Laurel Run counts on hill climb

First Posted: 7/8/2013

LAUREL RUN — The Giants Despair Hill Climb defines Laurel Run Borough, an event that began in 1906 and now keeps the town’s volunteer fire company in operation.

The hill climb is the oldest such event in Pennsylvania and some say the oldest in the United States. It attracts race car enthusiasts from all over the country.

Legendary names in racing such as Penske, Chevrolet, Shelby and Koveleski have competed in the race that has been attended by rock stars and next door neighbors.

But through the years, the Giants Despair Hill Climb has been everything to Laurel Run and its people. Without it, the fire department couldn’t exist.

And if not for the race, Laurel Run might otherwise remain unknown outside Luzerne County.

Mayor: Many winners

Mayor Gloria Mosley said the hill climb keeps the fire department going, and people all over the world get to learn a little something about Laurel Run.

“It’s our one big thing,” she said. “It’s the biggest event we have in our community; the entire town gets involved.”

The mayor’s son, John Mosley, is the borough’s fire chief.

“It’s our biggest fundraiser,” he said. “We start planning for next year’s race the day after this year’s event.”

Mayor Mosley can remember the race from years ago. Her father, John Besancon, was involved even before Laurel Run merged with Oliver’s Mills.

“Now the Giants Despair Hill Climb is known everywhere,” she said. “And it helps the region with hotel reservations and restaurant dining. It’s looked forward to every year by so many people.”

The mayor said a new parking lot near the race start line was paid for through a grant. She said the borough hopes to make the site into a park when funds become available.

The current measured-mile course twists and rises 690 feet from start to finish and it starts out with a long gently rising straight about one-quarter mile in length that leads into a fast left that tests both nerves and skill.

According to the Pennsylvania Hill Climb Association, the course then takes a short chute and then comes “Devils Elbow,” a sharply rising hairpin that goes off camber at its crest. Next is a series of 90-degree turns connected by short straights. Then you arrive at “The Incline,” a meandering quarter-mile stretch that rises at 22 degrees to the finish.

Danko family’s involvement

The current record holder for the hill climb is a native Laurel Run resident — Darryl Danko — who in 2009 negotiated the course in a remarkable time of 38.360 seconds. Danko and his brother John and father, John Sr., of Danko Gas, are sponsors of the race and they can be seen along the course during the weeks before the race cutting weeds and putting up fencing.

“Don’t walk there,” Darryl said on Wednesday. “That’s all poison ivy. Trust me, just look at our arms and legs.”

Danko, 43, steered his Lola Indy Car T8900 to the record time. He said speed, control and focus are keys to a good run on the hill.

“The weather has to cooperate as well,” he said. “Obviously dry conditions are better than wet. And the road conditions seem to change year to year.”

Jack Danko Sr. said you never know what to expect at the race and you never know who you might see in the crowd.

“Barney Oldfield was here and so was Evil Knievel,” he said. “This race is tradition; everybody turns out for it. They mark it on their calendars.”

Chief Mosley said at least 80 cars will enter the race. His mother, Mayor Mosley, said she hopes the race lives forever.

“We want to keep it going,” she said. “The people who started this are gone, but the hill is still here, and the race continues.”