Climb to the Clouds

Racers, spectators revving up for Auto Road competition

June 26. 2014 1:04AM
RACE TO THE TOP: Travis Pastrana rounds the famous Cragway turn on the Mt. Washington Auto Road in 2010 during his unofficial record-setting run of six minutes, 20.47 seconds. 

Travis Pastrana rounds the famous Cragway turn on the Mt. Washington Auto Road in September 2010 during his unofficial record-setting run of 6 minutes 20.47 seconds.

Following a three-year hiatus, the 2014 Subaru Mount Washington Hillclimb, a three-day motorsports festival, returns to Pinkham Notch with a field of 80 cars.

Officials with the Sports Car Club of New Hampshire and the Mount Washington Auto Road have scheduled the “Climb to the Clouds” Friday through Sunday on the 7.6-mile Mount Washington Auto Road.

The roadway averages about 20 feet wide, with steep drop-offs on the sides and an average 12-percent grade that gains slightly more than 4,600 feet in total elevation change from the starting line to the finish line. The surface is primarily tarmac with about a mile of gravel and contains more than 150 turns and switchbacks as the road winds its way to the 6, 288-foot summit of the Northeast’s tallest peak.

Getting into Gear

The race up the road was first run in 1904 as part of the famous Glidden Tour and serves as one of North America’s oldest motorsports events.

This week’s festivities will draw race and rally drivers from around the world.

“The 2014 entry list includes three of the past five recent Mount Washington Hillclimb record holders; the top 20 teams from the Rally America National Championship; a variety of high-horsepower, purpose-built hillclimb cars and a hand-picked vintage class filled with race cars steeped in motorsports history,” event officials said.

Gunning for a victory, as well as a new overall course record, will be multi-time rally champion and former Mount Washington Hillclimb record holder Tim O’Neil from Dalton, who set a record in 1990 in a 300-horsepower Volkswagen Rally Golf; 1992 and 1998 Mount Washington Hillclimb record holder and six-time Canadian National Rally Champion Frank Sprongl from Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, who drove Audi Quattros, and the current Mount Washington Hillclimb record holder and five-time United States Rally Champion, David Higgins, from the Isle of Man and Subaru Rally Team USA, who drove a 325 horsepower all-wheel-drive 2011 Subaru WRX STI rally car in 2011.

“The hill is one of those special driving events, and it’s mix of different surfaces, bumps and deceptive bends makes it so tough,” Higgins said. “The added history of the climb also adds some extra pressure. Then you throw the weather into the mix and you know you are going to have to be at your best to succeed.”

Considered one of the oldest motorsports events in the United States, the hillclimb was first run in July 1904, seven years before the first 500-mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and 12 years before the Pikes Peak Hillclimb. First opened in 1861 as the Mount Washington Carriage Road, the Mount Washington Auto Road has a long and winding history.

Another driver attending the Subaru Mount Washington Hillclimb this weekend is X Games legend, extreme sports icon and four-time Rally America National Champion Travis Pastrana from Davidsonville, Md., who set an unofficial Mount Washington Hillclimb record of six minutes and 20.47 seconds in a 2010 Subaru WRX STI rally car in 2010 while recording a television special for Red Bull.

“This year is very special for me because I had the record, and now my teammate David Higgins has it,” Pastrana said. “We will both get the chance to race with similar equipment and with similar conditions. It will be a fight to see who can claim the fastest time, and a challenge for everyone competing to try and take the record, because anyone expecting to win will probably have to post a time that is faster then anyone has ever been.”

Return Trips

Also returning to Mount Washington this year will be David Patten from Dunbarton, Drew Young from Loudo and Don Taylor from Claremont, three New Hampshire racers who have competed in every Mount Washington Hillclimb race since the event returned in 1990 — 14 events in all. Taylor will be pulling double-duty at this year’s hillclimb as he’ll also serve as the event’s chief technical inspector.

The Vintage Class, meanwhile, features a lineup of 10 racing cars from the 1940s through the late 1970s, including the 1958 Porsche Carrera-powered Volkswagen “Bathtub.”

Racer Bill Rutan from Connecticut set a record in 1961 and then beat that time 29 years later. Rutan won’t be sitting behind the wheel of the “Bathtub” when it return to Mount Washington; the restored Carrera-powered Volkswagen will be driven by fellow Connecticut racer Wayne Carini of Portland. The host of the Velocity Channel’s “Chasing Classic Cars” television show, Carini also will serve as the Grand Marshal of the 2014 Subaru Mount Washington Hillclimb.

The three-day motorsports event will consist of two half-days of practice until noon on Friday and Saturday. Although spectators will not be allowed to view practice runs by the drivers and teams on Friday morning, they are welcome to take in free practice sessions from the base area of the Mount Washington Auto Road on Saturday morning or be shuttled to the half-way point for viewing from there for a fee.

On both Friday and Saturday, the Mount Washington Auto Road will be closed in the morning for practice, but will open to the public shortly after noon. Gates will open to spectators at 6:30 a.m. with tickets available for those who would like to drive to the summit of Mount Washington and walk down to the finish line area to watch the racing action above tree-line.

Tickets also will be available in advance for viewing from the base area of the Auto Road on Sunday, when opening ceremonies will include driver introductions. Festivities kick off at 9 a.m.

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