Hillclimbers – why do they do it?

Over the last 10 years, I have heard many people asking the question :


What creates the desire to take the risk of running a race car flat out up a wild mountain road? Why take a perfectly good street car and put in a 4 point cage and belts so you can roar through the woods and up those hills? Adrenalin junkies?  Death defying daredevils? OR… are these hillclimbers just “a few fries short of a Happy Meal?” I know what drives my passion but what is it for others?  I asked and here is what I found.

“It’s not about just racing up the hill.” – It’s selecting a car that fits your style, speed and budget. For many, it begins with a daily driver street car. You begin visualizing how it will look and what it will take to convert it to a competitive car in the class you’d like to run. Ordering the parts and… while shuffling a job, school, family and other responsibilities… finding time to do the build. Finding the resources to do what you can’t and doing what you can the way YOU want it done.  Enjoying the feel of a car seat, steering wheel, pedal layout… custom built to your body. Painting, striping, numbering and decaling to give the look YOU want. It’s building the very personal TOOL for the job of climbing that hill..

“It’s about the road.” – On a race track, we make endless cycles of the course… learning turn in points, braking zones, squeezing out that tenth here and there. We run the same track 3 to 8 times a year in many cases. For road racers, that perfect line for qualifying is seldom seen in a race due to traffic, passing and yellow flags. On a Hillclimb – you see the road once or twice a year. There are no other cars or obstructions and turns are mostly blind. You can’t see through the mountain. Changing surfaces,  weather conditions, going from sunlight to tree covered shade patches,  driving reactively to what you see in a 2 minute all-out burst… this is a challenge to get the max out of your car,  tires and set up… finding the golden line for the fastest time you and the car can make that day.

“It’s about the other drivers.” –  Hillclimb is more social than many other forms of racing. When you climb out of your car at the top, there are 20 other drivers all standing around talking that just experienced the same thing you did. They are friendly, open… willing to help with tools and advice . Many great friendships begin on a hill. On the occasion of a mechanical problem, drivers frequently offer their car to a competitor for some runs. Twice at the Dragon, that driver beat them in their own car. More and more women are competing and the “Danica Patrick” advantage (less weight / less testosterone) is showing in the results.  Six of the Dragon Hillclimb class records were set by drivers over 65 years old and four records are held by drivers under 25.

“It’s about the crowd.” – Spectators come from all over to watch these cars go up the hill and talk to the drivers in the pits. To kids, these drivers are heroes and give them something to aspire to. For adults, they are a source of memories of motorsports events past, of cars they remember and would loved to have driven and a chance to enjoy motorsports competition. The kids seeking autographs and ringing the cowbells to encourage drivers to go faster…  they don’t want to just watch cars go by at speed. They want to take part in the event, touch the cars, meet the drivers and enjoy the beautiful natural surrounding you find on a mountain. The view from the Observation Deck at the Top of the Dragon Hillclimb is incredible.

“It’s about the event staff” –  So many people come together to make a Hillclimb happen. All volunteers who donate their time to come be a part of a unique motorsports spectacle.  They receive training so they can be there in a time of need when a car goes off… but their joy comes from a ringside seat for a safe event. The Saturday night social/steak dinner is a great time for workers and drivers to talk and tell stories.  Many of the greatest moments a driver will experience on a hillclimb are shared only by the driver and a few lucky course workers that were there watching over them.

“It’s about the feeling” – You don’t have to race a carbon fiber winged monster to enjoy driving a Hillclimb. You don’t have to win a trophy or set a record for your class. It’s about the feeling of being at the line belted in, feeling the vibration of your engine, looking up at that giant tire arch looming ahead. Watching the starter count down and checking your gauges for last seconds “all systems go.”  Seeing the view from inside your helmet, inside your car with only the first 50 yards of the asphalt visible and after that…nothing.  Remembering where it goes and trusting your memory, your car, your tires, the workers that the course is clean and safe so you can give it all you have and …GO! You don’t see signs, you don’t see workers, you don’t see trees… you see green blur on the sides and a ribbon of gray road as it is revealed to you. In 2 minutes time (that feels like 10), you see the finish line and your heartbeat and breathing begin to return to normal.  It’s a rush… and you will do it 10 to 16 times over the course of the weekend. Each run, turns begin linking together in your memory and you carry more speed and brake later. If you do it right, the last run is the fastest as it all comes together. If you do it wrong, any run can be your last run of the weekend.

I guess the bottom line is HILLCLIMBERS ARE NOT DRIVERS. Hillclimbers are the drivers, the workers and the spectators who all come to take part in making the event special. They all come together to compete,  fellowship and bond with their friends and their cars at the non-denominational church called NATURE.

Yes, some of us hillclimbers might be a few fries short of a Happy Meal…

but we are also some of the happiest people I know.     



Article by Ted Theodore – The Southern Driver (7/14) . Thanks to Darryl Cannon for pictures and support from Day 1 to make the Dragon Hillclimb a reality!   See more of his work at www.killboy.com