'First time' a thriller at Pagoda

By Jeffrey Fazio
Special Sections Writer

I lost my virginity at the Pagoda.

I lost it there a mere three weeks ago. Interestingly, I shared the experience with some of my closest friends and family. There were even spectators for this historic event.

Three weekends ago, I entered my very first Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Solo 1 Hill Climb event at the Pagoda. SCCA Solo events are basically time trials. One driver at a time goes through a designated course to see who can traverse the distance in the least amount of time. The fastest time wins.

Sounds easy right? Try it. That's what I did for the first time a few weeks ago.
It is quite apropos that my first time entering a Solo 1 competition was at the Pagoda event. I grew up here. I've hiked up to the Pagoda from the trail behind the Hillside Playground. Once I even road a bike up there. When I was senior at Reading High School, I often took a ride up to the Pagoda over lunch. I've driven up to the Pagoda countless times in my life.

Three weeks ago, I accelerated beyond 110 mph on the way up to the Pagoda.

It's hard to put that into context unless you've done it. And I do encourage you to try it, but only if you and your car are prepared for it. To enter the Pagoda Hill Climb, you are going to need a two-layer fireproof racing suit (including gloves and shoes), helmet, fire extinguisher, five-point harness and a roll bar.

I found having a bit of courage also helpful.

Also helpful was having other driving skills events under my belt.

Since 1996 I have been entering SCCA Solo 2 events. This is the same concept, but on much smaller courses with significantly tighter turns that drastically limit the speed of the vehicles.

The only thing limiting your speed during the Pagoda Hill Climb is your cojones. Actually there are also a couple thousand trees and rocks up there that wouldn't flinch at a chance to limit your speed.

Getting back to describing what 110 mph feels like on Duryea Drive, imagine the speed of a roller coaster when it's at that point where you can only clearly see forward. It's at that moment when the rest of the world around you becomes really blurry, but you are still highly aware of the plethora of hard objects surrounding you. 110 mph on Duryea Drive is a lot like that, except for the part about you being in control and the fact that you are accelerating uphill instead of downhill.

They say you risk becoming addicted to cocaine even if you only try it once. I would say the same is true for the hill climb. It was an exhilarating experience and I am hooked. I can't wait to do it again and lucky for me the next event is not far off.

Five weeks from now, I am going to do it again. The next Solo 1 event in Reading takes place the weekend of Aug. 21 and 22 and is called the Duryea Hill Climb. The course for this event starts just above City Park and ends all the way up at the Fire Tower, offering even more turns to tempt g-forces and more straightaways to fully extend my right foot.

As my good friend and fellow competitor Fabio Vlacci always says, "I'll see you on the apex!"