Pine Mountain Perfection | SCCA Pine Mountain HillClimb by Grassroots Motorsports

By Tim Suddard
May 5, 2021 | SCCA, Pine Mountain

Photography Credit: Perry Bennett

Sometimes a motorsports event just needs the right allies to come together. The SCCA Pine Mountain HillClimb by Grassroots Motorsports quickly went from idea to green flag thanks to the help of Backroads of Appalachia. This nonprofit group’s mission: Replace some of the loss of coal jobs by bringing in tourism and motorsports events.

Backroads of Appalachia is a nonprofit that is all about economic development through motorsports—like motorcycle events, rallies and hillclimbs in the Appalachia region,” explains Erik Hubbard, the group’s director. “We cover all of eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and some of eastern Tennessee.

Our concept is really simple and clear: We want this area to be the mecca of motorsports for anything going on in the United States. We don’t have a lot of race tracks, but what we do have is a lot of county and state parks and plenty of roads for hillclimbs and rally car racing.”

"We have lots of ways to bring motorsports to a community that doesn’t have a race track,” noted Heyward Wagner, the SCCA’s senior director of Rally/Solo and experiential programs. 

Backroads of Appalachia got funding through a grant plus support from the city of Pineville and state of Kentucky, both of which had officials at the event. Then add in more local support, from Friday night’s welcome party in downtown Pineville to the catfish and burger dinner Saturday evening. The event made the local news Saturday and Sunday.

Support for the event from the motorsports community came from Grassroots Motorsports and Haltech.

Photography Credit: Tim Suddard

Photography Credit: Perry Bennet

The inaugural event took place May 1-2 in the Pine Mountain State Resort Park near Pineville, Kentucky—right in the southeastern corner of the commonwealth. Nearly 100 competitors filled the grid, with entries coming from as far away as Florida, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Three SCCA regions collaborated to pull off this event: East Tennessee Region, Blue Ridge Region and Central Carolina Regions. The thinking was that while the event was officially held in one region, the hillclimb experience and mentoring of the other regions would lead to a successful weekend–while planting seeds for more events in the area. 

Photography Credits: Tim Suddard

Mike Cobb, SCCA president, was there, too, working the wheel chock. Greg Ginsburg, longtime SCCA announcer, could be heard over the P.A., while Steve Eckerich (Central Carolina Region SCCA) and Kevin Greer (of Westhold Timing Systems) handled the arduous task of timing the roughly 2-mile course.

Before the event, George Bowland, now 79 but still a legend in hillclimb circles, called it the best course he had seen, even rivaling North Carolina's Chimney Rock. We ran Chimney Rock back in the day and can confirm that fact. Unlike Chimney Rock, perhaps, this Pine Mountain course was less tricky, more fun and likely a bit safer.

It’s a steep, tight course,” says the SCCA president. “It’s beautiful out here. I drove it in the truck at half-speed. I would love to be driving it in my Miata at three-quarter speed. I don’t think I am a full-speed guy on this hill.”

Longtime hillclimber Brad Gates of Lenoir, North Carolina, who was involved as both a driver and organizer, called it “the best I’ve seen. It has all kinds of elements, both fast and slow.” He added that there’s no place to relax.

The course is tighter and narrower than anything we have in Pennsylvania,” added Eli Sharp, a hillclimber from Pennsylvania who brought her Acura Integra GS-R. “And there are no guard rails if you make a mistake.”

Adding to the event: the party-like atmosphere as, for many competitors, this was their first big outing since the start of the pandemic. “Everyone was super-friendly,” adds Neal Tovsen, SCCA Solo national champ and Pine Mountain participant. “The workers, racers and the locals were fun to talk to. The lodge with cottages made the event very family-friendly as well. Even our dog was happy to be here.”

Bowland, who praised the course even before the green flag fell, took FTD in his BBR Special V, finishing more than 2 seconds ahead of the next-fastest competitor. Full results can be found here, although after the event, Wagner shared issues—timing issues, specifically—on the Pine Mountain Facebook Group: "In the end, a vendor’s ‘sorry, we go home at 4:30pm on Fridays,’ customer service policy was our undoing.  The timing and scoring team did yeoman's work to hold it together as long as they did, [but] in the end the challenge was too great. Ultimately, it is our responsibility, particularly that of the leads to ensure that everything is ready. We came up a bit short, and we apologize."

A date for next year’s running has already been set: April 22-24, 2022. Officials also hope to make it a full-on spectator event. We will be there, that’s for sure.

Photography Credits: Perry Bennett

5 Tips to Running Your First Hillclimb:

  1. The game is not that different from an autocross, but the cones are a lot harder. Ease into it.
  2. You're usually always going uphill, so momentum is everything.
  3. You'll need more safety gear, both for your car and for the driver. Go to for details
  4. There is no prettier place to spend a weekend than a hillclimb–think family-friendly.
  5. The roads are usually one-way, so a group goes up, sits at the top, and then comes down all together.

Photography Credits: Perry Bennett

5 Things You Might Not Know About Kentucky

  1.  Kentucky is home to some of the best state parks in the U.S. The state also has resort parks with very nice lodges, like the one in Pineville.
  2. The coal industry got hit hard in this area. Population has actually gone down here in Pineville. Ecotourism is seen as a source of jobs in this area.
  3. Grassroots Motorsports is printed (and has been for 30 years) near Louisville, Kentucky.
  4. Our co-founder, Marjorie Suddard, hails from Ashland, Kentucky.
  5. Both the bourbon and the race horse businesses call Kentucky home.
Join Free Join our community to easily find more SCCA and Pine Mountain news.
captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
captdownshift (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
5/4/21 11:47 a.m.

As someone who lives in the Mid Atlantic, I love what and HOW Erik and Heyward are striving to create in the smokies. It can be a difficult balance getting a community to agree to having motorsports have a desire and willingness to commit to it, some communities get the feeling that it makes them feel like a guest in their own home, but Erik and Heyward have done an amazing job and the people within the community by all accounts have been amazing and enjoyed the weekend and are looking forward to future events. Between that and PHA it truly provides an opportunity to have a hillclimb focused platform with ample opportunity to enjoy it. It will also hopefully create additional exposure and interest amongst younger drivers as hillclimb organizers aren't getting any younger, so it's time that we collectively give them a hand as well as give thanks for their decades of efforts. 


I also want to thank our host here for sponsoring the event and creating exposure for it. Throughout the weekend on a multitude of social media platforms I was getting notifications related to the event that were organically produced and were due to content created by individuals at the event. That would not have occurred without GRM having promoted the event, which is a strange balance to strike when there are no spectators. You started the promotion and others ran with it. That's how events and sports grow. Use numbers and data from this event in the media kit to promote yourselves to get others to utilize you for event promotion. Getting a Tik Tok notification regarding a hillclimb and finding out that it's not a clip for a European event was different and interesting, but I certainly won't complain about it. 

350z247 Reader
5/4/21 12:47 p.m.

I'm finishing up PA school at LMU 15 minutes from Pineville, but I'm out on rotations now. Bummed I missed this, but I'd love to bring the Z out next year. I got to drive that road for a banquet last year, and it was wonderful. I can't imagine how good it is as a closed course!

5/4/21 1:58 p.m.

I will ABSOLUTELY be there next year (with cars for rent).  I miss Chimney Rock so much.

Lof8 - Andy
Lof8 - Andy GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
5/4/21 2:09 p.m.

As I am a potential future competitor, Erik was able to grant me access to spectate the event.  I was there Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.  What a beautiful area!  I spoke to several drivers and the common theme to their responses was "the course is sketchy af!"  Their sentiments were intended in a positive tone and I assume anyone entering a hillclimb should be aware that its pretty sketchy!  lol.  My wife and I had a great time!

You'll need to log in to post.

Our Preferred Partners