Do you like racing?

By Jeffrey Fazio
DriveTime Columnist

How many race fans do we have out there? Based on the number of cars I see on the bypass with NASCAR stickers and/or driving like it is the Indy 500, I suspect there are thousands of race fans right here in Berks County.

So why is it that I do not see hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators milling around Duryea Drive in June for the Pagoda Hill Climb, and again in August, for the Duryea Hill Climb? Hill climb racing is truly an amazing sport with an incredible diversity of cars competing in dozens of classes.

If you venture up to the hill climbs this summer, you will see everything from Jack Reifsnyder’s classic ’69 Mustangs to Lloyd Geib’s vintage MGA. You will probably also see Robert Oswald Jr.’s open-wheeled Solo V race car, Matt William’s 1995 BMW M3, and Joe Foering’s 1985 Dodge Charger.

With those five cars, I’m barely even beginning to touch on the 100 or so cars that typically show up for these races. We’ve even seen Rally, Indy and Stock cars show up to these events. You never know what you will see and there is really a race car there for every type of race fan.

Did I forget to mention this is all free for spectators? We all know how much Berks County loves "free." You don’t even need to buy a special pit pass for these races. Anyone can come up, wander around the pits to see the cars up close and talk to the drivers. There are also numerous places on the hill to watch the actual racing from.

So what could be better than seeing all of these marvelous cars up close and watching the race for free?

What if it were possible for you to get a front row seat to the most action-packed portions of the course where spectators typically are not allowed, a free lunch and a ticket to the hill climb party on Saturday night? Well, all of that is actually possible if you volunteer to help work the course.

You see, these races wouldn’t happen if there weren’t enough people to man (or woman!) the course. The hill climbs rely on people to volunteer to help out at corners to make sure everything proceeds as safely and professionally as possible. Although the races are sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America, you do not have to be an SCCA member to help out.

As I hinted above, the people who volunteer to help out get a free lunch and also a ticket to the Saturday night hill climb dinner party. How great would it be to go to a dinner party with the actual race drivers, crews, officials and other volunteers? Ever try to get that type of ticket at a NASCAR race? Good luck trying to get to dinner with those folks!

The people who regularly volunteer at the hills have truly become part of the "big family" of the hill climb races. Their help is always greatly appreciated. In fact, I’ve even turned faster times because course workers have noticed things that I could be doing better. Let me tell you, as a driver, having eyes outside of the car that can give you solid feedback is an awesome advantage for improving.

One of our regular hill climb workers, Mel Horn from York, York County, has been involved with the hills as both a driver and worker since 1972. Mel shared that the best part of working the hills is getting to know the other people involved in the events.

"At my first hill climb I met a lady and her husband who were drivers and she encouraged me," he said. "She had just had a little boy. Today, her son is driving!"

If you are interested in getting involved, contact John Champion, who is in charge of workers for the Reading events, at 610-944-7217, or contact Tom Knorr, president of the Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association, at 610-863-4709. In addition to the two races in Reading, there are also two hill climbs in Weatherly, Carbon County, one in Laurel Run, Luzerne County, and one in Trout Run, Lycoming County. All of these hills could use workers.

See you on the hills in 2007!