Two-time winner Mel Kimball Jr. conquers Widowmaker again. Details on D1.
While some said the real spectacle was on Widowmaker Hill, there was a side show, perhaps the feature attraction, among the crowd of thousands at Sunday's annual Widowmaker Hill Climb.But the couple who charm snakes, the guy with the pet dog with no hind legs and the hundreds of boys watching girls and girls watching boys may not have a hill climb next year, in the face of increasing doubts over the event's future.
Amid the cacophony of roaring motorcycles, rock music and cheers from thousands of onlookers, many at the event said the real show was not the competition but the characters at the base of the hill.
"It's more than a competition, it's a happening, a little bit of everything," said announcer Jack Carlton in between his broadcasts introducing competitors and hyping the crowd.
"It's sort of like Life, People and Esquire magazine all rolled into one," he said of the event, sponsored by the Salt Lake Bees Motorcycle Club.
Nora and Bob Neal could have graced the cover of Carlton's fictional publication. The two came to the hill climb not with their children but with their pet snakes, two Red-tail boas and two pythons.
"You wanna hold him," Bob said, displaying his six-foot boa named Jerald.
"Naw," replied a reporter.
What do the Neals and their snakes, which attracted a small, sometimes squeamish, crowd around their pickup truck, enjoy about Sunday at the Widowmaker?
"It's a combination of it all - watching the motorcycles, watching the people, getting some sun," Nora said.
And Chris Horsley, 33, Salt Lake City - what brings him and his friends to the Widowmaker?
"For us it's the people," he said, waving a sunburned hand at the hordes gathered in the sun. "It's the only time the state of Utah lets this many people get together and smile," he added, sardonically.
Behind the bikers grilling burgers, beyond the guy walking around with his two-legged dog and up on the 1,300-foot hill, an ESPN television crew said the Hill Climb is "not just your basic hill climb, it's sort of a subculture."
"Events like this that have so much character don't usually get the coverage they deserve," ESPN field producer Michael Callan said, disparaging other "corporate" sports that attract network attention.
Authorities have complained in the past the event has had its trouble spots, what with drunken-driving incidents and occasional fights. But this year's climb, like last year's, was relatively quiet.
"This is one of the few places in the world where you can get Hells Angels together and they don't bother anybody," says Carlton.
Police officers reported nary a drunken-driving arrest Sunday afternoon, partly attributable to their obvious presence and admonishments from Carlton that those attending not drink and drive.
But nevertheless, the Draper City Council is "split" over the future of the event, City Administrator Andrew Hatton-Ward said.
Although the hill climb has evolved into "a mellow, well-controlled event," the council is concerned about the yearly environmental impact of motorcycles tearing up portions of the Point of the Mountain, he says.
And despite a $1 million liability insurance plan provided by the hill climb's sponsor, the city is wary of future claims, Hatton-Ward says.
"I think probably the City Council will take a hard look at what's going on in about a month," he says.