LAUREL RUN — It’s not NASCAR, but it might be the next best thing offered locally. Just ask the devoted racing fans who flocked to Laurel Run on Saturday for the 112th annual Giants Despair Hillclimb.
Dating to 1906, the two-day event is one of the oldest racing contests in the world, attracting fans from all over the Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania and even throughout the country.
The summertime race is always penciled in on Robert Winters’ calendar.
“I base my vacation from work around this great event,” said Winters, 62, of Nanticoke. “I’ve been coming to this race for 12 years. Each year, the walk gets harder and harder but the thrill and excitement gets better and better.”
If you think a race that is only a mile long is easy, then you better think again. The mile-long course features a steep incline and sharp turns that truly test both the nerves and skills of competing drivers.
“I think from a fan’s perspective seeing the drivers trying to maintain an edge throughout the race while knowing when to slow it down and accelerate keeps the entertainment flowing,” Winters said. “I think that may be one of the reasons why I love it so much.”
Winters watches the Hillclimb on Saturday and Sunday to see who gets the trophies.
“Some people even camp out in the woods on Friday night,” Winters mentioned. “Those people are hardcore racing fans.”
From the starting point on East Northampton Street to the finish line, fans lined the road to see the action. Among the onlookers were Steve and Cody Cook.
“I’ve been coming to the Hillclimb since the 1970s,” said Steve Cook, 55, of Wilkes-Barre. “I actually began going with my brother but now my son Cody has been coming with me for awhile.”
One of the alluring parts of the Hillclimb is that fans can mingle with the drivers and check out the cars that will be in the race.
“It’s a great time,” Cody Cook, 13, said. “Checking out all the cars is really neat.”
Steve Cook pointed out the dangers the course presents.
“I hate driving down this road as a regular driver,” he explained. “If you don’t know the turns, then you’re done.”
“I remember in one race, some lady had her car come around a turn on two wheels. She was lucky she only got a cracked windshield and nothing else.”
Although the Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association puts on a great event, fans had some minor criticisms.
“The only improvement I would want is to have another speaker or two so you can hear the driver’s name, car and the time they finished in,” Steve Cook said.
“I just wish there were more food vendors as you spectate in the higher elevation,” Winters laughed. “But all jokes aside, I wish the Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association held this event more than once a year because it’s such a great time.”
Reach Dan Stokes at 570-991-6389 or on Twitter @ByDanStokes