2019 IRC Tire Carnegie Classic
Carnegie SVRA, 10/05/19
A six am start, with a cooler in the back of our four-wheel-drive Ford and a happy husband by my side, we head East to greet the sunrise at Carnegie SVRA for the Carnegie Classic Hillclimb. A quick stop for breakfast sandwiches and we arrive behind 10 other cars at 7am when the gates open. We’re greeted by the slightly disorganized crew that have us sign wavers and pay our $20 per person admission, although I now understand that it’s just a simple lack of formalities at this event- a casual and friendly approach to receiving race fans.
We’re told to park anywhere we find a spot and we find one among the 100 or so camper trailers. Initially I can’t believe out luck at finding parking with an uninterrupted view of the hill. I later realize that there are a lot of great spots to set up a base camp and enjoy the day’s racing from the comfort of your vehicle, although it’s much easier first thing in the morning.
We meander over to the track’s official store and it’s pleasing to see their inventory of motorcycle parts and their on-site tire repair facility that’s equipped with a snack bar serving hot dogs and other basic refreshments.
Walking back toward the pit area, it’s clear that the racer’s paddock areas are open to visits from fans. It’s nice to be greeted with smiles from racers and their crews and I impulsively decide to support a racer with the purchase of a t-shirt. He approaches me in his full gear and he tells us his name is Destry Abbott. He’s amicable and humbly tells me it’s also his first time here at a hill climb event. He and his father give us a quick overview of what we’re to expect and we continue walking the paddock area.
There are a handful of concession booths, including two food trucks and a shaved ice car. We head back to our car to put our feet up and enjoy a BYOB in anticipation of the 8:30AM race start. Racers begin hiking up the hills on foot and our view without binoculars (which I strongly suggest bringing), shows how steep and precarious their footholds are. The riders’ exploration of the hillside continues for a while and from what I understand, is mandatory for their participation in the event. I have to say, no photos or videos quite show how steep this terrain is and I imagine that shortly I’ll see bikes and riders tumbling down the hillside.
Finally, around 9:45 the racing begins, as an announcer excitedly exclaims the rider’s time up the mountain. Through the speakers we hear a little bit about each of the riders and their race times up the hill, and in just a few minutes we find ourselves guessing them. It’s a laid-back and amusing race to watch, a bit like day-camping with snacks, coolers, shade sheds and lawn chairs, but it has the added ambiance of the sound of motorcycles cruising all around us.
The campers have awakened and most everyone is on a dirt bike, just cruising around. Moms with their little ones riding in front, dads riding their tiny children’s bikes and of course kids enjoying the opportunity to ride around all day long. Kids are cute and all, but at Carnegie it’s the pooches that steal the show. It’s apparently a requirement that people bring their well-behaved and gorgeous dogs… and they all sit obediently at their masters’ feet while their tails wag at other pups nearby.
I have no idea how many racers participated on the first run up the hill, because they line back up at the bottom to do it all over again. It feels a bit chaotic to watch, with several riders stuck halfway up the hill, waiting for the perfect moment to negotiate their bikes back down and others lined up ready to try it once more. Each bike pushes differently up the hill; some revving high and spinning their tires, others getting a rather slow start then finding traction halfway up. All of them begin their ascent with a leap of a 5-foot dirt wall that’s quickly followed by a sharp right turn, which unavoidably slows their progress. To my relief most everyone just drops their bikes to the side when they can’t make it all the way- no awful rider/bike tumbling action.
We were fortunate to have met Destry right away. It’s clear that his main objective for the day is to have fun, and the ease with which he speaks to us makes him a real ambassador of the sport. Rooting for him is a no-brainer and we’re so excited to see him win his class with a 13-second time at his first hill climbing event. We return to congratulate him and he remains the same down-to-earth and sociable motorcycle racer he was before. Not following EnduroCross a lot, I don’t think I quite realized the caliber of athlete we were chatting with. Even more incredible, this man has been battling leukemia and pursues his passion for racing with a levity and grace that draws people to him. They truly are a remarkable family, with his father reservedly showing his pride for his son and grandchildren while humoring me and answering my questions. The Abbott family is entirely committed to supporting other racers (through their racing academy DA8 Training), as well as supporting other families through their fight against cancer. The DA8 merchandise that they sell funds the Road to Recovery charity that they’ve organized. Hearing their background and seeing Destry perform so well at his first race is an inspiring story we didn’t expect at our first hill-climb event.
It’s a warm, pleasant and relaxing day. During the mid-day awards ceremony, we take cat-naps in the truck, with the ambient sounds of dirt bikes putting around us.
Other spectators arrive throughout the afternoon, casually parking and watching some racing.
Carnegie hosts these races twice a year- in spring and fall, although I believe the NAHA Hillclimb in April is the more popular. I suggest bringing your most motorcycle-devoted friends, unless you bring bikes to entertain the less-enthusiastic folks throughout the long day. The enjoyment really comes from just watching each racer’s approach up the hill and there isn’t a lot to do otherwise (no phone signal). Arrive in your jacket (and maybe bring a blankie for the evening) with plans to switch to shorts. It doesn’t hurt to pack both shoes and sandals, a cooler with plenty of snacks and beverages, binoculars, sunscreen, chairs and something to shade you. There are ample portable toilets and they are relatively clean, with hand-washing stations nearby.
The atmosphere is quite family friendly and folks are chatty and good-natured.
By the late afternoon, the sun begins setting behind the hills, making it quite cool and a little windy. Our eyes and throats begin to notice the dust we’ve been breathing all day and I’m quite tired and chilly, so it’s time to pack up and move out.
Unfortunately, we missed the premier documentary about our new favorite hillclimb racer, Strong: The Destry Abbott Movie. Carnegie SVRA shows outdoor movies in the evening (and perhaps they light the fire pit), giving the campers another opportunity to mingle and enjoy their full weekend at the track.