Why Pikes Peak Is The Most Dangerous Race Track In America

Why Pikes Peak Is The Most Dangerous Race Track In America

(car engine revving) Narrator: You’re looking at the most dangerous
racetrack in America. (car engine revving) At over 12 miles long, this course climbs through
the Rocky Mountains up to the summit of Colorado’s
legendary Pikes Peak, 14,115 feet above sea level. What starts as a simple road
course on a public highway any ol’ person can drive on turns into a dangerous
trek above the clouds for the final leg to the finish line. On a mountaintop road with
an average speed limit of 25 miles per hour,
competitors tear down the track at 140 with no braking
markers, turn indicators, or frame of reference
for where they even are. Just sky in front of them
and 2,000-foot drop-offs mere feet to their right. One wrong move and one could
easily go over the edge. Woman: Oh my God! Narrator: It’s this top
section of the course that makes the historic Pikes
Peak Hill Climb so dangerous. The first Pikes Peak Hill
Climb was held in 1916, promoted by famous
entrepreneur Spencer Penrose. Since then, the hill climb has evolved into an international competition featuring some of the most incredible race cars and superbikes ever built. Drivers and motorcyclists
compete one by one for the best possible time to the top of the gigantic mountain. And a highway that
takes the average person one to three hours to drive gets covered by these
professionals in around 10 minutes. But Pikes Peak hasn’t gone without seeing its fair share of tragedy. In 2019, the race’s organizers suspended the climb’s motorcycle division following the death of
four-time winner Carlin Dunne in a crash near the finish line. But what makes the final
few miles of the course one of the most death-defying
challenges around can be summarized by four things: the amount of unprotected blind turns, unstable road conditions,
enormous altitude, and an unpredictable environment. Tommy Boileau: For me, I
think the most difficult part of the road was the entire top section. You’re well above tree line at that point, so it’s really intimidating visually just because there’s just barren
cliffs everywhere you look. Narrator: That’s Tommy Boileau, a professional race car driver who competed in his first
Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 2019, when he was awarded the race’s
Rookie of the Year prize. We spoke with him as
well as IndyCar driver and Pikes Peak veteran JR Hildebrand about just what makes driving on top of this mountain so dangerous. To start with, there’s the
absurd amount of blind corners. 156, to be exact, throughout the entire
Pikes Peak racecourse. But the most terrifying ones
can be found at the top. Tommy: It is incredibly dangerous. There’s no guardrails and at
the majority of the corners, the speeds are incredibly high. Narrator: Unlike a typical track, the majority of turns lack barricades. One mistake at a hairpin bend can send you hurling over
the edge thousands of feet, like driver Jeremy Foley in 2012 when his car lost grip of the road. (people screaming) Miraculously, Foley and his
copilot, Yuri Kouznetsov, both walked away from one
of the race’s worst crashes in recent history. JR Hildebrand: There are
other forms of motorsport that have similar maybe
it’s trees off the side of a stage rally or a water
hazard or something like that. Even driving at the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where maybe I might hit the
wall at 200 miles an hour. But this is very much in your face. There’s only one thing is gonna happen if you go off track, and it’s not good. Tommy: You have to learn the road. You have to memorize all 156 corners. There’s some corners that
look very, very similar where sometimes you’re
coming into a corner at top of fourth gear and gotta carry 120 miles an hour on exit, or there’s another corner
that looks almost identical, but you have to slow down to
a first gear hairpin on exit. JR: Just memorizing the circuit and being familiar with it initially is one of the most difficult things to do. And I think it’s as difficult to do there as it is anywhere in the world. Coming from a road-racing background, you don’t have any of those markers, sightlines that you’re used to, you don’t have braking points. There’s nothing telling
you what’s coming up or how close you are to the next corner, or any of those kinds of things. Narrator: Then there’s
the change in altitude. Pikes Peak stands at a
height of 14,115 feet; that’s equivalent to the length of almost 39 football fields. For anyone whose body isn’t
acclimated to the elevation, altitudes this high have
very noticeable effects on the human body because of the intense
decrease in oxygen levels. These effects can range from simply poor athletic performance to dizziness and dehydration. But for motorsport athletes, even the vehicle can be
affected that high up. JR: You are combating
this element of altitude. So not only is the car
working differently at the top than it does at the bottom, it’s not making as much horsepower, but the tires are kind of smoked from having gone through
this whole run up the hill, the aerodynamics aren’t working as well because the air’s less dense, but also physically you’re experiencing this dramatic change in altitude over the course of the event. I mean, you’re ending at 14,000 feet, which feels like you’ve had a couple beers when you get to the top
just from being so high up. Tommy: I am kind of
fortunate, being local here. I grew up in Colorado, so
I’m used to the elevation. So my blood oxygen saturation is much higher than most other drivers. But you’ve got a lot
of drivers that come in from different countries and states. They tend to struggle with
the elevation a little bit, so that in itself is a bit of a risk just because your body
takes time to adapt. Just to eliminate any excuse or any errors that we could have, I did run an oxygen
bottle inside of the car, which is really common. The majority of the guys,
especially the front-running guys, we all run oxygen inside of the car directly into our helmets. Narrator: Drivers at the top of Pikes Peak are also in danger of
unpredictable road conditions that don’t compare to what racers find on your average circuit. The highway is regularly
hit by rough weather, but doesn’t receive the same
treatment that other streets or professional tracks
do to ensure safety. The freezing temperatures at the top of the mountain
don’t help either. Tommy: The road itself isn’t maintained the same way that a
proper racetrack would be. There’s no street sweepers going out there to make sure that there’s no gravel. Being a 14,000-foot tall mountain, you get a lot of snow and
water that runs across the road in different places and things like that. But also, up that high in the elevation, the road tends to warp a lot through the freeze-thaw
process throughout the winter. So even during race week, there would be a bump that
would develop in one corner that wasn’t there the day before. Narrator: Even changes to the road expected to make it more
safe didn’t help at all. In 1998, environmental
organization the Sierra Club sued the city of Colorado Springs, alleging that gravel erosion
from Pikes Peak Highway caused water pollution. The city was forced to pave the entire dirt and gravel highway, something that would only
make the historic race event even more dangerous. Tommy: People think that
driving on the gravel is more dangerous, but in reality,
the speeds are much lower if you’re driving on that dirt surface. And effectively the
racetrack itself is wider. So by getting that pavement placed all the way from top to bottom, the speeds went drastically higher throughout the entire course of the run. JR: As we think about
it in motorsports terms, you’re pulling more
G’s through the corners because it’s paved, the
cars have more grip. You might be in more control doing that, but because you’re generating more load, a little mistake can really move you off the track by a lot more. Narrator: And from the
weather to the environment, all bets are off at the top of Pikes Peak, when you’re driving through
the Rocky Mountain wilderness. This means storms at
the top of the mountain that roll in at a moment’s
notice on race day. And in some extreme situations, unpredicted encounters with wildlife. JR: I went down to Pikes Peak last year to hang out with Travis Pastrana. And on his run, he got up through up to kinda where a tree line breaks so you’re talking 1,100 feet or something, it started pouring rain
for like eight corners going through these W’s going up the hill. And then he got above that
and it was clear again. So then he kinda like gets back on it and then he came through a blind corner, and there were mountain
goats all over the road. And so that’s, I mean, that’s, you hear crazy stories like that all across the board from people. Narrator: But despite so
many life-threatening hazards that come with driving a
racecourse like Pikes Peak, professional drivers continue returning and the number of
entries keeps increasing. It’s an eye-opening,
once-in-a-lifetime experience for those who partake,
even the spectators. The race is incomparable to
that of any in the world, and the level of danger can’t be found on any other American race course. But with so much history behind the race, the esteem that comes with being crowned king of the mountain, and the adrenaline rush that comes from driving on the edge of certain death, to drivers this competitive and in love with the sport of racing, the rewards far outweigh the risk. (upbeat music)

100 thoughts on “Why Pikes Peak Is The Most Dangerous Race Track In America

  1. I don’t get it. What’s the rush to get up to the summit? Maybe they should have just gotten up earlier in the day.

  2. I guess no one's gonna talk about the fact that the overall Pikes Peak record is held by an electric car, because that power train is superior to gas. They don't lose power due to elevation for one, and have instant full power on demand. Let the haters comment but it don't change the fact. Cheers.

  3. I would ban this "track". Stupid things people do… I like racing and stuff, but tracks like these belong in nothing but video games

  4. I was in Colorado springs and walked in the garden of the Gods. I'm not a car expert but watching my friend drive up the hill/mountain was difficult for her and she had a jeep. Plus dirt is dirt, the moment you pave it not going to end well. That being said cool video👍👍

  5. 12 miles & 1 -3 hours of drive ? That's about 34-38 minutes of drive going on 80mph or 85mph on freeways. If u a daily driver, it's sure is dangerous by doing the math and numbers come out 🧐😯

  6. Staring at my phone, the Youtube app is playing a silent, closed captioned preview of this vid…

    In my head its being read in Keith David's voice…

    I really regret clicking on the video.

  7. One time when I went to pikes peak I was in the gift shop and saw one of my friends all the way from Texas inside, it was crazy.

  8. if everybodys complaining about how dangerous it is, then why is everybodys racing?..
    its like eating a carolina reaper, then complaining how hot it is..

  9. I drove up Pikes Peak in 2017. Awesome experience! I started getting light headed at about 8,000 ft. Up was fun, down was brakes getting hot and 1st/2nd gear all the way down.

  10. Why it's the most dangerous? Gee I don't know maybe because you can fall off the side of a mountain. I would think that would do it.

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