It is that, and much more.
Mike Mistretta, property owner and event organizer, determines how many competitors there will be each year and selects who those competitors will be. There are two fields of competition: Open bikes (300-plus horsepower nitro-methane motorcycles) and the X-Climb (side-by-sides). A grand total of 39 riders competed in the open bike race and 32 in the X-Climb Sunday at the latest edition of the hillclimb.
Each racer must hold an AMA or NHA pro-license to qualify to compete. Competitors arrived from all over the world. They came from as far away as California and France.
The X-Climb winner is determined by single elimination until only one climber makes it to the top. For open bikes, the winner is determined by time and distance. So, whoever makes it the farthest the fastest wins. Each competitor is given two attempts up the hill.
Mistretta was a woodworker by trade who made toboggans. While clearing a hill to test his toboggans on, his brother, who used to race in hillclimbs in the 1970’s, suggested he put in a hillclimb as well. They knew just the hill.
After a nail biting dozing experience to clear the trees, the hill was completed. That was 21 years ago.
This year Poags Hole added a Nitro Games champion to its list of racers: Gregg Duffy. Duffy made dirt bike history last year at the 2016 Nitro Games by landing a double front flip — the first ever in the world. This is the first time he has attempted a hillclimb.
“I’ve never rode one of these bikes. In fact today is the first time I’ve even seen one up close,” Duffy said shortly before his first attempt up the hill. “My main goal is to go home safe.”
Mistretta and his team take safety seriously at Poags Hole.
“As nasty as this looks, it’s actually a pretty safe hill because the speeds are down,” Mistretta said.
On top of countless volunteers at the ready to assist the racers if they fall, there was track maintenance equipment, an ambulance and even a helicopter on stand-by.
Mistretta added, “We try to make it very safe, but we make it very difficult and very entertaining.”
Safety concerns for the racers are not just on the hill. Nitromethane, the fuel source for the bikes, is highly flammable and even explosive. Unfortunately one of the racers had an accident earlier in the morning when something went wrong with his engine. He was sent to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester for the treatment of his injuries and was unable to compete.
Mistretta compared the sport to bull riding and said, “It’s not ‘if,’ it’s ‘when’ and 'how bad' it’s going to be.’”
“This couldn’t happen without all my volunteers. All my family members that come out and help us prior to it, and all these riders and their families. It really wouldn’t be what it is without the group effort,” Mistretta added.