LAUREL RUN — From where Keith Weikel stood, he had a good view of the Devil’s Elbow, the white-knuckle third turn on the Giants Despair Hill Climb.
He surveyed the topography to pinpoint his location anatomically in reference to the turn about halfway up the mile-long course .
“I guess we’d be the biceps,” Weikel said.
The retired locomotive engineer from Reading watched the cars and trucks competing in the 109th hill climb race by while working as the gatekeeper for people waiting to cross the two lanes of asphalt closed to traffic for the competition Saturday morning.
“I’ve been in this spot for about seven years,” Weikel, 66, said.
He’s requested the post and has become familiar with some of the people who seek out the vantage point on the other side as a party spot. By 10:30 a.m. the revelers had parked their all-terrain vehicles, popped open ice-chilled drinks from their coolers and turned up a radio to blare rock-n-roll music.
For the most they behave, Weikel said. He’s respectful but firm and his grizzled appearance connects with them, he said.
Out of earshot of the noisemakers, Josh Sheetz and Troy Bankus, both 18 and from Laurel Run and self-described car fans, kept their eyes and cameras on the ribbon of asphalt that snaked up the hill.
“Every year we always come out,” Sheetz said. They cover the course from top to bottom and get up close to the cars and meet the drivers.
Jon Cicero did just that, but unexpectedly.
He and another man stepped from behind the safety fence and onto the roadway to push a stalled car so the driver could turn it around and coast back down the hill.
“Something broke and it shut down on him,” said Cicero, 28, of St. Clair. Cicero came up from Schuylkill County to see a friend compete.
Farther down the hill, Rich Chmielewski waited for his son Matt to roll up to the starting line in his Subaru WRX.
“I grew up on this mountain,” Chmielewski, 64 said. He recalled bringing his son, now 27, as child to the hill climb. The younger Chmielewski, whose day job is service manager at an auto parts store, fell in love with rally racing and spends weekends behind the wheel, he said.
The event has changed over the years with technology and engineering and speeds have become faster. One minute used to be the time to beat, he said. Not so today.
“The guy’s doing 38 seconds,” Chmielewski said of the record holder. Last year John Burke climbed the hill in a record time of 38.024 seconds.
The hill climb resumes Sunday at 9 a.m. on East Northampton Street.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLNews