Racing Commentary

Email Lew at lewboyd@coastal181.com

Travis 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 year.

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.

The 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.

His 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 family.

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, many times.


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 year.

Think sunshine there on the Solstice, but bring your tearoffs.
(Vermont SportsCar Photo)

© 2011 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

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.: Previous Tearoffs :.

6/2/11 - Irv and the Hall of Fame

5/18/11 - Makin' MOWA

5/4/11 - The Running of the Racers

4/21/11 - Pruett's Perspective

4/4/11 - Winter of Discontent

3/23/11 - Thinking of Gene Bergin

3/8/11 - Sprint Car World Record?

2/21/11 - Dinner at Daytona

2/10/11 - The Call Him 1/4ley

1/28/11 - Doc's Beard

1/15/11 - Reconsidering Generalizations

12/31/10 - Powerful Passion

12/19/10 - Tearoff at Yuletide

12/6/10 - Indy in December

11/21/10 - Mutt and the Brutal Ballet

10/29/10 - The Johnny Bensons and Their Supers

10/13/10 - Anatomy of an Accident

9/28/10 - Maybe Marty

9/14/10 - Push Refresh for Speedway Illustrated

8/23/10 - An Ode to Senior Supers

8/6/10 - Adrian and the Deep Water

7/20/10 - Holdout in Yuppieville

7/7/10 - The Wins are Gustin

6/16/10 - Racin' Kid, Racin' Dad

5/28/10 - The Monk and Matty D.

5/15/10 - Bluebird

4/27/10 - Catching Up With Steve Arpin

4/11/10 - The Song of the Fifties

3/22/10 - Davey!

3/8/10 - Restart!

2/21/10 - Miracles of the Rock

2/8/10 - Roger The Remarkable

1/21/10 -  Shane's Sensational '78

12/28/09 - The Flying Finn and The All American Boy

12/12/09 - Hello Wall

11/29/09 - Once More for Ernie

11/15/09 - Ernie's Excellent Chase

11/1/09 - In The Zone

10/19/09 - Rough Week in the Midwest

10/1/09 - Common Starts, Uncommon Comebacks

9/4/09 - South Dakota Chris

8/15/09 - Facial Exposure

7/31/09 - Dying in the Pits

7/9/09 - Barn Rat's Last Race

6/18/09 - Catching Up With Brad Doty

5/20/09 - Big Boys in The Attic  - rare photos of legends

5/6/09 - Back Up In The Attic - more rare photos

4/22/09 - The Son of Hard Luck - accessible racing
experience for the handicapped

4/3/09 - Racin' In The Attic - Gordon Ross photo collection

3/18/09 - About That Mike Spaulding

3/3/09 - Dick Berggren's First Win - (you had to be there!)

2/11/09 - Peter at the Park - Peter Fiandaca at Riverside Park

1/30/09 - Steve - Steve Arpin

1/4/09 - Racer Speak -cool quotations

12/16/08 - Wimble Power, Will Power - Bill Wimble

11/24/08 - Remembering Chuck Amati - by Joyce Standridge

11/11/08 - That Rick Ferkel

10/24/08 - Beyond Bionic - Bentley Warren

10/6/08 - Fifty Second Classic - Skip and Lois Matczak

9/20/08 - Joey's Dad - Tom Logano

9/1/08 - One Night at The Park - the death of Les Ley

8/20/08 - Transitional Technology - early supermodifieds

8/6/08 - Wallace on Wednesdays - dirt trackin’ Kenny

7/19/08 - Star(ter) of the Show - importance of good flaggers

7/7/08 - McUnderdog - Eddie MacDonald

6/18/08 - The Night Buzz Was Worried - Buzz Rose

6/5/08 - John Richards - Boomer Role Model

5/20/08 - The Spirit of a Racer - the late Al Powell

5/1/08 - Bobby's Blues - Bobby Santos III

4/15/08 - Thinking About Rene Charland

3/26/08 - Carl and Corey - Carl Edwards and Corey Dripps

3/4/08 - A Cool Track with Cool Racers - West Liberty, Iowa

2/14/08 - Doug Wolfgang

1/25/08 - Frankie Schneider

1/7/08 - When Drivers Can't See - cockpit vision

12/21/07 - When Starters Couldn't See - flagstand vision

12/1/07 - Ride Along with Erica Santos - in-car camera midget win

11/15/07 - Tough Drivers

11/1/07 - Cockpit Safety

10/15/07 - That First Race

10/1/07 - Racing Nicknames

9/15/07 - Too Many Officials

9/1/07 - The Look of a Real Driver

8/15/07 - Being Dale Junior

8/1/07 - Armond Holley

7/15/07  -  Red Farmer

© 2007-11 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181





































































































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