GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — For some, driving on the Grand Mesa is terrifying. Sharp turns crest into hundred-foot drops before your eyes.
For the guys and gals in the Colorado Hill Climbing Association, it’s just another day on the job.
Saturday and Sunday, around 75 racers are participating in the 2019 Lands End Hill Climb from Whitewater, CO. The course includes switchbacks, drift-able turns, and straightaways where racers reach speeds of more than 100 miles per hour.
“The road is such a challenge,” 26-year race veteran Larry Thompson said. “You have such an elevation change. It’s just a great race and we have a great community of people here who are good racers.”
Thompson is a native of the Western Slope, who first witnessed the Lands End race with his dad growing up. In 1993, Thompson built his own stock car for the event, and has trekked up the Mesa with his friends at every opportunity.
“We have almost the same group of guys for almost all the races,” Thompson said. ” Been racing with ’em year after year. It’s basically your time against the mountain.”
According to Colorado Hill Climbing Association Race Director Rodney O’Maley, The Lands End Hill Climb is the third oldest race in the United States, behind the Indianapolis 500 and Pikes Peak. It was first run in 1916, then again between 1940-41. Both times, World Wars delayed the fun.
Racing was resumed periodically on the Mesa in the 80s and 90s, without an annual schedule. Then some local Grand Junction folks stepped in.
“We couldn’t have actually gotten this race back without the people that live here,” O’Maley said. “They did a lot of legwork to get this race back in the late 90s, and made things pretty simple for me.”
Lands End has been run consecutively since 2001, thanks in part to the work of the CHCA. Since then local families have taken interest, driving up the Mesa to bring their kids for the weekend event. Some, like Western Slope native Dennis Dumas, even decide to tackle the mountain themselves.
“It definitely gets your adrenaline going,” Dumas said, who has competed with the CHCA since 2017. “That’s what is all about. I lived right down the road. I always came up and watched. Now I get to go up and do it.”
It’s not hard to spot the camaraderie between racers in the pits. Despite the competitive nature of the event, race veterans are constantly chatting with each other, offering advice on the racing condition or even lending a hand with a tune-up.
“If somebody’s broke down and needs a part, [the community] usually jumps in and gets your car going so you can make your next run,” Thompson said.
Qualifying for the Lands End Hill Climb takes place all day Saturday, with the best times earning a later spot in the heats for the Sunday finale. Tickets are $15 dollars for the weekend event, and can be found on the CHCA’s website.