COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Pikes Peak International Hill climb stock car driver Chandler Bruning of Colorado Springs died Thursday morning after crashing during his qualifying run for the 79th race on Pikes Peak.
Bruning was the eighth person to attempt a qualifying run on the winding 12.42-mile course when his 1999 Monte Carlo left the road about 200 yards from the start line.
His car left the road and rolled about 20 feet down an embankment. A tree trunk went through his driver-side window. Bruning died of injuries sustained in the wreck. He was 31 years old. He is survived by his wife Amy, his mother Marcia, and sister Dawn Martin.
Hill Climb safety personnel and the Manitou Springs Fire Department responded to the scene.
According to Teller County Coroner Debbie Smith, who was at the scene and did the autopsy, Bruning died of massive internal bleeding from the tree trunk crushing his chest.
During Wednesday's final practice session, Bruning, who was practicing on the lower part of the course, navigated that same corner successfully five times.
Bruning's death was the third fatality in the Hill Climb's 85-year history and the first in 19 years. It was the first time a participant died on the racecourse. Driver Wallace A. Coleman died of injuries following a wreck in a 1921 practice session, and motorcycle racer Bill Gross, Jr. died of injuries suffered during the 1982 race.
This was Bruning's fifth year driving in the race, but he was no stranger to the mountain. He had been coming to races since he was a baby.
His father Ralph was an eight-time stock car champion, the winningest driver in the division.
Chandler was preceded in death by his father, who died of cancer in March 2000. Chandler and Ralph built the 1999 Monte Carlo for the 1999 race. Ralph had planned to drive it that year, but the advanced state of his illness prevented him from participating in the race. Chandler drove the car to a fourth place finish in the Stock Car division in 2000.
Chandler Bruning was employed as a brewmaster for the Bristol Brewing Company in Colorado Springs.
One of the trademarks that makes the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb unique in motor sports is the family-like bond drivers, team members, officials and even spectators share.
"In this race, no matter who you are, what country you come from, what kind of car you race, weather you are a sponsor or fan, you are part of our family,'' said Tim Bergsten, media coordinator of the PPIHC. "Today we lost a family member. Our prayers and sympathies go out to the Bruning family.''
Stock car driver Layne Schranz, another second-generation driver, grew up with Bruning on Pikes Peak.
"We were up there together as boys watching our fathers race,'' Schranz said. "Chandler was one without a doubt to take the shirt off his back for you. He would do anything to help you. If you were having a better day than he was, and you needed a part, he would take it off his car and give it to you. He was just one of those guys.''
-Pikes Peak International Hill Climb