Louis Unser and Cotton Farmers last sprint car ride at Pikes Peak

Needed to be saved.

Earlier this year a close friend sent me a message about an old race car body that needed a new home. I was told it was from a car that raced at Pikes Peak at one time and it needed a new home. The current owner was cleaning out some storage space and something had to go. Messages and phone calls passed back and forth for a few days and then this picture came in my email.

After 50 years !

The blue color, the number 24 and the AMI sponsorship gave it away quickly. This was the last race car that Al “Cotton”Farmer had raced at the Peak in 1967.  Unfortunately, he crashed it that year and broke his back for the third time and never raced any car again.  In addition to it being thee Cotton Farmer race car body, it was also the last champ car Louis Unser raced at Pikes Peak in 1965.  When old race cars crash , what is left usually get striped out to provide parts for other race cars and the remaining parts are sold off to help fund another car. This seems to be the case with number 24. No frame, no  engine, no  transmission or any of the guts. Just the metal body minus the nose with all of its dents and dings and battle scars. The fact that the body had survived 50 years after the wreck in 1967 is special in itself. I was hooked and how can I help.

Louis Unser

The “Old Man of the Mountain” Louis Unser was a nine time champion at Pikes Peak and 1965 would be his last year racing in Championship Class car on the mountain. ( Today it is called the open wheel class). Don McCormick  car owner and chief mechanic of the 24 car, had Louis drive it in both 1964 and 1965.

Louis Unser in the Don McCormick #24 at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1964
Louis Unser in the #24 car at the 1965 Pikes Peak Hill Climb

In 1964 Louis  Unser in the #24 did not finish and in 1965 he finished 12th with a time of 14:20 in the Hartsel Hotel sponsored car. He was 69 years old at the time ! (WOW).

Cotton Farmer

Alvin Farmer got the nickname “Cotton” playing high school football with a full head of blonde hair. He was a  bull riding of all things before he moved into dirt track racing in the late 1940s.  During his racing years he ran with the BCRA (Big Car Racing Association), the AARC ( All American Racing Club) and with USAC ( Untied States Auto Club).  Midget cars, Sprint cars, Indy cars and even Nascar he could drive just about anything on wheels and was successful.  1967 would be his first and only time at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb race.

1967 PPHC

The Don McCormick, Cotton Farmer #24 car at the 1967 Pikes Peak Hill Climb race practice.
1967 newspaper photo of the 24 car prior to race day
Newspaper photo 1967 of the Cotton Farmer accident in the 24 car.

The accident was above treeline about a mile from the finish. It would be his third broken back of his career. Once healed up and back on his feet, he went on with his love of racing in several  areas,  just not as a driver, selling products for Wynn’s and Justice Brothers Racing and organizing annual plane trips for fans to the INDY 500 race.

Now what ?

Thankfully with the help of several friends, the body was saved . After picking it up I built a wooden frame with wheels ,so I could see how the pieces came together and give the body a little more dignity while being stored..  I spent several weeks thinking about what to do next. I already have one PPHC race car project and really don’t have the time or energy for another at this point.

My main concern was not to let the body get cut up and the parts being separated and becoming dust collectors in some man-cave or stuck away in a private collection were only a few folks would get to see it.   What I really wanted was to find was someone who would honor the history and make this a complete race car again.  Many figured no way and that I was crazy to think it possible and that it was beyond hope. Crazy, they think, not me, if i thought it was worth saving, maybe there would be others with hill climb fever that thought like me too.  Thankfully once the word got out the response even surprised me. I felt like a parent interviewing for babysitters or those times young men come to the house to date your daughters . Questions, like what was their intentions, have they ever built a complete race car before, would they leave the patina, replace the tail, what year would they base the rebuild one, what sponsors logos, decals  etc. (Daunting being a parent to race car parts)

The best news was many folks were interested  and didn’t think I was that crazy. For the most part  everyone wanted the car to be whole again. After much deliberation, head scratching and careful thought, the body was sold to a good home. A few days later the body was picked up by the new owner and the build of the chassis and drive-train  is slated for early 2018 . The icing on the cake is the body will spend it’s time waiting for it’s recreation with  another PPHC race car that the new owner has already restored.

. The display frame for car #24. No guts and a sexy butt
AMI was instrumental in aircraft design after WW2 and was located in Colorado Springs, CO

Do you know where any PPHC race cars or parts are hiding ?

If you know of any surviving Pikes Peak Hill Climb cars that raced during the first 75 years please contact me. I want to hear the stories.  If you know where there are any bodies like the car #24 or other components  to PPHC race cars that need saved, or for sale, let me know, I can help them find new homes.

In the end, should or can this body be saved? It has lasted the last 50 years since it’s wreck, and it had two very famous drivers taking their last laps in it. I think it deserved another chance. What do you think?

2017 and a different understanding of the PPIHC.

Hello, and sorry for the long stretch between posts.  This years race was safe and no major accidents or injuries. That is always a positive when it comes to Pikes Peak.  Suddenly I have found myself questioning how the race is changing and trying to understand where it is headed.

“Paid Practice” and “Tire Testing”

The first moment of my nativity seems to start from the “Tire Testing ” and “Private Practice” weeks leading up to the race.  Learning the course has been an issue from the beginning.  To get a better grip on the issue I looked into the past to see how tire testing got started at Pikes Peak. But first we need to go way back. From the beginning of the race, many of the early race car drivers where also the tourist bus drivers that took folks up to the summit several times a day every day of the week. Knowing the road is more then half the battle at winning . Car owners from around the USA would hire those guys come race week to give them that extra edge on race day.  Many out of state racers who wanted to run their own cars complained about the locals having an advantage.  Thankfully over time the Cog Railway began to take over and even today takes the majority of the tourists to the summit.  Asking around about when tire testing started and why, seemed to be like the response you would get from asking a moonshiner for his family recipe. No one could give me a real answer.  So I dug into my archives and found the earliest mention of tire testing and it was In 1974 , with who else but Bobby Unser. Bobby was a major factor in  development of tires to run at Pikes Peak and even had his own line tires for a short time. He had worked out a deal out with Goodyear in 1974, to do some early morning practice on the Pikes Peak Highway prior to race week and figure out what compounds worked best on his Dodge Kit Car. Bobby already knew the road by heart and  didn’t need the additional practice time, it was really for the development of Goodyear Tire types. There was an uproar about his extra practice time and the organization and the city, who owned the road,  had to make some decisions.  From the PPHC organization, at the time, the response was” We don’t have anything to do with the highway until race week”  and from the director of PR for the PPHC , “I wouldn’t say whether I’m in favor of it or against it”  ( Gazette 6-14-1974)  But the big kicker was the cities decision. Up until that point,  auto and tire manufacturers could ask for private time on the road for testing at no cost. Once the “Unser Testing” story hit the papers the city began policy changes and charging additional fees for road use testing and declared it only for company use and not individual usage. The stone was cast, and an additional revenue source for the city of Colorado Springs was born. What didn’t  happen right away, was race teams actually doing paid tire testing, Most companies found other places to conduct testing and teams didn’t want the bad press associated the tire testing concerning and race.

The Sierra Club

Let’s save the environment . Its a long story for another day but a federal lawsuit was brought against the Forest Department and the City of Colorado Springs about the environmental impact the Pikes Peak Highway was having on the mountain. You may ask, why am I bring this up ? The matter of tire testing at Pikes Peak would bring itself back to the race once the lawsuit was filed in the  1990s.  Many different attempts at erosion control were attempted , experiments with different rock and gravel types and even oiling down the course , along with several drainage and containment control efforts .   In the end  the Sierra Club’s federal lawsuit was handled out of court, and the agreement was, the Pikes Peak Highway would be paved all the way to the top over a period of years starting in 2002 and finishing in 2012.  During the transition from dirt to pavement, what type of tires would work on the ever changing road surface was a real concern for all teams . Tire Testing prior to race week was truly needed  and was a major issue for many teams. The system worked, but the grumblings of was it fair for everyone was beginning to be heard.

Is it still needed and fair ?

Back to the part where the PPIHC doesn’t control the road prior to tire testing and race week.  The city controls it the rest of the time. If you have enough money you can rent the road for”Paid Practice” and then also pay for additional time on the course during the official “Tire Testing”. Big teams want the most bang for the buck and getting full runs on the road is the best way to get the answers they are looking for.  The race is changing and money does buy it advantages. Is it fair ? Probable not, but the teams that can afford the extra practice time  also bring a bunch of attention to Pikes Peak Hill Climb race. The race hasn’t been traditional about the battle of the dollars. In the past if you thought you could build a car that could compete , bring it to tech and practice and see how you do during qualifying. Many years fifty plus cars would show up for twenty five spots in a class come race day. Your speed did the talking.  The little guys had a chance against the big dollar teams and that was what hill climb racing was originally about.

Is “Tire testing still needed now that the pavement is completed all the way. Should it just be called additional practice time. Can the origination do anything about the big teams renting the course from the city or should they even bother. I am worried about the direction the race is headed.

The arms race at Pikes Peak

This year was an eye opener for me and has made me look at the future of the race in a different view. The real change started a few years back when several millions went in to breaking the record. Cost is no object and as much time needed on the course is a wonderful way to break records. We need that at Pikes Peak, but we also need a field of classes that allow and encourage innovation and competition on Pikes Peak in order for the race to survive. The classes need to be reworked to split the money is no object and the guy who wants to race. Unlimited is always going to be there, but it has leaked down into other classes. The Time Attack One  Class is a great example of the need to split things up. One look at the two major cars in the running to win that class and you are seeing big, big budgets. Time Attack Two class had only two entries and one on race day. This year had several cars in excess of $250,000 invested, spread throughout several classes. (Maybe I am just old and remember a time when the most dollars didn’t buy wins)

Well if you made it this far, thanks for letting me vent. The “Paid Private Practice” days and then the additional paid “Tire Testing” days has made me see things differently. In addition to seeing the massive amounts of money some teams are spending on their PPIHC  cars is making the race  look more like F1 or NASCAR racing then the traditional hill climb racing. Are we honoring the races past history or just out to break records? The good news is that I have many posts lined up about the cars and folks racing at Pikes Peak in the past and have found several cars that have been gathering dust and ready to be brought back into the light.

Thanks for staying with me and allowing me to explain my lack of posts in the last few weeks. (Discouraged i was but no longer !)

PPIHC Technical Inspection 2017

The hidden jewel in motorsports.

The ‘Tech Inspection” for the hill climb has been at a few  locations over the years. Currently it is held in the parking lot of the “Broadmoor World Arena” . The location has plenty of room for the race teams to spread out and also provides a nice backdrop with Cheyenne Mountain and Pikes Peak for photographs.

Jay and Trevor Stewart’s Ediger Eagles at PPIHC tech inspection 2017

Free and open to the fans !

It is an amazing experience to able to walk among such a diverse group of racing machines and people. Where else in Motorsports can you get a chance to see such a mix of machines and motorcycles. There are no ropes and few off limit areas.  The PPIHC staff,  drivers and teams are totally accessible. Most teams are thrilled and happy to answer questions and talk about their rides. (Be warned you are at altitude and the parking lot can get hot. )  If you can’t make it to the race day the tech inspection is a must see event.

Some of the motorcycle riders getting in early at tech

 

Not only do they inspect the bike, but also the riders’ gear. (#285 Codie Vahsholtz.) The motorcycle staff at Pikes Peak Hill Climb have always been outstanding
There are many wild race cars that tackle the Peak. This is a Porsche 914 with a massive V-8, driven by Chris Strauch in the Pikes Peak Open Class
Most race cars are trailered to the event but some like Kash Singh choose to drive their race cars. Kash drove his 2016 Mustang from the West Coast to Colorado the day before tech. Now that is someone who knows how to have fun !