The 4,300-kilometre trip from North Carolina to the Okanagan was well worth the effort for George Bowland.
In his first ever appearance at the Knox Mountain Hillclimb on the May long weekend, the 69-year-old veteran racer claimed the King of the Hill honours with a time of one minute 42.888 seconds.
Bowland’s car—built specifically for hill climbs—weighs a mere 340 kilograms and features a 300 horsepower snowmobile engine.
His winning time was just five seconds off the record set by a fellow racer John Haftner (1:37.065) of Vancouver back in 2007.
Bowland holds the record at 10 different hillclimbs across North America, but knew before he arrived that adding Kelowna to the list would be an extremely tall order.
“I knew from knowing John and watching videos that it was a very high bar he had set,” said Bowland. “This is a very complex hill, it takes three to five years to really learn how to drive it. There are very fast, blind corners and different dips and bumps that throw you around. It’s a very difficult, very good course.
“I think John’s record will be there a long time,” he added.
The 54th edition of the Knox Mountain Hillclimb—featuring a 2.2 mile track with an 800-foot vertical—drew 80 cars from Western Canada and the northwestern U.S., and about 3,000 spectators over two days of racing.
Bowland, who has seen his share of hillclimbs over the last two decades, said few events compare favourably to Kelowna’s.
“This event is probably run better than any hillclimb I’ve been to,” said Bowland. “The committee is a very capable bunch of folks, a lot of them have been doing this for 20, 25 years. The turnout was great, the crowd was nice to see because you don’t get crowds like that at many races. It was the best from all standpoints, from the management of it to the challenge of the hill itself. I really enjoyed it.”
Bowland’s win ended Allen Reid’s two-year reign as the King of the Hill, but you won’t hear the local driver complaining.
Reid, who also helps organize the hillclimb each year, said it was a pleasure to meet Bowland and watch him perform on Knox Mountain.
“It’s great to have guys like him come to our race and try it for the first time,” said Reid, who drove his MGB BT to a fourth-place showing in 1:54.46. “He’s retired, this is his hobby, he drives all around to different hillclimbs and has a great time doing it. He’s also the nicest guy you’d want to meet, a guy you like to see win.”
With about 15 new drivers attending the event over the last two years and several hundred more spectators on hand in 2011 than in 2010, Reid said the future continues to be bright for the local hillclimb.
“It looks rosy to us,” said Reid. “There are always challenges, but we know that what we always have are great volunteers. There’s a hardworking core group of 10, then another 90 or so that help us on race days. And the community supports us like crazy, so that’s great.”
The Knox Mountain Hillclimb class winners were:
• FA—George Bowland, 1:42.888
• FL—David Saville-Peck, 1:52.64
• FF—Yarko Petriw, 1:53.26
• GTO—Allen Reid, 1:54.46
• SP4—Johnny Sandhu, 1:57.53
• SPX3—Sead Causenic, 1:57.67
• Legends—Dan Curtis, 1:58.39
• GTM—Rich Cote, 1:59.07
• GT2—Kevin Vollan, 1:59.98
• SP3—Brent Thorkelson, 2:00.08
• GT1—Tom Edwards, 2:00.22
• GTX—Larry Sandham, 2:01.00
• GT5—Fred Delpero, 2:02.24
• SP2—Darrell Jones, 2:02.28
• SPX2—Shane Jensen, 2:02.15
• SP1—Sheridan Empey, 2:05.33
• Vintage—Geoff Tupholme, 2:07.54
• SPX1—Joe Cheng, 2:08.59
• GT3—Andy Deboon, 2:11.26
• GTU—Bob Sherman, 2:25.05