The Grand Ascent (Vintage Race)
Sponsored by: McCarthy Tire and Automotive Centers
The Grand Ascent is a VSCCA sanctioned hill climb exhibition in the European tradition, where drivers will pilot some of the finest vintage race cars up the historic back road to The Hotel Hershey. Modeled on similar events such as England’s Goodwood Festival of Speed and paying homage to long standing events such as Mount Equinox, The Grand Ascent will relive the excitement of race cars storming up hill to test the mettle of the driver and the machine.
Amateur sports car racing was booming in post World-War II America and a form of racing called the hill climb was a very integral part of this scene. The idea was simple; one car at a time would storm-up a preset course laid out on a mountain road. The drivers test their skill and nerve while taxing the ability of the car in a race against the clock and the times posted by all the other drivers in the event.
The Hershey Hill Climb was founded by the Appalachian Sports Car Club in 1958. In this era Pennsylvania was a hot bed of this kind of racing. Hershey would grow to be the crown jewel of the Pennsylvania Hill Climb Association (PHA) yearly circuit. By the mid-1960’s the race was being held at the beginning of each season and again at the end of the season, often as the definitive race for final standings. The event was so big, it often drew in excess of 200 cars, it was deemed the largest hill climb in the world. Unfortunately, for various reasons the hill was silenced in the fall of 1970.
In the early 2000’s, the Susquehanna Valley Vintage Sports Car Club brought back the event as the Hershey Vintage Hillclimb. They successfully ran the event for several years but the effort proved too much to sustain and was last run in 2008.
The organizers of The Grand Ascent are very proud to once again revive this historic hill climb under the direction of the Vintage Sports Car Club of America (VSCCA). Their expertise with vintage race car handling and track operations are a valuable asset to all involved and a fantastic way to maintain the historic continuity of this race.
The Hershey Hill Climb course was the old back road to The Hotel Hershey and just .7 of a mile in length. But, with a 200 foot elevation change and some serious curves it proved a challenging race course.
The entire course was and still is lined with trees just feet off the tight & narrow road bed. One driver in the heyday deemed the hill a “wooden tunnel.” Concrete culverts and dirt embankments mark the course on the right hand side while much of the left side you’ll find a drop-off into a wooded ravine.
Listed as a 5 corner hill, each one presented its own unique challenge. Cars would launch off the start line and charge up the near straightaway to turn #1. The speed a driver was carrying could present a problem going into the very hard left turn #1. “The Hump” just prior to the turn was the undoing for many. Great hill climbers such as Jim Ladd & Keith Kendig both crumpled their race cars at this point. Turn #2, another hard left hander is lined by trees on the inside and rocks on the outside. Turn #3 may be the most infamous because it is the location of “Plastic tree”. This poor tree was hit so many times by Corvettes, fragments of fiberglass were imbedded in the trunk. The hairpin is turn #4 and was once marked by a large cabin on its outside edge. It was so feared that cars would go off course here that in the early days a “stop-reverse-go” section was put in place. Eventually, a large pile of hay bales would protect the cabin and cars, although today the cabin is long gone. The final turn, a left sweeper, shoots drivers off to the finish line.