Pastrana setting a record on the
Mt. Washington Auto Road.
(Vermont SportsCar Photo)
CLIMB TO THE
CLOUDS: Will Travis Pastrana Stay on Top?
Quite possibly, Agiocochook, or “Home of the
Great Spirit” as New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington was known in
colonial times, will be warmed by the fullest sunshine of the year
on June 22-26, the time of the summer Solstice. And that highest
peak in the Northeast, 6288 feet, will be livened again with the
sweet sound of racing engines. This year the “Climb to the Clouds,”
one of the oldest motorsports events in the country, revs up again.
Since 1904, edgy drivers and all imaginable racing machinery
have challenged the 150-year-old motor carriage road that slithers
up the heights. The 7.6-mile pathway, part tarmac, part gravel, is
fenced by trees and then unfenced with fearsome dropoffs. Harry
Harkness outclocked all other comers that first year in his
Mercedes, at 24 minutes, 37 seconds.
Over time, huge racing
stars have heeded the call of the mountain. Erwin “Cannonball”
Baker, Ab Jenkins, Carroll Shelby, Bill Rutan, and Tim O’Neil among
them. After a decade long hiatus, the event has been restarted by
Vermont SportsCar and the Sports Car Club of New Hampshire.
Incredibly, 71 teams have entered the gala five-day festival this
The vintage guys will be there in force, many at the
helm of beautifully maintained cars of Climbs past. One to look for
will be Robert Valpey’s 1931 Studebaker Special that sat on the pole
at Indy and won Pike’s Peak the year it was built. The vintage
drivers will have two runs each on Sunday the 26th, with the intent
of showing their priceless machinery due respect by attempting to
match each attempt.
storied “Studebaker Special”.
(Photo Daniel Strohl,
Hemmings Motor News)
Not to say that Climb to the Clouds will be
dominantly bow ties and chardonnay, however. It’s on-the- hammer
racing stuff. There are certainly locals to watch, like Vermont’s
Jerry Driscoll, seven-time New England hill-climb champ. At 69, the
former dirt and asphalt oval-track veteran will go for broke in his
twenty year old “Patriot,” a home-built missile that was the first
to be clocked at over 100mph on its way up the mountain.
competition will be towing in from far and wide. There’s Jim Keeney
of Colorado Springs, who will attack with his winged, 900 HP open
wheeler, infamous throughout the Southwest, as is his whole racing
Jim Keeney on the pedal with his open
wheel hill rod at Pikes Peak.
(Photo © Rupert Berrington)
But there is a new, amped-up energy around
the whole competition this year. Last September, as the event was
announced, Travis Pastrana came to Mt. Washington with an
all-wheel-drive Red Bull Subaru, built and wildly tricked out by
Vermont SportsCar. Talk about raising the bar! Travis, along with
co-driver, Ireland’s Marshall Clarke, did a couple of runs in a
street car at legal speeds, making notes. They had never even seen
the place before. The next day, in their very first run, they
shattered Frank Sprongi’s record by 20 seconds with a 6:20 time.
Check out the YouTube video. You can bet that 71 teams already have,
No question a big threat for the
win this year and maybe the record, is international rallying
megastar David Higgins, the guy who back in 2003 taught Pastrana to
climb the ropes in this kind of racing. Higgins, too, will be in a
Vermont SportsCar entry, and it will be thunder from the git-go with
the car’s launch-control technology.
Eventual trophy winners
in all classes will be dutifully honored and etched in the annals of
racing history. But in so doing, they’ll contend with more than
their cars’ performance and their fellow competitors. They’ll also
face the Great Spirit who resides in that jagged landscape. He’s
ruled it for far longer than we’ve been around with some of the most
severe and erratic weather on earth. As Pastrana and Clarke found
when they attempted a second run, the top of the course can suddenly
be thick o’ fog.
In the end, the mighty Agiocochook itself
will hold the records. The mountain’s most infamous so far: wind
speed 231 mph; low temperature -47 F; wind chill -103 F. Snowstorms
cover the summit’s weather station frequently, every month of the
Think sunshine there on the Solstice, but bring your
(Vermont SportsCar Photo)
© 2011 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181