29th time is the charm: Vahsholtz is king of the mountain

Clint Vahsholtz had won his class 23 times before, but wasn’t fastest overall until this year

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Pikes Peak 2020
Clint Vahsholtz and his Ford-powered racer head up the mountain on a pre-race qualifying run | Pikes Peak Hill Climb photos by Larry Chen

Clint Vahsholtz not only had to wait until his 29th “Climb to the Clouds” attempt, but even then, the start of the 2020 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb was delayed, first a few months by the coronavirus pandemic, and then on race day because of ice on the route. 

When the 98th race up the mountain ended, Vahsholtz finally had claimed his first overall victory in America’s second-oldest motorsport competition, which started in 1916. Vahsholtz had led his class 23 times, but this was his first overall victory.

Vahsholtz and his Ford-powered racer on the mountain road

Vahsholtz lives not far from the mountain in Woodland Park, Colorado, and his father, Leonard, an 18-time class winner, and his son, Codie, both have been hill-climb racers. 

Vahsholtz won this year in what is officially a 2013 open-class Ford, basically a home-built, open-wheel, Ford-powered racer with huge front and rear aerodynamic wings to provide downforce on the 12.42-mile mountain road that climbs through 156 turns to a finish line at 14,115 feet elevation.

Vahsholtz, a former NASCAR Busch-series racer, reached the finish line in 9 minutes, 35.490 seconds. He averaged 75.066 mph on an extremely treacherous route, this year deemed too dangerous for the motorcycle class, which meant that Vahsholz’s son, Codie, helped crew for his father instead of riding to the summit on his two-wheel machine.

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Paul Dallenbach (above) and Porsches (below)

Finishing second, at 9:36.181, was another local veteran, Paul Dallenbach, in a 2006 PVA-03 Dallenbach Special, with David Donner third in a 2019 Porsche GT2 RS Clubsport at 9:36.559. 

Another Porsche-backed driver, fast-qualifier David Donohue (yes, son of the famed Mark Donohue), suffered a flat tire midway up the mountain and did not finish.

While Vahsholtz and Dallenbach were in the Open Wheel class, Donner was racing in the Time Attack category that features OEM factory entries, this year including those from Porsche and Acura.

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Such a great story. With such little good news in the world today. What a great perseverance story. Congrats to Clint and the Vahsholtz family and also all who competed.
    Well done!

    Great story Larry

  2. This is brilliant racing, and I’m certain that these gentlemen carry their *ahem* “guy parts” in wheelbarrows- been up that road as a tourist. Um, 100+mph? No.
    But I miss the unpaved parts that allowed Michele Alboreto to run that vicious Audi Sport uphill and smoke every male competitor. And the heroic Unsers to fling rear wheel drive old-school American sedans around decades before “drift” became a thing. Sports and venues change, but I think- my opinion only- that the Pike’s Peak race is diminished by being paved all the way.
    I’ve always been against Indy becoming a spec-car race too, having grown up there in the ’60’s/’70’s, but nobody asked the real fans. I wanna see a spec-car circus, I’d watch NASCAR. Sigh. Although he owns ’em, can you imagine AJ Foyt driving a spec-car? Mario Andretti? Parnelli freakin’ Jones? Lloyd Ruby? Al or Bobby Unser? Danny “Onthegas”? The Ricks, Mears & Sullivan? Teo Fabi or Johnny Rutherford? Nah. Wouldn’t happen.
    Dunno if the pavement is “safer”; certain that something rare and precious died.
    Still, a good show, and worth support.

  3. Ryan: I’m glad I got to cover the hill climb back when the upper part of the route was gravel (and people used to cover their parked cars with blankets and cardboard in an effort to keep flying rocks from breaking windows). Also got to Le Mans when the Mulsanne was, indeed, straight (though I understand the need for the chicanes to keep things relatively sane). Amazing to think that Pikes Peak once was part of the USAC Indy car racing circuit.
    As for spec cars, I liked Indy best when it was almost run what you brung.
    As for drivers, they will drive whatever cars are presented to them, spec or otherwise. However, one of the things we used to do in the press room during the month of May was to speculate on who would win the 500 if the driver had to build and wrench his own car.

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