With no hot rod event quite like it anywhere in the country, the Hot Rod Hill Climb in Georgetown, Colorado brings with it an air of tradition not easily found even in the most diehard hot rod circles. After all, this is a true 1950s-style racing event at its best with only the most classically-correct vehicles allowed to hit the hill in a tribute to the original Hot Rod Hill Climb held in the Colorado mountain town in 1953 and 1954.
Last year, we absolutely fell in love with the event in its first year and made it a point to be all-hands on deck for this year’s race. Check out the highlights from this year’s Hot Rod Hill Climb below!
The Georgetown Hot Rod Hill Climb came about in 1953 as an answer to area sports car clubs racing to the top of Guanella Pass in 1952. Wanting to show their own power on the gravel road, area timing associations got together for the first Hot Rod Hill Climb, presented by the Strippers Hot Rod Club of Denver, proving that hot rodders had what it took to be king of the mountain. In 1954, even more rodders attended the event, intent on putting their names down in hill climb history.
Even though the event was increasingly popular, 1954 marked the race’s last year due to a new law that outlawed racing on public roads.
The event didn’t see its revival until 2013, when Mike Nicholas, owner of Nick’s Garage in Engelwood, CO, brought back the race.
Wildly popular in its first year, the Hot Rod Hill Climb only grew for 2014. According to Nicholas, the event had more than doubled in size with over 70 vintage hot rods taking part in the actual run up to the top of Guanella Pass.
While Mother Nature threatened an unseasonably-early snow, hot rod enthusiasts from all over flocked to Georgetown to take part in the second annual Hot Rod Hill Climb the weekend of September 12th. Kicking off on Friday, the hill climb featured a new event for 2014; one that allowed rodders with pre-1965 vehicles to exercise their wheels on the way up to the festivities.
The new event was called the Reliability Run and it took area enthusiasts on a 65-mile cruise up back-mountain roads to Georgetown with checkpoints along the way. Though rodders woke up to frosty weather with a bit of fresh powder on the ground Friday morning, many braved the cold to take part in this exciting new addition to the event.
Once in Georgetown, rodders celebrated the beginning of the weekend with the Hot Rod Hill Climb Kick-Off Party in downtown. In addition to live music, vendors, and plenty of hot rod eye candy, enthusiasts were treated to museum tours, local cuisine, and a number of after-parties held around town. One gathering that really attracted attention was one thrown by Peter Werlin, a local automotive enthusiast and caretaker of an original 1963 Shelby Cobra.
There, friends and acquaintances alike exchanged stories about their current rides and rides they parted with a long time ago. One enthusiast at the gathering even found out where his father’s car, which was sold when he was just four years old, ended up after all these years. He even got to see it in a different form parked right outside Werlin’s garage.
The night ended with rodders hitting their hotels in preparation for an early morning on the hill!
Saturday kicked off with the alluring wake-up call of boisterous hot rods staking their claim on downtown Georgetown. Though the event didn’t officially begin until 8:00 a.m. with a pancake breakfast, hosted by the city of Georgetown, rodders and their rides could be found all over town as early as 6:00 a.m.
As more and more classic cars pulled into their parking spots, lining the streets of town, crowds of enthusiasts grew tenfold in preparation for the race’s kickoff at 10 o’clock.
Once 10:00 a.m. hit, all eyes were on the starting line as legendary Hot Rod Hill Climb veteran, Cal Kennedy and his wife climbed into a near exact replica of his original ’34 Chevy hot rod to climb to the top of Guanella Pass.
For months prior to the event, Nicholas and many friends put in countless hours of work recreating Kennedy’s original hill climb car, complete with the car’s original Wayne engine, which was sourced from Kennedy’s basement, between the frame rails and the car’s 1953 “T-33” race insignia.
Following Kennedy up the mountain were nearly a dozen “legends”, including Duayne Nusbaum, Doug Weinel (in honor of Paul Garrigan), Jim Nielsen, John Maloney (in honor of his father), Ed Piz, and Dave Scroggs (in honor of his father Don Scroggs), who either participated in one or both of the original hill climbs back in the 1950s. Over 60 racers followed, taking to the now paved course in pre-1954 vehicles with period-correct engines, sporting vintage racing garb.
While many participants merely cruised up the 1 ½-mile course, others immersed themselves fully in the spirit of the event, hightailing it to the top of Leavenworth Mountain. Cars were sent from the starting line in downtown Georgetown at 30-second intervals to give each participant plenty of space to make it up the hill in whatever fashion they chose.
Run a bit differently than last year, all racers were sent up the hill before the parade of cars returned to the starting line, bringing with them the traffic that had backed up at the top of the mountain waiting to access the closed road. After a short break, those rodders who chose to do it again were allowed one more round on the hill.
Once the entire group had tackled the hill for a second time, all the participants came down into town in a blaze of glory, led by Nicholas waving the checkered flag from behind the wheel of Kennedy’s ’34 Chevy roadster hill climb car.
Spectators and race participants alike milled around town for hours following the official running of the 2014 hill climb, contributing to a buzz in the air that was undeniable. Those aiming to avoid the weekend traffic through Denver took to I-70 to head back home, with hot rods and memories in tow, while others stayed another night in the quaint mountain town of Georgetown.
With local hot rod enthusiasts calling the hill climb “the Sturgis for hot rods,” the area hot rod scene can only hope for another hill climb next year. For more photos from this year’s Hot Rod Hill Climb, be sure to check out the mega Rod Authority gallery below the jump!