GORHAM — With its biggest field ever, one of the oldest racing events in the United States will return to the Mount Washington Auto Road, where 80 competitors in eight classes will try to be first to reach the summit of the tallest peak in the Northeast.
First run in 1904 and held intermittently since then, the time race also known as the “Climb to the Clouds” this year is formally known as the Subaru Mount Washington Hillclimb and it will take place on the 7.6-mile auto road today through Sunday.
Organized and sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of New Hampshire, the hillclimb is part of the 2014 Rally America National Championship, something that Subaru Motorsports called “a welcome and refreshing inclusion.”
The last time the hillclimb was run was in 2011 when Englishman David Higgins — who in addition to holding five U.S. Rally Championships — set the current auto road record of 6 minutes, 11.54 seconds behind the wheel of a Subaru WRX STI.
A year earlier, while filming a commercial for an energy drink, Travis Pastrana — he is Higgins’ Subaru teammate and a four-time Rally America National Champion but is probably better known as an ESPN X-Games extreme-sports legend — drove the same model Subaru up in an unofficial record time of record of 6:20.47.
Joining Higgins and Pastrana, who hails from Maryland, will be two other record-holders — Dalton’s own Tim O'Neil, who in 1990 drove a Volkswagen Rally Golf up the auto road in seven minutes and 45 seconds, and Frank Sprongl from Mississauga, Ontario, who drove Audi Quattros to best times in the 1992 and 1998 hillclimbs.
Granite Staters will be featured prominently in the racing with David Patten of Dunbarton, Drew Young of Loudon and Don Taylor of Claremont — each of whom has competed in every running of the modern hillclimb that was reinstituted in 1990 — and Sutton’s Kevin Gale, who is a former current New England Hillclimb Association Champion — leading the charge.
The auto road will be closed today and Saturday in the morning for practice but will reopen to the public after noon each day. Spectators will be able to see Saturday’s practice session for free from the auto road’s base area or, for a fee, they can be shuttled to the Half Way viewing area.
The auto road will be closed all day Sunday, when there will be race sessions in both the morning and afternoon. From 6:30 to 8 a.m. spectators with tickets can drive to the summit of Mount Washington and walk down to the finish line. Shuttles will also be available to carry spectators to the Half Way area.
Race Day will begin at 9 a.m. with opening ceremonies with the first vehicle slated to ascend 30 minutes later. A full schedule, along with information about ticket prices, is available online at www.climbtotheclouds.com.