Say Hershey, and what do you think of? Chocolate, right? On many days the rich aroma of chocolate hangs deliciously in the air. On the other hand, if you're a car person, you might also think of the Pennsylvania town's automotive flea markets that attract attention from car enthusiasts around the world. But there is another automotive event in Hershey, which at one time was quite well known: From the fall of 1958 through the fall of 1970, the seven-tenths of a mile back driveway up to the Hershey Hotel was the home to 25 championship sports car hillclimbs.
A Simple SportHillclimbing is a simple sport. Cars are allowed to leave a starting line one at a time and race against the clock, usually to the top of a paved section of narrow roadway. The sport was once quite popular in the U.S. and remains so in England, where names like "Prescott and Rest" and "Be Thankful" feature prominently in British motoring lore. In the early days of motoring on this continent, challenges such as Mt. Washington, Duryea and Pikes Peak drew racers in every type of car to pit themselves against the mountains.
By the 1950s and 1960s, when sports cars had become popular, hillclimbing was a way to compete without the risks inherent in wheel-to-wheel racing. This isn't to say that the top drivers of the day and the best teams didn't occasionally try their hands at the sport, and names like Ferrari and Carroll Shelby frequently show up in the results lists from those early days.
The Appalachian Sports Car Club began staging a hillclimb in Hershey that became one of the legendary events for amateur racers. The first event was won by Dave Latsha in a Renault Alpine. It took some time for the event to take off, but by 1963 more than a 100 entries were throwing themselves against the hill. Occasionally, professionals such as Oscar Koveleski would show up in his Super Cooper special to try and lower the ultimate course record. Corvettes were often popular winners, and only once, in the spring of 1969, did an AC Cobra manage to beat the Chevrolets. The final event was held in the fall of 1970 with more than 270 entries. Tim Musser drove a Merlyn Formula B car to a new record of 49.425 sec. over the 0.7-mile course.
A Walking PaceThen, for 30 years the road behind the Hershey Hotel was silent. It became a walking trail, and park benches were strategically placed to give strollers a place to rest as they walked up the hill. The edges of the roadway were choked with underbrush, and the asphalt's illustrious motorsports history was largely forgotten.
That is, until last year, when members of the Susquehanna Valley Vintage Sports Car Club decided to take on the challenge of recreating the original Hershey Hillclimb. The club determined that a perfect project would be an exhibition event that recreated the ambiance of the original event for vintage racing participants. The SVVSCC then wasted little time in convincing the giant Hershey Chocolate firm that resurrecting the event would be a good thing.
More than just a recreation of the hillclimb, the SVVSCC wanted the event to combine activities for sports car enthusiasts from the entire region. Somehow it all got done, and it was announced to the world the event would take place on the third weekend in April.
A Drive Up the HillThe road used for the Hershey Vintage Hillclimb is the same one that was used for the previous events. It is little more than one lane wide, although its surface, which was last repaved in 1966, has held up well and is quite smooth. The course begins at the intersection of the luxurious Hershey Hotel's back driveway with a county road. Cars are staged pointing uphill with a wheel block placed behind a rear tire. Drivers face a traffic light on the side of the road. When the light changes from red to green, you hit the gas, dump the clutch and begin your charge up the hill.