2011 Hershey Hillclimb.........A Truly "Grand Ascent"

By Dave Hutchison
The Hershey Hillclimb has been jump-started. Again.

Revived for the third time, the Hershey Hillclimb is back on the motorsports calendar. Boy did it come back in style this time!
The hillclimb is simple, one of the oldest forms of motor racing that traces its origins back to La Turbie, France in 1897. Many courses have been used all over the world, including Mt. Washington and Pike's Pike here in the United States.

With steep drop offs and trees along the hill, it takes real concentration to get the right line through every turn of the seven-tenths-of-a-mile course. Basically, one car at a time drives the course as quickly as possible from start to finish. Best times are scored and compared, sometimes by classes, to determine the "King of the Hill."

The Hersey Hillclimb, originally run by the Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association (PHA) from 1958 through 1970, drew nearly 2,500 spectators at its peak in 1970. Back then Oscar Kovaleski was "King of the Hill" with times posted just under 50 seconds. Eventually, a couple of Formula Fords posted times in the upper 40s to beat him in the last race.

Back in the day, fans could pack a lunch and wander up the hill to find a favorite spot to watch the day's action. The hill climb ran twice per season at the start and finish of the PHA calendar. Due to a change of Hershey management and the beginning of the theme park we know today, racing fell silent at the end of 1970.

Revived by the Susquehanna Valley Vintage Sports Car Club in 2002, the hill climb was run as an exhibition for seven years when the Hershey management again had a change of heart. A Sunbeam Tiger specifically built to hill climb posted some pretty fast runs (near 47 seconds).

Now part of the "Elegance at Hershey," a new Concours has firmly made its way to the vintage car scene. On Saturday June 11, the engines roared to life again. Sanctioned by the Vintage Sports Car Club of America, Dave George and his crew, who were responsible for the pits, teching, griddling and timing, brought in more than 35 vintage race cars, from a little four-cylinder Crosley to a very rare twin eight-cylinder T45 Bugatti.

The day started with exhibition runs and time trials. Ron Light from Hershey, who has never missed a hill climb, placed third with a time of 1:04.31 in a borrowed Morgan 4/4. Second place went to Jim Donick in a 1951 Allard with a time of 1:03.51. "King of the Hill" went to Dave Baker in a 1957 Lotus 7 at 1:00.38. A Lotus you say? It’s still all about power to weight ratio!

"It was a great return of the hill climb," said Charlie Demmy, Director of Racing Operations.

It was an incident-free day and a little MGTC actually made a total 19 runs throughout the morning and afternoon sessions. Tentative plans are being discussed to expand to a two-day hill climb for next year.

Proceeds from the Grand Ascent and the Elegance at Hershey benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), the AACA Antique Automobile Museum and the AACA Library and Research Center located in Hershey.

Check out pha.org for more hill climbs this season here in Pennsylvania and don't forget to bring your lunch.