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Let the record show that Dusty Beer doesn’t have to win every single Great American Hillclimb just because he has the best name this side of Boomer Esiason.

In this sport of friendly competitors, Travis Whitlock has made a name for himself, too. And it was Whitlock who won Sunday’s Advanced round – taking the title of rubber tire champion at Billings’ South Hills.

This shouldn’t be a shocker. Whitlock started racing in this North American Hillclimbers’ Association event 21 years ago, at the ripe old age of 10. “I was the youngest to ever go over this, at age 12,” he said of 400-foot hill.

In 1988, he was the rubber tire champ. Then again in 1989, and ’91, and ’94, ’98 and ’99. To that pile of pewter we add this: In front of a crowd that Darrell Devitt estimated approached 20,000, Whitlock got on his Yamaha FJ1200 and broke the barrier in 10.205 seconds. Beer had come across at 11.000, bummed up his right knee in the process, and didn’t clear the hill on his second attempt.

And that makes seven. “To win the advanced class is just a treat,” the 31-year-old Coloradoan said afterward. “It’s an accomplishment. And to have seven of these makes me pretty happy.”

Beer wins Cup, ‘Wall’Beer, the defending rubber tire and World Cup champion from Columbus, still cut a wide swath. And that was before he got on his steel-studded superbike and tied for second in the Unlimited class. Sunday began with 108 riders challenging “The Wall,” a sheer face of cordite and dirt that looks impossible to climb – and nearly was.

Seven – there’s that number again – managed to get over the top. Winning it was Beer, even though his “tire bike” wasn’t running.” “Actually, I borrowed a bike,” he said. “I was having trouble with mine, and it was down to the last minute.”

“The Petersons from California had a tire bike ready to go. And they basically saved my ass.”

That’s not unusual in this sport. It’s like rodeo, but instead of a cowboy in a brush popper telling another hand, “This bull’s going to come out this way, then turn that way,” a rider in body armor is saying, “You hit the chute with enough speed, and that first kicker will get you to the top.”

Robie Peterson himself got some help, although it was from his own father, Kerry. The son couldn’t get his unlimited bike – a twin, 500cc engine-powered Honda – to run in time to make the trip from Orange County. So Kerry grabbed his Harley – not just any Harley, but a 1500cc, fuel-injected, 60 percent Nitro Methane-powered Harley – and brought it to Montana.

Somehow the bike – which Kerry Peterson rode while becoming a 5-time world champion – was louder than any other there.

And it hauled, with Robie getting fourth in the unlimited in 10.199, even though the rider used restraint with the throttle. “I wasn’t barely on it,” he said. “If I get on the thing, I couldn’t even keep it on the ground.”

As it was, Peterson almost lost it at the top – his chest ended up on the seat as he made the summit. “I slid through the light on my arm and shoulder,” he said, smiling.

Pick and chooseFor the advanced finals, Beer got both his small (600cc and under) and open (601cc and over) bikes in, as did Whitlock. Beer decided to forego riding the smaller bike on the made-for-power course. Whitlock rode his once.

 
  JOHN WARNER/Gazette Staff
  Mike Dubell came down hard and was escorted up the hill by concerned officials while holding his broken right arm.

“I wanted to try the left side of that hill,” he said, meaning the bank that bordered the left side of the chute. He made it, then came back down, got on his FJ1200 and tore it up. “It’s all solid rock,” he said of the chute. “In the bottom of it, it had some really big kickers, like five in a row.”

For a time, riders – Beer being among the first – were taking one of those kickers as fast as they could, and getting 20 feet up the wall, then getting over. Almost all the real good ones didn’t let the front wheel touch much. “Basically, it comes down to the fact that it’s easier to get one tire through the chute than two,” Beer said.

In the unlimited class – the bikes have longer chassis and ride on “paddles,” or wheels with 2-inch rubber often reinforced with bolts – Beer said, “I think there’s a 9-second ride on it,” and he was right. Except it was Canadian Michael Reesor who got it, going up and over in 9.4. And in the World Cup, where 11 riders from the U.S., Canada, England and France battled, Beer won his second straight title with a 9.7-second run.

Blazing a new trailAt that point, he looked unbeatable. Then on his first advanced run, he caught his right foot on a bump, which bent it sideways and back against his knee.

Whitlock followed with his run, on a new line to the left. “It’s off camber,” he said. “It makes you want to slide sideways, which I did, many times. It took a lucky bounce to get up that thing.”

Beer, who said afterward he’s afraid he tore a ligament, rode one more time. When he got stuck at the top – he was given credit for 396 feet – Whitlock, standing at the bottom, looked up at a crane hoist, lifted high above the left side of the course. His wife, Shannon, put down her movie camera and raised both fists and yelled in exultation. Travis Whitlock did the same.

Whitlock didn’t know of Beer’s injury at the time. “That sucks,” he said, noting that he and Beer have been friends for 15 years. “Dusty eats, drinks, lives and (bleeps) hillclimbing.”

So, apparently, does Whitlock. His wife of nine years rides; so does 6-year-old daughter Brooklyn. “She has a little XR50,” Whitlock said. On their land outside Elizabeth, Colo., the Whitlocks have a small motorcycle course which Brooklyn rides on. We assume 2-year-old Alexa won’t be far behind.

Whitlock respects the hill, his bikes and his competitors, and he seems to have a knack for coming on strong in Billings. “The Great American Hillcimb championship is bigger than anything else for us riders,” he said. “You don’t get a lot of money – it’s just a very difficult event to win.“

Then he left his air-conditioned tractor trailer to sign some more “Whitlock Racing” shirts. And there, in his autograph, was proof that this was no upset. It was how signed the “T”, in Travis:

It looks just like a seven.

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