Hot Rod Hill Climb 2018
It’s hard to narrow down what makes the Hot Rod Hill Climb in Central City, Colorado, so great. But here goes my feeble attempt.
The Hot Rod Hill Climb is about celebrating history and paying homage to the good ‘ole days of 4-bangers and flatheads. Back when hot rods were likely built by a guy in his one stall garage with basic tools, learned trade skills and with the help of a handful of friends.
This was the fourth year for the MacKichan tribe to attend the Hot Rod Hill Climb, starting with the very first recreation back in 2013, celebrating the 60th anniversary of a small event held in 1953 on Guanella Pass in Georgetown, Colorado.
If you come early, you can test your limits on the Reliability Run the Friday before the race. It’s a 100 mile drive up through the mountains of Colorado. In 2014, we experienced rain, sleet and snow. But this year’s weather was absolutely gorgeous. We finished the tour with a segment called the OMG route. It’s a steep gravel and wash board road with hair pin turns and no railing. But the view is breathtaking. No traffic, no lights, only you, your hot rod and maybe a nut or two behind you in their car. This year a Model A coupe lost its headlight on the OMG run. And he found it! Unscathed! I always love driving my ‘33 Ford coupe. The mountains make me appreciate how, well, reliable it is. My only issue is from the thin air... my carburetor and I sometimes disagree.
Saturday morning of race day, while standing in the pits surrounded by 140 plus vintage mechanical wonders, you can feel the excitement in the crisp Colorado air. Everyone in the staging lines isn’t there by accident. They’ve spent most of the year thinking about and preparing for the hill climb. Some drove hundreds of miles to attend. A few driving the car they’ll race and then depend upon to get back home.
After the national anthem and a few words from Mike Nicolas, the man behind the event, the beautiful flag girl jumps high into the air waving the worn checkered flag and the racing begins!
Car after car races up the hill. Revving engines, screeching tires and cheering racers and fans inundate your senses. A racer squeals off the starting line every few minutes. A sound you can hear for miles.
Finally, it’s your turn to position your racer on the starting line. The nerves and adrenaline kick in while you quietly pray to not kill the engine in front of so many people. You watch Amy, the flag girl, like a hawk and recognize the subtle nod when she confirms the hill is ready for another racer. She points at you and asks “Are you ready?” You nod whether you’re ready or not. She jumps, waves the flag and shouts “Woooooo!” You dump the clutch and mash the gas pedal and you’re off!
You whip up that mountain side, revving high your vintage engine and testing the limits of your transmission. Bracing your body on the hair pin curves you still can’t help but smile. Even the toughest, coolest, hard core hot rodding dude on the hill has a sappy grin on his face.
After you get to the finish line at the top you circle back towards Central City so you can get back in line and do it all over again.
The MacKichan racers fought electrical issues this year. The ‘28 Ford sedan with a Mercury Flathead (built specifically for this race) burnt up its spare generator. And after replacing the coil and a mad rush to Denver to retrieve a new ignition module, the ‘31 Ford roadster with a Model B 4-banger was sidelined with no spark.
Deep sigh. This is hot rodding. Sometimes all the tools and know-how in the world won’t allow that normally reliable 4-banger to turn over.
But it’s hard to be bummed for long surrounded by hot rod friends and the sounds of others tearing up the hill side. Only 360 days to prepare for next year!