By Tiffany L. Rehbein
The hill is 400 feet of vertical mass. The final 50 feet is straight up-and-down cracked earth silted with dust. The man, he straddles a 200 horsepower dirt bike. A chainsaw on wheels.
Other men stand on the craggy cliff with grapple hooks. They catch the unlikely; the bikes that fail. The bikes whose riders eject from their seats while their bike sails heavenward. The men with the hooks catch the bikes.
And Northstar Dodge in Havre is part of this. Northstar Dodge sponsored five riders at the Great American Hillclimb last week in Billings.
Billings hosts the oldest, most active motorcycle club and hillclimb event and offered $25,000 in money.
National riders Ty Davis, of Team Yamaha, and Larry Roeseler, of Team Kawasaki, the John Elways of the cross country moto cross scene, according to John Halter, dirt bike rider, aimed to ride their 1,400cc engine crammed into a motocross chassis with extended swing arms with paddle wheels and steel chassis dirt bike to the top of that hill.
Roeseler placed first in the seniors class making a 353-foot climb. He brought home $340 for the effort. He also placed in the 0-600 rubber tire division climbing 330 feet and winning $90 for the feat.
Kevin Downs, the main rider sponsored by Northstar Dodge, Pete Loomis and Larry Halter also competed at the tournament. Downs, a farmer in Molt, Mont., placed in the open rubber tire division climbing 374 feet. He also placed in the 0-600 rubber tire competition climbing 338 feet. Loomis also placed in the same event making in 320 feet.
Its a great high speed, high horsepower event, Halter said. It really is a grass roots organization, he continued about motocross racing. A lot of local guys compete and it just happened to turn out to be a national event.
At the national event in Billings, only two men made it over the hill.
Other attractions included a handful of Harley Davidson-powered 1,600cc hill climbers with nitro-powered 200-horsepower engines. This machine helped to draw between 15,000 to 20,000 spectators to the hillclimb event.
The rules for the event are much simpler than the actual ride. The rider must have at least one hand on the bar as the bike goes through the timing light to qualify for the run.
Simple. And without any hands at all, well, theres always those guys with the grapple hooks.