The Torque Tube: Tim Mather and his battle with gravity

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, “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 for more information on the Gravity Challenge, and to for specifics on his Sentra hillclimber. Welcome, Tim Mater, to The Torque Tube.

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