Giant’s Despair Hillclimb

Jun 24, 2011

Never thought we’d have a post titled “Giant’s Despair Hillclimb” but that’s where I found myself for this week’s job outside of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. In 1905, East Northampton Street running between Wilkes-Barre and Laurel Run was a dirt road and a treacherous climb.  Years of improvements and paving, the most recent in 2003, have not changed that.  But back when it was a dirt road, and the automobile was considered the latest in high-tech marvels, it looked like the perfect place to sponsor a road race to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Wilkes-Barre.  And so began the "Giants' Despair Hillclimb".  The steepest part is a short, 1-mile uphill series of curves. The race is the oldest in Pennsylvania and one of the oldest, continuously-run road races in the USA.  

This week the 5-mile stretch is being resurfaced and restored by PennDOT, Pikes Creek Contractors, and Wilkes-Barre Materials, using Evotherm J-1 supplied by NuStar.  American Asphalt/Wilkes-Barre Materials made the mix, their first experience with WMA, and it came off without a hitch.  They made a PennDOT SR9.5mm mix with 15% RAP. NuStar Energy supplied the PG64-22 binder. The plant ran at night filling silos for two additional day jobs, so transition to Evotherm mix was gradual from 320F to 275F for the first silo.  The burner went from 55% to 30% after the drop in temperature. Pikes Creek Site Contractors was in charge of building the road. After about a 30 minute haul, screed temps were in the range of 240 – 245F, with finish rolling taking place at around 120F.  Traffic was let on immediately following the finish roller.  

This year's 105th run promises to be one of the best in recent years.  Tom Paisley, Project Manager at Pikes Creek, says that "for 2011, during the pre-con meeting, due to the condition of the road, the Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association nearly cancelled the event for the first time.  We have to get everything finished this week."  While paving, a local resident stopped by to ask about the project, and he was obviously excited.  Jack Danko lives on the hill, and is owner of Danko Gas Supply. He is also the father of 5-time Giants' Despair Champion Darryl Danko.  Last year he had to switch cars due to condition of the roadway from his Lola TB900 Indy car to a 1973 Gurney Eagle.  The hillclimb features a mile-long, six-turn course with a finish line sitting 650-feet above the start. In addition to a 22-degree incline on the course's final quarter-mile, the race's most challenging element is "Devil's Elbow", the most intense of the course's six bends.  

Though the famous drivers of today don't appear very often, past winners have included Carroll Shelby (first to break the 60 sec. mark), Roger Penske, and Louis Chevrolet (yes, that Chevrolet)  who won the race driving a Buick in 1909. The climb will take place this year over the course of two days, July 9 – 10, 2011.  Coverage of the event will be supplied by The Speed Channel, ESPN, and WILN-TV in Hazleton, in addition to local press. Here's some coverage from the 2010 race.



Author: Michael Plouff