Over the last three years, the Georgetown Hot Rod Hill Climb – which was originally run in 1953 and 1954 – saw a new chapter open in the same Colorado mountain town as its ancestral event . After nearly six decades of slumber, the event was revamped in 2013 as The Hot Rod Hill Climb, by Mike Nicholas of Nick’s Hot Rod Garage, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the all-out, traditional hot rod race.
Initially the race was put together by local timing associations to prove once and for all, that area rodders could conquer the mountain pass just west of Georgetown, Colorado, faster than area sports car owners had done in the previous year. They did just that and in 2013, 60 years after its first running, The Hot Rod Hill Climb was brought back to life in its entirety, including runs from living legends of the two 1950s races, as well as countless traditional hot rod owners and fans.
The New Hot Rod Hill Climb
Since it’s revival, the Hot Rod Hill Climb has played host to an increasing number of traditional hot rod owners and enthusiasts each summer, all looking for a bit of nostalgic action in taking on the very hill that started it all. The significant influx of interest and participation in 2015, as well as an unavoidable road closure of Guanella Pass, Nicholas knew there would have to be a change for 2016.
Guanella Pass is the only access road to a couple of Colorado’s popular 14,000-foot mountain peaks and the very road that the Hill Climb started on. It was decided that the Hill Climb would be moved 20 miles away to Central City, Colorado, for the fourth running of the event. While the change was met with some trepidation, with many worrying that the move would somehow distract from the nostalgia of the event. Fortunately, their fears went unrealized.
Just like in years past, the weekend of The 2016 Hot Rod Hill Climb started out with the Reliability Run on Friday, September 16th. This is a spirited trip along some of Colorado’s most scenic mountain roads in pursuit of passport stamps acquired at designated stop locations.
The number of rodders who chose to participate were plenty, driving through Morrison and Evergreen, up Squaw Pass to Echo Lake at the base of Mt. Evans. They continued down to Idaho Springs before reaching their final destination by way of either the paved, 55 mph Central City Parkway or the unpaved but breath-taking “Oh My God Road.”
Many chose the less dusty way to Central City, but a few brave souls took on the narrow dirt road with tight switchbacks and washboard terrain. Those brave rodders were rewarded with magnificent views of the Rocky Mountains, all the way out to Colorado’s Eastern plains.
Converging on the historic mining town of Central City, famous for its many casinos and proximity to Black Hawk, which is Colorado’s most well-known gambling destination. The rodders spent the rest of Friday afternoon chatting with fellow enthusiasts, getting the lay of the land. Most had their cars tech inspected, checked into their hotels or camping spots, and picked up their registration packets for Saturday’s Hill Climb. That evening, drivers and their guests were invited to a special VIP kickoff party at host hotel, The Reserve.
Ready To Run
Saturday, September 17th kicked off early with breakfast provided by The Reserve. From there, racers took their place in line for a parade lap to start the official 2016 Hot Rod Hill Climb after a brief drivers’ meeting.
As the clock rounded nine o’clock in the morning, the National Anthem was sung by Wayne Kennedy and Cal Kennedy. Wayne is the son of one of the original 1953 Hot Rod Hill Climb racers, and his father Cal is a long time participant of the event.
During the opening ceremony a unique flag display complete with a hanging Flathead engine was moved over the start area via crane. Once the parade lap was over, it was “off to the races” as Cal Kennedy piloted his vintage T-33 roadster to the front with his son Wayne riding shot-gun.
From nine in the morning to three in the afternoon, the Hot Rod Hill Climb ran in force while vintage hot rods and classics sat on display along Central City’s main street. A number of rockabilly bands took the stage in the center of town and countless spectators took to the hill leading out of town to catch a glimpse at over a hundred vintage cars and their often nostalgically-clad pilots.
Unlike in years past, racers had unlimited runs up the hill, making for an exciting day for both racers and spectators. Upon finishing their last run, participants congregated in the staging parking lot for a bit of bench racing and laughs with friends. Awards followed the three o’clock cutoff time, with many racers being recognized by area car clubs and long-time local timing associations for their unique vintage rides, distance traveled to the event, and overall participation.
The evening rounded out with two performances by Rosie Flores at The Reserve and a campfire at the local KOA, where many of the participants were staying.
After The Runs
While some participants headed for home either Saturday evening or Sunday morning, others stuck around Sunday for a guided drive up the Peak to Peak Highway and into Estes Park, a popular mountain town and the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.
With the move of the Hill Climb to Central City, the event allows for more participants to have more passes up the hill. There is also plenty of local accommodations and space for even more spectators.
Ultimately, the 2016 Hot Rod Hill Climb exceeded everyone’s expectations. Next year will mark the fifth running of the recently revived race and we can only hope that it will bring even more enthusiasts to the gorgeous mountains of Colorado for some nostalgic racing and a whole lot of fun. Stay tuned and we’ll let you know when the 2017 dates are announced.