The Climb to the Clouds


The return of The Climb to the Clouds was what triggered my desire to finally be able to attempt my “Challenge,” which had been in the back of my head since I began training for my first Ironman. I was looking forward to seeing all the folks I had raced with so many years at the Auto Road again. It had been 10 years since I had seen some of them!

The week before the Climb was the Mt Washington Road Race (the foot race up the road). Sas and I decided to just stay up in NH for the entire 11 days. We were lucky enough to have a wonderful hotel (The Eagle Mountain House) in which to relax and enjoy our time.  I have already posted how the run race unfolded and how happy I was with the results, so on with the car race.

The view from our room :-)

The CTTC officially started on Wed, with the drivers and crew showing up for registration and technical inspection of the cars. The day before, the crew from Pikes Peak showed up after their long trek across the country. Little by little, old friends began to trickle in. The energy was building!!!

The weather up until this point had been exceptional, but the forecast was not looking too dry for the latter half of the week.  Sunday (race day), however, was looking to be a bit more hopeful. We setup our EZ tents and got the “pit” ready for the event.  We had a prime pit location, as I was in the program as “A Driver to Watch.” We got a lot of mileage (fun taunting) out of that over the weekend!!!!

Thursday was open for drivers to drive up the road (at tourist speed, of course) to make notes for Friday’s first practice runs. Some drivers spent the entire day driving the hill. There were a lot of Rally Teams running this year. They all ran with co-drivers to help guide them up the road. It was a packed field of very talented drivers and some really fast cars!!!

Our Thursday was a little different than everyone else’s. I chose not to drive the road and just run on my memory of the road. I was still sticking with the fact that I would not really be in the running in my class, given the field of drivers and cars, and I was just there to have a great time and enjoy the event. I had decided to compete in two events that afternoon and evening instead of driving up the hill. At 3:30 pm I entered the Great Glen Trails weekly running series, a 4k or so trail race through the woods at Great Glen. The run had lots of climbing and a long fire road downhill. It was raining and I pushed as hard as I could :-) , it was a great run!! For what it is worth, I finished first in the masters group and  4th overall.

Next on the day’s agenda was the local mountain bike race at Great Glen Trails. They had three run groups — novice, sport, and expert. I am normally a sport rider but they had to do three 4 mile loops. I was afraid my legs only had 2 loops left after a long week so I entered the novice group. It was still raining and terribly muddy. I really enjoyed the ride and managed to move through some sport riders before finishing first in the novice group. Since my goal was not really to win anything, I asked the race organizers to have me removed from the novice group so the others could enjoy some “real” results. It was a great day!!!

Later that same evening, a group of fellow hillclimbers celebrated the life of Sim Shortman. We lost Sim to cancer earlier this year and in tribute to him, my buddy Drew Young raced Sim’s Corvette in the Climb. Sim was an incredible guy who loved life and enjoyed racing to it’s fullest!! He was also a fitness fanatic and I thought of him all day on Thursday while suffering through my races, and it made me smile.

Friday morning we were up at 4:15 am to get ready for the first practice day on the hill. While most folks spent Thursday pre-driving the hill, I decided not to…. but I did watch a few mins of my previous years’ runs just to refresh my memory…

The forecast was for rain and clouds, and that is exactly what we got. I enjoy racing in the rain, it gives a heavy, low horsepower car an unfair advantage and I could use all the help I could!!

My first run was interesting, the car felt good and I was getting used to the tires and the amount of grip I had. I finished the two runs pretty strong, first in class and 16th overall.

Since the car felt good, there was no reason to do anything to it but add gas and clean it up a little. That night, the Auto Road hosted a drivers’ reception at the lodge, and it was fun to talk with old friends, as well as meeting and talking with some new ones. What a great group of drivers we had this year!!!

Saturday morning was another early rise, up and at the mountain for 5:15am. The run order was set based on the results from the day before, and we were running fastest to slowest. This meant we were starting 16th. I felt a little funny with so many high horsepower cars starting behind me! Like I said, the wet roads equal things out… not to mention, I know this road, and even better yet, know my car pretty well!!!!!

Our first run was still a little wet and a few cars had some issues, but by the second run things had dried out pretty well. Most of the high horsepower cars had now moved past me. The two-wheel drive rally class also had some remarkable drivers in it, they finished strong! I was still holding onto 1st in class but moved back to 21st overall. Still a little surprised to be leading, but happy with my effort!

Sas and I were treated on Saturday, as my sister and her husband showed up to watch and help crew for me. It is always great to be able to share your passions with family and friends!!! They had never seen anything quite like this event and truly enjoyed it!!!

Family :-) :-)

After my run on Saturday I was still very worried about my fellow drivers catching me. After each run, they were gaining more and more knowledge of the road. I was pretty sure Sunday was going to be a tough battle with them. Not to mention there was a little smack talk and ribbing going on as well, all in good fun! I still had a little left in my bag of tricks. I removed my headlights and installed covers, and also removed my full street exhaust in favor of a lighter side pipe one. This is the same setup I used 10 years ago. This dropped some weight from the car – which in hillclimbing can be very helpful! That evening we enjoyed the band that played at the base of the Auto Road.

Sunday is Race Day!!!! Paul Giblin, the event director, had a great show planned with driver introductions and the whole fanfare. It was great!!!!

Shaking hands with defending record holder Frank Sprongl. Of course, I forgot to wave to the fans :-0…

We started slowest to fastest, I was 21st. This was the first time any of us had seen the road above treeline and it was going to be an interesting drive. The weather was partly cloudy, with fog predicted on the road – where and how thick, was to be determined. I started strong but with a few lifts here and there. I grabbed 4th for the fist time around 1 mile. I was surprised to find the road pretty wet after 2 mile, so I played it pretty cautiously. Up above tree line, I was pushing pretty hard, cutting corners and anticipating the fog. On five mile grade (which is the first gravel section), I was foot to the boards, and there was pretty good bite in the gravel. I misjudged the turns however, and slowed one too early due to the fog, a little time lost there. Back in it, though, climbing to 6 mile but I was still a little cautious in that stretch. This section was gravel the last time I ran here and I was unsure of the newly paved road. I also got a yellow flag, not knowing the reason for it, or where I would encounter the issue ahead of me. I still felt pretty good and headed up toward the “Cow Pasture” section of the road. The visibility was going away pretty fast as I looked up ahead. The last mile was driven from memory and seeing little glimpses of lines in the road. Pretty sketchy to say the least!!! As I finished, I was pretty bummed on how much time I had given up and was sure the other guys in my class had since passed my time. It was a long drive back down the mountain!!

Pulling into my pit, Sas had a very funny look on her face!! I had told her how bad my run felt and I was sure the others had done far better. She laughed and informed me that I had a 30+ second lead on my class!!!!  I was not expecting that!!!

Sunday our Crew got even bigger with my buddies, Brad and Lance, driving up from CT very early that morning. They all chipped in to clean the car and help me tighten the exhaust that had loosened on the first run. It was a lot of fun having them around!!!!

My pit crew hard at work!

After lunch, we lined up again for the final run up the hill, still pretty nervous about my 1st position!!! Just as I was about to leave the starting line I heard the announcer call out the time of my closest competitor. I had, in fact, won my class on my first run. They were unable to match my first run with their drier second run!!!! The pressure was now off and I could just enjoy this last run!!!! And enjoy the run I did!!!!!!!! The road finally dried off and I was able to get a clear run up, to just about the 7 mile mark! I did have one “moment” when climbing past the “hairpin” when the car got pretty out of shape in the gravel, but I backed off and was able to save it before we left the road! I drove the last half mile by memory and was so pumped at the finish. Not for my win, but for how much fun that dam road is to drive!!!!! Pretty much every driver at the summit seemed to be feeling that way!!! After a wet foggy weekend, it was a perfect way to end the event.  I also took another 10 seconds off my time, finishing the day with a 20 second gap to 2nd place!!! Nice!!

David Higgins smashed the hill record with really poor visibility, going  6:11:54!!! That must have been some ride!!!!

Paul had a great award ceremony and I jumped up on the podium with my arms held high, I was just so thankful!!!!!!

My good friend, Bob Legere, was crewing for his buddy Duane, here is Bob’s description of their weekend…

I crewed for Duane Foley from PA in the 1971 Opel Ascona, he dropped a valve on the second practice run on Friday. We called a favor in to a friend, and packed the car on the trailer at around 3:30 PM and drove to Unity, NH (3 hour tow), removed the engine, built a ‘new’ engine from leftover parts (thank you Jim MacMahon, fellow Opel racer in SCCA ITB), and installed it. At 3:30 AM we finished but the car wouldn’t start, everyone was tired and grumpy, so we packed up and drove back to Mt. Washington. I got back to my hotel at 7 AM Saturday, and crashed out until 4 PM or so. With a fresh set of eyes and clear head, we quickly saw the problem and remedied it, and fired the car. Duane then got to run the car up to the top of the hill twice on Sunday, albeit with about 80% less power than before and some less than optimal carb jetting. But he earned his bumper sticker at least!
Duane was pitted next to me and it was great to meet him and the rest of his crew. I do hope to race with them again on this great hill!!!

So, to summarize this great weekend.. Again, I am just so thankful to be able to enjoy all of it. It was great to be able to share this with my Wife Sas as well as all the other folks. We enjoyed meeting new friends and fans, as well as seeing some old friends. The Event Staff, Auto Road Staff and Great Glen Staff are, and will be, life long friends!

THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR MAKING MY LIFE SO GREAT!!!!

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