Along with several members of the American Heartland-Kansas City H.O.G. Chapter, I rode to Holt, Missouri, the evening of Saturday, July 10, to attend the Happy-Go-Lucky Hill Climb. I had not been to a hill climb other than at Sturgis for several years. It was about a 50-mile ride from Gail’s Harley-Davidson in Belton. We arrived early, so I decided to roam around and interview some of the people involved with the event. First, I talked to the man in charge, Charlie Dawson, and Rob Elam who assists him with registration and serves as announcer during the hill climb.
CC: Charlie; please talk about the history of this hill climb.
Charlie: It was started by the Happy-Go-Lucky Motorcycle Club in 1958. There were 13 of us that bought the 65-acre property for $2,500. The others eventually got tired of it, so I bought it from them in 1980 and kept it going. It’s 320 feet from bottom to top. Tonight, we’re trying something different; drag racing.
CC: How does that arrangement work?
Charlie: It still comes down to the fastest guy winning. The slower guy doesn’t get a time. You get three tries. It’s not like bracket racing where you lose and you’re out. The crowd really likes the action. There are cones at the top of each bump with an imaginary line connecting them to divide the lanes. If a rider crosses the line, he’s disqualified.
CC: What’s the age range of the competitors?
Charlie: 3 to 60 plus.
CC: Rob, how long have you been involved with this event?
Rob: I’ve been helping Charlie for about 24 years.
CC: You’ve seen a lot of runs up the hill.
CC: What about other vehicles?
Rob: We used to do dune buggies. We tried 4-wheelers for a while, but the top hill was just too steep for them. They just couldn’t keep the front end down.
CC: I know the number of entries vary widely. What do you suppose is the average?
Rob: Maybe 100. We’ve had as many as 180, and as few as 60.
CC: How often are events held here?
Rob: This year we’re running from April through October, the second weekend of each month. June through September are Saturday nights. The rest are Sunday afternoons. During the summer, afternoons are just too hot for the spectators.
CC: Do you have a good safety record?
Rob: We’ve had some serious injuries in the past. I’m on the medical staff, but I hope I won’t be needed that way. We try to minimize the risk. The racing is confined to the hill. The bikes all must have dead man switches. Helmets are required, and other safety gear is recommended. Spectators are not allowed on the return road or on the hill.
CC: Thanks, guys.
Next, I talked with a couple of the veteran riders, Randy Hubbard and Ted Keith.
CC: How long have you been entering hill climbs, Randy?
Randy: Probably about 27 or 28 years.
CC: That’s a long time.
Randy: Yeah. I started riding when I was about 7 or 8 but didn’t get into competition until I was about 14 years old.
CC: Do you compete at other hills?
Randy: Mostly just this one. There is one in St. Joe that we go to every now and then. Mainly I’m a woods rider. I like getting into heavy woods and riding tight trails.
CC: What kind of bike will you be riding today?
Randy: This is a 750 Yamaha in a Trackmaster frame. It’s an old dirt track racing bike. We just put a knobby tire on it and left the rest just as it was on the flat track.
CC: In the 750 cc class, I assume you have to compete against bikes with the extended swing arms. Does that put you at a big disadvantage?
Randy: It makes a big difference. I could stretch this bike, but it would take away from the old classic look. I also have a 500 cc bike that’s stretched out and would be more competitive if I weren’t so darn old. I sort of back off the throttle a little bit.
CC: This looks like a pretty nasty hill. What’s the secret to getting from the bottom to the top quickly?
Randy: Stay on the ground and on the gas. You can’t make time when you’re in the air.
CC: How do you feel about today’s side-by-side format? That seems unusual.
Randy: Over the last 20 years we’ve probably done it about 15 times. The crowd really likes it. To me, I feel like it makes me go faster because I’m not worrying about the clock. I’m just trying to beat that guy next to me, and I’ll take more chances. I know I have to break the light before he does to get a time.
CC: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me and good luck on the hill.
CC: Ted, it looks like you are riding an old Triumph today. Please tell me about the bike.
Ted: It’s got a 750 kit on it and a Redline flat track frame. It has Barnes wheels and hubs, a Branch head, and K&N filters. It’s a pretty stout old bike.
CC: I understand you bought it from Charlie. How long ago?
Ted: I’ve had it since about ’85, I think. There were two previous owners. I enjoy climbing the hill here. I’ve been racing against some of these guys since we were little boys. I’m 55 now, and the first time I climbed this hill I was 18.
CC: How do you like the drag-race approach?
Ted: I think it’s great. I think that’s the way it ought to be. It’s more exciting. Otherwise it’s like going to the drag strip and watching one car go at a time.
CC: Do you know of anywhere else where it’s done this way?
Ted: No. It’s kind of hard to get the hill so it’s even on both sides, but it looks to be in pretty good shape all the way across today.
CC: Is lane choice a factor the way it is at a drag strip?
Ted: It will make some difference, especially after it’s been churned up a bit.
CC: What’s a good time on this hill?
Ted: Low 8’s are good. You’ll probably see some high 7’s. That’s pretty quick.
CC: It’s a dangerous sport. Have you ever gotten hurt doing this?
Ted: Not hill climbing. I’ve been lucky. Usually if you get hurt you’ve done it to yourself, staying on the power too long or something.
CC: I understand the bikes have dead man switches to protect the riders.
Ted: Right. That gets it shut off. Then you just kind of shove it forward and let it fall over. Rather than let it flip over on you, if it starts to come up too much just give it a shove and get off.
CC: What’s your first clue that you’re in trouble?
Ted: You can feel it. You just sense it when it gets up too high. By then it’s usually too late to do anything but bail out.
CC: Can you usually get through a crash without much damage?
Ted: Most of the time you can.
CC: Thanks, Ted.
My next interview was with Shane Shelton.
CC: Hi, Shane. I understand you have a peewee racer with you today.
Shane: Actually I have three sons. Two of them are older. They started when they were two and three, and my youngest one here started when he was four. He has been riding with training wheels, but we took them off today for the first time.
CC: So the boys have followed in your footsteps. You’ve been doing this for a while?
Shane: Yes, I’ve been doing it since I was about their age. My dad did it before me. I’ve got an 1100 Kawasaki that I’m rebuilding right now, so I won’t be running today.
CC: Please give me the boys’ names and ages.
Shane: Hunter Shelton is 5, Jacob Nay is 16, and Shane Nay is 15.
CC: What does their mom think about all of the boys hill climbing?
Shane: She’s always been out here with us. She’s used to the bumps and bruises. She likes it. It’s always been kind of a family deal. My dad did this, and her dad has always been kind of a motorcycle guy.
CC: What bikes do the boys ride?
Shane: The older ones ride 80’s and Hunter rides an XR50.
CC: In what class do the riders start going all the way up the hill instead of stopping after the first bump?
Shane: Only the peewee riders stay on the bottom of the hill. From 80’s on up, they go to the top.
Hunter didn’t do much talking, but it was clear that he was having fun and was looking forward to the competition.
After making the rounds, I stopped by the concession stand for a hot dog. Then I set out to climb the hill to locate vantage points for photography. The best way to get an appreciation for the steepness of the hill is to climb it on foot. The combination of the steep angle and the loose dirt make hiking up a real chore. My photos don’t do justice to the hill. It’s really difficult to capture the steepness in a two-dimensional medium. I did have plenty of opportunities to shoot, however. Once the riders’ meeting ended and bikes started flying up the hill, the action was continuous and exciting. There was one unfortunate pause during the event. One of the bikes flipped at the very top of the hill, and the rider suffered a broken leg. It took several minutes for the medical staff to administer first aid and get the rider transported for additional medical care. The lighting on the hill facilitated competition well after the sun went down.
All in all, I found the event entertaining and well worth the trip. It is my understanding that the remaining events will be conducted in the traditional fashion with one rider at a time racing the clock. The dates are August 14 and September 11 at 7 p.m. and October 10 at 1 p.m. To get there, take I-35 to the Holt exit, go west on PP about 1 mile, then go north on Cannonball (a gravel road), and follow the signs.
Admission is $6, and competitors pay a $10 entry fee. For additional information, call 816-320-3014 or e-mail Charlie and his crew at email@example.com.
I encourage you to check it out.
Story and photos by Stripe