Pagoda Hillclimb Reading, PA
Dureya Drive could be listed on the all-time list of best roads in the world. As it twists up Mt. Penn in Reading, PA (pronounced RED-ING) you begin to think you’re in a green tunnel.
It’s multiple hair-pin corners dictate concentration like a nun with a yard-stick. Get out of line with this road and you’ll eat the surfaced-rusted guard-rail that snakes along the tarmac.
The real challenge is the elevation changes. In-fact, the name of the road is after an engineer from Canton, Illinois decided to use it to successfully a gasoline-powered engine up-hill. In the 1950’s hot-rodders, thrill-seekers, and gear-heads started gathering to set the fastest-time up that same mountain.
Today, the Pagoda Hillclimb race draws people of a similar ilk to both Charles Dureya and those nut-job-racers decades ago. At first-glance, you have to stop and ask yourself “are these people insane?” It isn’t just due to the fact that the road is treacherous, it’s because many of the machines you’ll see carving through corners were hand-built by the nut behind the wheel.
But what real driver isn’t a nut? You have to a little nuts be to so devoted the kind of time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears that are required to make one lap around any track. The thrill of victory could be a checkered flag for some but to others there’s more to it than setting the fastest group-time. Being there is all that matters.
The weekend forecast for June 23rd and 24th was ominous. The rain clouds gathered to catch the action in the hills of Reading Pennsylvania. That didn’t stop the Weirdo of the Wet from catching the action.
Although it is a free event for spectators, Pagoda Skyline INC was accepting donations to help preserve and maintain the scenic drive up to the famous Reading Pagoda. That sound you hear as you walk up the hill to see the race isn’t thunder though…it’s the sound of tiny, controlled explosions being funneled out of metal tubes.
The course was set. The volunteers from the Blue Ridge Mountain Region Sports Car Club of America were at their posts.
Drivers from all over the United States put on a display that to some would be called automotive insanity…to others it’s a just day at the office.
There are many outdoor activities that get ruined by rain. Baseball, Bar-B-Ques, and even a few NASCAR races all suffer rain-outs. The Hillclimb racers did not let a wet track spoil their day. Even those who piloted open-cockpit machines were happy to have the opportunity to wind-out gears through Penn’s Woods.
Walking up the hill from the starting grid, you notice the diverse group out unique machines in a line stretching through the trees. From Ford Mustangs to custom-built open-wheel death carts you can’t help but get a feeling that these people are serious about what they do.
Traction is crucial in all forms of racing and wet track conditions add to the danger. No matter if it is bad driving, bad luck, or bad tires, making a mistake on Dureya Drive can end your weekend faster than you can say “OH SHIT!”. Most drivers kept the speeds down and learned the fastest line.
The next thing that you notice walking through the pit-area and starting grid is that there is a carnival-like atmosphere. No driver in the world can make one lap without the help of someone else. Think about it. Without event organizers there would be no event. Without volunteers there would be no safety. Drivers need support wherever they can get it. This is where racing strengthens families.
There are those days that life seems to have beaten you up or those days that your body fails an otherwise willing spirit. It’s that family that can pick that spirit up by telling you “you have to get back behind the wheel”. It’s the challenge that induces you to life at the moment you feel at the lowest it can get. The tactile experience of just sitting in a machine designed to defy logic can be enough to cure what ails you.
The Pagoda Hillclimb attracted racers both men and women, young and old. The only thing more diverse than the drivers were the machines they brought. The drivers and crews were proud to display the moving pieces of art. Even those who know very little about engineering or suspension geometry can stand and contemplate are as if they were in an outdoor museum.
If you have ever built your own vehicle, you might have received inspiration from a paddock similar to the one that lined Durea’s test course. Whenever you get this close to a racecar, be sure to poke your head around anywhere you can. You’ll see the intricacies and unique approaches to engineering that might be long-forgotten in the age of Computer Aided Design.
Charles Dureya would be proud of these men and women who muscle their machines up his namesake road. They braved the elements to see what the limit of human and machine is. They pushed their pride and joy up 450 feet worth of elevation change through the ascent. Most seemed calm. A few were in the hunt for having the best time for the day. Others used Saturday to learn the track for Sunday. Everyone was having the time of their life.
We’ll continue this article in Part Two which will cover what the Weirdos saw on Sunday’s action from the Pagoda Hillclimb. Please feel free to check out the entire gallery of pictures! Share anything you like on your favorite social media platform.