Love, Tragedy and Crash Tales Infiltrate the 102 Pikes Peak Hill Climb Race

Local Racing Star Fails to Cross Finish Line
Trevor Phipps


Many who live in the Ute Pass region can agree that summertime in the Rockies is one of the main draws for people who choose to live here.

Personally, one of my most favorite events since I was a little kid has been the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

To me, there’s nothing more exciting than watching a slew of racers attempt to speed a vehicle up over 14,000 feet into the sky while maneuvering 156 turns on a road that has an average, seven percent grade.


This means that for every 100 feet forward a driver travels, he is gaining seven feet in elevation on average. On the steepest parts of the course racers traverse 10 percent grades or gain 10 feet for every 100 they drive.


Through the years, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the race including watching Woodland Park racing hero Clint Vahsholtz snag the coveted “King of the Mountain” title during the spectator-free 2020 race. I have also been struck with sadness when I watched Teller resident Bobby Regester roll his racecar several times off the side of the mountain past timberline. Luckily he was not seriously injured.


But ever since the hill climb folks started to live stream the event every year after the coronavirus plagued race of 2020, I have enjoyed watching it online. When you are at the race, Mother Nature can be brutal.  More notably, it is hard to get real time info about what is happening during the race.


But watching it online allows me to get better information to properly cover the race. And this year the Soi 24 Pool Hall in Woodland Park became the first sports bar probably ever to host a hill climb watch party.


A small group of diehard race fans gathered at the local pool hall at 7 a.m. to watch the live coverage on Mobil 1’s YouTube page. Breakfast was served and bloody Mary’s were poured during the 102nd running of the world-famous race.


Most participants at the watch party were anticipating another record run of third-generation Woodland Park racer Codie Vahsholtz as his qualifying and practice runs turned out to be faster than last year. Everyone was silent when the live video showed Vahsholtz storm away at the start line, and he started what looked like a very impressive run.


But then suddenly, the camera switched back to Vahsholtz and showed his vehicle slow down and come to a complete stop at the picnic grounds. He then pulled over into the parking lot ending his 2024 run in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. In fact, he only made it through the first part of the course.


Breakdowns and Minor Wrecks Riddle the Race


Codie Vahsholtz’s story seemed to be a common one that Sunday race day because out of the 60 racers that attempted the run, a dozen of them did not finish due to spinning off the road or breaking down. And actually, the mishaps seemed to happen about every third or fourth car. As a result, the race dragged on and lasted from 7:30 a.m. to nearly 5 p.m.


The other famous Pikes Peak racing family, the Unsers ,also had a family representative on America’s Mountain this year. However, Loni Unser also was written down as a did not finish (DNF).  This marked two representatives from famous and successful Pikes Peak racing families who were unable to reach the summit.


On the positive side, veteran champion racer Romain Dumas raced up the mountain with a time of 8:53.553 earning him the “King of the Mountain” title for the fifth time in his lengthy career. His victory was quite the feat considering he lost power in his 2024 electric Ford Lightning Super truck during the first part of the course, and lost an estimated 26 seconds off of his time before he got his vehicle restarted.


While the racing was on pause due to red flags on the course, the cameras switched to tell the love story of racers Mary Barker and Kendall Samuel. The couple got engaged on the course after Samuel had ended his race up the mountain.


But then after the race, Barker was diagnosed with cancer. After a rigorous six-month healing process her cancer was in remission and she chose to race alongside her partner Samuel in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb for the first time this year.


After the two conquered the mountain, they made the decision to read each other their vows and tie the knot at the summit after they both successfully completed the race. And to make things even more interesting, their wedding was officiated by none other than the “Fastest Pastor” Don Wickstrum, who serves as an assistant pastor at a church in Wisconsin when he is not racing. Wickstrum gladly married the two racers after he himself finished the race, and took fifth place overall and second place in his Unlimited Division.