover slot-type cars thanks to the Colorado Springs Rod and Custom Car Club, walking through five historic museums, perusing the dozens of hot rods overtaking Georgetown’s streets, listening to live music and even visiting the beer garden with beverages provided by local TommyKnocker Brewry out of Idaho Springs.
At 3p.m., pinup girls and ladies of all ages (and one greaser-styled boy) joined together in the middle of downtown for the Pinup Contest. Every lady and gentleman in the contest were dressed to impress, but it was the two young ladies in the Under 5 category that truly stole the show.
Our trip up to Georgetown for the 60th anniversary of the Hot Rod Hill Climb was an absolute blast. Not only did we get to see a lot of familiar faces, including some of our feature car guys, participating in the event, we also met some very special hot rod enthusiasts that even after the event’s 59 year hiatus, were more than ready to share their stories, inspire younger generations and race with the best of them! Here’s to hoping that the Hot Rod Hill Climb comes back next year to Georgetown, which headman Mike Nicholas tells us is a very good possibility!
For more photos from the Hot Rod Hill Climb, check out our exclusive GALLERY below: