Hillclimbing 2013 - Yin and Yang
By Tony Chilton
2013 was interesting year for me in the NHA, interesting in both the Chinese sense of the word as well as ours. I started the year with a new motor built in large part by Brian Hyerstay, current G class dragster world record holder. His hand made 1663 cc 4 cam Type I motor turns 12000 RPM and makes more than 250 HP. His shop is to die for, full of the very best tooling, a dyno and some extremely rare VWs. One, if I remember right, is one of 2 existing 1948 Type I s. The new motor is strong and now reliable with good oil pressure regardless of temperature.
So… this season was both the most rewarding and the most expensive/frustrating of my hillclimbing career. I have learned that tire size really matters and that bigger is not necessarily better. I have learned that high expectations are probably a poor thing to have just because of the last race. I have learned that Hewland transmission parts are real expensive. And I have learned that it all doesn’t mean a lot as I will be back again this year doing it all again. I love this crazy sport.
Racing started for me at Cascade Lakes in the mountains above Ashland OR in June. I skipped Freeze Out. The car had a brand new nose on it that I had yet to get around to painting. The weather was good; the skies clear. We’ve had snow there before. First run was as usual, kind of tip toeing up the hill remembering the road and looking for new obstacles, etc. Third run, the day is warming up and up by the quarry where all of the spectators, the hill control, and the fire truck stay I hit a warming patch of “cold patch” asphalt. The car snap spun, and I went in the ditch, tearing the new nose virtually in half. Someone commented the spin looked like F1 – yea right! Arggg. The rest of the weekend was spent trying to clean out all of the fine volcanic dust in the car from the ditch and to stay on the road.
Next came Larison Rock, my home hillclimb where I started and the best run hill of them all. I came with the nose freshly fixed and still unpainted. First run went as usual, slow and careful. Next run I’m starting to push more and feel good, but just after turn seven I suddenly have no throttle. The cable broke. Luckily for me I live reasonably close so I raced home leaving the car on the hill and spent the evening kluging the cable back together. I sped back to the hill Sunday morning and managed to reassemble the car before my first run. I took that run and had a reasonable time. Final run of the hillclimb and I decide to really push. I did, nothing untoward happens, and low and behold I have the fastest time so far; that totally blew me away. Then a nervous wait for everyone to finish and I am again blown away by winning King of the Hill. Who would have thought!
Hoopa was the next race. While it looks relatively close on the map there is no fast way to get there. I got there on the next morning after I left Eugene only to find that somebody had stolen my credit card number the night before at the motel in Crescent City; the card was cancelled. Stay away from the Lotus motel there in Crescent City if you can.
Hoopa was very hot. The road is a number of switchbacks separated by short straights. Across many of the corners are asphalt patches running completely across the road where they had ditched and then patched. The patches launched my car every time, moving it sometimes several feet toward the outside of the corner. It was my first time there and I never felt very comfortable with the road. A couple of guys went off, one a highly prepared 300ZX, and Doug DuFresne in his DSR. Both cars were hurt a bit, but the 300ZX the most. Sunday the valley started filling with smoke from forest fires to the North. I was happy to get back home after driving through smoke so dense around Grant’s Pass that cars needed lights at 3PM.
Now it’s time for Bible Creek – boy what a change from Hoopa. It is cool and damp. Bible is our most difficult hillclimb in my estimation. It is hard to remember, it flashes from light to dark and there are a couple of pretty scary corners. The first day was a bit damp and therefore fairly slow for everyone. Sunday dawned sunny. I decided to switch to my new tires on the second run, now 6” in front and 8” in back down from 8s and 10s. First half of the second run was spent scrubbing in the new tires, but the second half I could tell they were sticking. Suddenly I found I could get heat into the tires and they were sticking like race tires should. Next run I pushed and the tires really stuck but I was totally flabbergasted at the top to find I had top time so far. Again there was that long, nervous wait for the end of the runs, but like Larison no one bested my time. I must admit I was as surprised by that win as I was at Larison.
So, I’m off to Bogus Basin in Boise, ID with a big head and bigger ambitions. I’m going to take that place by storm. First run is as usual slow and careful and I line up to head down the hill for the second run. I shift first to second as I leave for the start at the bottom of the hill and there is a very unpleasant noise as I let the clutch out – it sounds like a bucket of bolts has been dumped in the tranny. Some simple tests like, does any gear work?, quickly proves that indeed what was in the transmission now was the equivalent of a bucket of bolts. It was a long, disappointed drive home.
I got home and tore down the tranny. I had stripped the teeth off first and third gear. An expensive two sets of Hewland gears from Carl Haas Automotive in Illinois and some help from Jim Mueller got the box back together. I tested it a bit out in West Eugene where I can run it around the block but daren’t go fast shows it works, so I’m off to my favorite hillclimb, Mary’s Hill. Mary’s Hill is so cool, under the windmills in rolling hills of golden grass it climbs on smooth, unsullied road way up in a wonderful and challenging series of twists and turns. Near the top it feels like you are dancing with your car. First run, as always, making sure I remember the hill and that the car is working correctly. I reach the top and the tires are definitely warm as close to half of the gravel in the upper lot sticks to them. We wait for the run group to complete and head back down. I get just past the first corner on the way down and the tranny locks up again and the result is another bucket of bolts and another long, dejected ride home. Some smart wag (Doug) suggested that I should only drive uphill as the car only breaks on the way back down.
I reached home, put the car in the garage and refused to look at it again for a while. When I felt like it I tore the tranny down again and found first gear again stripped. I think this was due to my failing to tear down the diff and clean broken tranny bits out of that. Anyway I shipped it off to Neil Porter in California for a proper rebuild.
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