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Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Brothers Brandon and Travis Whitlock of Utah are world champion hillclimbers.

In a branch of motorsport that pits competitors against mountainsides, gravity and the judge's stop-watch, Travis and Brandon Whitlock have carved themselves a niche as kings of the hill.

With nearly 30 years on the hillclimbing circuit, Travis, 39, of Springville, has won practically every coveted trophy multiple times — three World Championships, nine Great American Championships and 11 North American Hillclimbers Association titles.

And his younger brother Brandon, 27, of Santaquin, has made his presence known in a big way as well, finishing fourth in the overall points tally last year and winning King of the Hill at the 2008 Glen Helen Nationals near San Bernardino, Calif.

But for all the accolades and hardware Travis and Brandon have won jetting up steep mountainsides at an average of 50 mph, the sibling duo say those things pale in comparison to seeing their family in the audience to cheer them on.

"We don't do it for the money and the glory," said Travis. "We ride for the fun."

"It's always been about the family," Brandon adds.

In hillclimbing, competitors take turns making runs up a hillside. The biker that tops the hill in the fastest time wins the competition.

When the Whitlock brothers load up their motorcycles for the next big competition, the rest of the clan is never far behind. There's mom Shiela and dad Steve, sisters Stephanie and Nicole, and their families, Brandon's wife Rebecca and Travis' wife Lexie and children Brook, Alexa and Landon.

On their NAHA profiles at www.pro-hillclimbers.org, Brandon and Travis focus on expressing appreciation to their family for the support they've shown over the years, rather than on their numerous titles and prize money.

"Mom, thank you so much for buying me that first motorcycle," Travis writes. "Dad, thank you so much for teaching me everything you know about how to ride. ... This is what hillclimbing is all about, family and friends having the time of our lives."

Brandon and Travis came into motorcycling at an early age well before they got on the bus for their first day of kindergarten. Their father Steve, an accomplished hillclimber in his own right, said he used to take then-2-year-old Travis for rides around the neighborhood on his old Honda. Even at an early age, Travis had a sense of balance to rival that of a mountain goat's ability.

When Travis was 4, Shiela took him to Salt Lake City to pick up his first motorcycle. Travis took to it immediately, and Shiela spent the afternoon following his tread marks around the neighborhood to make sure he didn't hurt himself. Steve came home from work, and Travis showed off for his dad.

"He jumped on it, kick-started it and took off down the street," Steve chuckled. With their son fading in the distance, Shiela turned to her husband.

"Well, go follow him," she said.

"Oh, he's fine," Steve replied.

By the time Travis was 12, he was competing alongside his dad and other professional riders in the annual Widowmaker hillclimb at Point of the Mountain. Steve had to balance the motorcycle for Travis because he couldn't touch the ground while seated on the bike. People may have laughed when Travis was at the starting line, but not when he topped the hill.

"It's sad when your 12-year-old son whips your butt," Steve said. "He's done that a number of times."

On Travis' 21st birthday, the Whitlocks watched him compete in the Hillclimber World Championships in France. Competitors had to test their mettle against LaMontee Impossible, or "The Impossible Mountain" — a 3,000-foot-tall hillside with a steep incline that no one had ever topped.

Travis' first attempt ended in failure. On his second attempt, he was just shy of topping the hill by six feet.

Around 6 p.m. that night, Travis lined up for his final attempt. He gunned the engine and rocketed up the mountain. Within 12 feet of the top, Travis hit a ledge that bounced him over the top. When he landed, his rear tire spun a enormous dirt plume into the air. That's when the crowd — estimated at 30,000 — exploded, Steve said.

"Oh, I got goose bumps even talking about it," he said.

"I got a lucky bounce," Travis said, downplaying the ride, although he lists it as one of his career highlights.

Since then, Travis has won two more World Championships in 1998 and on July 20 of this year. Brandon finished fourth in the world cup in 1998.

They both plan to make the trip to France in 2009. In fact, Brandon and Travis said they aim to keep hillclimbing for years to come. And when the time comes to stop competing professionally, Travis said he'll keep cheering for his wife Lexie and daughters Brooke and Alexa, who all compete in the Fearless Females Division.

And the rest of the Whitlocks will be there too, Steve said.

"As long as it's fun, we're gonna keep doing it," he said.


E-mail: jdana@desnews.com