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Decades-old hill climb draws racers from across the country

Cars line up at the starting line during the Weatherly Hillclimb.
Kat Bolus
Cars line up at the starting line during the Weatherly Hillclimb.

The Weatherly Hillclimb is one mile of nasty curves and some straightways.

“And it's a man against the road, against the clock," said Joe Cyburt, president of the Weatherly Hillclimb Association.

Last weekend, more than 90 drivers raced Hill Street into Buck Mountain Road, sometimes approaching those nasty curves at 100 miles per hour. Since 1961, drivers have come from across the country and locally to Carbon County to race at the Weatherly Hillclimb. The event began over 60 years ago as a fundraiser for the Weatherly Rotary Club. By 2001, its future was uncertain. However a group of community members, including Cyburt, saved the race.

Cyburt was among the community members who formed the nonprofit association to keep the race going. The Hillclimb is sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America.

On Saturday, gas and motor oil wafted through the air as the volume of conversations fluctuated over the roar of engines taking off.

Safety is the priority, said Cyburt. Drivers have to wear fire safety shoes and racing suits. The cars are all fitted with roll cages.

“They inspect every car and driver that comes here," he said. "They test their car, they make sure it's up to safety standards.”

EMS is on site and around every corner.

"They don't play around. They don't want you to get in the car and be a hero," Cyburt said. "We have an ambulance here and if we have our way that thing don't move.”

The cars, mostly sedans like Mazda Miatas and Subaru WRXs with racing numbers and both engine and body modifications, race up the hill one at a time. Walking through a lot full of tents and cars, Cyburt pointed out a modified BMW and Ford Mustang.

There’s no cash reward. The drivers race for a trophy.

From the starting line, drivers hit six curves. There’s the boomerang into the devil’s hook, the flying dutchman, hairpin, the chute and finally the mirage.

"It really takes a lot of skill and it takes a lot of courage," Cyburt said.

Map of the Weatherly Hillclimb.
Kat Bolus
Map of the Weatherly Hillclimb.

George Bowland is the race record holder at 47.592 seconds. Last weekend marked his 41st season racing.

Bowland is from South Carolina. He drives a custom-built BBR Shark that has a wide wing on the back and a snowmobile motor. He’s gotten close to 103 mph during the one-mile race.

He described the hill as 50 seconds of terror.

It took him around eight or nine runs to break the record, which he's proud to hold.

"I hope somebody breaks it one of these days," he said.

Hill climbs began with the creation of the automobile, said Bowland. He called it a pure form of racing.

Joe Whiteley, from York, has been racing in the Hillclimb for 50 years. Since 1972, he’s run an Austin-Healey Sprite, a rounded sports car from the United Kingdom with bulbous headlights.

"It's my favorite," he said. "People are nicest.”

At the starting line sits a pavilion. Underneath various community organizations fundraised with food and other items.

“Everybody in town loves it," said Cyburt. "They know what it means to nonprofits."

The Hillclimb brings business into not only Weatherly but also the surrounding area, he said. A sign for the event hung off the Jim Thorpe Train Station. Fairway Subaru of Hazle Twp. is the Hillclimb’s biggest sponsor.

“It's a quiet little town so a couple of weekends a year it gives people the opportunity to get out, mingle, socialize, forget about their problems and everything else," said Cyburt.

The Weatherly Hillclimb Association also holds a fall event and race scheduled for Sept. 15 to Sept. 17.

For more details, visit www.weatherlyhillclimb.com/

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.