Bobby Regester knows Pikes Peak Highway about as well as anybody. After all, over the last 30 years he’s raced up it hundreds of times in practice and as a competitor in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
But on June 26, about a quarter-mile below the 16-mile switchback, Regester lost his way on the mountain about eight minutes into his run. In an instant his life flashed before his eyes when he flew off the mountain backwards and down the side of the 2,000-foot cliff at 70 mph, while wide open in third gear.
“I’ve never lost my place on the mountain,” said Regester, 57, a resident of Divide and a grandfather of seven. “I thought I was in the left hand turn in the third leg of the ‘W’s’ going through the W switchback. I came into 16 Mile and I was looking for the guard rail but it wasn’t there. I was thinking about my brakes and lost concentration... Then when I went off the mountain I thought it was the end of the road. I thought that was my last run. But the good Lord stepped in and had me live another day.”
The only reason Regester, who reached a top speed that week during qualifying of about 130 mph at Bottomless Pit, was able to walk away relatively unharmed — aside from a few bruises and a sprained left foot — was because his No. 44 2005 Pontiac Sunfire came to rest upon a boulder some 200 feet down the cliff. Prior to stopping, Regester’s car appeared to have hit another large boulder, thus slowing his car down as it broke apart into many pieces.
“When I stopped, I got on the radio and let my son (Bobby, Jr., his crew chief) know what happened, and that I was all right,” said Regester, who was racing his first Hill Climb since 2008. “I got out of the car, hiked down and got in a safety vehicle which took me to the top to get checked out by emergency crews.
“I made a decision an hour later that I was retiring from racing. It’s time to hang up the helmet on Pikes Peak.”
Regester, who drove two years in the Indy Racing League at the turn of the century, added that he wanted to thank his wife, son, family and friends for helping make all his successful racing years so enjoyable.
By Tuesday, Regester’s car was back at his shop in Divide. He and his crew surmised that Regester likely lost his bearings on Pikes Peak due to inhaling methanol flames from an exhaust leak inside his car.
“It looks like the exhaust pipe got pushed inside the passenger side door,” he said. “It probably happened that morning when we were changing tires.”
By late Sunday night, a video of Regester’s horrifying crash was posted on YouTube. By 6 p.m. Tuesday, there were nearly 90,000 hits of the 13-second spectacle. By Thursday afternoon that number was 370,000. Counted among those who saw the video was Hill Climb legend and Woodland Park resident Leonard Vahsholtz.
“I know for a fact that sometimes when you’re racing and you concentrate you forget to breathe,” Vahsholtz said. “In all the years I raced the Peak, I never crashed or anything, and I never thought about going off the cliff. Sometimes you just get disoriented. You’re not superhuman.”
Leonard’s son, Clint, who tied his father on Sunday for the most individual victories in Pikes Peak Hill Climb history with 18, started about a minute behind Regester and was not informed of the crash until after he reached the summit.
“When I drove back down I looked at where he went off,” Clint said. “I said to myself ‘It would be bad to go off here.’ When you go up the race course you have to be on top of everything.”
Few drivers know Pikes Peak as well, or better, than Regester. He is a fourth generation Woodland Park resident and a 1972 graduate of the high school. He started racing short track while still in high school and made his initial start in the Hill Climb in 1980, earning rookie of the year honors.
He won his first championship in the Open Wheel Division in 1985, and followed that with victories in Super Stock in 1994, 1995 and 2007. His run in 1994 of 11:39.17 was the record that lasted for 16 years until Clint Vahsholtz bettered it by six seconds in 2010.
Unfortunately for Regester, this is not the first time he’s crashed on the mountain during the Hill Climb. In 1999, while driving a Chevrolet Camaro, he crashed at 19-Mile and had to be taken away in the Flight for Life helicopter to Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs. He suffered from internal injuries.
“I just got my guts shook up that time,” Regester said.
This time he’s just grateful to still have his guts left.