Billionaire philanthropist Jim Crown was driving a single-seat, open-top Spec Racer with a 165-horsepower engine on June 25 in Woody Creek when it struck a tire barricade backed by a concrete wall that was surrounding a gravel trap.
His son-in-law, Matthew McKinney, drove the Spec Racer a few hours before Crown drove it that day. McKinney remembered the car handled normally, although the brakes “were somewhat stiff, and the brake pedal had to be pressed somewhat firmly.”
Aspen Motorsports Park staff told McKinney the brakes were new.
These are some of the findings in the Pitkin County sheriff’s report, released on Thursday, investigating Crown’s death at the 50-acre park last month.
A beloved Aspen and Chicago resident, he was not a racetrack rookie. The managing partner of Aspen Skiing Co. and adviser to former President Barack Obama, he enjoyed the Aspen tracks and once owned a Ferrari. He celebrated his June 25 birthday with family at the park.
McKinney and his wife told the officer in charge, Bruce Benjamin, that they never heard brakes screeching before the crash. (Benjamin noted skid marks near the crash). Crown’s car hit the tire barricade “with such force, that it came off the ground a few feet.”
Sheriff’s deputies, Aspen Ambulance, and Aspen Fire Protection District first responders cared for Crown at the crash site. The report says they took turns giving him CPR chest compressions, but they were unable to save him. Crown was pronounced dead, with daughters Hayley and Victoria nearby.
Colorado State Patrol Vehicle Crash Unit was contacted to assist with the investigation.
Aspen Motorsports instructor Matthew Kennedy was teaching Crown how to decrease his time on laps when the crash occurred. Kennedy said that “on the last straight away, Mr. Crown locked up the brakes on the Spec, skidded straight into the curve” before running into the gravel and colliding with the barrier.
“The Aspen park was founded in 1963 after Colorado’s governor banned Le Mans-style racing on public roads in 1955.” (The Aspen park’s website says race cars used to line up in front of Hotel Jerome for a race). The website recounts how Aspen racing enthusiasts built the 1.1-mile track with a dazzling debut featuring Formula Vee cars, Formula Juniors, Corvettes, a Cooper Junior, Maserati, Lancia, Lotus, and Porsche.
“The Sports Car Club of America has used the track, as have Porsche, Jaguar, Shelby, and Ferrari, and Lotus clubs,” the site says proudly.
The Aspen Racing and Racing Sports Car Club makes its home in the park. Memberships include a clubhouse, race car storage, and events supported by rac-car engineers.
When Road & Track magazine listed the race car “country club memberships” it coveted most, Aspen was on the list, praised for its fun elements. This was in stark contrast to other tracks on the list, like Virginia International Raceway, which was highlighted for grueling traps and turns that terrified even pro drivers.
By contrast, Aspen was presented as laid back with family-friendly options, like go-karts and dirt bikes.
Reaching a spokesperson for Aspen Motorsports Park was not possible by print deadline.
Crown has been mourned by admirers nationwide, but especially in his hometowns of Aspen and Chicago. He was a member of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, a non-profit that helped find jobs for thousands of low-income youth. CBS News reports that he recently helped launch an initiative to raise tens of millions of dollars to reduce Chicago crime by helping local community leaders.
He was also an Aspen Institute trustee who was remembered at one session for being so modest that he would urge admirers to desist when they tried to praise him.
Lynda Edwards I The Aspen Times I July 7, 2023