Racing into history

By Jeffrey Fazio
DriveTime Columnist

When you race nearly every weekend, itís easy for events to blend into each other. The uniqueness of each experience gets somewhat lost just like some vibrancy is lost once you start mixing different paints. Individually, each hue might jump out at you, but days later, after being blended with other pigments, the exclusivity disappears.

On the other hand, sometimes an event is so unparalleled that it leaves a stroke so vivid that not even the test of time will dull that precious memory. Those are the races that become the cherished stories of the future. When we racers slow down enough to reminiscence of days gone by, they are the first memories to awaken.

If we are lucky enough, weíll be aware of those races as they are happening and our minds can snap endless mental images like a photographer with infinite film. Two weekends ago, I was that fortunate and for that I am sincerely grateful.

Over the weekend of July 7, 8 and 9, I participated in the 100th Anniversary of the Giantís Despair Hillclimb in Laurel Run, Luzerne County. This was by far one of the most special events I have been part of. The overall course record for this hill has been held by the likes of Carol Shelby and Roger Penske, just to name a few.

This competition is the oldest automobile race in America that still takes place. It pre-dates the Indianapolis 500 by five years. Needless to say, it was an honor to participate in this historic event.

The Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association hosted an awesome weekend of racing. It was apparent that the officials, workers and volunteers gave this event everything they had. The local community also rallied behind this venue in a big way and made everyone ó workers and racers alike ó know how great it was.

Like many others, I headed up to the event on Thursday, July 6, to set up camp. At this particular event there is a fairly sizeable pit area to park the race cars. This space is surrounded by a wooded area that has numerous inroads for vehicle entry to stake a claim for camping. With the amount of rain that had fallen the previous week, it would be fair to say that a few of the racers genuinely became entrenched in their spots.

Friday morning was used to take care of the formalities of the event which included registration of the drivers and technical inspections of their cars. Friday afternoon featured practice runs followed by an evening of socializing.

Iím generally an early riser and Saturday morning was no different. Just after 6 a.m., I climbed out of my tent for my first stretch of the day. Through the morning mist, I could see that the woods were crowded with tents, flags and campers. My mind, probably influenced by the recently passed July Fourth holiday, perceived the scene as a Revolutionary War encampment.

Beyond the woods besieged by tents lay the clearing where the battle was going to take place later in the day. The stillness of the morning air offered no foreshadowing of the inevitable noise of the fray that would take place in just a few hours.

As I marched toward the clearing, the metaphoric comparison between the scenes continued as I noted that there was a place for the ambulances to park which would be, if needed, our triage area. There was also, of course, a line of latrines. After all, where did you think I was going at six in the morning?

Just as I was about to emerge from the forest, I happened upon Gen. George Washington. He stood before me cleaning out his musket in anticipation of the forthcoming fight. I could not believe my eyes. Surely it could not be, and of course, it wasnít. In reality it was Morg Wilson, a fellow competitor and early-riser, wiping down his beautiful Beach Mark 5 race car.

As the pits awakened around me I was struck with a personal, selfish desire. I wanted to be the first car off the line for this historic event. I wanted to lead the charge into battle. In the grand scheme of things, this was a rather trivial thing to desire and itís not like anyone really recalls who raced first. However, it was just another mental snapshot that I could include in the scrapbook of my mind and that made it worthwhile.

The weekend proved to be a huge success as the crowd was fortunate enough to witness Darryl Danko break the hill record in Bobby Rahalís 1990 Indy car. Iíve seen a lot of amazing things in the world of racing, but witnessing an Indy car take off on a public road in northeast Pennsylvania to outrun a long-held hillclimb record surely takes the cake. It was just another image for my cerebral photo album.

It would be all too easy to go on with the many other marvelous things I witnessed that weekend, but for now I am going to hold onto those memories. I genuinely appreciate these times and look forward to the day, in the distant future, that I can share these racing stories with my nephew.