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The History of the Reading Hillclimbs

by Keith Kennedy and Rich Rock

Jun 28, 2019

From the Mount Penn Preserve Newsletter

Twice a year the area surrounding Reading’s iconic Pagoda and William Penn Fire Tower erupts with the sounds of engines racing, the smells of high-octane fuel and hot rubber, and the sight of race cars on Duryea Drive. It’s the Reading Hillclimbs! The Pagoda and Duryea HillClimbs, in June and August respectively, are put on by the Blue Mountain Region of the Sports Car Club of America and are part of the Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association Championship Series.

To the outside observer, the Hillclimbs may seem out of place due to the nature of the area, but there’s a long history here. In 1900, Charles Duryea started the Duryea Power Company in Reading after he and his brother Frank invented the first gasoline powered engine in the United States in 1893. The final test of any Duryea vehicle was to drive the unpaved, winding road starting from City Park up to Mount Penn. The road was paved in the 1930’s and in 1941, was renamed “Duryea Drive” in honor of Charles. In 1951, the MG Club chose Duryea Drive as the site for an automobile hill climb race, and it’s been an annual tradition ever since.

The original event drew about 50 drivers. For safety, they wore nothing more than leather helmets. The fastest time on the original course was 2 minutes 42.3 seconds which is an average of 51mph. The start was changed to its current location of Clymer Street and Duryea Drive in 1967. Over the years, “The Hill” has seen its share of famous drivers including Lex DuPont, Oscar Koveleski, Roger Penske and Kerry Hitt. Today, about 100 drivers come from all over the east coast and the Midwest for each event. There are a wide variety of cars competing- everything from open wheeled formula cars to the fastest sports and muscle cars of today. The cars are prepared for safety with roll cages and racing harnesses while the drivers wear protective suits and sophisticated helmets. Today, the fastest time on the Duryea course is 1 minute 45.5 seconds, an average of 75mph!

The events are open to the public and admission is by voluntary donation to Pagoda Skyline, Inc. Bring the kids, these are family-friendly events! The Pagoda Hillclimb is held every June and the next Duryea Hillclimb is August 17-18, 2019. More information is available at www.bmr-scca.org

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