The final round of the AMA Pro Hillclimb season, taking place at the Devil’s Staircase in Oregonia, Ohio, Sunday, Oct. 12, promises to be a finale for the ages.
The Pro Sport Class looked to be one of the largest fields of competition the VP Racing Fuels AMA Pro Hillclimb Series has seen. With several rookie riders looking to challenge the class veterans, there was much excitement to unfold for the championship.
The first three rounds saw Nick Drummer dominate the field by taking back-to-back-to-back wins and holding the points lead through the first five races. A knee injury sustained in a practice race ended his season early and dropped him to sixth place in the points going into the final round.
Matt Walker quickly took the top spot with three first place finishes in a row. Walker has finished on the podium at every race, making up valuable points for the race he missed mid-season. He currently sits in the lead with 139 points.
Molly Carbon had worked her way up to the second spot on the podium for the Championship, putting herself on the podium four times this season. She was only two points behind Walker going into Round 7 and was looking to make up some points on him. Unfortunately some trouble in that race cost her valuable points and dropped her to third with 123. But don’t count Carbon out just yet, as she is looking to score her first career win in the final round.
Kyle Welch moved into second place with an impressive run in Round 7. He took the lead in the first run, but Walker was able to come back and best Welch’s time. He sits 13 points behind Walker with 126 but only has a two-point lead over Carbon.
The VP Racing Fuels AMA Pro Hillclimb Series has brought a deep field of competition to 2014. The series has seen the potential for as many as eight race winners at any given event, even though the Expert classes have only seen three riders get the wins between the Xtreme and Unlimited Classes.
The Xtreme class champion, John Koester, came out to take the win in the opening round and start the chase for another title. Phil Libhart and Jay Sallstrom joined him on the podium.
During the first six rounds, Koester and Sallstrom took four and two wins, respectively. At the end of Round 6, Koester had a six-point lead over Sallstrom. If Sallstrom took the win in the final two rounds and Koester took second, the two riders would end the season in a complete draw. The draw would not only be for championship points but with identical finishes as well. The tie breaker would come down to the best finish of the final round.
Both riders knew going into Round 7 what needed to be done and both were going for the win. Koester came out on top and increased his six-point lead to nine over Sallstrom.
There are plenty of ways for the championship to play out. If Sallstrom takes the win, Koester will need to finish at least seventh to take the title. If Koester finishes seventh, the riders will tie in points, but Koester will take the championship with more wins. If Koester finishes eighth or worse, Sallstrom will take the title.
Phil Libhart sits in third, 23 points off Koester and 14 off Sallstrom. Nuzzolilli and Robby DeBusk round out the top five. The Unlimited class is where all the excitement will be. The 2013 season looked to be lining up to be a down-to-the-wire fight for the championship as well, but a late-season crash in the penultimate round took Vinny Nuzzolilli out of the chase with a broken femur.
Sallstrom went on to a take his second title, alternating with Nuzzolilli’s championship in 2012. In the first round of 2014, Nuzzolilli had to face the hill that took him out of action in 2013. He proved he was not going to be intimidated by the hill and that he was, in fact, healed and ready to battle for wins and the title.
Over the next five rounds the two riders traded wins and podium spots, each taking three victories. Going into Round 7, Nuzzolilli had a three-point lead on Sallstrom. Sallstrom took the lead in the first run and opted to wait until last to make his second run.
Nuzzolilli showed he wanted to open the points gap and took away the fastest time of the class. Opting until last gave Sallstrom the chance to see exactly what he needed to do. And he did exactly that.
He was able to best Nuzzolilli’s time and take the class win, but he dislocated his shoulder as he landed his bike off the top jump. His all-out run gave Sallstrom the three points he needed and brings both riders to a tie in championship points.
It all comes down to the Devil’s Staircase. An epic battle will ensue as neither rider has anything to lose. Koester is currently third in points, 19 points back from the leaders.
Scott Wentz Jr. and Libhart are in the fourth and fifth positions, respectively.
As the top two riders battle for the No. 1 plate, others will be looking to take the event win.
It all comes down to who will have the better finish and come out on top. Will it be Sallstrom or Nuzzolilli?