Engines roared. Tires squealed. Knuckles faded to white. The pungent smell of fuel hung thick in the air.
It was 1956 and the Park became a race track. They called it the Chimney Rock Hillclimb, and it tore up the tortuous, nearly two-mile road with more than a hint of danger. Pitted against the clock, drivers ran point-to-point in as little as 110 seconds.
It all began when some fellow who just loved to drive—drive fast, that is—came to the Park and inquired, "Hey, can we run up that road?" What started as a lark grew into an annual event for the Sports Car Club of America and just kept getting bigger. (Even a few NASCAR drivers entered in its final years.)
Race fan Jennifer Francis recalls working the Climb as a girl with her mom, uncle and aunt, where they kept time, recorded scores and even put out a few fires on the Climb's well-known hairpin curves. "These drivers all did other races, but this one was special," she says. "Chimney Rock is beautiful, and it's a lot more scenic than a race track." Francis remembers the best part of the day was the final ride back down the mountain, when spectators could hop in with their favorite drivers and zip back to the starting line, flags flying from the winning cars.
The Hillclimb endured for 50 runs. A shift of priorities and a growing Park brought the race to an end in 1995, but the exciting memories linger.
Text from this page can be found in our souvenir book Chimney Rock—More Than You Imagined by Kent Priestley.
Download a printable copy of the King of the Hill story of the Hillclimb by Our State magazine.