Meet Spencer Penrose, the Man Behind the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb

When Spencer Penrose launched the Climb in 1916, race cars like the Duesenberg ruled the track.
When Spencer Penrose launched the Climb in 1916, race cars like the Duesenberg ruled the track.
Denver Public Library

A wealthy, bottom-of-his-class graduate of Harvard, Spencer Penrose arrived in Colorado Springs in 1892 and invested in a mining venture with his childhood friend Charles Tutt. The two made their fortune mining gold on the west side of Pikes Peak, in Cripple Creek.
Penrose was a collector of fine things — and a lover of both fermented and distilled beverages. He had lost an eye earlier in life and had two glass eyes made, one white and one bloodshot to match his typical morning eye.

During Prohibition his secret supply of liquor, wine and champagne was kept hidden from the meddling law in rail cars and beneath the Broadmoor. Now a collection of over 1,500 empty bottles of fine whiskey and wine is enshrined in “Bottle Hall,” a long glass case just outside of the lobby of the Broadmoor. Many bottles crossed the Atlantic and bear inscriptions of when and where they were consumed.

The Duesenberg.
The Duesenberg.
Harry Rhoads-Denver Public Library

In 1915 Penrose constructed the Pikes Peak Highway and started the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, three then-all-dirt races, the following year. The first of the three races that year was won by Fred Junk, who drove a Chalmers Special with a time of 23 minutes and 40 seconds. Competing against Duesenbergs, famous race cars manufactured in Minnesota, Ralph Mulford drove his 76-horsepower Hudson “Super 6” to first place during the second of the 1916 races. In the third race Rea Lentz drove his Romano Special to victory at just under 21 minutes.

Ninety-seven years later, on June 30, 2013, Sébastien Loeb set a new record after he crossed the finish line at around eight minutes. Loeb drove a wicked little 875-horsepower mid-engine Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak Special. Having achieved the holy grail of power-to-weight ratios, the car weighed in at 875 kilograms.                                   


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