Posts Tagged ‘Climb to the Clouds’

grav-i-ty: (n). The force of attraction by which terrestrial bodies tend to fall toward  the center of the earth.

chal-lenge: (adj). A call or summons to engage in any contest, as of skill, strength, etc.

If you’re going to do battle with gravity, be prepared to be in for the long haul; the force of gravity never sleeps. People pit themselves against gravity’s endless pull in a range of different ways: skydiving, rock climbing, mountaineering, skiing, or anything else that tests mental and physical fortitude and comes soaked in adrenaline. Few people, however, seek to test their limits of fortitude on one of the most challenging mountains in the country six times in one year, in four different sports, all in competition. Welcome to the world of Tim Mather.

Tim Mather: The brains, and brawn, behind the Gravity Challenge.

The premise for Mather’s epic battle with gravity, appropriately named the Gravity Challenge, was simple: compete in all the events held at Mt.Washington in a single year, which included auto hillclimbing, running, skiing, and cycling. Mather’s athletic background, unwavering dedication, and familiarity with Mt. Washington made him uniquely qualified to undertake this herculean feat. Mather was gracious enough to speak with TDC about the Gravity Challenge, his inspiration, and his racing career.

What was the inspiration for the Gravity Challenge?

Mather’s primary inspiration for the Gravity Challenge was the return of the ‘Climb to the Clouds’ hillclimb after its decade long hiatus from Mt. Washington. Mather was actively involved in hillclimbing for many years and the return of the epic ‘Climb’ event created the perfect opportunity for Mather. “The goal was to do [all the events] in one year. I can’t win them all because I cant afford to spend the time to win them all, I was just going to participate… It was hard with my personality because I like to win, but I wanted try to do it and have fun and to keep my life balanced… When I was thinking about the challenge I though, ‘How perfect is this, I can take all the things I love and do all of them… too good to be true to not try.’”

How did you get into the auto hillclimbing and racing scene?

Dialing in a little opposite lock on Cragway, the Auto Road’s most scenic turn.

“My high school was holding autocrosses, got interested in it, and I scraped up a few dollars and bought a 1984 Mazda GLC Deluxe and my career started. Ran that car for a number of years… and ended up opening my own car stereo business, and the racing petered off for a bit.” Mather eventually got back into the racing scene and purchased a 1991 Nissan Sentra that played double duty as his daily driver and his race car.

Mt. Washington’s epic backdrop obscured by rain clouds as Mather makes quick work of the Auto Road.

Over time, Mather pursued other types of racing like rallycross and ice racing.” A typical year would start in the winter time and I’d go down to Massachusetts and do ice racing, and then some time trial racing in the spring. At that point I had gotten into rallycross and a little bit of rally, and my car really wasn’t ready for that so I ended up buying a old Subaru GL and I did a couple of Apple Hill rallys in New York to kind of cut my teeth on the sport, and then went to a rally school with the Sentra. Bob Legere did most of fabrication on the Sentra.” Legere is a world renowned fabricator and resource for Opel cars and parts.

“In the fall of 1992 I did my first hillclimb… While I was [at the Mt. Ascutney hillclimb], I got the opportunity to take some of the hillclimb employees up the hill.” Mather found out about the Mt. Washington hillclimb from these employees and it immediately got him thinking. “That winter, I bought a bolt on cage and then did the Mt.Washington hillclimb.”

Nissan Sentras, especially from the early ’90′s aren’t exactly known as performance machines. How did you get that race-ready?

Mather’s ’91 Nissan Sentra hillclimber.

“There were a lot of custom made parts that were primarily made by Legere because there was basically nothing available [for the Sentra]. Talk about ignorance is bliss, we didn’t know any better… We did a new engine in the car, but it was still basically stock, really nothing crazy about the car. I wanted to keep it turn key, pump gas, emissions legal.” As the car was his daily driver as well as his race car, he didn’t have much choice in keeping it mostly stock. “I built my racing career around low horsepower cars that really centered around the actual driving.”

How did you get into other sports like cycling? What kinds of events did you compete in before the Gravity Challenge?

“I spent a year and a half road racing, and it got to the point where I won my class in 2000, and between disbanding the race and really being done with the sport, I got into cycling. One of the guys I was racing with had a bike and sure enough, I could ride! I slowly got into cycling, bought a road bike and started riding.” The bike shop Mather purchased his bike from was into the triathlon scene and they introduced him into the sport. So Mather pretty much parked his race car to pursue this new passion. “Off I went into this next part of my life into multi-sport.” Mather’s resume includes an Ironman triathlon at Lake Placid and a spot in the Boston Marathon.

How did finish in your events in the Gravity Challenge?

Victory! Mather on the top step of the podium at ‘Climb to the Clouds’

Climb to the Clouds- “I had no expectation on how I would do. There were a lot cars in the class, I hadn’t been there for a long time, but I decaled [the car] up, bolted the tires and wheels on it and away we went….  It was such a neat feeling to go through sections of that mountain flat footed. It’s so much fun!” The weather on the first day of the hillclimb was rainy and driving conditions were poor and Mather felt he would place well at the back of the pack. To his surprise, he finished far out in front of his competition even though many were putting down bigger power figures. That trend of feeling like he was running bad times when he was actually crushing the competition continued throughout the weekend, and Mather won his division. “It was very unexpected, but I was very, very happy… You dust the car off after nine years, dust the driver off after nine years, and go out there and hammer… It was really fun.”

Ski to the Clouds – “It poured the whole time, but I didn’t come in last! There were only three people behind me, but I didn’t come in last.” Mather’s goal with the skiing event was not to try and win, but to finish and enjoy the experience. It was his first ski race and his first time skiing up a mountain (what a mountain to cut your teeth on!)

Mather (in yellow) crossing the finish line.

Mt.Washington Roadrace-  “I did much better than I thought I would do.” Mather set a personal goal to finish the run in under one minute 45 seconds, and he did just that finishing in an impressive one minute 40.52 seconds, putting him 31st in his age group.

Can you tell he was concentrating when this photo was taken?

Newton’s Revenge/Mt. Washington Bicycle Hillclimb/24 Hours of Great Glen - Back in 2006 when Mather was in his physical prime, he competed in a bike race at Mt. Washington and qualified the “Top Notch” class. Getting into this elite group is like qualifying for the Boston Marathon. From an excerpt on the Newton’s Revenge race on Mathersports.com, “At the seven mile mark I caught and passed another top notch rider. I turned off my watch as I knew it was going to be close for a top notch finish. The clouds were very thick and I could not see 10’ in front of me but I could hear the cow bells and the cheering at the finish… As I looked up, I saw a 1:21 on the clock, NICE!!! I just made it across the line and almost fell off the bike. I got my medal and my fleece blanket and just hung on my bike for a few mins to collect myself… I had nothing left, just the way I enjoy finishing a hard effort!!!”

What are your plans for the future? Will you keep racing?

“I see myself getting into hillclimbing…  and I’d like to travel and see some tracks and have some fun… I dunno, there’s a piece of me that wants to do a half Ironman in June… I know there’ll be cars in it, I know my wife will be in it, I know there will be athletics in it, so we’ll see where all that falls.”

Welcome, Tim Mather, to The Torque Tube.

Mather and his wife, Sas, on the summit of Washington.

Much respect and many thanks to Tim Mather for his time and energy for this interview. Be sure to head over to his website www.Mathersports.com for more information on the Gravity Challenge, and to www.Mathermotorsports.com for specifics on his Sentra hillclimber. Welcome, Tim Mater, to The Torque Tube.

Travis Pastrana is one of those guys who really doesn’t need an introduction with words, his deeds are what precede him: X Games Champion in supercross, motocross, freestyle motocross, and rally racing, NASCAR driver, multiple Rally America Driver’s Title winner, and action sports superstar. Pastrana has managed to squeeze in several lifetimes worth of epic adventures into his 27 years, but this interview isn’t about his exploits on the motocross track or behind the wheel of a stock car. Pastrana was gracious enough to spend some time with TDC talking about his September 8, 2010 run up the legendary Mt. Washington Auto Road.

For the uninitiated, the Mt. Washington Auto Road is a twisting, undulating ribbon of tarmac and gravel that ascends the mighty Mt. Washington. Man has been climbing this road for over a century: 2011 actually marks the 150th anniversary of the Auto Road. Motorsports is also deeply ingrained here; the Road played host to the Mt. Washington Hillclimb for many years. The previous record up the 7.6 mile road was set during 1998 Hillclimb by Frank Sprongl in his 1982 Audi Quattro S2 at a blistering pace of six minutes and 41.99 seconds. A few years later in 2001, the Auto Road began a decade long hiatus from hillclimbs as sponsorship malfunctions kept the race from being run. All that changed when a joint effort between the Auto Road and Vermont SportCar created the ‘Climb to the Clouds’ hillclimb that occurred this past June. Pastrana’s run in September didn’t qualify as an official “record run” (it wasn’t held during competition), but it did annihilate Sprongl’s record by more than 20 seconds: Pastrana blitzed the Road in six minutes and 20.47 seconds. In the process, his coming to the road and setting such a quick time helped stimulate substantial attention for the Auto Road and its rich motorsports history and helped kick off its big 1-5-0 birthday celebration.  Check out two great videos of Pastrana’s run up Mt. Washington here, and here.

What’s it like to drive the Auto Road?

“It was the coolest thing; it’s truly a road that is a great rally road. Honestly, it is so good it could be fun with a horse and buggy! (laughs) When we drove it, the weather was absolutely ridiculous. It was sunny at the bottom, a little rainy in the middle, and by the end, you couldn’t even see road right in front of the car.” When asked how he was able to see when visibility is so poor Pastrana said, “As long as I have a solid ten feet in front where I can see, I’m okay. Having a co-driver is really important as well. With good weather up there, it’s definitely possible to break six minutes.”

What was the thought process behind coming to Mt.Washington to make a run up the Auto Road?

“It was always something I knew about, the Auto Road has always been famous, I grew up looking at that road. When they said they were going to reopen the road… Some of the top guys at Red Bull and Vermont SportsCar were super enthusiastic and said, ‘We have this guy who wants to run up the road.’ I just wanted to get up there and drive the road.” 

“So many people were way pumped, there was good hype around it and everyone felt like they were part of something cool… Everyone was so passionate about it, that’s what made it so great… One other cool thing that happened on the road is that I almost hit a bear! We’ve accidentally hit a deer before, but never a bear… A little black bear ran across the road during one of the runs.”

During the ‘Climb to the Clouds’ hillclimb in June, Subaru Rally Team USA driver David Higgins, who hails from the Isle of Man, set a truly staggering time up the Auto Road of six minutes and 11.54 seconds, setting a “true” record time and seriously raising the bar for future drivers hoping to conquer the Road. In the process, Higgins bested Pastrana’s time by a lengthy margin. It makes for an interesting situation for Pastrana:  Higgins beat his time up the Auto Road and essentially replaced him at Subaru when he left to pursue other motorized passions, like NASCAR. (You think Pastrana might be a little competitive?) There is little doubt Pastrana will be back on the Auto Road for another shot at the record.

How do you feel about David beating your time?

“I knew that David was going to be at least as quick as me… It was exciting to get beaten by David, I was just hoping the weather would move in on him! (laughs) It meant a lot for David to get such a good time, and I’m sure he wants to get back up there and break the six minute mark. It meant a lot to race my mentor up there, but it would be great to get that record back on American soil.”

Will you be back for another attempt on the Auto Road?

“I’d like another shot. There’s an ongoing battle for that record right now and with good conditions, breaking six minutes is definitely feasible. Who knows if the conditions will be right though in a place with the worst weather in the world!”

Pastrana has excelled in a wide range of motorsports and has performed at a tremendously high level in all of them. In one final parting question he was asked, if he had to choose, would he pick one form of racing over another?

“The beauty of it is I haven’t had to choose! From age four to 18, all I thought about was motorcycles. From 18 to 24, it was all about rally… What I like is changing my focus and now trying to figure out the new elements of pavement and racing in NASCAR. NASCAR is all about precision. You can drive a stock car really fast for about eight laps or so, and then you start to slow down because you took it too fast… Rally is all about aggression, calculated risks. Motocross is all about will. I am always looking for the new challenge.”

Welcome, Travis Pastrana, to The Torque Tube.

- Much respect and many thanks to Travis Pastrana for his time and energy for this interview. Thanks also to Vermont SportsCar for providing the photos, and for Lars Gange for taking them. Serious thanks also goes to my good friend Meg Skidmore for without her help, this interview would not have been possible.

TDC recently had the distinct pleasure of going to the Climb to the Clouds hillclimb on Sunday, June 26 held on the Mt. Washington Auto Road. This was the first hillclimb the Road has held in several years and the it was put on not only to bring back the historical hillclimb, but also to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Mt. Washington Auto Road. The event brought out hundreds of spectators, over sixty drivers, and the absolutely epic backdrop of the majestic Presidential mountain range made for one truly spectacular event. Those in attendance saw the 13-year old Auto Road record held by Frank Sprongl be utterly annihilated by rally champion David Higgins and his Vermont SportsCar prepped 2011 Subaru WRX STI. It was an amazing event, so keep an eye on the Climb to the Cloud’s website for updates on the next hillclimb, and photos and articles from the event, as well as the Mt. Washington Auto Road’s website for all the details on this amazing road. In the meantime, enjoy the slide show below!

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