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A rider competes in the X-Climb event two years ago at the Nitro National Pro Motorcycle Hillclimb in Columbus. The ninth annual event will be held Friday and Saturday.

The motorcycle riders' talent levels are world-class, and the fireworks should be spectacular.

Throw in an all-female AC/DC tribute band from Los Angeles, an exhibition freestyle motorcycle show, a mechanical bull and a camping area for spectators and all the ingredients are in the mix for a major production at the ninth annual Nitro National Pro Motorcycle Hillclimb on Friday and Saturday in Columbus.

The venue is located six miles north of Columbus on Rapelje Road. Signs will be posted.

"The thing about the Columbus hillclimb that made it so intriguing to me is when we started this hillclimb, we were looking for a venue," said promoter Don Beer of the famed Beer motorcycle hillclimb family. "It's grown into a destination for families and motorsports fans to go to be entertained. Our goal is when they leave to say 'Can you believe what we just saw?'"

The hillclimb starts at 10 a.m. Friday and will run until 12:30 a.m. Saturday. After that, fireworks will be displayed for approximately 30 minutes. Racing gets back underway Saturday at 2 p.m. and concludes at 12:30 a.m., when there will again be fireworks and the performance by ThundHerStruck.

Opening ceremonies are actually scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Saturday night as a prelude to the finals, where the top 35 riders from qualifying the previous day compete. "It's a pretty patriotic them," Beer said of opening ceremonies.

The hill the riders will try to conquer is 600 feet and is "very technical" according to promoter Tyler Johnson of Octane Addictions Motorsports. Beer said it has motocross sections, ledges and challenging vertical areas. 

Three pro classes will be chasing a purse that is estimated to be $35,000, which is based on the gate. Last year's purse was $30,000. There is an additional X-Climb Class where two riders compete at the same time, riding side-by-side, to see who crests the hill first. The X-Climb will feature a tourney-style 22-rider bracket and is single-elimination. Corey Erhardt of Billings is the defending X-Climb champion.

"Biting, scratching, kicking, punching, anything goes," Johnson joked of the competitive nature of the X-Climb. 

Jason Smith of Utah is the defending 451-700cc champion and the reigning 0-450cc titlist. He swept all four year-end points titles for the six-race North American Hillclimb Association Series, according to promoters.

Austin Cardwell of Billings is the defending champion in the open unlimited class. The open unlimited class is the most prestigious class at the hillclimb and riders grace nitromethane powered bikes.

Five world champion hillclimbers will be participating: Travis Whitlock of Utah, Smith, Harold Waddell of Nebraska, Dusty Beer of Columbus and Brett Pederson of California. All have won titles at a World Cup event in France, said Don Beer.

Dusty Beer's son Nick, 22, will also be participating. 

The exhibition freestyle show will feature FMX rider of the year Rich Kearns of California, Red Bull athlete Kyle Demelo of Canada and Robert Haslum of Oregon. 

Tickets cost $15 per day in advance or are $20 at the gate. They are available at all Billings and Columbus Town Pumps and Billings and Columbus NAPA stores. It is $30 per camper for the weekend and campers can be set up Thursday. VIP camping is available. Call Johnson at 861-0288 for information. 

NOTES: Overall, including the stop in Columbus, there are six hillclimbs in the NAHA series. ... Last year, there were between 6,000 to 8,000 spectators. ... If there is rain, the hillclimb still goes on. ... There are 372 riders scheduled to compete. 


Deputy Sports Editor

Sports writer for The Billings Gazette.