Presented by Racemaker Press

"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It Is/ On the Frying Pan River

by Gordon Kirby
I spent three very pleasant days last week at Wally Dallenbach's ranch on the Frying Pan River in Basalt, Colorado. I was there to work on my biography of Wally which Racemaker Press plans to publish in May, 2018.

Frying Pan Ranch is situated at 7,000 feet about thirty miles north of Aspen. The ranch occupies 175 acres on either side of a half-mile stretch of the Frying Pan River, a fast-moving stream that's a tributary to the Colorado River. The river offers excellent fishing as well as canoeing and kayaking during the spring's high water season.

Dallenbach bought his Colorado property after winning the California 500 in 1973. He had always dreamed of living in Colorado's Rocky Mountains and as soon as he could afford it Wally, his wife Peppy and their kids Wally Jr., Paul and Colleen made the move west from their native New Jersey.

"When I was a kid I took trips out here to my brother's wedding and to go ski-ing," Wally says. "I just fell in love with this part of the country and said I wanted to live in the mountains someday."

© Dallenbach family collection
Wally and Peppy first considered buying a place in Vermont's Green Mountains before deciding on Colorado.

"I wanted at least forty acres on a stream or a pond," Wally relates. "We looked at four places and when I looked at this one there was no doubt in my mind. I had just been lucky enough to win the California 500 and finish second in USAC points, so I was able to make it happen. It was a great move for me and the family."

For the past 43 years through Wally's heydays as a driver in the seventies and his subsequent twenty years from 1980-2000 as CART's chief steward the Dallenbachs have made the Frying Pan Ranch their home. At the beginning, the ranch's three bedroom log home needed a lot of work.

"It had been built in the fifties and was a little run-down," Wally recalls.

Wally had run a construction business in New Jersey in partnership with his cousin Richie Massing and he loaded a backhoe, a plow and a front end loader on a flatbed trailer and trucked them from New Jersey to Colorado. Initially, Wally and Peppy lived in one of the ranch's riverside cabins while Wally re-plumbed and insulated the house, put in a new septic system and enlarged the bedrooms.

He then built a pond to irrigate the land and began clearing the land of trees around the house and a string of smaller cabins located nearby and along the river. In 1976 Wally built five new western-style cabins he calls 'Dodge City' located about a hundred yards from the river.

"I built five more cabins and we went from nine to fourteen. Four of them on the river are short term rentals. We book them by the week during the summer. Then we have five more cabins on this side of the river near the house and five more a little further down on this side of the river with longterm residents. Some of them fish for a living. We have weddings here and often the wedding guests want to stay here."

Lon Bromley had worked for Wally and Richie Massing in New Jersey and Wally soon hired Bromley to work as his ranch manager. Bromley and his wife lived in one of the riverside cabins.

"Lon was a very good employee in New Jersey and he did a great job running the ranch," Wally says. "He was a great guy in all ways."

© Dallenbach family collection
Wally started Basalt's rescue team in 1976 and put Bromley in charge of the EMT operation before bringing him in to become CART's safety director in 1986. Today, Wally is happily retired and as he approaches his 80th birthday in December he remains as active as ever, working on all manner of jobs around the ranch from dawn 'til dusk.

Wally works out of a four-bay garage opposite the house and a three-bay tractor and truck equipment garage located a few yards further up the hill behind the house. There's also a varied collection of tractors, trucks and tree cutting and pruning equipment to draw from.

"I loved coming back here after every race," he remarks. "I had some tenants and they were my only neighbors and over time we built a small clientele who come and stay from time to time. It's like a family. They really appreciate the environment and the weather and many of them like the fishing.

"It was a lot of work but I enjoyed it. Instead of sitting around reading books and waiting for the next race I had plenty of work to occupy me. But I love the work and it's always been good therapy. We've made a lot of friends all around the county."

Back in 1975 Wally quietly started a motorcycle tradition that would become the Colorado 500.

"I always had a love for motorcycles," he grins. "I had a motorcycle way back in my school days when I was fourteen. So I carried that passion with me and I had a street bike and some dirt bikes. I began to ride around the mountain trails and fell in love with the mountains even more.

"Along with that I discovered there were all these old mining ghost towns with a lot of mining machinery and steam engines. As a gear head I could relate to these guys. In many ways those old miners were like race drivers. They put everything on the line to make a paycheck."

The Colorado 500 began to take shape when Wally took Wally Jr. with him on a two-day mountain trail ride.

"Wally and I rode for two days and we had a great time. We enjoyed everything we saw. The next year I did it with a friend of mine Sherm Cooper who was a Honda dealer in New Jersey. He came out and rode with me and loved it too.

"Sherm and I talked about it and we thought about how many other race car drivers like the Unsers enjoyed riding dirt bikes. And there were other guys who enjoyed the sport like Art Lamey who was the Champion Spark Plug guy."

The following year Bobby and Al Unser, Art Lamey, Lon Bromley and a few others joined Wally.

"There were nine of us. Lon came along and so did Dick Singer and his partner who built the garages at the ranch. We set off and did four days and it was unreal. The reaction from Bobby and Al was a good measuring point for me because they really enjoyed it."

© Dallenbach family collection
After that Wally's ride took off.

"The next year there 38 of us and after the four days everybody spent the rest of the year talking about how this was something that anybody who loved dirt bikes and the mountains had to do. So it grew by word of mouth.

"We had Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, Rick and Roger Mears, Roger Penske, Jack and Geoff Brabham. All these guys came on the ride and they were different people when they were here. They just disassociated with the racing world and thoroughly enjoyed life outside of their egos."

Wally immediately saw the importance of making the Colorado 500 an annual charitable contributor to the local towns that the ride passed through.

"As the ride grew it also came together as a charity," he says. "We got better organized. We built an organization and we patented the Colorado 500 name.

"Many of the towns we go to on the ride are dirt poor so we decided to give some money to these towns for playgrounds and schools. Then it spread to safety equipment and medical teams and we started giving scholarships to help kids who wouldn't have a chance otherwise. Over the years we've given more than $2 million."

Wally also started a five-day road ride that goes through different parts of Colorado. The road ride celebrated it's thirtieth anniversary last year. Janet Lohman takes care of all administrative aspects of Frying Pan Ranch and is President of the Colorado 500.

"Janet came to work for us eighteen years ago," Wally says. "She's now the president and she does a tremendous job. We would be lost without her."

Wally is quietly proud of his many accomplishments as a race driver and CART's chief steward. But he takes his greatest pleasure from his day to day life on Frying Pan Ranch.

"My kids grew up enjoying motorcycling, hunting, fishing and ski-ing," he remarks. "What else could you want? We're very lucky. I must have said a hundred times that I wish everyone who was racing was lucky enough to have something like this to come back to. After twenty years of racing I was lucky to be alive and have all my parts so I've been able to enjoy my retirement.

"I'm always building something or fixing something. As far as being satisfied, I couldn't ask for more. I don't need a mansion. I can say honestly I've lived in a log cabin for over forty years and enjoyed every minute of it. The good Lord has blessed me."

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright ~ All Rights Reserved