ARLINGTON —The faint whirring and buzzing of small, fast race car engines can be heard echoing from the top of Mount Equinox every year during the Hillclimb race.
In five minutes, racers must fly up the 5.2 mile road to the mountain's summit. Jim Donick, editor of Vintage Sports Car magazine for the Vintage Sports Car Club of America has raced for over 30 years with a personal record of four minutes, 57 and a half seconds in 2012. The course has 41 turns, 20 of which are hairpins with occasional guardrails along the way.
Donick is from Pennsylvania but resides in the Poughkeepsie area of New York and writes for the Northern Dutchess News in Wappingers Falls. He's in the process of writing a book on the history of Mount Equinox in regards to sports car racing. His son grew up around car racing and now works for Toyota as an engineer in Arizona and races cars in California as well as with his father on occasion.
Donick critiqued his son's racing video before giving a talk at the Manchester Community Library on Wednesday. The illustrated talk was presented by the Manchester Historical Society. He explained how the Hillclimb has developed over the past 68 years, shared stories of people who competed on the mountain and the challenges it offers to a driver. He advised that the drive up in a normal vehicle takes about 10 to 15 minutes, and coming down is the worst part because people sit on their breaks and build up smoke.
"It's not the adrenaline, it's cerebral," Donick said. "It's doing something that I'm good at. I'm alone in my helmet in my car going up the mountain. If I mess up on a turn, I know it immediately and do it better next time. It's the pleasure of doing something different really well"
Dr. Joseph Davidson, former chairman of the board of Putnam Memorial Hospital—now known as Southern Vermont Medical Center—completed the construction of the road to the summit from Route 7 in 1947. Even though it wasn't paved until 1953, according to the mountain's website, the first national race was held in July of 1950.
Donick has raced the course so many times that while he's in another country, he takes a mental ride by watching a video of a previous race. It's imprinted in his brain.
The road up to the summit has deteriorated over time, occasionally gets re-paved, but continues to break down after trucks trek up to the new visitor center, Donick said.
Mount Equinox is the tallest mountain in southern Vermont with an altitude of 3,848 feet and has a trail that leads to Lookout Rock stretching ¾ of a mile. It was home to the Skyline Inn from the late 1940's to 2011 until the Saint Bruno Scenic Viewing Center was constructed the next year.
Center employee Adrienne Sherwood said that no spectators are allowed on any part of the access road during the Hillclimb race, but some hike up the trail while others see the cars at the starting line. The Vintage Sports Car Club of America rents the mountain out for the weekend and runs two to three races on each day. All participating cars must be made before 1968.
She said last year a yellow lotus flipped three times and was totaled leaving the driver uninjured. "It happens every year somebody always crashes."
"The cars are really cool, you definitely see a lot of antiques that you don't normally see," Sherwood said. "The race is awesome but it's too dangerous to have people on the sidelines. It gets people stopping on their way by, but it's not a huge tourist attraction."
Donick said one of his wheels rolled off during a race in Pittsburgh and his first thoughts were and expletive, than 'Don't roll over.' He held it together under the watch of a big crowd and didn't roll over.
The Hillclimb sports car race will take place on July 9 and 10 all day. Spectators can watch for free, but the road will be closed. For more information, visit equinoxmountain.com.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.