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King Of The Mountain…again
Basalt’s Paul Dallenbach reflects on a career faster, more furious than most
190723 Bignotti Wally '75
Wally Dallenbach confers with car owner George Bignotti during the 1975 Indianapolis 500. Wearing a Bank of Basalt (predecessor to Alpine Bank) helmet sticker, Wally led 96 laps and appeared likely to win. He was knocked out by a failed piston 12 laps before the race was called due to heavy rain. Bobby Unser would go on to win his second Indy 500 title. Photo Courtesy Dallenbach family

In some parts of the world, Paul Dallenbach gets instantly recognized, with folks clamoring for him to sign things. Here in the Mid-Valley, not so much. Dallenbach can go to lunch with Basalt friends without being bothered.  

This scion of one of America’s leading auto racing families likes that, yet also appreciates the fans of hill climbing who currently make it possible. He’s a local who’s dominated his unique racing niche for years, and has kept going up, without slowing down.

The 52-year-old youngest child of IndyCar legend Wally Dallenbach won the Open Wheel class (they look like Indy cars) for the 10th time at this year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, finishing only 8 seconds off his goal of breaking the climb record. Dallenbach completed the 2019 “Race To The Clouds” in 9 minutes, 44.63 seconds, driving a 2006 PVA 003 “Dallenbach special” to sixth place overall.  

Of the late June 103rd Pikes Peak event, where you negotiate 156 turns over 12.42 miles and finish at an altitude of 14,115 feet, Dallenbach says, “The car was perfect on the bottom half. We were second quickest overall. We were well on track to break the class record, but then our fuel pump overheated and we started losing fuel pressure.”  

As the car started switching between full acceleration and virtually none, Dallenbach was still fast enough to win the class, despite losing 25 seconds from his expected time.  

“The car was just so much fun to drive. It was the best-handling car I ever had up there. That made it easy to go fast, but unfortunately you have to put the whole run together.”  Dallenbach adds, “To get a car to run at 14,000 feet – it’s amazing how difficult that is.”  

He says that's what makes the PPIHC special, “because it’s so hard to get to the top on a clean run.” Paul would like to see more American fans, though.  

“It doesn’t get the recognition it should in the U.S. It’s so big around the world. It’s huge in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and France…  I’ve been to the Goodwood Festival (of Speed) in Sussex, England, I’m walking in my street clothes, and people are coming up asking for my autograph. It’s crazy. Yet people don’t even know me in my town when I go to the coffee shop. I like it that way, trust me. I’m not a ‘hey, look at me’ kind of guy’.”  

Last run for Peak?

Dallenbach understands hill climb racing still has a hill of its own to climb when competing for American popularity.  

“Over here, there’s so much going on, so many sports. But to me, it’s very special. Hill climbing’s a unique type of racing – you against the mountain, not necessarily you against your competitor because that competitor can’t crash into you, and take you out. There are no excuses.”  

He’ll head up more hillsides soon, in the Colorado Hill Climb Association’s races. The next is Grand Junction on Aug. 10 and 11, running about 5½ miles up Lands End Road on the Grand Mesa.

But, will he compete at Pikes Peak again?  

Dallenbach says it was a good year to shoot for the overall title with an excellent car, but now there’s more to consider.  

A pall fell over this year’s event with the crash that killed top motorcyclist Carlin Dunne. Dallenbach calls the four-time champ one of the best riders ever to take on the Peak, and says compared to what Dunne’s family and friends had to go through, “our problems seem pretty minor.”

The impact of Dunne’s death may be sweeping, not only as officials consider ending the PPIHC motorcycle competition.  

Paul says, “We’re trying to figure out for next year whether we’re going back or not. We have about six months to decide. I need to talk it over with my family and see if it’s worth it. I told my wife, this was my last run, but of course I didn’t break the record, so it makes me hungry to go back. Either way, we’ll continue to do the dirt stuff.  Pikes Peak is what we’re on the fence about.”

Paul Dallenbach isn’t always racing, but does make a living driving fast. He’s driven in the “Fast and the Furious” films in recent years. He’ll be behind the wheel in new Ford Truck and Audi commercials soon, he’s worked on “Bad Boys 3,” and in what may be an upcoming holiday blockbuster this November, he did 50 days and drove 10 cars for “Ford vs. Ferrari.”

The film stars Matt Damon as legendary designer Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale as British driver Ken Miles. It’s the story of the young Lee Iacocca commissioning Shelby to do “the impossible” – come up with a Ford that could win the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1966.  

Dallenbach says he does more commercial than movie driving, and that’s a choice.  

“Living here in Colorado, I don’t like being away for 50 days at a time. I like the commercials, where you’re gone two or three days. I like coming back and living here, then going out there, doing small projects.”

One small problem living in Basalt is that there are times when you need a big outreach.  

“It’s a shame that it gets a bit hidden here, because it’s hard to find sponsorships. We do great with Alpine Bank and Hoosier Tire, though. Bob Young (Alpine Bank’s founder) is a big auto racing fan, and he raced cars his whole life. He’s a big supporter of mine.”

How did the Dallenbachs become Valley locals after a lifetime on the East Coast?  

Wally fell in love with the Rocky Mountains during high school, so after a solid early 1970s racing success, he could afford a move west. 

The family came to the Fryingpan Valley in 1974, buying the 200 acres that became the Wood’n Handle Ranch in 1975, and launching a new lifetime.  

Paul says, “It was awesome. New Jersey has its pluses, but Colorado has way more pluses than New Jersey. It was great, because on the ranch, we got to ride motorcycles and snowmobiles just walking out our door. There really weren’t any go-cart tracks to get our training on, so our training was racing each other, my brother (Wally Jr.) and sister (Colleen), on four-wheelers and dirt bikes, and we’re all super-competitive, so it was heaven.”

Having inspired his own kids and no doubt many more with his racing successes, Wally Dallenbach, Sr. will be inducted next year to the Motorsports Hall of Fame.  

The 13-time Indianapolis 500 starter and first Chief Steward of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) goes into the Hall in March alongside stock car owner Rick Hendrick and versatile Belgian driver Jacky Ickx in Daytona. 

Paul says of his now-82-year-old dad’s enshrinement: “It’s huge. It’s well-deserved, not only for his driving, but for his contributions to the creation of the IndyCar safety team. A lot of where IndyCar is today on safety has to do with him.”  

How did his father respond to getting inducted? “He didn’t act too excited at first, but when he finally got it, he was pretty happy.”  

Wally Dallenbach continued as CART Chief Steward for 22 years, until 2001.  

Paul adds, “The drivers really looked at him as a father figure. He wasn’t wishy-washy on his calls. That made for very consistent racing, because it’s cutthroat. Everybody’s trying to get an advantage on the track, between penalties and stuff like that. You had to be completely fair and unbiased about everything. You couldn’t have a favorite driver, had to see it all as black and white. I think he was really good at that.”