Ryan McGee, ESPN The Magazine
Safety Trumps Racing At Pikes Peak
The view from the finish line atop Pikes Peak has always been breathtaking. These days it is downright frightening.
Normally, a look to the northeast provides a stunning vista across Waldo Canyon and the Pike National Forest, toward the U.S. Air Force Academy. On a clear night you can see the glow of Denver, 68 miles away.
But right now the canyon below is on fire. It's been that way for a week. As of Thursday night, the flames had burned more than 18,000 acres, forcing the evacuation of more than 35,000 residents, and destroying nearly 350 homes in the Colorado Springs area.
"I know dozens of families who have lost their homes," Tom Osborne said. "It's just so, so terrible. Like something out of a horrible movie."
Osborne is president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Sports Corp. and chairman of the board of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. As he speaks, the pain in his voice is obvious. So is the exhaustion.
On Wednesday, Osborne made the decision that no race promoter ever wants to face: He and his staff postponed the Hill Climb, originally scheduled for July 8. On Tuesday it looked as though the situation would be contained enough to push ahead. But that night the fires were wind-whipped to nearly double their size from Monday, pushed to the mountain ridge overlooking the academy and lapping at the edge of the Colorado Springs city limits.
On Friday morning Osborne was working with city officials, fellow sports executives and local hotels to determine the best makeup date for the 90th running of the PPHIC, likely in August. An official announcement is expected next Tuesday.
The last time the race wasn't held on its announced date was 1942.
"In 96 years of this event, the only thing that had stopped it before this week was two world wars," Osborne said from his office in Colorado Springs, where he could see the column of smoke from the canyon fires. "We did everything we could to try and make this work, but postponing is the right thing to do."
"The Race to the Clouds" is one of America's greatest motorsports events, first run in 1916 with a field that included American auto racing pioneers Barney Oldfield and Eddie Rickenbacker. Its list of winners includes racing royalty, from Unser and Mears to Dallenbach and Andretti.