Automorbit, Sport – Hill climb action, with an exciting twist, returns to the South Hills of Billings on Saturday and Sunday.
Magic City motorsports enthusiasts know all about hill climbs, with the annual Great American Championship Motorcycle Hill Climb at the Billings Motorcycle Club celebrating its 102nd anniversary in July.
On the docket this weekend is the annual Big Sky Challenge, which is sanctioned by the Rockwell Pro Hill Climb Series.
But hill climb fans will be seeing some new riders compete as the Rockwell series has partnered with the IRC Motoclimb Super Series, and both will be sanctioning classes at the event.
Don Erhardt, the BMC club president and one of the promoters of the Big Sky Challenge, said $30,000 will be up for grabs over the weekend. The purse for the Big Sky Challenge is $20,000 and for the Motoclimb Super Series it is $10,000.
There are 100 riders, some of whom will ride in three or four classes, registered for the Big Sky Challenge and another 80 in the Motoclimb events.
“We partnered with a series in the Midwest, so we are bringing in riders from the Midwest as well,” Erhardt said. “There are quite a few riders coming in from the Midwest.”
Erhardt noted that the IRC Motoclimb Super Series canceled its series this year due to coronavirus. He also said the Big Sky Challenge was originally scheduled for June, but the schedule was altered due to the pandemic.
“About three weeks ago, the promoter of the (IRC) series asked if we would be willing to partner with them,” Erhardt said. “I saw no downside to it and talked to the Rockwell board and we agreed there was an upside if anything and we proceeded to put this together.”
The Rockwell series did not track points this year. One of the reasons was because of the closure to nonessential traffic between the United States/Canada border in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“We didn’t know what would happen with our series, either,” said Erhardt of why points were not awarded for the three-part series. “We have a lot of people who ride from Canada in our series and we didn’t feel it would be right to carry on without them. … We are hoping next year we can get back to some normalcy and get back into it and track points.”
Action will start at 9 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday.
Joe Shipman of Cottonwood, California, has won the last two overall championships at the Big Sky Challenge and is back to defend his titles. Shipman also won the first of the three-part Rockwell series with a victory at the X12 in Utah and was last season’s overall series champ.
This year’s Great American overall champion, Logan Mead of Concord, California, is also entered. The Great American is also a Rockwell hill climb.
Jake Anstett of Port Angeles, Washington, is another rider to watch for. At the Great American, Anstett was victorious in the side-by-side challenge, the 0-700cc exhibition and the 701cc-open exhibition.
Three-time Great American champion Austin Teyler of Billings is in the field, along with Corey Erhardt of Billings and Ryan Gallegos of Casper, Wyoming. Corey Erhardt won the Great American overall title in 2012 and the Big Sky Challenge overall championship in 2005, 2012 and 2015. Gallegos is a former Great American overall winner.
Logan Cipala of Ellsworth, Wisconsin, is also in the field. Cipala was the Big Sky Challenge’s King of the Hill in 2016.
Others to watch for are the Jelinek brothers from North Dakota, Tyler Cardwell of Billings, Jordan Schmidt of Billings, Matt Johnson of Billings and Carson Holden of Columbus.
Some of the riders on the rise include Evan Stanton of Billings, Gunner Ostrem of Billings and Kenny Elwell of Roundup said Erhardt.
Don Erhardt noted that Todd Teyler, Corey Erhardt and Austin Teyler were also serving as co-promoters.
On Saturday, the 600cc (Rockwell), 450cc (Rockwell main event and Motoclimb qualifying), Pro Masters 40-plus (Rockwell) and Motoclimb open class main event will be held. Riding should conclude between 5:30 to 6 p.m.
Flat track race under the lights
In addition on Saturday, there will be a flat track race under the lights starting at 7 p.m., said Erhardt. Flat track action should conclude around 10:30 p.m. The price of admission is $15 for the day, or $25 for the weekend and tickets are available at the gate. The flat track racing is included in the admission.
“They go in an oval and they are basically modified dirt bikes where they load the suspension and put different tires on them and some people have special frames set up strictly for flat track,” said Erhardt. “This weekend they have go-kart as well. That’s a first, we’ve never had go-karts as well.”
Erhardt said the go-kart competition should be fun to watch.
“They are not like the ones kids drive,” he said. “These are adult hot rod units. I’m excited to see that.”
On Sunday, the 700cc (Rockwell) and 701cc-open (Rockwell), 450 main side-by-side (Motoclimb), and Big Sky championship class will be contested.
The top five riders in the 450cc, 700cc and 701cc will qualify for the championship run-off said Erhardt. The competition should concluded at approximately 4 p.m. Sunday.
The only time during the year riders attempt to climb the famed “Bentonite Nightmare” hill is during the Great American. For the Big Sky Challenge, the ridge on the east side of the BMC is used. The portion of the ridge that will be the course this year is approximately 350 to 400 feet from start to finish, said Erhardt.
“Once you top the hill, it doesn’t’ necessarily end there,” he said. “You make a left turn and go clear to the top of the ridge.”
The return of nitromethane
This year, nitromethane will be used as a fuel to power motorcycles at the BMC for the first time since 2004, according to Erhardt. However, nitromethane will only be allowed in the Motoclimb open class on Saturday evening.
The Rockwell series prohibits nitromethane as a fuel. In addition, the Rockwell series is a rubber tire series and steel is not allowed on tires at BMC events as a safety precaution.
“It’s just an effort to try and keep the sport a little less expensive,” said Erhardt of why the Rockwell series prohibits nitromethane. “The Rockwell series has chosen not to allow that. You start talking nitromethane and it’s really a specialized bike and specialized fuel system and we didn’t feel it was conducive to the sport of hill climbing. It would potentially make it more expensive and we opted not to do it.”
Erhardt said spectators might notice a different noise coming from the engine of a nitromethane powered bike.
“Just a different sound. They probably make more horsepower,” he said. “Are they faster? On a hill like that you can only go so fast. They get from Point A to Point B pretty darn quick.”
A trophy hill climb, along with women’s pro classes and semi-pro classes for the youth will be held on Saturday in the trophy hill area.
Full concessions will be available. Erhardt said the BMC is asking those at the facility to practice social distancing because of coronavirus. There will also be hand sanitizing stations in place.