Hill climbing is
not for kids
How many times have you had the urge to really tear up a road in your car? I mean really tear up the road. Imagine sitting at a red light waiting to scorch your tires with an asphalt-blistering launch as you head off into a windy-mountain road at triple-digit speeds preparing to attack more twists and turns than an Arby's curly fry.
We've all found those roads in our travels that leave us wondering if the civil engineer that designed the route was fantasizing about Formula 1 racing. These roads are inundated with S-curves and 180-degree bends where any reasonable person could have foreseen a straighter path. Often they have a seamless flow from one curve to the next with maybe even a slight banking to give a little more on-camber hugging. These are the roads that we can't help but push our cars on and enjoy a little more handling and a lot more throttle than we did on our way to the grocery store.
But what stops us from really attacking these roads? Why not just go all out and push our MR2s one hundred percent sea rching for the limits of our braking, handling and acceleration? Why not just dive blindly into the apex of these turns with tires ready to squeal like a pig being dragged to slaughter?
prude in us says, "We could get arrested!"
Allow yourself to fantasize for a moment. Start by imaging that picturesque mountain roadway. Continue the daydream by adding an entire crew of people that will sweep the road to ensure that it is free of debris. These wonderful people even g o so far as to close the road temporarily to public traffic so you can have at it from shoulder-to-shoulder with no fear of oncoming traffic ~ even on the blind turns.
Since we are dreaming, let's pretend these kind folks even put up electronic timers at the beginning and end of the road so you can see how fast you traversed the mountain. Let's continue the delusion by adding a few ambulance crews and safety people along the way in the event of the worst-case scenario. And if that's not enough, let's envision that someone actually managed to get the permission and support of the local community and law enforcement.
Surely all of this is ridiculous, but as insane as this may seem, the truth is, these types of events happen all around the country. They are ca lled hill climb races. The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) and several other organizations host these types of races.
Up until last year, the hill climbs fell under the SCCA's Solo 1 events. As of this year, they are now listed within their Club Racing Time Trials program. The Time Trials program is designed to accommodate all types of cars including street-driven cars.
There are four levels of the time trials: Performance Driving Experience (PDE), Club Trials, Time Trials and Hill Climbs. The PDE's are instructional events that split time between the classroom and a racetrack. The Club Trials offer the first level of competition against the clock. The Track Trials are similar to the Club Trials, but speeds are higher and only fully prepared racecars are allowed. Street-driven cars cannot compete on this level. The highest level of the Time Trials Program is the hill climbs.
The Hill Climbs are by far the most exciting thing I have ever done in motorsports. Having the chance to really let loose on a public road offers an adrenaline rush that is second to none. To my naive mind, participating in a hill climb event seems a lot like I would expect a World Rally Championship (WRC) to be like without the snow, gravel, ice, loose dirt and stones.
Hill climbs do feature the spectators and course workers dotted along your route cheering you on and they also have the thrill of high speeds on the open road. The SCCA events do not even stop for rain. They will pause the raci ng action for lightening though.
As is the case with many exhilarating activities, there is a very real danger to racing on hill climbs. Unlike a road course, where you frequently have ample run-off or a solid barrier protecting you from leaving the racin g environment, the hills offer very little room for straying too far off of the racing line. The margin for error at these events is slimmer than Paris Hilton on a diet.
That being said, the amount of safety equipment you need to compete is far greater than the Snell 95 helmet and factory seatbelt that will get through an autocross technical inspection. When you leave the relative safety of a parking lot filled with cones and start racing in the very dynamic and unpredictable environment of the mountains saf ety becomes a crucial issue not to be taken lightly.
If you are serious about entering the hill climbs you are going to need a roll bar. The least expensive and easiest option is the Autopower bar which runs around $250 for the first two generations of MR2s.
You are also going to need a 5-point harness and a fire extinguisher. The fire extinguisher needs to be entirely made of metal. Even the handle, spout and bracket need to be metal. If your car has T-tops, sunroof or a convertible top, you are going to need arm restraints. These keep your arms inside the vehicle in case of a roll over.
In addition to making your car safer, your driving outfit is going to need a make over as well. You are going to need either a 2-ply fire resistant driving suit or a single layer suit and a full set (top and bottom) of Nomex underwear. The suit can be a one-piece jump suit or a two piece pant and jacket.
You will also need fireproof gloves and shoes. Before you stuff your feet into your fancy new shoes you are going to have t o cover them with a pair of Nomex socks. If you have facial hair, you are going to be required to wear a balaclava as well. And of course, everyone will need a helmet.
So now you have your car fitted, your gear is packed and you have a truckload of anticipation built up, where do you go next? That's going to depend a lot on what part of the country you live in and what specific events are in your area. Since I am a resident of Pennsylvania I am really only aware of what is happening in this corner of the Country.
In the northeast United States we have a lot of opportunities for hill climb racing. An eight event SCCA series can be found at www.pahillclimb.org. Six of those events take place on four different hills in Pennsylvania and the other two events are both held on the Jefferson Circuit at Summit Point in West Virginia. Most of the hill climbs in this series are about a mile long and take around one minute to complete. One of these hills runs 2.3 miles and takes well over 2 minutes to complete.
The southeast region of NASA runs the Snowshoe Mountain Hill Climb (www.snowshoehillclimb.com) and the Rock Creek Hill Climb (www.rockcreekhillclimb.com).
The New England Hill Climb Association (hillclimb.org) runs eight different events on five different hills. Th ese events are not part of SCCA or NASA so the rules and requirements are a bit different. My understanding is that if your car is stock, you can do these hills without a roll bar. If you are modified at all, they require an entire roll cage. I would not suggest doing a hill climb without a roll bar, but to each their own. It's your head.
Please do not make the mistake of thinking that is a comprehensive list of venues. I am sure there are more out there. Google is your friend. I did not even mention Pike's Peak. If you are not familiar with that event, you might want to research it. It is truly the pinnacle of hill climbing.
If you find other events, please let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org. Maybe I can add them to my schedule and we can race each other. Just don't forget that you can run, but you can't Hyde.